So, I continue to attempt to hammer out a constitution based on skeptical reasoning. It’s insanely difficult. The constitution is not the law of our land, thats the US Code. Cornel has a searchable version of it on their website. The Constitution is the spirit of the law. Now, you might assume that because I am not a rightwing christian, that I could use the UN charter. I read the UN’s documents again tonight. What a load of hooie that rag is. The writers of the UN declaration of human rights seemed to missed the verbally subtle but methodologically mammoth difference between a right to pursue happiness and a right to happiness. First, they decide on what, ideally, a government should do if it has the money, then they say all governments worldwide must provide this service, and then they say that the provision of this service is a right. Let me be very blunt…
Government….services….aren’t….rights. Yeah, it’s just that simple.
In the United States you do have right to Social Security, because the government is a service provider who has entered a contractual agreement with the people to provide the service of social security insurance. But your right is as a contract holder, not a citizen. Your parents got it because you paid. When it comes your turn, you will get it because your kids paid. That’s how insurance works. It’s crappy retirement plan because it isn’t a retirement plan, it’s retirement plan insurance. If your nest egg goes belly up when the market tanks, you sill have a bare sustenance to fall back on. And no, you don’t get anything if you manage to put away a ton of cash. You don’t get a fire insurance payoff after 50 years of your house failing to catch on fire either.
If the government would let you stop paying for SSI, and you wouldn’t have the option of getting it anymore, then it would go away. Free speech does not go away when you quite paying to hear government officials talk. One of the many differences between a service and a right.
But you do not, contrary to the UN declaration of human rights, have fundamental human right, on equal ground with the freedom to practice the manner of worship of your choice, to… not have to keep a job when you get too old too work. Sorry. Just because you want something, doesn’t mean the government must get it for you, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you have a right to it. Reading through the Declaration of Human Rights is like reading a constitution written by a 13 year old. “Uh, I’ve got freedom of speech, and..uh, freedom of worship…and…uh, I’ve got a right to all the pizza I can eat….um, hey yeah! I’ve got a right to honk girls’ boobies! That’s a good one!…Right to…uh…trial by jury…”
But, as I laughed to myself at those silly Frenchmen, I realized something evil. Americans do something worse, about something more important.
The US Constitution lists the right of “freedom of press”. I hear all these people complaining about conservative domination of the radio and liberal domination of the TV networks. Someone I talked to recently bashed the lies he’d heard on the “liberal media”. Liberals I know would like to see the “Fairness doctrine” enacted to make radio less conservatively bias.
That’s when it all came together for me, (1.) all this swirling crap storm about bias, and (2.) the purposed solutions of mandated balance.
One, about bias. You do not have a right to truth without effort! Of course the news is biased! You think that some of the wealthiest companies on earth got that way by carefully reporting the unvarnished truth? Of course not! They are businesses, and they are in the business of telling the news that sells the most ads. They always have been. “But what about government supported news,” someone snivels. They are a business, and their bottom line is funding too, it just comes from a different source. Most information is biased! If you want the truth you are going to have to work for it. I say again You do not have a right to truth without effort.
Ok, the whole “we-have-a-right-to-free-press-but-there-is-a-bias-so-it’s-not-really-free” argument. First of all, it’s all going to be biased. The right to a free press does not mean free of bias; It means you are free to print your own bias. You don’t have right to find any viewpoint you wish in print, you have a right to print any viewpoint you wish. Freedom of the press means you are free to buy a press and go at it, not that you can sit on your ass and have prechewed ideas spoon fed to you.
The world is market place of ideas. These bias/not-really-free presses chants are the pathetic, infantile prattle of people who think their ideas are a lot more important than everyone else does. If no one is listening to you, it’s gotta be that the media is too biased, and the free speech isn’t really free, and a homosexual/privileged white male/post patriarchy/Zionist/fundamentalist agenda is keeping you back. In short, it’s just gotta be anything except the idea that no one is listening because they don’t care about your stupid viewpoint, because in the marketplace of ideas you are selling a rusty Yugo.
I’m a big believer in the theory that you really learn the ins and outs of something by trying to do it or model it yourself. To better understand politics, I’m trying to write my own constitution. It’s shockingly difficult. I mean, I did expect that it would be hard, but this is crazy. One of the first ideas I had to let go of was my theory of no contraband. My basic thought here was guns, drugs, and pornography. I know some conservative person just read this and is now convinced, more than ever, that I am rapidly going to hell. Allow me to explain.
I don’t believe in bad objects. I believe the morality of an object is decided by its use. To try and legislate against an object, instead of its use is to say to the world at large, “You’re all either to stupid to use this responsibly, or just plain evil. Either way, you couldn’t possible use this object morally. No one could! So the object is banned, banned I say!” I think that is wrong and sort of stupid.
Let me make a parallel to free speech. True free speech means speech you don’t like. It’s that freakin’ simple. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, they all believed in a kind of free speech! They all believed they should be free to say whatever they wanted. It was the freedom of others to speak they made illegal. Because we, and the people we agree with, want to be free, we grudging accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we tolerate other’s ridiculous babble so that we allowed our Righteous Pulpit of Truth.
