Positions on the issues are never as clear-cut as moral stances, because they involve many tradeoffs and competing considerations. Be suspicious of anyone who makes a definitive and unqualified statement without providing a thoughtful rationale.

I will explain in detail my positions on different issues, with an eye to understanding their true roots and fundamental essence (the questions we are really asking when we ask about an issue, instead of the superficial and obvious ones), as well as the contextual variability of these questions (it really does depend on the situation, and blanket statements are difficult to make).

Abortion

... would be less necessary (and thus less common) if we had a stronger safety social net in place

  • It's not easy as saying that abortion should be legal or illegal. There are various important considerations at play, and the determination is highly contextual. Our desire for easy sound bites distracts us from the incredibly complex reality of this topic.
  • The goal should be to make an ethical and compassionate decision for both the mother and the child. The barely-concealed misogyny, as well as the anti-religious animosity, at play in many debates is unacceptable and deserves no place. Our goal should be neither to deny liberties to women (as conservatives often try), nor to preclude religious considerations (as liberals often do). We must demand that our politicians avoid these demonizing characterizations. We must express compassion for everyone involved in this discussion:
    • Most women do not take abortion lightly or callously. They understand that it is a major life decision and that they may experience anguish before, during, and after an abortion.
    • Most genuinely religious folks (as opposed to hypocrites who use faith as a bludgeon) do not act out of spite, but out of deep-seated belief and concern.
    • Most genuine liberals (as opposed to those who use their political leanings as a means to popularity) don't favor an unnecessary proliferation of abortions. They aren't looking to force abortion on women who prefer otherwise.
  • Abortion is morally acceptable in cases of incest and rape, when the anguish of the mother and the potential destitution of the child outweigh the taking of an early life. We must take this as a starting point - a given. It's almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion if we do not agree on this basic principle, which is reasonable from an ethical, moral, and religious perspective.
  • Religious beliefs as well as scientific beliefs both have important roles to play. The former suggest ways of thinking about the issue and the latter provide evidence on the mental and physical state of the unborn baby - particularly on the baby's consciousness or lack thereof. Neither automatically trumps the other, as those on both sides have suggested. To discard one or the other type of thinking is irresponsible and makes discussion difficult.
  • Human life of some sort begins both when a sperm and when an egg are created. Idealistically, we should preserve all of these and not let any of them die. As a practical matter it would be extraordinarily difficult, and in unethical, to utilize each of these building blocks as the foundation for a separate human life. There is no way to corral dozens or billions of these things, preserving their lives and turning them into viable embryos. There is no way for a mother to birth so many children. There is no way for society or the Earth to sustain so many people. And children who might well die soon after birth would not be better off being born and suffering rather than losing life at a formative and generally unaware stage.
  • Consciousness should be the primary determinant of whether to end a life. Consciousness is the marker of capital L "Life" and takes humans (and potentially some animals) beyond amoeba status. A conscious being (and perhaps some non-conscious ones, too) can feel pain, physically but especially emotionally. They can thus suffer. Life should not consist primarily of suffering, and we should strive to avoid suffering whenever possible. By terminating a life before it is conscious, we are avoiding or at least lessening the suffering that life experiences. This is an ethically compelling rationale for avoiding abortions, or conducting them as early as possible.
  • The beginning of consciousness and the creation of the soul (if one exists) may occur at the same time. It is reasonable to say that God grants humans a soul at the time when they can realize their own existence. The creation of a soul is a difficult question, and one that religious folks haven't really agreed upon. It's tempting to be reductionistic and say the soul begins as early as possible in the life, which would be at the time of fertilization (when the two parts unify). With a deeper understanding of science, questions about the soul become broader and more complex.
  • The morning-after pill is the most ethically acceptable way to end or prevent a pregnancy after sex. Next to contraception, it does the least harm.
  • Contraception is a preferable alternative to abortion. The reality is that people will have sex for reasons other than procreation, and the only realistic way to prevent pregnancy is to prevent the mixing of sperm and egg. Abstinence-only education has failed in the real world.
  • Abortions late in the pregnancy should be limited. It is the responsibility of both parents to carefully consider and decide early in the pregnancy whether to terminate the life. There are few justifications for a late-term abortion, among them an undiscovered pregnancy. Changing one's mind (and this applies both to the father and the mother) is generally not a compelling rationale.
  • Women, and those who have been parents or have made decisions about abortions, are best qualified to make determinations about the practical tradeoffs involved. It is difficult for a single man to do so.
  • The best way to make a positive practical impact, satisfying both sides of the debate, is to improve the quality of human life after birth.
    • The social circumstances into a which a child would be born should not (idealistically) come into consideration. When we talk about a desire for children not to be born into poverty, what we are really saying is that we need a stronger safety net to ensure that those with unfavorable circumstances at birth still have full opportunity to realize their potential. Here is a key point where the Republican emphasis on protecting life is hypocritical; if we are to support life we need to do so at all stages. This means supporting human life before birth (with a careful approach to abortion), at birth (with clean, competent hospitals), as a toddler (with pre-K), as a child (with daycare), as an adolescent, as a teenager (with good mentoring, skills development, and substance abuse prevention), as a young adult (with educational and job opportunities), as an adult (with unemployment benefits), as a senior (with retirement income), and at death (with humane end of life care). It also applies to situations including mental "illness," temporary injury, long-term physical "disability," and unemployment. The quality of life matters equally at every age. Our safety net is not there yet, and many conservatives are making a concerted effort to peel it back further, so the reality is that in 2015 abortions will be preferable in many situations to a destitute life.
    • With more favorable life circumstances available, abortions based on concern for the livelihood of the child would decrease dramatically. This would obviously decrease the overall number of abortions, meaning a greater number of healthy, happy children, fewer women facing agonizing dilemmas, and fewer lost lives. It is the fundamental outcome of President Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" approach to abortion. The "rare" bit speaks to a desire for alternatives to abortion to gain prominence, rendering it unnecessary in most situations. The goal should be to find compassionate solutions that enhance the wellbeing of both mother and child.

