Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy ObamaoDay! See you in November! The Once and Future Constitution

I've barely had time to begin looking at the SCOTUS decision on ObamaoCare, though there are a couple snippets of the dissent I'll offer up for consideration, but It's far too late tonight to say much more, so I'll just offer up a couple comments made in the course of the day.

First off, two exceedingly relevant quotes:
"It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer "universal health care.""

"An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation. A question of constitutional power can hardly be made to depend on a question of more or less."

Two random thoughts unjustly separated by centuries of time.

About the SCOTUS decision, I can't say that I was too much surprised by it, or by the fact that it was upheld as a Tax, rather than through further abuse of the commerce clause. Taxation was the only wooden leg it had to stand on, it was the one thing which Obamao swore up and down so often that it absolutely was not, a tax... and was the one thing he promptly turned around and sent his solicitor to sell it as - a tax.

(The one potentially encouraging news of the day may be that the SCOTUS decision to call it a tax, may initiate a devastating series of attacks)

To save the U.S., We The People need to relearn the ideas which had to be understood in order for our nation to be founded in the first place. If we don't understand what our Rights are & what they mean, how can we possibly expect our govt to respect them? If We The People don't understand the nature of our Rights, then our Rights will be unknown.

It's just basic math.

It was already late when I got to sit down and begin reading through the decision, but fortunately my usual go-to Justice, Justice Thomas, had only a small addition to the dissent and it was short and sweet and right on target, taking up an entire paragraph:

JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting.
I dissent for the reasons stated in our joint opinion, but I write separately to say a word about the Commerce Clause. The joint dissent and THE CHIEF JUSTICE correctly apply our precedents to conclude that the IndividualMandate is beyond the power granted to Congress un-der the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Under those precedents, Congress may regulate“economic activity [that] substantially affects interstatecommerce.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 560 (1995). I adhere to my view that “the very notion of a ‘substantial effects’ test under the Commerce Clause is inconsistent with the original understanding of Congress’ powers and with this Court’s early Commerce Clause cases.” United States v. Morrison, 529 U. S. 598, 627 (2000) (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also Lopez, supra, at 584–602 (THOMAS, J., concurring); Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U. S. 1, 67–69 (2005) (THOMAS, J., dissenting). As I have explained, the Court’s continued use of that test “has encouraged the Federal Government to persist in its view that the Commerce Clause has virtually no limits.” Morrison, supra, at 627. The Government’s unprecedentedclaim in this suit that it may regulate not only economic activity but also inactivity that substantially affects interstate commerce is a case in point.
The main dissent, written by, I think, Scalia, I was only able to begin, but the beginning is promissing, with:
... The case is easy and straightforward, however, in another respect. What is absolutely clear, affirmed by thetext of the 1789 Constitution, by the Tenth Amendmentratified in 1791, and by innumerable cases of ours in the 220 years since, is that there are structural limits upon federal power—upon what it can prescribe with respect to private conduct, and upon what it can impose upon thesovereign States. Whatever may be the conceptual limitsupon the Commerce Clause and upon the power to taxand spend, they cannot be such as will enable the Federal Government to regulate all private conduct and to compel the States to function as administrators of federal programs.

That clear principle carries the day here. The striking case of Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111 (1942), whichheld that the economic activity of growing wheat, even for one’s own consumption, affected commerce sufficientlythat it could be regulated, always has been regarded as the ne plus ultra of expansive Commerce Clause jurisprudence. To go beyond that, and to say the failure to grow wheat (which is not an economic activity, or any activityat all) nonetheless affects commerce and therefore can befederally regulated, is to make mere breathing in and out the basis for federal prescription and to extend federal power to virtually all human activity.

As for the constitutional power to tax and spend for the general welfare: The Court has long since expandedthat beyond (what Madison thought it meant) taxing and spending for those aspects of the general welfare that werewithin the Federal Government’s enumerated powers, see United States v. Butler, 297 U. S. 1, 65–66 (1936).Thus, we now have sizable federal Departments devoted to subjects not mentioned among Congress’ enumeratedpowers, and only marginally related to commerce: the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment. The principal practical obstacle that prevents Congress from using the tax-and-spend power to assume all the general-welfare responsibilities traditionally exercised by the States is the sheer impossibility of managing a Federal Government large enough to administer such a system. That obstacle can be overcome bygranting funds to the States, allowing them to administer the program. That is fair and constitutional enough whenthe States freely agree to have their powers employed andtheir employees enlisted in the federal scheme. But it is a blatant violation of the constitutional structure when the States have no choice."
and, on "The Individual Mandate":
... If this provision “regulates” anything, it is the failure to maintain minimum essential coverage. One might argue that it regulates that failure by requiring it to be accompanied by payment of a penalty. But that failure—that abstention from commerce—is not “Commerce.” To be sure, purchasing insurance is ”Commerce”; but one does not regulate commerce that does not exist by compelling its existence.

In Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 196 (1824), Chief Justice Marshall wrote that the power to regulate commerce is the power “to prescribe the rule by whichcommerce is to be governed.” That understanding is con- sistent with the original meaning of “regulate” at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, when “to regulate” meant“[t]o adjust by rule, method or established mode,” 2 N.Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828); “[t]o adjust by rule or method,” 2 S. Johnson,A Dictionary of the English Language (7th ed. 1785); “[t]oadjust, to direct according to rule,” 2 J. Ash, New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775); “toput in order, set to rights, govern or keep in order,” T.Dyche & W. Pardon, A New General English Dictionary (16th ed. 1777).1 It can mean to direct the manner of something but not to direct that something come into being. There is no instance in which this Court or Congress (or anyone else, to our knowledge) has used “regulate”in that peculiar fashion. If the word bore that meaning, Congress’ authority “[t]o make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 14, would have made superfluous the later provision for authority “[t]o raise and supportArmies,” id., §8, cl. 12, and “[t]o provide and maintain a Navy,” id., §8, cl. 13.

