Sunday, December 26, 2010
Christianity causes one to face the Truth directly;
And so it can cause one to turn from Truth AS directly.
That is the greatest danger inherent in God’s Word;
That man, once faced with the Truth, may reject it the most completely.
Every little bit of it,
And start talking the most complete nonsense.
And by the way,
The English Language is losing its soul.
Monday, November 8, 2010
A couple of weeks after I saw the Daily Show interview I happened to see a clip of Bill Maher and this led to a discussion with Ryan regarding Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’ peculiar brand of moral elitism in which I mentioned the interview and his new book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Values”. Since I hadn’t read the book (and still haven’t), the information I used in the discussion about Sam Harris’ theory about a scientific basis for morality was at that time entirely from the Daily Show interview. After the conversation, I wanted to learn more about Sam Harris’ theory and to that end I found Sam Harris’ TED speech. What follows is a response to both the Daily Show interview and the TED speech, both of these were afterward supplemented by several reviews I read of Harris’ book from an Atheist point of view.
Morals concern what one ought to do in a given situation; how one ought to behave. The question is, why ought one to do one thing rather than another?
Therefore, the word “ought” is most often found with “if” or “because”, as in, “I ought to do this if…” or, “We ought to do this because…”
By one rationale (the most common rationale among secular non-religious people) morals depend for their values on preferred outcomes. This is known as Consequentialism. In Consequentialism, the ends are what matter and so, according to this theory, the ends always justify the means or, put another way, the means are always justified in the end.
And though Sam Harris’ theory seems to be consequentialist in that he believes human behavior is moral or immoral insofar as it does or does not contribute to the promotion of a previously defined outcome or effect, i.e. Human Flourishing, it seems apparent that Sam Harris absolutely DOES NOT wish to believe that some behaviors like rape, torture, or slavery, are value neutral in and of themselves. Rather, it seems that he desperately wants to believe that some behaviors are always wrong even when the intention of those engaging in such behaviors is ostensibly to promote Human Flourishing.
Harris does this by supposing the concept of Human Flourishing to be an objectively quantifiable concept. But though both terms in that generic phrase "Human Flourishing" are rather more vague than we would like, it is the word “human” rather than the word "flourishing" which is in the most desperate need of clarification.
We may choose to agree with Mr. Harris and presume the near possibility of measuring brain wave patterns in order to determine what "Human Flourishing" looks like on the individual human level, but once we get above the level of the individual we find we have competing and conflicting interests among a diversity of individual humans. Even if neurology is a hard science, sociology is not, and the concept of Human Flourishing will certainly be a thing more accurately quantified at the micro level than at the macro level.
But let us plunge forward with Mr. Harris to a not too distant future when all the brain’s waves have been scanned , all its regions mapped, and to where it’s been determined once and for all what Human Flourishing looks like in the individual human brain. And let us continue on to when conditions have been arranged in the life of some one individual so that, as far as brain wave patterns and the individual’s own opinion were concerned, he flourished. Day and night, week in and week out, this one individual flourished.
Now let us, multiply it out, block by block, city by city, region by region, nation by nation, and say that conditions have been so arranged so that every human being on the planet could scientifically be said to be flourishing. What leap of logic allows us to believe that the occurrence of this great mass of individual humans flourishing can be directly translated as a real representation of the concept “Human Flourishing”?
And assuming for the moment that such a leap can be made and that the occurrence of Every-Individual-Human-Being-Flourishing at once CAN be translated into Human Flourishing in Mr. Harris’ sense, (and assuming that this is indeed the goal towards which human activity is meant to be directed), does it follow that ANY human activity discovered through scientific methods to promote that preferred outcome is therefore moral? On the consequentialist model, the answer would have to be “yes”.
