Friday, September 18, 2020

"Force birther"-ism and Virtue Signaling

There's seems to be an increasingly popular "move" online of calling people who think abortion is wrong and should be illegal "force birthers." 

The thought is that these are people who want to, and would, force women to give birth because they would force women to not have abortions if they could and that's their goal. 

Here I want to observe that calling someone a "forced birther" is just silly.

So, here's the dialogue:

A. "You're a 'forced birther'!"

B. "Why's that?"

A. "You would force women to not have abortions, and so force them to have birth!"

B. "Yes, I think abortion is wrong and should be illegal."

A. "So you are "forced birther"!"

B. "Well, yes, I think abortion is wrong and should be illegal. So, yeah, you are observing that I do indeed believe what you are accusing me of believing: that's what people who think abortion is wrong and should be illegal think: do you have any reason to think this position is mistaken?"

So, what's happening is that the pro-choice finds someone who they (correctly or incorrectly) believes abortion is wrong and should be illegal. They then angrily call them a "forced birther" which basically amounts to saying "They think abortion should be wrong and should be illegal!!" 

Now, isn't it just obvious to everyone that this person thinks abortion is wrong and should be illegal? 

Of course.

Is telling something who thinks that abortion is wrong and should be illegal that "You think abortion is wrong and should be illegal!!" giving them any new information or arguments to think about it? Might it in any way going to change their minds (for the better)? Does telling anyone this give them any reason to think that they are perhaps mistaken in their views?

No, not at all. 

So then why do people say things like this, since it's obviously not going to persuade anyone, give them any kind of reasons to consider that might lead to their changing their mind, or "shore up" any pro-choice persons' views on the issues?

Seems like the answer is this: saying this (and things like it) amounts to "virtue signaling," which is this:

vur-choo sig-nl-ing ]

noun Sometimes Disparaging.

the sharing of one's point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not:The virtue signaling of solidarity with the victims can be a comforting affirmation of community.Their outraged virtue signaling comes across as contrived.

Why do people say things like this and other soundbites

On the theory of virtue signaling, they say this to try to fit in with their crowd. To try to show that they are true believers. To be part of a . . cult?

While there's maybe a time and a place for that, it's surely worth asking if this move is helpful in any way. 

Surely it isn't. 

And it isn't because it does nothing to engage any arguments or concerns of people who oppose abortion. All it says is "You oppose abortion! Boo to that!" which is not productive in any way. 

What would be productive, for pro-choice people and organizations?

One suggestion - beyond voting and engaging in relevant lawsuits - is to see all the types of things that anti-abortion people and organizations do, in terms of trainings and "educational" activities and think tanks, and matching those activities. 

Pro-choice people being more informed on the issues, and so better able to engage other people on these issues by not relying on unpersuasive slogans based on bad arguments, would be very good, indeed a true virtue. Given the urgency of these issues, that's what's needed, not virtue signaling. 

P.S. People who think abortion is wrong and should be illegal get called called "forced birthers," but sometimes people who observe that some reasons given to think abortion is not wrong and should be legal are bad arguments that will convince nobody also get called "force birthers." Anyone critical about any arguments in favor of abortion can get called this, even if they think abortions are generally not wrong, should be legal and even write books arguing that! (How do I know this??)

P.P.S. Sometimes observations of virtue signaling are themselves virtue signaling. Is that relevant to this post? If so, how? How is the group who shares the view expressed here best described?

Other blog posts are available here: here are some of them:


  1. I think "forced birth" is not necessarily virtue signalling. Rather, it calls attention to the actual outcome of preventing abortion: a forced birth, with all that entails: the physical act of delivering a child, and the now-presence of a human being who will require care, necessitating physical, mental, emotional, and economic resources.

    1. Yes, but this is said like this: "This person thinks that pregnant people must give birth, that they are obligated to give birth, that it's wrong to have an abortion to avoid that!" That is what they think, and this response doesn't give any reason that they are mistaken about that.

  2. This may be the most oddly constructed strawman I've ever encountered. I don't understand why the authors removed all nuance from forced birth labeling and reduce it to the dictionary definitions of the words. The suspension of disbelief required of the hypothetical conversation is impossible. It can't have just been an attempt to squeeze in virtue signaling, because it didn't do a great job connecting those dots either. Here's how that would really go down:

    A. "You're a 'forced birther'!"

    B. "Why's that?"

    A. "You don't care about the life of the unborn; only that they're born. You don't demand increased snap benefits so the disadvantaged mother can afford to feed the child you forced her to give birth to. You don't support a liveable minimum wage so she can afford to buy that child diapers, clothes, books, shoes, or toys. You don't advocate for the homeless, centralized healthcare, or pre-k for all. children. Your work is done once the child is born, because it's no longer an un- born. That's not pro-life, it's pro-birth. You're pro-forced birth."