We do not doubt that the buying and selling of health insurance contracts is commerce generally subject to federal regulation. But when Congress provides that (nearly) all citizens must buy an insurance contract, it goes beyond “adjust[ing] by rule or method,” Johnson, supra, or “direct[ing] according to rule,” Ash, supra; it directs the creation of commerce.
So Now What
I'll direct you to my two previous posts this week, Two posts this week on just that: "You have No 'Constitutional Rights'. None. Nada." and "Rights from the source... so to speak", and remind all, that this election isn't just about good and bad political policy, but about fundamental philosophy, and it pits us against a deliberately destructive (to principles of American governance), consciously anti-American administration. That's a situation that requires us as voters to do more than express our disapproval at the ballot box, it requires that we use our ballots in self-defense - it must be stopped. 

Simply registering support for other candidates and ideas is inadequate, the current proregressive direction we're heading down must be stopped, and the only way of doing that, that I can see, is by putting my x by the ballot option most likely to have a chance of DEFEATing Obama.

Not registering disapproval, Defeating.

Voting is Not our primary responsibility as citizens however, it is not enough to Vote and go home until the next election; a citizen must put effort into supporting and spreading the ideas they see as important so that when the next election comes around, those ideas might be more reflected in the options on the ballot - and in the people voting on them.

I'll continue as best as I can, working to spread the ideas that enabled our nation to be founded in the first place, trying to educate people on what our govt Should be, and YOU must do the same.

It is the only way that we can rid ourselves of candidates such as Obama AND Romney.

That is the only alternative we have open to us, the only one there has ever been - to push back against the real power that has always been opposing us, philosophy and its rusty needle of public education which has been used to mainline anti-American ideals into our intellectual bloodstream.

America is a nation of ideas. That is, and always has been, the only place we have been open to any real damaging attack, it is the never-ending battle, and we've barely fired a shot on this battlefield for over 150 yrs, though we have been shot and wounded upon it, repeatedly.

Our first critical wound struck us back in the early 1800's, when Justice Taney decided in "Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge" to render his judgment against Property Rights for the 'greater good', at which point Daniel Webster muttered that that was
"The death of property rights".
We suffered a more dire wound with Justice Taney's next winner of a 'judgment' in deciding that Dred Scott was justified in being considered property, not man. The greatest tragedy of the Civil War that followed that, is that we never really understood the nature of the battle we were engaged in.

We thought it was simply a shooting war. We couldn't have been more wrong. As impressive and destructive as the shooting war was, the real war was going on in philosophy and education, and they absolutely won the field, with the Morrill Act for Land Grant Colleges being passed, as a war measure, with the intent of making thoughts of rebellion impossible from there out... they literally established Federal input into the Educational system of America, in order to influence and control the ideas our children would be taught.

They succeeded.

There were other cases: the Louisiana Slaughter Houses cases, Plessy v. Ferguson, and the next big hit, the 1907 case Wilson v. Shaw, where the SCOTUS officially gave Congress the power "to construct interstate highways" under its newly discovered constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce. With the constitution in such a walking-wounded state as that, the 16th & 17th amendments gutted it of its defenses, and its demise was plain to see when Justice McReynolds took grievous note of our condition in 1935 when FDR stuck the dagger in with the Gold Clause cases, taking a hold of powers he had ABSOLUTELY NO constitutional power to take. McReynolds said then that:
"Congress had no power to destroy the gold clause commitment. FDR is Nero at its worse. As for the Constitution, it doesn't seem to much to say, that it is gone"
And he was right. It was.

We've only just realized it today.

Does anyone really think that people getting riled up over this decision, is going to change all of that? At the ballot box?! Does anyone really think... that we can regain all of that lost ground back, simply by voting For (___ insert useless candidate name here)?

Sorry, but as good for the soul as laughter can be, that won't even stifle a sneeze, let alone reanimate our Constitution or the American people.

But it is a start, and one we have to take. I just caution against heaping too much 'hope and change' upon it. The coming elections, and the candidates we'll have to choose from, will likely not be anyone or anything we want to battle for, but they will serve as political beach heads & fox holes, nothing more. We've got to take them, and hold their ground, but never think that they are what we are fighting for.

Tactical ground, nothing more.

We've got a long, long, haul ahead of us. No shortcuts. No marketing solutions. We either take the time and effort to learn again what it means to be an American, or we leave it to ferment for a thousand years for the next people to give it a whirl.

Sorry, no time to link cases and references up, I'll be lucky to run SpellCheck, will try to in the morning. Maybe add a cheerier conclusion too. We'll see.

But let me add just one more note. With all the talk of the 'Death of Liberty', the 'Death of the Constitution', of 'Freedom of Choice has met it's Death Panel', while in some sense, that may be true, there's something else to keep in mind: The nice thing about a Constitution is that it isn't itself a living breathing creature - it lives and breathes through us, through We The People, and if we awaken ourselves, if we fill ourselves again with the ideas which originally animated our Constitution, then it may become the Once and Future Constitution.

It is, as it always was, up to We The People to decide.

Rights from the source... so to speak

So where we left off yesterday was with saying that one thing we can say unequivocally about our Rights at this point, is that we are not Given them by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they come from a much more unimpeachable source than that.

They come to us, through us. Let me back up, to back that up, by first ticking off two big huge camps of my fellow Americans, those who are religious, and those who claim to be scientific (with the implied assumption that the religious cannot be scientific. Quick! Someone get Doc Brown to jump in his time travelling DeLorean & get that memo back to Isaac Newton, I'm sure he'll find the charge fascinating), with an analogy which, hopefully after giving it a whirl, will help smooth a path for each to set aside their beliefs and agree upon what neither of their beliefs will see as being a compromise.

Rosy Fingered Dawn
One of the first casualties of modernity was authorship. Homer, despite what those who were much closer in time to him and to the still living traditions that were handed down to them of his being a single individual poet, modernists claimed 'Homer' to be a convenient name given to many authors, and his works are claimed to be nothing more than the contributions of many that've been stitched together under that name. There's been much analysis demonstrating one assertion after another about the author, and even more about what he (they) really meant, what Achilles really was like, etc.

One thing that is easy to say, is that those claiming this don't really know, they simply find it plausible, more plausible than one individual being talented enough to write the Homerian epics (Quick! Get Doc Brown again, this time get this memo back to Shakespeare!). But the issues of authorship is of less consequence than what else you begin seeing, that amidst all the assertions about who wrote what, all of that criticism soon begins to become criticism of criticism, and the actual text, which does exist and which sparked it all, soon becomes lost beneath the jabber about it. To the point that people of Periclean Athens, would not recognize in the least the epics or those populating them, such as the pouting, man-child in a infantile temper tantrum, which today goes by the name 'Achilles' (BTW, this book "The War that killed Achilles" does an excellent job of restoring a reasoned perspective to Achilles and to Homer, and why our ancestors found the story to be so valuable).