What sort of activities might we be talking about? Earlier, I used the phrase “conditions could be arranged”, but nobody really has any idea what those conditions might look like. How are we to arrive at a scientific knowledge of the necessary arrangement of conditions needed to stimulate optimal Human Flourishing at the macro level--the level of all individual human beings flourishing in community? Won’t this proper arrangement have to be arrived at through the slow and arduous process of experimentation by trial and error? And isn’t it likely that there’ll be many failed attempts at finding the proper arrangement before the right one is finally worked out?
And what of all the failures? The phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” shouldn’t much concern a devout atheist like Sam Harris but it might at least cause him to question the sufficiency of his arguments concerning a scientific basis for morality. If thousands of experiments were conducted to find the right arrangement of conditions to promote Human Flourishing but human misery was the result hundreds of times before the optimal arrangement was finally hit upon, how would such a process be seen from a moral point of view?
And what if after all that experimentation the arrangement most conducive to human wellbeing in the aggregate was found to be one in which the majority of humans flourished at the expense of a small minority of humans who didn’t. Or what if the project to achieve universal wellbeing succeeded but only by reducing the human experience to drug-addled dependency or grey matter in jars?
In other words, what if the optimal arrangement included by necessity attitudes, activities, and behaviors that Sam Harris would like to believe are obviously immoral?
Indeed, what if it turned out, much to Sam Harris' chagrin, that the ideal arrangement was life under a worldwide Caliphate and under the strict administration of Sharia Law? What if this were the arrangement, discovered through an exhaustive process of experimentation under the most uncompromising laboratory conditions, that most perfectly resulted in world peace and real, universal Human Flourishing in the aggregate? After all, it may be that science will reach as deeply into the human experience as it possibly can and find that that sort of universal homogeny, unity of purpose and belief, and single-minded zeal for something beyond and “other than” our material existence is absolutely necessary to our human wellbeing. Sam Harris may stamp his feet and declare that nothing beyond the material world exists and that such fairy stories are a dangerous delusion. Only in this case, if it were a delusion it would nonetheless have turned out to be a necessary one. If, for the sake of argument, humans are nothing but the products or our genes, evolved in such a way as to render us the greatest potential odds for survival, then the human tendency to direct our actions towards the service of things we can’t materially verify is certainly a product of that struggle for survival and may be something as necessary, natural to, and indistinguishable from the healthy flourishing human psyche as light and laughter. It may be as natural and as necessary as the alternation of night and day.
Science must take man as he is and what science discovers is that the majority of men throughout recorded history and right up to the present have exhibited a need to order their life in the service of religion, that they finds reasons for ritual, and that most of them demand to offer back something to someone or something they can’t perceive merely for that Something’s sake. That some humans seem to have no need of religion or ritual doesn’t prove that the need of most men for religion and for a life ordered according to the demands of that religion is something extrinsic or artificial to the human experience. If the exception proves the rule in ninety-nine cases out of one-hundred, why shouldn’t the minority of exceptions prove the rule in this case? If some small percentage of creatures in the human species don’t have the capacity to experience such a thing as numinous awe, perhaps they lack something intrinsic, essential, and necessary? In practical terms, this absence may be of no more serious effect than a lack of pigmentation or the ability to see color. And yet, in the race to flourish beyond the capacity for mere survival, these could be useful if not necessary attributes to have. Life would certainly be less colorful without them.
Grant for the sake of argument that this desire for religion, ritual, and sacrifice evolved "accidently", as it were. Perhaps, as man struggled to eke out an existence against tremendous odds and under conditions that should probably have caused a creature of such heightened awareness to despair, perhaps it was only this evolved capacity, the capacity for Hope, that enabled him to “Flourish”.
In the end, encouraging people to place their hope in some yet-to-be-realized scientific accomplishment may turn out to be exactly the wrong thing to do. Such a hope may be only a pale and inadequate substitute for the “ignorant superstitions” that have given mankind Hope up to now.
So far we’ve been playing on the field of Sam Harris’ choosing. We’ve been trying to show that science cannot provide a moral basis for evaluating actions directed toward preferred results. And we’ve been trying to show that Sam Harris’ attempt to provide such a basis for evaluating human actions and behavior is at cross purposes with his desire to believe that some behavior is really truly immoral regardless of the intended effect.
