Several years ago, in the pages of my first blog, ddjangoWIrE, I wrote an essay with the same title. When Blogger "accidentally" deleted my account, relegated ddjangoWIrE to a stripped archive, and "lost" some of my posts, the piece converted to disconnected bits in cyberspace and the essay was gone.
I'm really not going to use that disappearance as the primary excuse to post another brief essay on the same subject. Given the state of our nation, our democracy, and the inattention, malaise, and downright selfishness of its people, there are quite enough reasons to revisit this territory.
The main body of our Constitution, as you hopefully know, did not include a Bill of Rights. It was added as a series of amendments. The first draft of the document concerned itself only with the workings of the government, the methods by which the ruling class would make laws, assure that there was a balance of power, restrain the executive from instituting and exercising tyranny, and judging whether laws were conformed to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and were administered fairly and completely. It also dealt with the dynamic of states' rights as opposed to federal rights.
Fresh from a successful revolution against the still feudal monarchy of British rule, the finally independent American colonies were most concerned with the establishment and protection of the Republic. The fairly new concepts of liberalism and democracy were an afterthought, save the creation of a very limited "representative" legislature.
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The rulers, mostly well-educated and wealthy land owners were in fact terrified of giving "the masses" much power and preferred that power remain in the hands of the aristocracy. Fortuitously, however, that same fear drove the "founding fathers" to delineate certain limited rights and freedoms for individuals, primarily to avoid a new internal uprising of the people against the government. After all, the Declaration of Independence, the document that justified revolution against British tyranny, celebrated the liberal concept that "all men are created equal".
In some infamous ways, of course, the Bill of Rights was incomplete: African immigrants, most all of them slaves, were deemed fractions of men. Women were not equal to men. To a great extent, at least in practice, these deficiencies remain to this day.
Individual rights and freedoms are, of course, essential to the well-being of humans. Truthfully, Western democracies have the best track record in establishing and enforcing these as law. here is the US Bill of Rights enumerated:
Amendment ISeveral times in our history, however, though never more than today, the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, has been raped and turned on its head. I will not go into the details, since much has already been written on the subject (not that it's done much good).
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Now comes the question . . . how and why have our rights and freedoms been violated, disregarded, and perhaps lost to us completely? Because we simply have not taken the responsibility to protect them. We haven't paid attention. Use it or lose it. Simple as that.
I can't help but wish that a second ten amendments to the Constitution had been composed and ratified — The Bill of Responsibilities. Googling around, I found just such a thing, "An American Bill of Responsibilities" by Judith H. Rose. Here it is, in full:
Fifteen years after the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution of the United States, the amendments known as the Bill of Rights were ratified. These inspired men believed in a balance between citizen responsibilities and citizen rights. They knew that an emphasis only on rights would inevitably lead to self-interest and anarchy. They also knew that without this balance our nation could not endure. It is time to restore that balance. If they could counsel us today, the Founding Fathers might suggest the following Bill of Responsibilities:I take issue with some of these items, the stuff about the flag, for instance, but all in all, it's a great start. My favorite is item 4, "You have the responsibility to consider the welfare of ALL the citizens of the United States of America, even if it requires some personal sacrifice. The nation cannot survive the promulgation of narrow self-interest, be it of the individual, the community, or the state . . ." Narrow self-interest, simply, is irresponsible.
1. You have the responsibility to be a loyal citizen of the United States of America and to expect the same of every other citizen or immigrant to this great land. You have the responsibility to honor the flag and everything she stands for, and to pledge your allegiance to your country.
2. Accepting citizenship means that you are, first and foremost, an American, not a hyphenated American or an expatriate of another country who is here solely for economic advantage. While you do not need to agree with every law that is passed, you do have the obligation to obey the law and work through peaceful means to achieve change. Further, for as long as you are living in this great country that continues to guarantee more freedom to its citizens than any other, you have the obligation to be grateful for the blessing of living in such a land. In America you have the freedom to leave at any time, should you be dissatisfied. No permission is needed.