But whether the author is Homer, or a composite of many authors, the only thing that can be said with any certainty, is that they've all nearly lost sight of the original works of the Iliad and the Odyssey and why anybody ever bothered with reading them in the first place.

But one thing that remains available to us today, and very nearly as it did nearly three thousand years ago to those in ancient Athens, are the epics themselves, The Iliad & The Odyssey.

What's my point?
My point is that if you want to understand and get value from those masterpieces, fuhgeddaboud these unsettled, and unsettle-able distractions over who authored what, and instead, concentrate upon the valuable actual works that are available to you here and now, as they were to our fore-fore-fore-fathers, then you might actually learn something.

The same point applies in regard to our Rights. Fuhgedaboud what neither of you will ever agree upon, whether the author is God, or Evolution or something else, and direct your attention to what all of you can perceive, recognize and assess together, the epic itself, Mankind. Examine the quality of 'the book', and the author will receive all do praise from that, as Jefferson said,
"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."
. Deal? Swell. So. Onwards.

As I was saying, it is self-evident
Our Rights are not Given to us by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they come to us and to our understanding, from a much more unimpeachable source than that, they come to us, through us.

Not from our minds.

Or at least not from our minds in the same fashion as ditties, poems, stories, lies and notions come from our minds; they are not the products of our wishes, fabrications or innovations but from observations of the nature of man himself; by observing our minds as situated within our bodies and within the world; our Rights are able to be derived from the nature of what makes us human beings, and as such they are equally alike, and equally present, in every person, in every way, and as such, we are made able to hold these truths to be self-evident.

Note: To my 7th grade civics teacher, Mr. McClellan, who mocked
'Self evident? Do YOU understand what they mean by that? No? Then they can't be self evident, can they?!'
, Self-Evident does not mean something that is brain-dead obvious or something as perceptually apparent as a cold sore. What it means, is that for those who consider and come to some understanding of a matter, certain issues become self-evident, they stand out as the rest of the information becomes better understood. Just as to the first time casual observer, the actions of people standing upon or running around bases or dashing about the field in the game of baseball, seem chaotic, but to the person who understands the game, it is self-evident who and what the Short Stop is, and why, it is self-evident who the pitcher is, and why, it is self-evident who the Umpire is, and why.

For something to be self-evident to someone, requires that they have some knowledge and understanding of the matters involved, and once understood, certain matters will become self-evidently true.

If, on the other hand, you don't understand even the basics, nothing will be self-evident, nothing but your, and the civics teachers, ignorance. To people raised under the rule of law, living in liberty, and understanding the philosophical underpinnings of that liberty they had become accustomed to, certain truths most certainly do become self-evident. Because those who haven't bothered to grasp those necessary fundamentals, fail to see that, is not an indictment of those self-evident truths, but only an indictment of themselves.

To those well versed in the Greco-Roman-English and Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our culture, these truths were self-evident, and they were so no matter which source was claimed as the disputed authorship of Man and his nature; whether a person at the time of our founding (and still), were religious, and found them comfortably expressed in scriptures such as the Ten Commandments; or whether they were secular and found them expressed in the ideas of Cicero, Aquinas, Locke and Blackstone (or, more likely, both) - These Rights are indisputably written into our very fabric by the author of Mankind & who wielded the pen - deity or philosopher or scientist - in this sense, matters not in the least; if your concern is with what is true, then the reality of the evidence in this matter is sufficient enough, and readily available to any with a judiciously open and reasoning mind who is concerned with discovering the nature and properties of reality, and in doing so, our Rights do become Self-Evident.

Compressing Time
So what are your Rights? Answer that, and then you will know where they come from, and what role your govt and your legislators play in the matter, but it will require compressing some time (which I've partly uncompressed before here, and here). For those Americans who are religious and accept our Individual Rights as being God Given, no further explanation is necessary - which might be fine for you, but it leaves you no common ground to meet upon with your fellow Americans. For those who are not religious, or who would also like to grasp the argument for Individual Rights from the evidence available to their own eyes and mind, the essentials can be presented briefly (ahem), and in doing that you too will be able to find common ground from which to agree with your more religious counterparts.

The Evidence of your senses - it's a jungle out there
Each of us, if not afflicted with some dread disease or impairment, each of us has awareness, and we each of us have the ability, and necessity, of making choices about what we will do with what we become aware of, which is called Free Will (Locke & others disliked the term because it is misleading, what it describes is the vaculty of volition, not that which carries it out, the Will. Locke said
" ... liberty being as little applicable to the will, as swiftness of motion is to sleep, or squareness-to virtue. Every one would laugh at the absurdity “"
It is a little bit like saying you have 'Free Muscle'", it isn't the Will that is free, but your volitional ability to choose. But we're stuck with the label, a bit like Tidal Waves are stuck to Tsunami's. Deal with it.

That we have the volitional ability to make choices is a plain fact, available to any honest and inquiring mind, and with as first hand information as it is possible to get, seeing as how you are both the experimenter and the experiment, and the results are indisputable - those who do dispute it invariably fudge it with "It's as if you made a choice", which besides being a con, is a distinction without a difference. If you'd like to choose to assert your disagreement... well... if the absurdities in just those nine words aren't enough to make you feel ashamed of yourself... then feel free to go and dispute it with the likes of Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, here, allow me to give you the excuse you're looking for so you can claim that my words determined your actions, against your non-existent choice: "You're deluded or an idiot, and a dishonest one at that. Be gone."

Those of you who are still here reading, are doing so because you chose to. Those who left, chose to leave. Case closed.

There is no rationalistic fanaticizing here, and no room for it, no airy faerie conjectures are involved, nothing which some overly uneducated twit has room to say 'well, that may be true for you, but it is not for me.', no this is something which is true of every human being on the face of the earth, whether they are born and raised in New York City or in the stone age jungles of New Guinea, all men have awareness and the ability to make choices about their actions; Human Beings have Free Will. Period.