I admit, I would have a hard time determining a basis for evaluating actions and behavior in a moral sense if I came at it from the direction that Sam Harris does and, to be frank, I can’t even say for sure whether I’d find such an attempt worth pursuing. If we’re all left alone on this planet with nary a star to guide us than we should just pick a destination that looks attractive and drive; and if obstacles obstruct us we should smash them away or get smashed in the process. It's the height of hubris to suppose that science could tell us that one destination is better than any other.
But if the destination we wish to pursue is “Human Flourishing”, so be it. Let us define whatever it is we wish “Human Flourishing” to mean and then harness whatever is within our power to achieve that goal.
Daily Show clip URL: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-october-4-2010/sam-harris
Appearance on October 4, 2010
“The New Naysayers” URL: http://www.newsweek.com/2006/09/10/the-new-naysayers.html
Newsweek; Jerry Adler, September 11, 2006
Bill Maher clip URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZlhiL0lrfE
Appearance on George Lopez Tonight, October 26, 2010
Sam Harris’ TED Speech URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Readers of my blog (I assume there may be one or two of you out there) might expect me to come down against the proposed erection of a Mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
(Quoted from “Women aren't properly represented in scientific studies” by Melinda Wenner Moyer. Published on Slate.com; http://www.slate.com/id/2261297/, July 28th, 2010)
The ability of our laws to reflect common sense by distinguishing one sort of thing from another has largely evaporated. I say “largely” because our law still distinguishes those who might need special assistance and extra protections from those who don’t, such as the differently-abled or the economically disenfranchised. But because our law, when it DOES distinguish one thing from another, distinguishes the so-called disadvantaged from “the rest of us”, the tendency is to see such distinctions as a declaration of relative value—as if the difference being recognized is a declaration that one thing is less than another thing.
One may argue that laws ensuring special help for the disadvantaged do no such thing and of course in theory that’s true. These laws don’t suggest by implication that one thing has less value than another and they certainly don’t explicate it. But right or wrong, our commons sense tells us that it’s better to be healthy and have the use of one’s own faculties than otherwise and that it’s better to be provided for out of one’s own efforts than to be dependent on the alms of another. The result is that at some level we do see these laws as distinguishing between what is better and what is worse.
Elsewhere, though, our laws are explicit in stating that one thing is of less value than another and should therefore be treated differently. I’m speaking in particular about those laws which afford the newborn child every possible protection while permitting the destruction of the child still in the womb.
In each of these cases, whether intended or not, the distinction recognized by our law is seen as a declaration that one thing is less than another and is for that reason entitled (or doomed) to different treatment.
Where a law recognizes what is believed to be a real and relevant distinction the law is considered just. When such a relevant and real distinction is NOT believed to exist, the law is considered unjust, offensive, those who support the law are scorned as misguided or even evil, and pressure mounts for the law’s repeal.
Those who support the creation of laws that would make it illegal to terminate the life of a child still in the womb are offended by laws that recognize a difference where they don’t believe any real or relevant difference exists. They further believe that science and philosophy are on their side. Pro-abortionists should understand that this is the reason anti-abortionists want to curtail and ultimately deny the “right” of women to terminate their pregnancies. It’s got nothing to do with being backward or draconian or because they aren’t sensitive to the dangers of “back alley abortions”. It’s because they don’t see a real or relevant difference between the child before it’s born and the child after it’s born and since one enjoys the protection of the law so should the other.
Abolitionists were similarly and rightly offended by laws enacted to protect the “right” of white people to keep black people in the manner of cattle. It’s plainly evident to us that no real or relevant difference existed between slave and slave holder but at that time it was a matter of unsettled belief. It was the belief in the essential similarity of African and European which caused laws protecting the legal rights of slaveholders over against the inalienable rights of slaves held to be considered unjust just as it was a belief in the essential dissimilarity between Whites and Blacks that gave those laws their force for so long.
