I have to say, I’m pretty surprised by the sudden onset of illiteracy and bad faith of people writing about my former colleague, Kevin Williamson.
As readers here (and everywhere), now seem to know, Kevin lost his job at The Alantic because he said that he believed abortion, being the unjust taking of a human life, should be treated in the law like any other homicide. And, for rhetorical emphasis, he bit the bullet and said he “had hanging in mind” in a tweet. In a subsequent podcast, and an appearance at Hillsdale, he clarified exactly what he meant by that. He admitted he was uncomfortable with the death penalty in general. He added that his view of the death penalty was that if we have it, it should not be disguised as a medical procedure. Did this logically imply he meant hanging — or lynching, as some said — every woman who had an abortion? No, he repeated.
Cards on the table. Unlike Kevin, I’m perfectly fine with the logical and moral inconsistencies that exist in regimes that criminalize abortion but that don’t quite treat it as severely as premeditated homicide.
Now, while some might find him biting the bullet a little shocking, any literate and normal person of good faith would deduce that not every homicide is a death-penalty case, only the worst of the worst. Any such person would note that Kevin is obviously speaking in some hypothetical case where abortion is abominated sufficiently by the public that it could be criminalized and prosecuted again. And that he’s obviously talking about penalties imposed in the future, where pro-lifers believe criminalization has made abortion extremely rare.
Apparently we are not dealing with normal people, or people that are literate, or people that have good faith. And in the retelling, Kevin Williamson is said to be calling for a bloody cull of women that would make Josef Stalin blush.
Slate was a particular offender. There Osita Nwanevu described Kevin as “a man who once argued that a quarter of American women should be executed.” That was literally the entirety of the description he gave his readers. (If they were not already familiar with the controversy, what could they have thought he meant?) More recently Ruth Graham described Kevin’s rhetoric as a “breezy case for hanging nearly one-quarter of American women.” The Twitter user Popehat referred to “his crazy-ass mass-execution ideas.” Often these descriptions of his argument were accompanied with a completely disingenuous comment that at least Williamson was being logical.
Normally, I’m pretty good at figuring out how people misled themselves, but I confess, I’m stumped on this one. They are obviously smuggling in the premise that nearly one quarter of U.S. women have had abortions. But I can’t tell if they believe that Williamson wants to impose this penalty retroactively or if they believe Williamson thinks his preferred laws criminalizing abortion would have zero effect on the abortion rate, and simply add tens of millions of adult women onto the already high body count of abortion.
I think a ten-year-old kid should be able to deduce that a society capable of criminalizing abortion would be one in which a quarter of women probably wouldn’t want or seek one. Or at least that pro-lifers believe criminal penalties would dissuade almost all women from seeking it. But now writers who make their careers based on their expertise on conservatives and pro-lifers feign this baby-like ignorance in order to inflate Williamson into a genocidaire. Apparently many readers like this. I think they look like idiots, and I feel stupid having ever read them.
I’ve said before that I like disagreeing with Williamson. Here’s why. Finding out that Kevin Williamson had just written something taking you to task was usually enough to make one worried. Worried you slipped up logically, worried you wrote something with no self-awareness, or with sentimentality. You know what I never worried about when I disagreed with Kevin? That he would deliberately or opportunistically misread my work, the way so many others did to him this week.