Professor Joe Goldblatt
My preferred pronouns are he, him, and his. As a male member of the human race I cannot fathom the hurt, distress, and anger millions of females are feeling following the morally egregious decision regarding a woman’s right to choose by the conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, during a recent visit to New York City I found myself standing in front of the home of the US patriot Thomas Paine and I began to wonder what he may have thought about the state of America today? Paine’s home was in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood and every day thousands of tourists, many waving rainbow flags, probably stroll by without realising the importance of this man during the birth of what many would describe as the greatest experiment in democracy in human history.
Paine was an English born political activist and theorist, philosopher, and revolutionary. His most famous publication was the small pamphlet entitled Common Sense that he wrote in 1776 and it helped inspire the patriots in the USA to declare their independence from England. As a small child in the 1950’s, my father would regularly quote statements from Thomas Paine to me to remind me of the importance of human rights as a fundamental responsibility of all people, everywhere.
Therefore, when I learned of the US Supreme Court’s rejection of the fifty year old Roe versus Wade landmark decision, I immediately thought of Mr Paine and his fellow patriots. I am convinced that the founding fathers who would have embraced my own pronouns, would have been unanimously horrified and greatly angered that their moral philosophy regarding free thought and freedom of choice has been eroded by the conservative dominated highest court in the land.
In a later work entitled The Age of Reason Paine promoted natural religion and argued for the existence of a creator – god. He also firmly believes that any organised group may risk the coercion of others to allow emotion to triumph over reasonable thought.
Perhaps his most famous quote is “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody. We have it in our power to begin the world over again. The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection. He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
I believe these words have even greater resonance now than they did when he wrote them in the eighteenth century. United States leaders and their citizens have had over two hundred years to debate, discuss, argue, and test the concept of human rights as a a fundamental moral responsibility granted by a creator to all people everywhere. This is why I believe that Thomas Paine and his fellow patriots would be greatly angered at the erosion of this moral construct through the decision the conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although my world view is somewhat limited due to my chosen pronouns of he, him and his, my myopic vision has suddenly widened as I realise that the erosion of any human rights risks the erosion of all rights for my fellow citizens. In his written decision, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas stated that the Court “should reconsider its past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.” Where will this end?
Perhaps even more tragically, those who will suffer the greatest harm are those who often lack the power to defend themselves. According to Manuella Libardi writing in Equal Times, recent studies confirm that restricting safe access to abortions keeps poor women in poverty and perpetuates the cycle that keeps them from social mobility and allows wealth to remain in the hands of the rich, particularly white men. The on – going political fight against anti – abortion legislation is indeed a class battle that effects poor women disproportionately.
Pastor Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who enthusiastically supported the Third Reich. However, following a meeting with Hitler he changed his views. He may have been remembering Paine when he later wrote during World War II “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Now is the time for all people from all over the world who value freedom of choice to stand up and speak out during these perilous times for freedom around the world. Rather than wring my hands, I shall roll up my sleeves and donate money to pro choice charities, attend rallies to support free speech and freedom of choice, and remember the immortal words of the man whose home, located in a neighbourhood that championed LGBTQ+ rights gave birth to Paine’s sacred words “I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children may live in peace.”
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. To read about his other views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot