Category Archives: Citizens or Serfs

That Chewing Sensation…

Life occasionally offers us delicious examples of comeuppances to our enemies. Recent events have provided two in quick succession:

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I hope you weren’t eating. But we need a reminder. This is Dianne Feinstein, U. S. senator from the State of California. Those of us who care about rights are well versed in her dedication to tyranny, but just in case some of my readers have missed the memo, here’s what she told 60 Minutes:

More recently, she’s taken time off from pushing gun control to criticize the actions of Edward Snowden, accusing him of treason. She has no problem with the NSA spying on American citizens.

But in the last few days, she’s swung around so fast that I’m surprised her hair isn’t on backward. It seems that the CIA had the nerve to spy on the Senate. And that’s too much for her highness. Has she become a born-again good citizen, ready to protect our rights? I doubt it. But it is pleasant to see her cooked in her own sauces.

This story recalls the tale of the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion asks the frog for a ride across a river, and though the frog is suspicious, he allows the scorpion on his back. The scorpion stings the frog in midstream, explaining that such an act is in its nature. The characteristic of spy agencies is that they spy. It’s the job of legislators to provide oversight, not carte blanche, but when someone like Feinstein falls down in her duty, she has only herself to blame when she is on the receiving end of violations.

She’s not alone, though, in experiencing a comeuppance. Blowhard British loudmouth, Piers Morgan–this fellow:

Piers_Morgan_2012

is set to have his show, Piers Morgan Live, cancelled by CNN. Morgan developed a reputation for telling Americans how we should run our country and for shouting over his guests who didn’t meekly agree with his every comment. And lo! his ratings plummeted.

Now he’s welcome to express himself however he chooses, but at the same time, we’re not under any obligation to listen to him.

These two deserve each other:

With any luck, they can buy an island and inhabit it together, monitoring each other’s activities and explaining to each other how they are superior to the rest of us.

Barring that, we can enjoy seeing them wake up to the chomping sensation in their bums. Feinstein and Morgan, what you’re feeling is called life biting you in the arse. Since sitting will be difficult for you, how about joining us in standing up for our rights?

Rules for Thee, But Not for Me

On my favorite gun control blog, Mikeb302000, I ran across an article on the latest abuse of power by a mayor in New York. And no, it’s not Michael Bloomberg.

Apparently, the mayor of Rochester, one Lovely Warren:

Lovely-Warren

has decided that she needs two armed bodyguards, including one who is her uncle. This, of course, is what she needs, but she supported the New York SAFE Act, a gun control measure that places new infringements on the already violated rights of New Yorkers to own and carry guns.

Hypocrisy, much? Abuse of power, perhaps?

And so, with apologies to Alan Jay Lerner, I present to you, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the unwashed air
In my mayorial chair.
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Lots of chocolates for me to eat,
Bodyguards all packing heat,
Including Uncle Reggie sweet.
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Oh, my people abso-blooming-lutely disarmed,
And I won’t ever budge to help
No matter how much they’re harmed.

The people’s rights resting in my hands,
My oath of office flows away like sand,
Corrupted power makes me feel so grand.
Oh. wouldn’t it be loverly?

Loverly, loverly, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Book Larnin’

I’ve had plenty of things to say about education on this weblog. Since I’ve spent the last fifteen years teaching, the subject comes naturally to me. And it’s not just out of self-interest that I support universal and public education. But a recent article on The Huffington Post about Common Core standards that are spreading a layer of varnish over our failing schools reminds me of the need to be clear about what exactly we’re trying to do in education in the first place.

1. Critical thinking

Plato's_Academy_mosaic_from_Pompeii

Another way to put this is logic. Knowing how to think correctly and how to spot erroneous thinking–in others and in one’s own thoughts. That is the one essential skill that students and indeed citizens must have. That skill alone, what the ancients would have called philosophy, makes everything else accessible and useful.

2. Other skills

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These certainly include literacy and numeracy, civics, history, and science, among many other things. Students should have opportunities to find careers that suit them and to learn the skills necessary for those fields.

3. Exposure

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Schools should show students things that they might not otherwise encounter. Not everyone gets to see great paintings, listen to music beyond what’s immediately popular, or hear about the many claims of science and religions at home. To make an informed choice, we have to have some notion of the broad world that we have yet to explore personally.

4. Exercise

Palestra,_Pompeii

My advisor in college told me that I needed to take a P.E. class–to knock a ball around or something similar. I objected until I saw sailing as one of the options. But in the fine tradition of the Greeks, an educated person improved the body as well as the mind, and given our health concerns in the modern age, that old idea remains valid.