Free ownership is the same. Free ownership means some people are going to own things some people don’t like. Again, communist tyrants and the kings of old were very pro-private property: the party or royals should be free to own anything and maybe everything. The people, not so much. Since we all want to own things that some people aren’t going to like, we must grudgingly accept the fact that everyone is going to have to be free, and we must tolerate others ridiculous and vile possesions, so we may keep our treasured and divine baubles. (To the moralists who might think they don’t have or want any offensive possession, I remind you that every religion’s holy book has been banned in part or totality at one time or another.)
I always thought it bizarre that people I knew who were the most pro-gun seemed to support any new anti-drug law which came down the pipe. My father is rabidly pro gun ownership, believing any restriction at all on gun ownership is a plot to disarm law abiding people and take over the country. But, on the other hand, I remember Dad explaining to me once that even though some people might have the self control to use, rather than abuse drugs, most people would not. Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money. Thus it was better to have drugs be illegal. “But, Dad, if that’s true of drugs why not guns? I mean some people might have the self responsibility to use rather than abuse guns, but most people wouldn’t. Their abuse would cost society in lives, crime, and money. So shouldn’t guns be restricted?”
Oh no, he assured me. Gun crime was lowest in the places with the least restrictions on guns, proving guns had a positive effect on society. “But wouldn’t legalizing drugs have the same effect? Where we have drug dealers now, we’d have tax paying pharmacies. Where criminally supporting addicts need to steal thousands of dollars now, they’d only need to steal tens of dollars for the same high.”
We never did come to see eye to eye on the issue.
I still see it the same way, though. Guns can be for recreation and utility. They can provide a fun afternoon of target shooting, put meat on the table, money in the economy (in the form of hunting licenses, boat licenses etc.) and they can save your life from an attacker. That’s using a gun. They can also be abused. They can rob a bank, terrorize your fellow man, kill someone accidently, or even murder. Drugs are the same. They give people something to gather around, they numb heartache and physical pain. Many can be grown in your backyard and sold (if legal) at a farmers’ market. They can also kill, drive to desperate acts, and destroy families. Use or abuse, the choice is up to you.
And I think porn is the same. Porn can be an outlet for the outlet-less, a fun way to kill an afternoon, a business opportunity, and, if both partners enjoy it, a relationship builder. It can also be an obsession, a perversion, a gateway to far more damaging behavior, an avenue to exploitation, and, if both partners don’t enjoy it, it can eat a relationship alive.
So my original idea, to prevent the government from promoting the freedom of one group to dislike something over the freedom of another to like it, was to simply remove all laws defining “contraband.”
Congress shall make no law forming any contraband of any kind.
My theory was that, yes, this would allow people to own crazy, dangerous things, but; (1.) You can already own anything you want in any society. Illegality just makes the profit margin thicker for the seller because it does nothing to decrease demand, but increases the scarcity of supply; (2.) Making it legal would decrease demand because it’s not as cool anymore; (3.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can get it. Cyanide is deadly and dangerous, but legal. It’s used in some welding operations. Anyone can get it, they just have to have the right bits of paper first; (4.) Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can afford it. It’s not illegal for a person to own radioactive material, for instance. There’s some in your smoke detector. But the price to quantity ratio makes it unlikely that anyone will do anything antisocial with it; (5.) We tend to misunderstand risks of legality all the time. Car’s kill around 50,000 people a year in the US alone. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for people under 40. Cars are legal and kill in the tens of thousands. Treehouses (stats on treehouses as a cause of death, anyone?) are illegal in many cities.
It’s a good theory on all of the above points. I don’t believe in punishing people for the capacity to do wrong which certain objects might give them. You shouldn’t prevent someone from owning a gun when there is no reason to believe they won’t use it responsibly. You shouldn’t prevent them from growing poppies or weed or owning a car or having a treehouse because they are assumed to be responsible and free until they prove they are going to use their freedom to harm others, instead of just themselves.
The problem is an odd and specific one; items, the creation of which requires breaking the law, but are not stolen. Example one: bits of an endangered species. So, you go to the store and you buy a white tiger robe. You didn’t kill a white tiger; the poacher did, and once the tiger was dead, it’s not like you could make it alive by not buying it. If there is no contraband, then a person cannot get in trouble for owning a white tiger robe, only for killing the white tiger to get it. So, supply is illegal, but demand is fine.
There is a solution to example one. All free game belongs to the people, whose right over it is administered by the State. (It’s already that way in New Jersey, by the way.) Then, owning it constitutes owning stolen property, as such, it can be seized, and returned to it’s rightful owner, and the un-rightful owner held to various consequences depending on their level of involvement in the original theft.
Example two is a bit more evil: child pornography. While I believe that any consenting adult should be able to see (and do) pretty much anything regarding another consenting adult, the sexual exploitation of children is never acceptable. Applying a parallel of example one doesn’t work, because even if all children are the property of the state (a profoundly lousy idea) the image of a crime is not identical to the crime. Owning a stolen tiger pelt is not the same as having a picture of someone stealing one.