As a consequence of this baggage we’re loathe to have our laws make distinctions of any kind at all. We’re just too prone to seeing differences or distinctions codified by our laws as declarations that one thing is inferior to another.
So the question that ultimately must be decided when evaluating whether certain laws are just or unjust is whether the law is recognizing a real distinction or a false one and for many years the error has been on the side of being willfully blind to real and relevant differences that DO exist as a misguided protection against the potential injustices which might be caused by the opposite error.
One of the results of this forced myopia is that school’s for boys are shuttered or forced to accept girls (and vice versa) because no real or relevant difference is recognized between girls and boys. A consequence of this forced blindness is that some jurisdictions have trouble finding legally justifiable reasons for separate bathrooms and changing facilities even when children in middle-school are concerned.
So accustomed have we become to willfully ignoring the very real and legitimate differences between the sexes that we’ve finally come to the point where half the country doesn’t understand why our laws continue to distinguish committed same-sex unions from their supposed analog in the marriage of husband and wife. Advocates for expanding the definition of marriage contend that there is no difference—or no essential difference—between the two. They contend that what makes it a marriage has nothing at all to do with the genders of the people involved while those on the other side contend that gender has everything to do with it. They who take the position that the gender of the people involved really matters a great deal are loudly accused of bigotry and unjust discrimination by those who think otherwise and to make their point those who favor an expanded definition of marriage compare their opponents to the bigots who were at one time against mixed-race marriages.
But the two issues are not the same.
Where interracial marriage was prohibited by law, it was due to the erroneous belief that white people really were different from black people in necessary essentials. This was also the motivating factor behind Jim Crow laws and myriad other injustices visited upon blacks in so many parts of our country for so long. Of course the reason these laws were unjust is because there isn’t an essential difference between one man and another no matter the color of his skin and the “race” of the people involved has nothing to do with the essential nature of marriage--with what a marriage really is.
But a marriage between two men or two women, if it could be called a marriage, WOULD be an essentially different kind of thing from the marriage of one man and one woman. When our law distinguishes a same-sex union from a marriage the law is recognizing a real and relevant difference between two different things. And further, our marriage laws, in recognizing marriage for what it is, do not treat things that are essentially the same as if they were different.
No matter a man’s sexual preferences, all men are essentially the same and our current law has the positive effect of treating them that way. Any man may marry any women he likes provided certain generally applied conditions are met: That the women in question be of an age to give her consent; that she does, in fact, give her consent; that the women is not already married to another man; and that the women isn’t too closely related to him. These conditions apply to all men indiscriminately.
The push to normalize same-sex monogamous unions by changing the law to recognize them as marriages is operating under the specious presupposition that differences between the sexes are less important, less essential, and less foundational than they really are. It makes the related mistake of believing that changing the name of a thing can change the essential nature of the thing itself and make of something what it is not.
It is undeniably true that wherever laws have recognized women as different from and complementary to men there have been abuses. These abuses and injustices have been contrary to the good that was willed by such recognition. And nearly one-hundred percent of the time the abuses have been to the advantage of men and the disadvantage of women. In the unfortunate course of human history, women have most usually been treated as something essentially less than a man which is to say less-than-human. They were, as a matter of law, denied essential human dignity and respect.
This was wrong in the past and it’s wrong, where it still occurs, in the present. But be that as it may, where laws treated women differently from men it’s because the lawmakers recognized essential differences that can’t be wished or willed away. It's the misapplication of a valid truth and not the truth itself that has so often been the cause of so much evil.
But in our own culture, the war against this evil has swung the pendulum entirely too far the other way. The old injustices have been replaced with new injustices so that on balance the situation we find ourselves in is as bad as what came before. In denying the differences between men and women we have denied our very humanity. The solution to the problem was to set our laws right but instead we’ve denied the differences and pretended they don’t exist. Generations of children have grown up in the environment thus created and have, in the process, lost themselves. A general identity crisis has been the result and the effect has been disastrous for our culture overall.