What is the purpose of all of this? For one thing, a wealthy nation should have excellent citizens. But a nation in which citizens participate in their own governance requires an educated population to function. Another article on The Huffington Post decries the influence of money in politics, but with educated voters, money becomes irrelevant.

And that is the point. Citizens make a society in their own image, and I want our image to be an educated one.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

My writing for sale.

Citizen or Serf?

There’s been a healthy debate going on regarding my article titled, “A Few Appropriate Remarks.” Orlin Sellers, someone I’ve come to know on the Internet at Mikeb302000′s gun control blog, has been arguing with me about whether paying taxes makes a person a slave.

Reeve_and_Serfs

My position in the debate has been that taxes and slavery are two different things. Yes, we are required to pay taxes, much as the serfs in the picture were required to surrender a portion of their produce to the lord of the land. We’re also obliged to follow the rules. But there is a key difference. Serfs or slaves has no choice in their own affairs. Citizens do. That was the essence of the argument presented by the Founders of this nation, that if we are to be taxed, we must have a voice in deciding those taxes.

At one point, we had the choice to go west. Much of the popularity of the western comes from our feeling that if we don’t like the way things are done, we can always seek freedom in the wilderness. My character, Henry Dowland, does just that. But until human beings start colonizing outer space, for the moment, this world is thoroughly occupied, and we’re left with life in society. Government is how we manage that.

To be sure, our government does try to spill over the boundaries that we have allowed it to operate in. The NSA and the IRS are two recent examples in a long history. But we have the power and the duty to rein in government. As George Washington warned us, government is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. The difference is found here:

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and here:

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As long as we exercise those rights, we are citizens. If we are silent, we become serfs.

Rights Are Rights

Recently, I watched the Ken Burns documentary, Prohibition. It was typical for Burns’s work, quotations from ordinary people about their lives, talking heads one after another to tell us what it’s all about, and a heavy dose of earnestness. But one thing stood out for me–namely, the link between the prohibition of alcohol and the women’s suffrage movement.

Now, I’d known about that before, but in thinking about it while watching the film, I was struck by how the push for recognizing one type of right

Mayer-Awakening-1915

was tied to the denial of another.

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In fact, votes for women were delayed in part because women’s suffrage and temperance leagues were so closely related.

But that wasn’t the only questionable link. The Ku Klux Klan also supported votes for women, given their common interest in banning alcohol.

But why should that matter? Unsavory characters sometimes endorse good candidates and good ideas, and politics is the mother of strange bedfellows, as the saying goes. The problem, though, is the expansion of one kind of freedom at the expense of another.

Pay attention to that last sentence. By no means am I saying that women should be denied the right to vote. It is the right of all citizens to participate in the running of their country. At the same time, there is a basic dissonance in demanding your own rights be recognized while seeking to deny rights to others.

Is drinking alcohol a right? I’ve discussed the subject of rights many times before. Regular readers will have seen my discussion of gun rights in particular. But on what basis can we ground a given right?

The old answer was that God gives us our rights, though that answer no longer satisfies the modern world. A more recent model is that society grants us rights by consensus, but this is especially insufficient, since whatever society decides to give, society can also take away, as the twentieth century reminded us all too often.

My solution to this question is to say that rights are an expression of our power to choose. As an individual, I am able to make decisions for myself. I can act autonomously. As long as I am not harming innocent others, I must be free to do as I wish, and the same goes for you, Dear Reader. This is why many things ought not to be subject to a vote. We have no business directing the private choices of others, and we must employ the lightest of touches when guiding actions in public.

An example of how this is forgotten is found in Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children’s Defense Fund and frequent author on The Huffington Post. She advocates for protection and aid of children, and in that, she has a noble cause. When she ventures into pushing gun control, however, she commits the same error that the suffragists did a century ago in wanting to curtail some rights to support others.

Better it is to seek to do good unmixed than to mingle good with evil. We do not defend one right by violating another. We do not breathe life into one right by strangling a different right. And when we permit one right to be denied, we deny them all.

Enough seriousness. Lift a glass, and celebrate freedom.

I Am a Human Being!

Remember the insistence of the Elephant Man that he is a human being? The local NPR station, KUAF, played an announcement that the Northwest Arkansas Human Resources Association, Inc. will be holding a conference in the area.

In days gone by, the office in a company in charge of employee information and pay was the personnel department. Now, such pencil pushers are called human resource officers.