Each person is aware of their surroundings, and each must make decisions about how to respond to them, and knowledge (a contextual relation of facts which allow common generalizations to be made and from which meaning and principles can be derived, and further integrated into a wider context of knowledge) improves the quality of your decisions.

For the jungle dweller, in their awareness of being faced with a tiger, they must choose whether to run, or maybe to try and defend yourself with one of those branches you see laying near you on the ground. For the Urban dweller, if an elevator opens wide before you, should you step inside, or not? is it going Up, or Down? Will it take you nearer to or farther from your job interview? In either case you must make a choice about what to do in regards to the nature of the reality you are facing. There is no intermediary, no noumenal world, no collective consciousness to pierce, no impenetrable paradigms restraining you, and there is no escape from the necessity of choosing, there are no environmental causes that will determine a decision for you - you very well may see only one choice available but you must still make it.

There is no possible way to live as a human being, without making choices based upon your awareness and knowledge of your surroundings, both in space and in time (and congratulations, we just shook off a good chunk of the accreted muck of nearly three centuries of 'modern' philosophy).

How carefully you consider your surroundings, and the decisions you make within them, will determine how effective your choices will likely be, which will also depend greatly upon the depth of your knowledge of your surroundings - the more deeply you perceive and understand them, the more likely your decisions will be able to benefit you, and to what extent; and again, it applies just as equally in the jungles of New Guinea or New York.

If in the arboreal jungle, your knowledge of those sticks laying on the ground before you, could be of life and death importance. If you simply look and pick one up at random to use as a club, that perceptual level understanding of your surroundings might benefit you... or it might lead to an ineffective struggle that serves only to whet the appetite of the tiger, an ineffective defense that leaves you dead and the tiger full. On the other hand, if you have some knowledge of the woods that those sticks are made of, and use your imagination to envision what you might do with the brittle, but hard wood, you might, by that process of Reason, select that particular stick, snap the end of it over your knee, and make it sharp enough to form a crude spear and up your chances of survival with the tiger by leaps and bounds.

Similarly with the urban jungle. The fellow that takes the elevator up to an interview, answers the questions well, just might get that job. But the fellow that takes the elevator up to the interview knowing something of the business he's interviewing for, and of the company and person interviewing him, might learn enough through questions of his own, to imagine that taking this particular job is likely to lead to a dead end position that won't benefit him in the long run, and so through that Reasoning, choose to continue searching for a better interview and position.

The seedling of our Rights is derived from that simple truth of our Human Nature, that we have awareness of our surroundings, the ability to transform facts into knowledge and the capability of imaginatively reasoning our way through making decisions that put us in command of our surroundings, and the need to be free to do so. Our Rights are those actions which our existence naturally requires us to be able to make, and without which, we could not live a fully human life. They also entail the responsibility of individuals recognizing that their own Rights depend upon not forcibly treading upon the rights of another in the free exercise of their Rights. In short, Rights are the logical consequence of creatures employing their Free Will in a rational respect for reality, where truth and understanding are your most vital tools of survival.

Something else the two jungle scenarios have in common, is the necessity of Property to the exercise of your Rights. That stick, simply by picking it up, is transformed by your effort and purpose, from detritus of the landscape, into personal property, but not simply by the action of picking it up, as Locke seemed to think, but by picking it up for a purpose, it is the intellectual actions of your mind which enable you to transform mere matter into personal property, and such property is essential to mankind in the exercise of his Right to life and living it.

If you cannot take those actions necessary to your survival, you cannot live. If you cannot retain the materials your actions bring you - your property - you will not live. If you do not extend the same understanding to those you associate with, you will have no one to live with... and a man alone is but a meal for the animal kingdom.

The same principle applies to the urban dweller, and though not as perceptually apparent as a club or a spear, his intellectual property is just as useful and the use and right to it just as necessary, as the weapon is to his cousin in the jungles of New Guinnea. Property, Private Property, is that which we transform through our actions, guided by our mental actions, and through which, if no prior legitimate claim exists, they become ours.

That 'prior legitimate claim' brings us to another key factor in Rights. Prior legitimate claims or disputes about them, are what brings us to the point of being able to lift ourselves above the level of the jungle dweller, and into civilization, but to do so we need a method - other than bashing each other's brains in - for resolving disputes, so that we can live in association with others, and benefit from doing so, and that method is the Law, along with a system of Justice for administering it.

Laying Down the Law
Law begins with an attempt at fairness: 'If you do this, I'll do that, deal?', and slowly extends beyond simple perceptual bargaining, to dealing with situations where two or more parties who find themselves in a dispute, can be agree to have a third party decide the matter for them, even though that third party won't have any way of knowing what happened, and probably won't know either party involved - that's a huge leap. Your newly elevated society, to become elevated, needs a way to examine the situation and judge whether Joe or Bob did something, even when both deny they did (how they determine that, we'll have to leave for another time). And even stickier, you need a system where Joe, Bob and every one else understands that the truth, let alone satisfaction, may not ever be realized, but you will need a system where each person can at least agree that they had as fair a shake as possible, and agree to abide by the results.

The alternative is robbery, assault, feuds, clan warfare and Hobbes's war of all against all. The Law is your escape from the Animal Kingdom, to a Humane society.

You cannot live without making choices, using your mind to enhance and defend your life and provide yourself with the means and material required for living - your Rights, in raw form, are those actions which your life requires you to choose to perform, and what results from them, in order to to live life as is natural as a human being - that is the basis for Natural Rights, or Individual Rights.

You cannot live well, however, without doing so in association with others, and the price of that association, society, is that each person agrees to delegate their use of force against another, or their possessions, to a set of rules, administered by a widely respected few who are trusted to treat all comers fairly - that is the basis for Natural Law, and your Individual Rights find their support and defense, in it. Through Natural Law, your right to take those actions you deem necessary for your life, and which do not infringe upon another's rights, those requirements of Human life, are elevated to become Rights to freedom of speech, liberty of action and association, and a right to the property which results from those actions, and for which those actions are taken in the first place. From an earlier post:
"That delegation, is the true, and only sense, where the community and the individual are mingled into one collective body. It is through Law, and the system of Justice which it serves, where the One in the Many, is actually found.

Good Walls Build Good Neighbors
It is important to also keep in mind that Rights are the societal recognition of barriers between individuals, which must not be crossed without invitation and consent, they are the political equivalents of walls and doors, and breaching them either individually or on the part of society (which would then reclassify itself as a mob - collective action without reason) should be viewed in the same light as physical trespassers and burglars.

