The Conversation

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik Gets It Wrong

As I write this more than 131k people have shared Adam Gopnik's story directly blaming the Santa Barbara murders on the NRA. Gopnik gives himself leeway to cast blame in this direct way because the father of one of the victims did so.

This puts Gopnik in a philosophical frame of mind. He even swerves into another contentious public debate saying, "the idea that you can be pro-life and still be pro-gun: if your primary concern is actually with the sacredness of life, then you have to stand with Richard Martinez, in memory of his son."

This got me wondering where Gopnik himself stood on being pro-life. That interest was heightened when I read the paragraph in his piece railing about euphemisms in public discourse. He writes:

The war against euphemism and cliché matters not because we can guarantee that eliminating them will help us speak nothing but the truth but, rather, because eliminating them from our language is an act of courage that helps us get just a little closer to the truth. Clear speech takes courage. Every time we tell the truth about a subject that attracts a lot of lies, we advance the sanity of the nation. Plain speech matters because when we speak clearly we are more likely to speak truth than when we retreat into slogan and euphemism; avoiding euphemism takes courage because it almost always points plainly to responsibility.

Given that the pro-choice movement is notorious for its use of euphemism, i.e. referring to a developing fetus as "the products of conception," I was curious what Gopnik had written about this previously. I quickly came across this October 2012 Gopnik piece titled "Of Babies and Beans: Paul Ryan on Abortion." Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Gopnik, slayer of euphemisms, paladin of plain speech:

Ryan talked facilely of what “science” says in this case. But what real science has to tell us, of course, very different; it says that life has no neat on and off, that while life may in some sense begin at conception, the moment when the formed consciousness that distinguishes human life from bean life arises is a very different question, not reducible to a dogma or a simple claim. A bean isn’t a baby; a baby was once a bean, and between those two truths it is, or ought to be, every woman for herself.

Bean? Admittedly I only have a minor in biology but I'm fairly certain a bean--unlike, say, a 15-week-old fetus--does not have a plethora of organs, tissues, hardening bones or a recognizable human face. If you're interested, here are some utterly inoffensive drawings that show what a baby looks like at this stage of development.

For the sake of speaking the truth, is Gopnik ready to drop the "bean" euphemism? Is he ready to place an upper limit on legal abortion like most of Europe does (around 12-16 weeks)? I don't get that impression. On the contrary, he compares Paul Ryan to the Taliban for suggesting otherwise.

Adam Gopnik doesn't care about the "sacredness of life" or about the damage euphemism does to public debate. Not when it runs up against his own political verities. He's just using high-minded rhetoric to cloak his partisan rant in a patina of principle, one it clearly does not deserve. Apparently there's quite a market for that these days.


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