3. You have the responsibility to speak up when the criminal or legislative actions of any persons threaten the welfare of your family or your nation. It is not someone else's responsibility to blow the whistle; it is yours. "They" should not do something about the problems. You are "they." It takes courage and time to stand up against evil and destructive forces, but if you do not do it, who will?
4. You have the responsibility to consider the welfare of ALL the citizens of the United States of America, even if it requires some personal sacrifice. The nation cannot survive the promulgation of narrow self-interest, be it of the individual, the community, or the state. As long as you judge every law or solution to a problem solely by how it affects you or your surroundings, rather than the country as a whole, there will be no real answers, nor can America remain great.
5. You have the responsibility to support yourself and your own immediate and extended family. Being self-sustaining, providing for your own family, and helping your neighbor to the extent possible are requisite for a healthy economy and society. No society can flourish when a sizable number of its citizens expect to do nothing while accepting a government dole. Reliance on government entities inevitably destroys individual self-respect and the economic well-being of both citizen and state. If you take care of yourself and family, and the community picks up the slack, this nation will have one-third more funds for worthwhile projects and both you and this nation, will become strong and resilient.
6. You have the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of your family, your community, and your nation. As a good citizen you are here to make a contribution to this country. America has always been in the forefront in medical advances, scientific research, humanitarianism, and other areas. You have the responsibility to continue this tradition through hard work and good use of your time. You have the responsibility to bypass excuses of race, economic standing, and victimization of any kind because, no matter which excuse you choose, someone has successfully overcome it.
7. You have the responsibility to be educated and informed. A public education is not enough. Finding truth is a challenging lifetime task that you must pursue diligently. You have the responsibilty to seek truth from many sources. You must question what you read in any publication or listen to in any media report and be willing to consider all sides of any question. You must realize that such a quest for truth will take a tremendous effort to seek it out. The truth is not revealed unless actively sought.
8. You have the responsibility to use wisdom in selecting those who will lead you. You must learn to seek men of good character, not those with only charisma or a handsome face. You must become a connoisseur of character rather than a pawn of a salient slogan. You must remember that character is never outdated. A man or woman with no self-control should never be trusted with the welfare of our great country. You must never tolerate leaders who are untruthful, deceitful, or seek to exercise power rather than give service.
9. You have the responsibility to value and defend human life. Quality of life considerations, age, or handicaps do not in any way lessen the value of life itself. Any life taken by mankind before its time cheapens the life of every other American. You also have the responsibility to educate those who would degrade human life by considering it, at best, equal to or even lower than animal life.
10. You have the responsibility to honor your freedom of worship and to defend that right for every citizen in this country. We, your Founding Fathers valued religion highly and depended entirely upon God for the inspiration and help needed to form this union. We expect no less of you.
Irresponsibility is the core reason that not only have we lost many of our rights and freedoms, but also that as a nation and even as a planet we are in grave danger. We have concentrated so much on what we want (avoiding the question of what we need), that we have ignored our individual and group responsibility to each other and the whole world.
It is often said that our government is of, by, and for the people. Somehow, while we were looking narcissistically at our own greedy navels, we have become a people of, by, and for a fascist government. We hire representatives, many of them liars and criminals, based on beauty contests and reports of millions of dollars of campaign contributions, to make our laws. We really know little of what policies they stand for, what their track records consist of, and who truly owns them. Then, shocked when they betray us, we do little more than ineffectively whine until the next election.
Not only haven't we been able to impeach The Doubleduh-Chainy Gang, we haven't even gotten Speaker Pelosi to consider it. Somehow, these thieves we've hired don't represent us, even when we're in the majority. I guess we're just more interested in celebrity antics and the newest bling. After all, holding our government's feet to the fire is hard work. A lot of us don't even vote; a lot less do things like express our views to our elected reps, even while they're clearly doing the bidding of lobbyists and their corporate handlers. Frankly, we should be more ashamed of ourselves than we are of, for example, the Bush regime. I mean, what the hell do you expect? A snake is a snake, even if he smiles and tells you he's a koala bear and cares about you.