More so. The violation of Rights, properly understood, is not just a violation of custom, but of reasoned rationality itself, to the safety and well being of the polity, and opposition to reality and its requirements. Rights are not permissions, having to ask permission to exercise your rights - the requirements of human life - makes you less than human in your attributes, and yielding them makes you a slave.

Where Law unites all of societies individuals into One body, Rights provide the separation which preserves them as Individuals, the Many.""
Your presence in society, as opposed to living secluded in a cave, is your private assent and signature to that societal contract.
"Wha?! I didn't sign anything?!"
, yes, you did, and no it doesn't require your physical signature, anymore than you need to explain to each person you meet
"Hi! I've chosen not to not punch you in the face."
, it is the default, if you are going to live amongst others it is 'self-evident' that you must do so reasonably and peacefully, it doesn't require your acknowledgment, only your implied consent.

And the maintenance of that contract, as the long pitiable history of man has shown, had better be carefully tended to by those entrusted with societies power, the government, and by those members of society who entrust government with their power - or that power will be abused. Individuals have Rights, States have Powers, and through carefully written, clear laws, their balance must be maintained, or Power will seek to serve itself at the people's expense.

The nature of Power is violence. The nature of those possessing Power, is the urge to use it, for 'good reasons'. As the apocryphal saying goes,
'Power, like fire, is a useful servant, but a fearful master."
Recap - Our Rights come to us, through us
We are not given our Rights by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they are written by the author of Man into our very nature as human beings. Man, by nature, has free will, he Must choose in order to live and his reason enables him to, and requires him to do so, and for his choices to be effective, they must be in accordance with what is in reality, true - when that is understood, then certain truths do become self-evident:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. "
It would be as offensive to the laws of 'natures God' to pluck the wings from birds, as to forcibly deprive a man of his choice to act, speak, associate, produce and preserve what his very nature requires of him, what "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them", to be able to do in order to live a fully human life.

It doesn't get much more God given than that, and not believing in God is no escape from realizing it; it is just as clearly spelled out for the scientist & Darwinist to see in the empirical nature of man, as can be grasped by the philosopher's concepts and principles, or through the words of the Bible.

To choose to breathe water is to choose to die, and though its impact isn't as immediately visible, to choose to live a life that denies or mocks morality, whether it comes from the Ten Commandments or the philosophers Ethics, is to make the very same choice - they aren't true because they were written, they were written because they were true - to turn away from that... even in a secular world, the wages of sin is slavery and death.

What was never theirs to give, the legislators, philosophers and prophets have been doing their very best to take away from us, attempting to transform our Rights into simple entitlements, benefits and privileges, which is exactly what modernism does, and the first casualty of modernity was Free Will , then Private Property, then Knowledge, and then Morality - next on their agenda, are our Rights, and we will find out today, with the Supreme Court decision on ObamaoCare, how successful they've been.

Next post, how Modernity made such a fine mess of things.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You have No 'Constitutional Rights'. None. Nada.

You have No 'Constitutional Rights'. That's right. That's what I said. As an American citizen, you have no 'Constitutional Rights', none, zero, nada.

You do, however, have Rights by virtue of being a rational human being, and some of those Rights have been singled out for protection within the borders of the United States of America by the Constitution with which its government was formed and which it takes its jurisdiction from, and by way of that same Constitution, and some of the amendments to it, which include, but are not limited to, the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, Individuals are able to become citizens of the United States of America, and enjoy having their Individual Rights protected by those laws which derive their power from that same Constitution, of the United States of America.

Why do I bother to say it that way? Because it is important to. Why? Because if you think that you have 'constitutional rights', rights granted to you by the Constitution, then you have NO Rights at all. None, zero, nada.

Why? Because if you think that your Rights were granted to you by the law, then legislators who write the laws, can revoke or gut those rights, by passing still other laws. If the legislator's pen is where you got your Rights from, then you in fact have no 'rights' at all, but only such allowances which your friendly neighborhood legislator is pleased to extend to you. Such things, which may go by the name of 'Rights', are in actuality, nothing of the sort, they are simply privileges.

Nothing more.

Not Rights.

Why say this now, and in this way?

Because in a couple days time the Supreme Court of the United States is going to announce the result of their deliberations upon the constitutionality of ObamaoCare, and I am saying this in this way, because it is being reported that the SCOTUS is deciding whether or not Americans have a Right to Healthcare.

Which is a ridiculous idea.

Of course you have a Right to Healthcare. You absolutely have a Right to receive healthcare, should someone agree to provide it to you, either for free, or for a fee - you have a right to receive quality healthcare, just as those who are able to provide it to you, have a right to do so. What you do not have, and no one else does either, is a right to force others to provide that healthcare to you, against their will, either physically, or financially.

No law can change that, because no law and no constitution ever granted you any of your Rights in the first place. The SCOTUS might very well approve ObamaoCare as a law, but that will neither make a Right, or make the law right.

They have the power to call it a law - just as Justice Taney's SCOTUS had the power to declare Dred Scott to be only 'property' and not a man - there is little doubting their power to do that, but they do not have the Right to. No one does, and declaring it to be so does not make it so, anymore than declaring Dred Scott to be less than a man, made him any less of a man.

No man can grant a Right to another; no lawgiver, no philosopher, no prophet, no majority of men, have a right to take away a Right, or to make a right either. They may acquire the power to impose such a law upon us (should We The People be careless enough to allow it), in the same way that any robber who is bold and brutish enough can impose his will upon you, taking what they desire by force, in violation of your Rights.

But such a demonstration of power will never create a Right, or make it right, even if they pass a law that says so.

Our Laws do not give us our Rights. They protect them. Or violate them.

Nothing more.

The Founding Fathers gave us no Rights
In fact it wasn't even the Framers of the Constitution who singled out those few particular Rights we normally think of as 'our Rights', it was instead We The People who demanded that the legislature draft a Bill of Rights to protect our Rights, as a condition of the Constitution being ratified, and the Government of the United States of America, as we know it, being formed at all.