    B. "You shouldn't be having babies you can't afford to take care of. Ummm... I mean... Err... Keep your legs closed!"

    Most anti-choicers aren't just silent with regard to the issues I mentioned, but many of them even actively work against them. I remain confident that "forced birther" is a legitimate criticism and not a form of virtue signaling. It is possible to change my mind, but not with logical fallacies.

    1. Hi, thanks for this, which makes sense.

      However, you seem to be suggesting that charges of being a "forced birther" are always or often followed up with charges that the "pro life" person is somehow hypocritical for not supporting other things that would enable a decent life for the child that they would "force" to be born.

      However, conversationally those elements are often not present with these accusations. Find anyone who says abortion is wrong and they can be called a "forced birther": the other issues don't have to come up. And I bet the person could even be the rare bird that's all about providing positive support for these children, and they will still get called a "forced birther" since, well, they would force someone to give birth by not allowing abortions. That's the core issue which this term primarily relates to.

    2. Oh, and there's nothing about a logical fallacy here. You are saying that people get called (and should get called) "forced birthers" only when both A and B are presented, and I'm responding that just A is enough.

      If someone was really motivated, they could do some kind of study to see who is correct here.

      However, it is not at all uncommon for people to give question-begging arguments on these issues--"arguments" that simply assume the conclusion they are trying to "argue" for--and this is something on that common theme.

      Here's the section on question-begging arguments:

    3. I don't know why you used "somehow" as a qualifier for hypocritical. Is the hypocrisy not evident to you? And if not, I think there's a less passive aggressive way to indicate that.
      I honestly don't think I've seen/heard "forced birther" used without the qualifiers, but I may not have noticed if I had, as that's what I know the word to mean. I think that's what most people understand it to mean, including anti-choicers.
      I will admit that I was suspicious of your motives for writing this, and I thought you were likely some sort of "controlled opposition". After reading a few more of these pieces, I think I was probably wrong, and my hostility was unnecessary.
      I suppose you are correct as far as the label being thrown around indiscriminately. It isn't always used with prior knowledge of what that person does or doesn't support; only assumed. So, I will concede to your point that it's a bad argument, but only when in the case of an anti-choice unicorn.

    4. "I thought you were likely some sort of "controlled opposition."

      What does that mean?

      I think reading the short book Thinking Critically About Abortion might help you understand the motivations here. Thanks.

    5. Pssh... I know what begging the question is! And I can't see my response to your first reply, because- moderation, but I'm p sure I admitted to a bit of assumption on my part.
      Thinking strictly of the principles of argumentation, you're correct. I would be guilty of logical fallacy, and my ability to argue yours gets a bit murky.
      However, I would argue that irl forced birther is understood as I described it. Which flips it back on you.
      I like this second reply though. A little 'jab and move' going on. I'm not mad at yah. Lol

    6. Oh, I can also mention that I have been called a "forced birther" for observing that some arguments for abortion are not good arguments.

      So I have book in defense of abortion, and I've been called a "force birther."

      Although these are just a few examples, they suggest that this phrase is not used as thoughtfully or accurately as you are saying it is.

  3. Oh, and I said "somehow" because that's most accurate and safe, and because charges of hypocrisy are usually irrelevant to anything interesting:

  4. I know, right!? I couldn't remember what it was called and had to ask a friend. "Controlled opposition."
    It's used by conspiracy theorist types usually, but these kinds of people do actually exist. They pose as supports of an issue or as a neutral party, but they're actually very opposed to said issue. They attempt to make the other side look bad or stupid. As I mentioned though, I realized I was probably seeing something that wasn't there in this case.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Interesting. But pretending that pro-choice people always or even often have good arguments for their views is not doing any good.

  5. Anecdotal.
    BUT I did rashly suspected you of being an imposter myself, so I can obviously see your point there. I wouldn't have jumped immediately to calling you a "forced birther," but you weren't writing about me.
    Maybe I was looking at this less objectively than I should have. You have changed my mind. I do still think the hypothetical argument is weak, but it really doesn't matter. I see now, that even with my understanding of the word, it's presumptions.

  6. I honestly don't see anything but holes in their arguments, but I suppose they see mine the same.

  7. Why no option to edit!?
    *supporters *suspect *presumptuous

    1. Hi, about "Why no option to edit!?" the simple explanation is that does not offer that option as far as I can tell: there is no other explanation at play here. If you know how to enable that or make that happen, let me know. Thanks.