At the present there is hardly a person alive anywhere in the country who was not raised in an environment which declared men and women identical in every essential respect. The effects of this error are even felt in the areas of human study that should be the most immune to them such as the physical sciences. Men and women are treated as if one is identical and interchangeable with the other.
Can it be any wonder, then, that after generations have been indoctrinated with a false and therefore pernicious philosophy so many are advocating for a change in marriage laws. The changes being sought would merely reflect what they sincerely believe to be true. That if there is no essential difference between men and women—just as there is no essential difference between a black man and a white man—than why should a man be prohibited from marrying another man? Why should gender have anything to do with whether a committed union can legitimately be called a marriage?!?
Our answer must be AND CAN ONLY BE that there is a difference and to our great advantage we can point to the evidence all around us. All of us are either male or female and whether we were blessed to know them or not we all had a mother and a father. We all know how new humans get made and we know it cannot happen unless two very different yet complimentary things are brought together in a certain way. Nature declares what we know by common sense and what can be denied only through the concentrated deceptions of the present age.
Again, I do not wish to exaggerate the differences between men and women. Nor do I intend to invent differences that do not exist.
But what differences do I mean?
On one level, men and women are essentially the same and no one should be able to deny that. We are essentially human. All of us at that level—men and women alike—share certain inherent and inalienable rights which are ours merely by virtue of our common humanity. We share a common origin and we look ahead to a common destination. Our way in this world is necessarily joined and one cannot do without the other for very long. Because I believe this level to be the most important level—the constitutional level—I will refer to this as the superessential level.
At another level, though, men and women are clearly different. We are not the same thing and though those differences may go no further than biology we have yet to mark the outer edges of how those biological differences affect us. At this secondary level, which I will refer to as the essential level, men and women are different.
I think regardless of what we as a society have seen fit to recognize by our laws over the course of the last century or two, and regardless of what many of us profess to believe, the majority of us are aware of these very real differences and understand them perfectly well so that I don’t need to go into great detail explaining them. I would wager, for example, that self-identified homosexuals, as a group and as individuals, are more fully aware than most that those differences go much deeper than biology. A man who prefers men prefers MEN and not merely the male anatomy. This is so because our differences go much deeper than anatomy. And I think it true in my own case that if my desire was for a man rather than my wife it would be a desire for the whole man and not merely a desire for that which made him anatomically different from a woman.
I believe it true that if the majority of us could simply be honest with ourselves, we could all come to a similar conclusion. Our husbands, our wives, and our life partners are either women or men and we love them AS women or men. We are aware, we understand, we recognize the differences between men and women and as much as some of us pretend those differences don’t exist or that those differences are merely incidental, we all know they’re there and what they are. And I think what we say and what we claim to believe (in most cases) are contrary to how we know reality to be. I believe that both our current laws and what we say are contrary to what we, at some level, know to be true. We KNOW that there are essential differences between men and women but because we fear that recognizing those differences may result in their codification in unjust laws and unjust treatment we pretend to ignore them or we say they don’t exist.
And those differences, which AREN’T relevant to voting, driving, working, etc., ARE relevant to the institution of marriage.
Our current laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex unions as “marriage” recognize that however much males and females may be alike, they are formed for different functions and they recognize that it is through marriage that those functions find their most complete expression. Through marriage men can become fathers and husbands, women can become mothers and wives. These connote differences, not just of role, but of the essential nature of the thing itself. A husband is one thing and a wife is another. Each title grows out of the essential nature of the title-holder.
A marriage is a husband and a wife who may, in theory if not always in practice, become a father and a mother. For it is thus that the different functions of man and woman can reach the fullness of their potential.
Those of us who oppose artificially expanding the definition of marriage to include a thing which it is not contend, not only, that a union in the form of a marriage between two men or two women would be a different sort of thing than a union between a man and a women, but we contend that a supposed marriage between two members of the same sex is impossible. Marriage is the union of husband and wife. And just as a man can't be a woman and words can't make him so, a man can't be a wife or mother nor a woman a husband or father. Our words are powerless to change that reality.
