Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Readback, Hearback

"It sounds different when you say it that way!"
In the aviation business, we have a formality that many times seems cumbersome and uncalled for ... until you remember its purpose. The practice I'm talking about is called, "Readback, Hearback" (RH) and it has saved more lethal outcomes than we would ever be able to know.

RH is simply this: When an air traffic controller gives an aircraft instructions to follow, the pilot is required to repeat back the instructions as they were given. The controller then verifies that the pilot heard the instructions correctly and clears the aircraft to maneuver. Finally, the pilot acknowledges the clearance and complies with it.

As you can see, this practice can sometimes result in four radio transmissions for, say, a simple change of altitude. Yes, it is cumbersome. But the reasoning behind it is that it verifies that both parties to the conversations are very clear about what is being said before any direct action is taken. At every point in the dialogue, the participants can clarify the instructions. It keeps airplanes from occupying the same airspace at the same time -- a result that can obviously prove to be disastrous.

So what does this have to do with my discussion here?

In the week leading in to the mid-term elections, a young blogger with whom I am acquainted posted his thoughts about all things political. The post gave all the reasons why he was fed up with both political parties. As a way of demonstrating his independent thinking, he used the abortion issue as an example of how he differed with both of them. Here (cut and pasted) is his central argument against the party that is usually considered to be pro-life.
"I do have a moral opposition to abortion. A strong one, in fact. However, I disagree that the solution is to make abortion illegal. Rather, better educational opportunities and focus on family growth will lead to less abortions and a healthier society. Like we saw with prohibition in the 1920s, making something illegal doesn't make it go away. And besides, there are some scenarios (such as a woman who became pregnant after being raped or engaging in incest, or a situation where the life of the mother is in danger) in which I could not in good conscience make abortion illegal. Do I think it is abhorrent and terrible? Yes. I am in favor of limiting late term abortions as much as possible. If a consensus can be reached in the larger community about when life begins, I believe abortion can be limited to before that moment. While I believe that life begins at conception, that is not a belief I can force on others. Legislating morality is not the answer - which means that the core of the Republican party and I do not agree."
To the untrained ear, the argument may sound reasonable and "moderate." But I thought it would be instructive to put the argument to a "Readback, Hearback Test." So, I cut-and-pasted the argument into the comment section of his blog -- with one minor exception. I replaced the word "abortion" with the word "slavery" and offered him the following hypothetical example to let him hear what he just said in a different way:
HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION: It is 1860 and President Lincoln gives a speech in which he says the following:
"I have a moral opposition to slavery. A strong one, in fact. However, I disagree that the solution is to make slavery illegal. Rather, better educational opportunities and a focus on alternative economic growth issues will lead to less slavery and a healthier society. Making something illegal doesn't make it go away. And besides, there are some scenarios (such as a slaveowner who is having a hard time making ends meet, or whose slaves were bequeathed to him by his ancestors) in which I could not in good conscience make slavery illegal. Do I think slavery is abhorrent and terrible? Yes. I am in favor of limiting slavery as much as possible ... While I believe that slavery is immoral, that is not a belief I can force on others. Legislating morality is not the answer - which means that the core of the Republican party and I do not agree."
Maybe, for good measure, Lincoln would also add: "For those who object to my reasoning, I understand. But if you think owning slaves is immoral, don't own one."
QUESTION: Do you think Lincoln's argument is reasonable and should be accepted by the abolishionists?
When you hear it put that way, an uncommitted "moderate" stance against slavery doesn't seem so reasonable. So, why is it reasonable and "moderate" to hold the exact same view about abortion?

It isn't.

The only reason it ever has been considered so is because we have been conditioned (rightly) to see slavery as being morally reprehensible for its denial of dignity, respect and protection to those who deserve each of those things simply in virtue the kind of thing they are -- distinct, whole, living human beings. At the same time, we have been conditioned (wrongly) to deny the same moral status to the unborn. In other words, we can only hold such a view by looking past a cognitive dissonance that sees the unborn as something other than a human being.

So, do some pilot stuff -- practice "Readback, Hearback" with those who make these kind of claims about the unborn. Make them acknowledge and verify exactly what they have just said by putting it in a context that makes it sound as ludicrous to them as it does to you. It makes for safer maneuvering around the battlefield of ideas.

And the life you save just might be one that is powerless to save itself.

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