Democracy only works if there is constant participation. Voting every couple of years just don't feed that bulldog. This is, after all, supposed to be a participatory democracy, one in which the people determine the outcome -laws, regulations written based on those laws, conformity with and enforcement of those laws. If we don't stay on top of things, as we can readily see, stuff gets out of hand . . . way out of hand.
I'm nearly sixty, and I've watched the notion of participatory democracy disintegrate over the past half century. My father told me that the last time people were really interested in government was during the FDR years . . . the Great Depression and World War II. We didn't win the latter, but we said we did, and aglow in the light of victory, having slain the dragon, we set about being "the greatest country in the world." We started to make things, build things, export things, but most important, buy things, lots of things. Rather than defeating fascism, we assimilated it. Then we turned to face "the Communist menace." Corporations which made a killing supporting the war machine grew monstrous and new ones were born in their image; the specter of communism, especially the notion of public, rather than private, ownership of the means of production was terrifying. If it had not been for the atrocities perpetrated by a psychotic Stalin, it would have been clearer that the "Cold War" was not so much a conflict between freedom and totalitarianism as between capitalism and communism.
Government was at first still important to a people convinced that the Soviet Union would take us over at the first clear opportunity. It was government that underlay our society, had taken care of us during financial disaster and war. Government was a part of us . . . until we started to dismantle most of it, with the exception of the military.
The first president I remember was Ike. He warned us about the military-industrial complex. Most folks didn't even know what he was talking about. Those who did just seemed to ignore it.
John Kennedy was narrowly elected for two reasons: he won the beauty contest and his daddy was rich and powerful enough to buy him the presidency. Although he's an American hero in the country's eyes, perhaps his statement during his inauguration, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", needs to be revisited. Was he saying, "forget about government continuing to support you and start supporting your government?" It seems to me that it's a two-way street, a mutual relationship, in which we're involved in our government while our government is involved with us. We are the government, theoretically anyway.
LBJ tried to keep the government/society synergy alive in his "Great Society" dream — but Vietnam squashed that one. End of story, pretty much. Nixon was a true conservative — although he tried to reign in what he saw as wasteful and poorly managed programs, he never really tried to totally destroy the social "safety net."
Unbelievably, Ronald Reagan seems to be remembered as an even greater hero than JFK. He rode a national tax revolt into office and raised the basic concept of liberalism to new heights. "Get government off our backs," he cried. But what he really wanted was to get us off the government's back. His friend Margaret Thatcher hit the nail on the head when she claimed that there was no society, only individuals and families. The Reagan-Thatcher years, for both their philosophy and their policies, were probably the most destructive in the Western world's history.
At the same time that the sanctity of the individual was celebrated, corporations were taking full advantage of their legal status as individuals. Those were the individuals that Margaret and Ronnie were talking about. It was off their backs that government should be taken.
It is frightening and unconscionable, the degree to which we have distanced ourselves from our own government. It is, perhaps, the most terrible instance of self-destruction and self-betrayal in world history. Representative democracy has been abandoned. We have allowed corporations, those blind pseudo-human entities of greed and illusion, to supplant us as self-governors. We've been bought off, clear and simple, by celebrity and sizzle, by manufactured "needs", by false gods with two contrary masks. This is not a comic tragedy — nothin's funny here.
It might not be so bad if we were "only hurting ourselves." The truth is that we are most powerful, but also most corrupt. We are most responsible for the looting and destruction of the planet's resources; for the export of the mad monster of capitalism in the name of "democracy"; for the support of ravenous dictatorships enslaving their own people in the cause of corporate profit; for the creation of "weapons of mass destruction"; for the instigation of mass murder under the guise of "regime change".
As a nation, we are responsible for the health and welfare of everyone and everything on this rock we call Earth. But as individual residents of the United States of America, we seem each to be a nation of one.
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