I understand the motivation to not have our law distinguish between a same-sex union and an opposite-sex union. None of us want to be treated as different and therefore less than something else. But our laws, in recognizing differences, need not be making declarations of relative worth. And calling by the name of “marriage” that which is not of its nature a marriage would simply be nonsense. Once our laws sustain nonsense the structure on which they depend is reduced to nonsense as well.
So that our society may not descend into utter nonsense, may we recognize things as they are, differences and all and, hopefully, common sense and reason may prevail.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
And although the labels did nothing to address the arguments, they did cause, to some degree, some people to stop making any arguments at all in certain company. After all, no one likes being called a racist or bigoted or closed-minded or heartless or cold or brutal. And no one very muck likes to be interrupted at every turn and corner in his argument by being forced to defend himself from baseless charges.
And of course this has tended to stifle debate, discourage discourse, and increase misunderstandings.
I’ve admittedly been the recipient of my fair share of labels over the years. I think maybe I’ve heard them all. At various times I’ve been called closed-minded, bigoted, heartless, homophobic, sexist, and even racist. All those various labels have been subsumed in the one word “conservative” or, worse, “Republican”. But I’ve also been called “liberal”, which is almost a worse word than “conservative” in its connotations, for, rather than “heartless” it is often understood to mean “brainless”. I suppose it is because, as the most common stereotype on the right is concerned, the liberal is convicted of his arguments through nothing but naked emotion. The thrust of calling someone a liberal is to imply that they haven’t taken the time to think through their arguments but have come to their conclusions just as a six-year-old might conclude that his teacher is a “bad teacher” because he didn’t like the grade she gave him (but which he nevertheless deserved).
Unfortunately, I think it a fair assumption that a number of people in both camps—both conservatives AND liberals—have come to at least some of their intellectual conclusions through emotion mixed with some very paltry amount of carefully chosen “facts”. But because of this reality (and it is a reality) it is then too often the case that when someone presents an argument with which we disagree, we dismiss their argument on the assumption that the person with whom we disagree is one of those who has reached that conclusion because they so obviously were unable to see through their emotions, their biases, and their preconceptions. This must be so (we think) because if they had really come to their conclusions after a careful examination of the facts they would necessarily have come to the same conclusions that we did. Since their conclusions not only differ from ours but may, in some cases, be diametrically opposed to them, and since we’re certain that we, of all people, have NOT been afflicted in our minds by too much input from our hearts, it necessarily stands to reason that either they haven’t examined the same facts as we have or else they haven’t examined the facts as carefully as we have, and the most probable reasons they haven’t examined the facts carefully (or disinterestedly) is because they’re either, a. not as smart as us, or, b. they’re blinded by their emotions.
Thus the gun-hugging bible thumpers of eastern Pennsylvania that Obama was so insensitive to during the 2008 campaign were only hugging their guns and thumping their bibles because they were scared. If they were smarter, or could be reasonable rather than emotional (so the theory went) they would certainly turn their guns into plow-shares and their bibles into pruning shears. It couldn’t possibly be the case that Obama found himself in intellectual disagreement with those eastern Pennsylvanians because, apparently, intellectual disagreements don’t exist—not so far as conclusions go, at any rate.
I read today that many on the left think Obama’s turning out to be a poor spokesman for his policies. But what can one honestly expect. Obama, like most people who share his world view, really, truly believes that the case for each of his policies is so nakedly self evident that their desirability, their necessity, and their utility is as clearly obvious to all people of good will as they are for him.
Instead, what differences of this sort usually amount to are a difference in the number and quality of the facts and, above all, the interpretation of those facts according to the sum total of all of the facts that person happens to have accepted up to that point in his life. That isn’t to say that either party has gone out of its way to omit certain obviously relevant facts. Just that some facts are accepted as relevant and some as irrelevant usually based on criteria other than naked, raw emotion.