In framing the constitution, the majority of the Founders felt that they needed only refer to a few Rights, and those only in passing as needed in framing the Constitution - that of Contract, Representation, to live in a Republic, protection of our Intellectual Property Rights (patents) and other particulars of law, thinking that the rest of the Rights of We The People would be secure by virtue of the fact that they gave no explicit power to the government through the constitution, to abridge them, and so, they thought, our individual rights would in effect remain secure by being absent from the powers they gave the Constitution.

We The People, disagreed.

In debating the merits of ratifying the constitution (see the Federalist, and anti-Federalist papers) it became apparent that We The People were not very well assured that enough of our Rights were secured by the constitution as it stood, and as a condition of ratification, a promise was made that the incoming legislature would see to it that a number of our Individual Rights would be specifically recognized and amended to the Constitution, as the law of the land, and some, Patrick Henry for instance, were not very satisfied with even that.
"Does it not insult your judgments to tell you, Adopt first, and then amend! Is your rage for novelty so great, that you are first to sign and seal, and then to retract? Is it possible to conceive a greater solecism? I am at a loss what to say. You agree to bind yourselves hand and foot — for the sake of what? Of being unbound. You go into a dungeon — for what? To get out. Is there no danger, when you go in, that the bolts of federal authority shall shut you in? Human nature never will part from power. Look for an example of a voluntary relinquishment of power, from one end of the globe to another: you will find none. Nine tenths of our fellowmen have been, and are now, depressed by the most intolerable slavery, in the different parts of the world, because the strong hand of power has bolted them in the dungeon of despotism." - Patrick Henry (Speech to the Virginia ratifying assembly 1788)
, and Henry was very nearly right - the legislature delayed and balked at the idea of producing a Bill of Rights. It was James Madison, then a member of the House of Representatives, who insisted that they fulfill their obligation, and wrote the rough draft for the Bill of Rights himself and insisted that they be debated, even though Madison, the father of the Constitution, was leery of a Bill of Rights as well.

Most of the states already had their own bills, and he was concerned that in naming a few critical Rights, it would have the effect of reducing our rights to those few that were specifically noted. There is much in Madison's argument that is worth your consideration, it certainly consumed much of his consideration, for he wasn't worried about 'granting' too many Rights, but with losing more than could be written down,
"..., the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted. 2 because there is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of Conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power. One of the objections in New England was that the Constitution by prohibiting religious tests opened a door for Jews Turks & infidels. 3. because the limited powers of the federal Government and the jealousy of the subordinate Governments, afford a security which has not existed in the case of the State Governments, and exists in no other. 4 because experience proves the inefficacy of a bill of rights on those occasions when its controul is most needed. Repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State. In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current."
IOW, what he understood, was that we have many, many Rights, too many to be noted and defined and protected - and the attempt to do so, no matter how voluminous they might be, would still come up short (for instance, if you say 'you have a right to free speech' a slick lawyer can say 'you were granted the right to speak, but not a right to write'), in ways that might not yet even be realized in his time.

Madison, however, in giving the matter careful consideration, felt that he came upon a way in which he might be able to secure the unlimited nature of our rights, without naming and reducing them to only those few ones named. His brilliant innovaitons were what formed the core of what eventually became the 9th and 10th amendments:
Article IX - The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article X - 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.
Does that sound like the Rights and Powers of We The People are something which comes from the Legislator's pen?... or something which the legislator needs to take careful pains not to abbrogate?

It's also worth noting what usually is never taken note of, the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, because it makes it clear that our Rights were not privileges granted to us by our govt as if they were simply conveniences cited in order to 'provide for the general welfare', as the 'living(dead) document' proponents would have it, no, the Preamble makes it clear that they were meant as restrictions upon government which were imposed upon it by We The People; the same We The People who created that government, through its constitution. And that is likely the chief reason why this Preamble is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any textbook, school or seat of government - for as Patrick Henry noted above, power seeks to preserve and increase its power, it doesn't like having to admit to any limitations of its power.

Preamble to the Bill of Rights :
"Begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday, the 4th of March, 1789.

The conventions of a number of the states having, at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added; and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;--

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the legislatures of the several states, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said legislatures, to be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution, namely,--

Articles in Addition to, and Amendment of, the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the Fifth Article of the original Constitution.
IOW We The People, in order to prevent our government from abusing its powers and infringing upon our Rights, insisted that some of our essential political rights, essential to thwarting the rise of tyranny, be recognized and defended by law, at the source of our laws - the Constitution.

Our Govt did not grant us our Rights. In fact that first legislature, one of the finest ever, did not want to follow through on its promise of  legislating a Bill of Rights. Govt, power, always feels itself above obligations to those it 'serves', it trusts itself; it is up to us, We The People, to continually remind our Govt that it serves us, not the other way around.

So we have our Rights protected in the foundations of our laws, because We The People demanded that they be recognized by law, but... that doesn't really tell us what is being recognized, does it? The fact that we demanded that our Rights be recognized doesn't tell us the nature of what Rights are, does it, it simply lets you know that you have a bunch of something being protected for you... but a bunch of what? Why? Where from do they come?

One thing we can say unequivocally about our Rights at this point, is that we are not given them by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they come from a much more unimpeachable source than that.

What they are and where they come from, tomorrow.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Welcome to History's Interesting Times

Interesting times, eh? Army Tanks are set to hold 'urban exercises' on the streets of St. Louis, political parties prepare to panic in response to the Supreme Court's imminent judgment upon some or all of Obamaocare, worldwide financial 'instability' is setting up new shock waves, the 'Arab Spring' unexpectedly (!) blooming into flowers of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over Egypt, which is setting up a backdrop of grand spectacle for the Presidential campaign of 2012 as it moves into full swing.

With the lessons of history in mind - the main lesson being that they are continually ignored and so are retaught again and again and again - I've been rereading Sallust's the Conspiracy of Cataline & the Jugurthine War (surely Sadam Hussein took more than a few pointers from this on how to defy, mock and play the most powerful nation on earth for fun and profit (while, of course, missing the point of the lesson)), and while alternating between shocks of recognition and slowly shaking my head, I came to the realization that:

People have been this dumb for a long, long, time.