The word, resource, refers to supplies, means of resort or use, or skills. These are inanimate things. They are not persons with wills of their own.

I am not a stand of trees. I am not a mineral. I am not something that is to be exploited to the point of exhaustion and discarded.

I am a human being.

What’s Your Take?

Have a look at this video:

I see a fine example of the human spirit to overcome whatever obstacles life throws at us. I also like the man’s remark that foreign invaders should think twice when even this fellow will be armed.

But notice what one of the Internet’s best known gun control freaks uses for a tag in his post about this:

http://mikeb302000.blogspot.com/2013/08/amazing-double-amputee-loads-and-shoots.html

He called the man in this video a disqualified person.

We’ve been discussing what makes someone qualified or disqualified to own guns over at Mikeb’s site. He has stated that physical disabilities, including obesity, make someone unfit to own a firearm. Of course, my assessment of his position is that he wants few if any Americans to be armed. He would disagree with the way I interpret his desires, and that’s fine. But I find the idea that someone who has no arms but who demonstrates his ability to operate a firearm safely is still disqualified from owning one to be a revolting notion.

Remember these two articles, Mikeb’s and mine, when you think about supporting gun control.

A Sacred Document of a Sacred Idea

Take a look at this document:

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This is the Constitution of the United States of America. I get into tangles all the time over at Mikeb302000 about the nature of this document. Mikeb loves to point to the elements that offend the modern leftist–slavery and the Second Amendment being the predominate targets. By contrast, I see our constitution as sacred.

Understand that by sacred, I don’t mean perfect or beyond change. I have discussed here, for example, how I wish the first two amendments were written and what I see as circumstances that would justify overthrowing the constitutionally legitimate government. Certainly, the document itself has provisions for amendment, showing a recognition from the start that changes might be necessary as time went by.

That being said, there are fundamental principles of our constitution that should not be changed. It establishes a nation and defines the government that will regulate that nation, and that definition sets strict limits on what powers each branch of the government may have. It divides government into three branches to place further limits on the extent of that power. The first ten amendments enumerate rights that the Founders regarded as necessary to protect by name.

But the argument gets made that we don’t really need such protection anymore. Surely a modern, democratic society can maintain rights by the consensus of the people.

Think again. An example of the dangers of that point of view came up yesterday (20 August 2013) in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian. I’ve given a link to the full story, but I’m going to point out one significant statement that Rusbridger made:

And this may be – sound strange to American listeners, but there is no First Amendment in the U.K. and there is no bar on prior restraint, the idea that the state could prevent a news organization from publishing by taking back its source material.

Caught it, yes? Without the First Amendment, there is nothing in Britain to prevent the government from blocking publication of a story.

What story are we talking about? The one reported by Glenn Greenwald of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing about the American NSA’s invasions of privacy. The British government also detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under powers given by terrorism legislation. This is one of those coincidences that those of us who enjoy language note, since it was another Miranda who caused a limitation of police power in the United States.

There are people who claim that all of this security theater is keeping us safe, who see what has happened in Britain as a model for what should be done here. To them, we are nowhere near tyranny, so we should just shut up and trust the government. (I’m talking to you, Mr. President.) That kind of sheepish attitude is unbecoming for people who have overthrown a government that was not respecting their rights, fought a civil war to defend rights, and who claim to love liberty today. The only way to guarantee that we don’t fall into the kind of police state that some of us warn about is to fight against every step in that direction.

Bringing In the Outlaws

This year’s political theater over gun control included a yearning for more background checks. The idea there is to keep felons on the loose (and certifiably crazy people) from having access to firearms. This brings to my mind David Codrea’s statement that if you can’t be trusted with a gun, you can’t be trusted without a custodian. But more than that, it reminds me that the way we do “criminal justice” in this society makes little sense.

Our primary response to everything from possessing small quantities of the wrong plant to murder is to put the person who done the deed in prison. Of course, if you’re into financial crimes, you stand in good chance of getting away with that. It helps to have a number of politicians on your payroll, naturally.

But this system couldn’t buy a gun legally in this country, thanks to its clear insanity. Here’s my suggestion for a reformation of our criminal justice system:

1. Violent crimes warrant an extended stay on the state’s dime, to include a program of re-education while in the government’s custody. No early release. No cable television. No parole, furlough, or other nonsense about how the prison is overcrowded so we’re letting the thug go. If you offer violence to someone who was doing no wrong to you, you deserve to spend a long time away from society.