In the heat of disagreement, labels are as often as meaningless as they are unhelpful. That isn’t at all to say that ALL labels are meaningless or unhelpful. Just that, used the wrong way—that is, used to avoid any serious consideration of the arguments being advanced by the other party—they are always meaningless and always unhelpful. Saying, “Well, you only say that because you’re a Democrat,” or “You only say that because you’re a Lakers fan,” isn’t meeting any argument head on. The Lakers, for example, may or may not be a good team, but dismissing the arguments of someone insisting that they are on the grounds that he happens to be a Lakers fan is never helpful and, ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine percent of the time, is wrong.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The value of any tool must be measured against the results that can be achieved by using it; that is, whether and to what degree it successfully achieves the ends for which it was designed.
Whatever anyone might believe about it, our Constitution is not an instrument of divine institution. Those who participated in its construction would be the first to say that they were not men working under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Rather, the task about which they set themselves was nothing more nor less than the invention of a tool—imperfect and of human origin—with which they could strive for and hopefully achieve certain purely natural and material ends.
The questions, then, must be “What did the founders intend for this tool to achieve?” “For what purpose was it designed?” And, “has this tool made possible the realization of their goals?”
So what did the founders intend? Did they intend to safeguard, absolutely, the sovereignty of the several states over a strong Federal government? If they didn’t intend the sovereignty of the several states to be absolute but instead intended it to be held within certain clearly defined limits, what did they intend those limits to be?
I think it crystal clear that, whatever else were the specific intentions of the particular individuals who drafted, approved, signed their names to, and ultimately voted on the Constitution of the United States of America, they certainly intended to create a strong federal government whose power would be held within certain strictly defined limits. Our Constitution sets up a Federal Government of enumerated powers: those powers not enumerated were famously reserved to the States or to the people.
However, it is also clear that among those enumerated powers was the power to raise armies and navies and to levy taxes for their support as well as the right and privilege, reserved to the Federal Government, to coin currency, and to regulate commerce among the several states, etc.
These powers are so broad—and have been made broader by subsequent Amendments and interpretations by the Supreme Court—that the intent made manifest through the enumeration of these powers effectively cancels out the intent of maintaining a more or less high degree of state sovereignty.
The wording of the 2nd Amendment tells volumes about the intention of strong state rights: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…etc.
Much has been argued in recent years but the focus has been on almost everything except those words, “the security of a free state”. To what do those words refer? What is the “free state” in question? I propose that, given the fact that the Second Amendment specifically bars the Federal Government from making any law that would infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the intention must be to safeguard the “freedom” of the “states” from the Federal Government.
However, the Federal Government’s power to regulate commerce among the states had the unintended effect of subverting the freedom of the states more drastically than gun laws ever could have. And, in fact, the reality is that the founders, in securing to the people the right to bear arms in anticipation of Federal overreach (if that was their intention), while effectively stripping from the states the power to regulate their own commerce (all commerce having since been defined by the Federal Government as “interstate”) means that they in fact succeeded in removing sovereignty from the states—states filled with gun-wielding patriots jealous of their sovereignty. And the only remedies to this sorry state of affairs are to either change the Constitution (an eventuality the founders had the wisdom to foresee) or to use those guns to defend state sovereignty from a supposedly “overreaching” Federal Government. As to the second possibility, that’s already been tried and failed. And rebellion, in order to be legitimate, must of necessity be far graver reasons of unjustice than --that is, Just War--besides, the Federal Government would have to go much, much further than merely overstepping its Consitutional bounds in matters ofcontinues to act within the bounds of its enumerated powers, there could be no cause to take so awful a step.
Anyway, as it stands, the Government has not yet overreached. That the Federal Government, in the conduct and performance of its enumerated powers, actually encroaches upon and nullifies state sovereignty is not the fault of the Federal Government or even those elected officials who serve within its ranks. It’s clearly the fault of our Constitution.