Not that there's anything directly to be learned from the political theater in such things as the restless and unenfranchised Latin's (no, no reason to think of undocumented workers, move along), or the unprecedented 're-elections' of Marius, or from the ruthlessness of Sulla. Not even from the 'wages of liberality' paid and earned by men like the ultra-rich Crassus (no matter how tempting it is to insert a 'cough*George Soros*cough' with a sly nudge-nudge wink-wink to your fellows), and surely no reason to relate the impassioned desire of Cataline and his fellows to tear down and overthrow what stood, because it stood, to movements or people such as Occupy Wall Street (or Van Jones or Bill Ayers... nah, move along) or in the ambitions of mighty Caesar.
Cicero denouncing Cataline

There is in fact a danger in pointing to one event or person or another and calling them 'a modern day Caesar' (though I have and likely will again), because then we tend to focus on that person's traits (general, politician, dictater, etc) and so miss the true and timeless principles of virtue or corruption which animate them. While we're then carefully on the lookout for the 'new Caesar', we can so easily miss the far more common and forgotten others so soon to reappear on the stage, such as this mention of "Marcus Manlius Capitolinus"; it's the also rans such as this, who pose an even more serious threat, as their common occurances are what actually lead to the once and future 'new Caesar' stepping onto the stage:
"Just such another Deceiver, false Friend, and real Enemy, they had in Marcus Manlius Capitolinus. For the People are ever the servile Tools of such as know how to blind them with false Tales and Appearances. He was, indeed, a brave Soldier, had nobly defended the Capitol against the Gauls, and done many signal Exploits in War; but, full of Ambition, and envying the famous Camillus, attempted Royalty by the Means of Popularity; and, in order to gain the People, took such Measures as will ever gain them: He deceived them with magnificent Professions and Undertakings, and corrupted them by bribing them; and as he was profuse in his Gifts and Caresses, they were equally extravagant in their Zeal and Adoration. Whilst he was giving Money to many, or paying their Debts; becoming Security for some, and even assisting and rescuing others by downright Violence; whilst he was continually proposing popular Schemes, popular Projects, and popular Largesses; it never entered into their credulous Heads, that a Benefactor, so infinitely liberal and zealous, could possibly intend them any Harm, much less Misery and Chains. Yet it was obvious to common Sense, that either Manlius, or the Government, must fall; especially when he came to be constantly guarded by the Croud, and to bid Defiance to the Magistrates. But the People, corrupted even to Blindness, either saw no Danger to the State, or regarded Manlius more than the State, or perhaps as the best Friend to the State; and much Difficulty there was in securing the State against him, by depriving him of Life. His Friends, the Multitude, who strove to rescue him from Justice, loudly lamented him for having suffered it; and, as the Plague happened soon after, they said, that it was a Judgment, sent by Jupiter, to avenge the innocent Blood of Manlius, the Defender of his Temple the Capitol. For, as they were perpetually infatuated by the Projects and Harangues of their Tribunes and Demagogues, they were always sauntering in the Forum, and reasoning about Matters of Government. Thus they neglected their Labour, and the Manuring of their Lands; and, when Famine followed, which was very natural, they railed at their Governors."
There is more timely and relevant information in that one paragraph from over 2,000 years ago, than in all of the 'Social Studies' textbooks that my kids have ever brought home over the years, or than any of the 'Timely and Relevant!' take home excerpts of 'Time' magazine, have ever even dreamt of. But it takes imagination to dream, and philosophical sense and historical grounding to make it relevant and useful in living your life. And so the lessons will simply go on being re-taught to us as history patiently waits for mankind to wake up.

In this excerpt, Sallust relates how the senate deliberated upon punishment for the wouldbe usurper Cataline and his fellow conspirators, in this, a hard speach from Cato, in opposition to the cautious and merciful pleas of Caesar's (It's perhaps also not pointless to keep in mind that neither speaker's recommendation really 'worked', and that Cato would come to his end in defiance of Caesar's own later usurpation, and that Caesar would not long after fall to the knives of those his later mercies would spare, and Cicero would be killed soon after that to still his truth telling tongue):
"When Cæsar had done speaking, and the rest of the Senate were, either in Words, or by Signs, approving or opposing what had been differently proposed, Cato was demanded his Opinion, and he delivered it in the following Speech:
‘My Spirit feels very different Impressions upon this Occasion, Conscript Fathers: First, when I attend to our present Situation, with the Perils which surround us; and then consider within myself the Counsel offered by certain Senators, they seem only to reason about settling the Punishment of such, who are combined to make War upon their Country, upon their Parents and Kindred, upon Religion and private Property; whereas our present Situation warns us to have another Point in View, and rather to concert Means for securing ourselves from them, than what Punishment ought to be inflicted upon them. For other Enormities you may take Vengeance after they are committed; but if you provide not against the Perpetration of this, in vain, when once it is accomplished, will be your Appeal to the Tribunals. When the City is once taken, nothing further remains to the poor Citizens.

‘Now, by the immortal Deities, I conjure and exhort you, You, who have ever had more at Heart your Houses, your Retirements, your Statues, and your Pictures, than the Interest of the Commonwealth; if you would but preserve these your Enjoyments, which, whatever be their Value, you thus cherish; if you would but enjoy your Pleasures in Ease, and without Interruption, rouse yourselves for once, and assume the Protection of the Commonwealth. This is no Debate about Tribute and Revenue; none about Injuries done to our Confederates. No: Our common Liberty, our very Lives, are, at this Instant, precarious.

‘I have often, Conscript Fathers discoursed in this Assembly; I have often bewailed the prevailing Luxury and Rapaciousness of our Fellow-citizens; and, for this Cause, I bear the Despight of many: But, as I never gratified myself in Vice, nor suffered my Soul to harbour it, neither could I humour the Debauchery of others, by countenancing their Excesses. Yet, however you slighted these my Complaints, still the Commonwealth stood firm and secure: Such was her native Potency, as to bear with the Defects of her Rulers. But the present Conjuncture admits no Debate about the Pravity or Amendment of our Morals; none about the Might or Splendor of the Roman Empire. The Debate is, whether this our State, whatever it be, continue our own, or, together with our Persons, become the Prey of Parricides.

‘Will any one now interpose, and mention Gentleness and Commiseration? Surely we have long lost the genuine Names of Things. It is called Liberality, to be free of the Property of others; Fortitude, to be daring in Iniquity: Such is our Degeneracy, and thence the desperate Situation of our Commonwealth! Let them, if they will, since such is the present Mode, let them be liberal of the Wealth taken from our Confederates, merciful to the Plunderers of the public Treasure: But let them not make a Present of our Blood; nor, out of their Tenderness to a few Parricides, consign to Destruction every worthy, every guiltless Roman.

