John Waters: A Calculated Insult To The Intelligence


The article titled ‘The Taoiseach, the psychiatrist and the Pandora’s Box syndrome‘* published by John Waters in today’s Irish Times, has to be one of the most calculated insults to the intelligence ever written. It is as though he were aware that the painstakingly constructed syllogism of the first two-thirds of the article was about to go pear-shaped, so he decided to take a baseball bat to the whole thing, leaving the discerning reader with only confusion and bewilderment.

Engaging with stupid arguments can make you look stupid. Fortunately I don’t care how I look. Waters’s argument can be summarised like this: if it’s not OK in principle for the State to refrain from preventing someone killing himself on account of a debt by cancelling the debt, why is it OK in principle for the State to prevent someone from killing herself on account of an unwanted pregnancy by allowing an abortion?

The short answer for this is that it is perfectly desirable and legitimate that the State should prevent people from killing themselves on account of debts by cancelling their debts. And similarly, it is perfectly desirable and legitimate that the State should prevent people from killing themselves on account of unwanted pregnancies by allowing abortions. If you agree with these political positions, Waters’s syllogism is bereft of any substance.

In order to make his syllogism appear more convincing, he develops the fantastical scenario of someone telling his psychiatrist he will kill himself unless his debt is paid off by the government there and then. But that is not how anyone is ever likely to kill himself on account of an unbearable situation generated by onerous debt. They will do so in their homes, or in the building that the bank has decided is no longer their home, for instance.

Waters then tries to imply that this fantastical scenario encapsulates the same stratagem that a pregnant woman might use in order to obtain an abortion. But assuming that a woman were not genuinely suicidal, why would she opt to fake such a thing and go through the humiliating and demeaning rigmarole of getting round the Irish State’s highly restrictive abortion laws, which treat women seeking abortions as criminals, when it would be much easier go to Britain?

Debt is a political relation. It can be addressed by political means. States concerned with the welfare of their citizens will adopt general measures that do away with debt relations so unbearable that they damage people’s health. Similarly, States concerned with the fullest degree of equality for their citizens will remove measures that treat certain people as inferior. Ireland’s abortion laws treat women as inferior beings by designating their bodies as property of the State. In their enforcement, as with the current proposed legislation, they deem that women are unable to decide what is best for themselves. It is an indication of the patent injustice of these laws that nonsense such as John Waters’s column is the best their defenders can come up with.

*I don’t link to Irish newspaper sites. Sorry.

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