The problem was that our founders wanted to have it both ways and this, I hope, is a lesson for Europe. One cannot have a single economic zone while at the same time maintaining state sovereignty as we’re used to understanding it. One or the other must give way. Either we have government vested with the power to regulate commerce among the states or we have a Federal Government hobbled before the assertion of state’s rights. We cannot have both.
Our Constitution—perhaps any Constitution—is a tool inadequate to so lofty a design.
Recognizing the incompatibility of State’s Rights with a single economic zone, what we must do in order to safeguard our remaining freedoms is to focus on those freedoms which have little or nothing to do with economic activity. Chief among these must be the right to freely practice our religion and educate our children according to our beliefs. This may put some children on an unequal footing but that, I’m afraid, is a necessary sacrifice to freedom.
Freedom says nothing about equality and, in fact, may often be opposed to it. If I am free to believe what I like I’m free to esteem some things above others. I may be free to have prejudices. I may be free to recognize differences that tend towards unequal treatment.
A government may have a perfectly legitimate obligation to right injustices against equality but that obligation can only be, by the very broadest stretch of the imagination, construed to be within the sphere of economic activity or national defense.
And at the same time, a government which sees righting the wrongs of social injustice as its object must at some point begin to trample on the legitimate freedoms of its citizens.
A country that sacrifices freedom at the altar of equality will find it has neither freedom nor equality.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I found myself wondering, if a man is convicted of a triple homicide (for example) that he didn’t commit, is life without the possibility of parole a lesser or a greater punishment than death? Or, put more generally, is the permanent detainment of an innocent individual more lawful or less lawful than the execution of that same individual? Of course I’m assuming the man in question had a fair trial and was just unfortunate, a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and not that he was deliberately railroaded.
I know the argument will be made that, in the case of a life sentence imposed upon an innocent individual, the possibility exists that his innocence will be found out and that he will go free making the punishment possibly less severe—certainly less intractable.
However, all punishment is intractable—at least the part already inflicted—and there’s no way to give a man back the years he lost in prison any more than we can give a man back his life. And so, to make the point I’m getting at clearer, let’s say we have two men, both convicted of a murder that neither one committed, one was sentenced to life and the other to death, and that the one man has died in prison and the other has died in the chair. We have just learned of each man’s innocence but both men are dead. Their punishments are utterly intractable. In such a case, to which man has the government committed the greater injustice? Is it more wrong to deprive an innocent person of his liberty or his life?
Now, whether a government has the legitimate right or authority to deprive a man of his life or liberty may be the fuel for another debate. I would suggest, based on our Constitution, that OUR government unequivocally does claim for itself that right provided it does not do so “without due process of law”.
However, extraordinary circumstances excepted, the right and authority of a government to deprive a man of his life or liberty does not translate to the private individual acting on his or her own authority.
The slavery that existed in the United States of America prior to the Civil War is almost universally recognized today as a great moral evil. It was not so universally recognized at the time when our laws recognized its legality. (Neither did its legality prove its morality.)
Proponents of slavery rationalized their right to deprive other people of their liberty by concluding that the enslaved weren’t really people or were a lower sort of people.
Likewise, proponents of abortion rationalize their right to deprive other people of their life in just the same way. Either the fetus has not attained to personhood or the fetus is a person whose life is less valuable than those making the decision to terminate its life.
The vast majority of us who are alive today would agree with the essential abolitionist position which is that slavery was not something to be tolerated or compromised with. It was a great moral evil. Moral evils must not be contained but confronted. They must be recognized and not ignored.
Lincoln recognized this when he confronted American Slavery and Reagan recognized this when he confronted Soviet Communism.
And so I get back to my original question, is it more wrong to deprive an innocent person of his liberty or his life. Opponents of capital punishment will say the latter without hesitation. How then can they be in favor of abortion unless by diminishing the personhood of the one aborted?
As for those who recognize true personhood in the one aborted, how can the compromise pragmatic approach be warranted unless it would also have been warranted with regards to slavery?