 

Animal torture

... has no place in a civilized society

They call it "animal research." This is a misnomer, because the systematic deprivation of basic dignity is not a legitimate form of inquiry. It is an expression of sadism.

Animals feel pain. This is a biological fact. So when researchers shock pigeons without numbing them, or give rats heart attacks, they are not running an abstract experiment. They are committing torture.

A couple of misbegotten goals have led us to torture animals:

  • The desire to produce ever-more-potent unnecessary pharmaceuticals for manufactured issues such as erectile dysfunction
  • The desire to get away with using toxic chemicals in consumer products just so long as they are deemed technically safe

These goals have obvious appeal to powerful interests like the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which in turn lobby legislators to loosen animal welfare regulations. For their part, researchers who have long been indoctrinated (starting in high school) will defend these practices — out of habit, out of avoidance, and because their personal wellbeing depends on it. In other words, researchers take a morally sloppy and irresponsible position.

People have shockingly violent tendencies, which can be activated under the right persuasion. People can be led to push buttons to hurt other people, and then release gas to poison other people, and then wield guns to shoot other people in cold blood. They can be led to drive daggers under people's fingernails. And they can be led to unsentimentally drown a rat in a pool of toxins. Researchers have been deluded by powerful "authority" figures (especially universities), and have in turn deluded the public as to the usefulness and necessity of their work. Animal torture is corrupt and unaccountable. When a human tortures another human without remorse — understanding fully the consequences of their actions on the other party — we call it sociopathy. Indeed, animal torture is sociopathy.

Animal torture is not an effective way to gain insights on human biology or behavior, just as torturing humans rarely reveals useful information. In fact, more often it leads us down the wrong paths, toward dangerous mistakes. And it reflects the moral depravity and wastefulness of the human species. It is a cruel undertaking that serves no higher purpose other than the furthering of our crass consumer society and the expression of our base instincts.

Everything comes with a price. The development of certain pharmaceuticals delays our inevitable death, but crushes our soul in the process. We destroy our own humanity in the name of progress.

 

Nuclear weaponry

... should be absolutely and permanently prohibited

The atomic bombing of Japan was among the most depraved events in all of human history. It reflected dehumanizing hatred at its most extreme. The United States murdered over 100,000 innocent people based purely on the nation in which they happened to have been born. We have not apologized, and in fact have defended what we did. We are brazen and unrepentant. This reflects a spiritual sickness. It reflects ignorance and callousness.

When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Osaka International Peace Center, it became blindingly clear that we have learned nothing. Here are two museums dedicated to world peace, erected by the victim of unfathomable cruelty, and we don't listen. We maintain our nuclear arsenals while bullying one another to reduce theirs.

The Japanese people have groveled in remorse, and rather than revenge have sought deescalation. If only we would listen.