My basic theory was that property is not good or bad, but can only be used for good or bad, but this sort of falls apart with child pornography. There is no good side to child pornography. There is no way to “use” rather than abuse it. For it to exist something unconscionable must happen. How can a society embrace the freedom of adults to own what they wish, and follow the general truism of the amorality of tangible things, and yet keep this one thing contraband?
My answer is this: what makes child pornography is wrong is the exploitation. The photo is amoral. The evil is the exploitation which went into making the photo. As such, the real problem here is one of exploitation. Pornography of a non-consenting adult is no more and no less wrong. That being the case, exploitive pornography is treated as any other evidence of a crime (in this case rape). The holder of the evidence is accused as an accomplice to the crime until they can provide evidence otherwise. Child pornography is especially evil, but we need not throw out due process to pursue and punish it.
On this day, the anniversary of the founding of our nation, I want to talk abit about magical thinking and how it applies to law. I’m sure that all my readers have read me quote Wikipedia’s definition of magical thinking sufficiently at this point. So, I will just use my own understanding to break it down this time, and skip the quote.
Magical thinking consists of several different basic issues: Correlation equaling causation, contagion, synchronicity, and symbol power. All of them profoundly rooted in the laws of our land.
Correlation as causation is the idea that related events must cause each other. People who own homes generally don’t get caught breaking into cars. Thus, a multi-billion dollar tax write-off (mortgage payments being tax deductable) is foisted upon an unthinking public. (Obviously, owning a home does not cause good behavior, it is merely associated with it.)
Contagion is the idea that things placed near each other share some transfer of identity or quality. From this concept, the voodooist makes a doll of the persons’ clothes or hair, the clairvoyant needs something that belonged to the deceased, and the Catholic church claims healings resultant from holy relics.
Synchronicity seeks to relate a number of random events with unifying cause. For instance, the charge that California suffers many earthquakes because it is the center of the United States pornography industry rather than because of the San Andres fault.
The power of symbols, is what I wish to talk about today. Dwight Conquergood said this of symbol power “Symbols instill beliefs and shape attitudes that underpin social structures. The binding force of culture, by and large, is a web of symbols that enables people to control and make sense out of experience in patterned ways.” Tarot for Dummies has this to say “You may not even realize it, but your life is shaped by symbols that are passed to you or inherited from your culture, your race, your peer and social groups, and your family” and further “The picture symbol of an evergreen tree decorated with lights and other ornaments is an archetype for Christmas. Without consciously thinking about it, you are prompted to think of snow and Christmas presents when you see a picture like this. (And depending on your past experiences, you may feel anything from excitement and hope to depression and anxiety.)”
Symbols have no more power than we give them, but often, as a society, we grant enormous power to certain symbols. Imagine you are lost and need to ask for directions. Think of a small plain building with a flagpole in front. On the flagpole flies Nestle Company flag. Would you be comfortable stopping there? Most likely. Now, imagine the same scene, only the building flying a Nazi flag. Would you stop for directions? If not (and most people do say “no”) why not? From a logical stand point, why not stop? In a democratic society there will obviously be people you disagree with. Is a historical revisionist, white supremest somehow more evil corporate lawyer? (Turn your attention again to Nestle, it has purposefully marketed infant formula to developing nations’ mothers by having actresses dress has nurses and give away free samples until the mothers milk dries up, then begin charging for it. They also use child slaves in the processing of their chocolate.)
Despite the fact that both represent oppressive regimes, you would most likely stop for Nestle, but not for Nazi. The greatest absurdity, of course, is that a person’s adherence to bankrupt moral code has little to do with their capacity to get you from 10th Street to Mulligan Avenue.
That is the power of a symbol. One associates so much with the mere symbol that the instant response is revulsion and fear. That a symbol of 60 year old failed government induces more concern than the corporate herald of multi-billion dollar corporation that employs child slaves in the third world to make candies for child consumers in the first also shows how the power of symbols can have nothing to do with what is truly being represented, and everything to do with what people feel is represented. Finally, it shows how a group may maintain a symbol and operate under the social protection that the perception of that symbol provides.
How does this relate back to this Independence Day? The constitution of our country is not the law of our land. That which is fair and just is rarely simple. The constitution is not the law, but the heart of the law, the principals from which the laws are derived. The real “law of the land” is the United States Legal Code available here. In a democracy, the law will never be simple. Different groups and people will require compromise and specification. Which means volumes, rather than pages of law.
You will hear in these United States constant statements such as “The Constitution guarantees certain rights”. And that, dear readers, is bullshit. The constitution is lovely piece of old paper. Next time your rights are being violated, call out to the constitution. See if it sprouts little parchment legs and comes running to your defense, a musty musket clutched to its flat, printed breast. The constitution is a symbol. It is not the symbol of justice which makes justice,but just men and women. Rosa Parks was granted her rights not by the Constitution in a little glass box but by the work of her hands and the bravery in her heart.
The Constitution is the symbol of everything that is right in the country. I mean it no disrespect. But let us remember, today of all days, that it is not the symbol of freedom that guarantees our freedom. It is free men and women, fighting to stay so. Do not put your trust in the symbol of power, but its source: your own heart.