2. Crimes of negligence, financial crimes, or property crimes that don’t involve violence should be punished through compensatory and punitive damages being paid in restitution. There is no sense in putting someone who commits check fraud in prison, only to let that person learn how to be a better criminal from fellow inmates. That person also cannot do anything useful to pay back those who were defrauded while in custody. Bernie Madoff, for example, may be getting what he deserves, but if he were cleaning the toilets at minimum wage of the people whose finances he ruined, that would be some measure of justice.

3. Malum prohibitum “crimes”–in other words, all the things that are crimes because today’s Puritans don’t like them–should no longer be crimes. Significant portions of prisoners at all levels are incarcerated for drug offenses. If you want to smoke weed, eat Cheetos, and listen to Pink Floyd records, that’s fine with me. As long as you don’t drive or involve children or otherwise put someone who doesn’t want to participate at risk, it’s no hurt, no foul in my book.

These all probably sound reasonable, or at least consistently libertarian. Here’s where the radical part comes:

Once the sentence or restitution is complete, the person should return to full rights and ability to take part in society.

I mean everything–voting, toting guns, working in a bank, whatever. Perhaps there could be a restriction on working in nuclear weapons labs or the like, but that’s iffy. My point here is that we learned a while ago, or so we claim, that our kind of society can’t have second-class citizens. But that’s exactly what having a criminal record makes a person.

But what about child molesters? What about repeat offenders? What about the incorrigibly violent or fradulant?

I can see a place for keeping a record on file about a person’s criminal activities. A second visit to the system could be noted and would earn a longer or more detailed sentence. But the decision that someone no longer needs to be locked up must mean exactly that–the person no longer needs to be supervised by the state for the good of us all. For example, a child molester, so far as I understand things, can never achieve that status and should be removed forever. (I would accept the death penalty here, but a life sentence can be good enough.)

What I’m saying is that we have to choose here. Is the person in question ready to be a full citizen or not? If yes, then no waffling about that. If no, then why are we allowing that person to wander the streets?

A License to Insurrection?

A while ago at a gun control blog that I frequent, namely Mikeb302000, we had a discussion about whether the Constitution of the United States authorizes a rebellion against the govenerment.

This question arose because some who advocate for gun rights have argued that the Second Amendment was written to give the American people the power to rebel against a U.S. government gone agley. This line of reasoning suggests that since the Founders had just fought a war of rebellion against the British Empire, they understood the need for that option to be available to future generations.

Of course, this thinking ignores two facts, human nature and the nature of law:

1. Rebels declare themselves to be against authority precisely until they are themselves the authorities. At that point, they see themselves as deserving the loyalty of the people they rule.

2. Legal systems rarely, if ever, include permission to overthrow them, even if pressing conditions exist.

So do we have a right to rebel against our government?

Yes–with caveats.

Whenever government overreaches, it loses some measure of its justification for existing. We in the United States have been fortunate for a long time that our government has kept itself within sufficient bounds that its excesses have been remedied–for the most part, but not altogether, alas–through the courts and legislatures. The War on Terror of the last more than a decade has called into question the legitimacy of our recent and current administrations, as we have seen within the last few days, thanks to the revelations of NSA spying on American telephone calls.

Obama’s response to this news?

If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

I do not take comfort in that. In fact, I hope that we do not come to a point at which our government loses all justification and deserves to be overthrown. But the question remains as to how such a rebellion would itself be justified. I answer that with the following two points:

1. The American Revolution was based on the premise that the new government to be created by the rebels would offer better protection of the rights of the people than the British government. It’s the equivalent of a man asking a woman to divorce her husband on the grounds that the new man can treat her better. That may be true, but the new fellow loses his claim if he falls short.

2. More than that, morality and rights are prior to law. That is to say, we are born with rights. Morality is how we protect each other’s rights while we live together. Law is a tertiary system that defends and depends upon the first two.

Governments exist to protect the rights of people living within their jurisdictions and to encourage through cooperative effort the growth in areas such as culture, technology, and so forth. Government is justified when it uses its power to the furtherance of those ends, and its legal system provides the detailed explanation of how it may operate.

Perhaps the Founders wrote the Second Amendment with these ideas in mind. But I prefer to avoid the intentional fallacy and take the text as it’s written. Beyond that, we must keep nested priorities in order and recognize that we do not justify the concept of insurrection in law but in higher sources.

Understand that this is not advocating treason or rebellion. It is instead a reminder to all of us, both citizen and government agent, that we must work within the system, so long as that system is serving its purpose. As long as we all remember that requirement, there should never be the need for anything else.