‘Cæsar has just now, in his Place, reasoned, with great Elegance and Accuracy, concerning Life and Death: Nor, do I doubt but he holds for Fables, all the received Traditions about an infernal World; where the Wicked, far apart from the Virtuous, are confined to dreary and dismal Mansions, full of Darkness and Horror. From this Principle his Counsel is, That their Estates be confiscated, and their Persons kept in Bonds, apart, in the several great Cities of Italy; from an Apprehension, I presume, that, were they to be kept in Rome, they might be released, either by the Efforts of their Fellow-traitors, or by the Violence of the mercenary Multitude: As if evil and profligate Men were only to be found in this City, and not all over Italy; or, as if such a desperate Attempt were not most likely to succeed, where there is least Force to oppose it.

‘If, therefore, he really apprehend any Peril from these Criminals, his Counsel is airy and unsolid: But if, under so much general Terror possessing the Hearts of all Men, he alone dreads nothing, so much the greater Cause do I find of Dread, both for myself, and for you.

‘Be therefore assured, that your Decree concerning the Fate of Lentulus, and the other Prisoners, will comprize in it that of Catiline, and the whole Body of Conspirators. The more Vigour you shew, just so much the less Spirit will animate them: But if they perceive you ever so little relenting, they are, to a Man, ready to fall upon you with terrible Confidence.

‘Deceive not yourselves with an Opinion, that it was by Arms our Ancestors raised this our State, originally very small, to such Might and Grandeur. Were this the Cause, we should now possess it in its highest Degree of Lustre and Perfection; since we far surpass them, both in the Number of Confederates and Citizens, as well as in Horses and Arms. But it was from other Sources that their Greatness arose; such Sources as utterly fail us. They exercised Industry and Vigilance at Home, with righteous Government Abroad: They had Minds sound and free in Council, and in Judgment biassed by no Guilt or Crime, swayed by no evil Passion.

‘Instead of such Virtues as these, amongst us, Rapaciousness and Debauchery take Place; great Poverty in the State, profuse Wealth in private Families: We admire Riches, we are resigned to Sloth, make no Distinction between the Virtuous and the Wicked; and all the Rewards of Merit and Worth are ingrossed by Ambition
. Nor, whilst, in all your public Councils, each of you intends only himself separately from the Whole; whilst, at home, you are inslaved to your Pleasures, and, here in the Senate, to sordid Interest, or Partiality and Favour, is the Result at all strange, that such alarming Attacks are made upon the Commonwealth, when thus deserted and forlorn. But I drop these Considerations.

‘Certain Romans, the most illustrious amongst us, have conspired to lay waste their native Country with Fire and Sword, and engaged the Gauls, ever inveterate Foes to the Roman Name, to join in the Conspiracy. He who has the Command of the Enemy, is with his Army, as it were, hovering over our Heads; and, even at this dreadful Conjuncture, you linger and hesitate how to deal with such of these unnatural Rebels. as you have seized within your Walls.

‘Would you shew them Pity? Let it be so: They are young Men, and have transgressed thro’ Ambition: Nay, dismiss them too, and even dismiss them with their Arms. What would follow? Even that this Mildness of yours, this Mercy towards them, whenever they were free and armed, would end in your Perdition.

‘Our Situation, in truth, is threatening and direful: But you fear it not. Yes, you do fear it; fear it exceedingly; and it is only from Impotence of Spirit, and Effeminacy, that you are thus in Suspense, every one looking and depending upon another.

‘Perhaps you trust for Deliverance to the immortal Gods, who have often preserved this Commonwealth from the highest Dangers: But it is not by Vows, nor by Supplications, and devout Wailings, like those of Women, that Succour is procured from the Gods: It is by Vigilance, by active Measures, and provident Counsel, that all Difficulties, are vanquished, and all Pursuits succeed: When once you have abandoned yourself to Sloth and Indolence, in vain afterwards you will implore the Gods; the Gods will be provoked, and make you feel their Wrath.

‘In the Days of our Forefathers, Aulus Manlius Torquatus, in a War with the Gauls, doomed his own Son to die, because he had engaged with the Enemy without Orders; so that a young Man of signal Hopes, died to atone for an Excess of Bravery. And do you now doubt and linger about the Doom of the most bloody of all Parricides?

‘Perhaps their present Treason is unsuitable to the Course of their Lives past: Well then; be tender of the great Dignity of Lentulus, if you find that ever he was tender of the Purity of his own Person, or of his Character and Fame, or of what concerned the Gods, or of what concerned Men, in any one Instance. Pardon also Cethegus, in Pity to his Youth, if this prove not the second time of his making War against his native Country. For why should I at all mention Gabinius, Statilius, and Cæparius? Men who, had they possessed the least Grain of Reflection or Virtue, would never have harboured such pestilent Purposes against the Commonwealth.

‘To conclude, Conscript Fathers, were it not, that an erroneous Step must, at this time, prove fatal, I should readily leave you to be corrected by the Consequences, seeing you slight my Reasoning. But we are beset and exposed on every Side. Catiline, at the Head of an Army, advances thro’ the Passes to assail us: We have Enemies within our Walls, Enemies in the very Heart of Rome: No Preparation which we make can be kept secret, nor any Counsel which we take: Hence the greater Cause of Vigour and Dispatch.

‘This, therefore, is my Counsel, That since, by a horrible Combination of blood-thirsty Citizens, the Commonwealth has been reduced to the most imminent Danger; and since they stand convicted, by the Evidence of Titus Volturcius, and that of the Allobrogian Deputies, as also by their own Confession, to have formed a Conspiracy, by Slaughter and Conflagration, and other direful Cruelties, to destroy their Fellow-citizens, and native State; they be treated like guilty Criminals, condemned by their own Mouth, and doomed to die, according to the primitive Usage.’
When Cato had ended his Speech, all those of Consular Rank, indeed, the greatest Part of the Senate, assented to his Opinion, with loud Applause; exalting to the Skies the Virtue and Firmness of his Soul, and reproaching one another with Timidity. Cato passed for a great and glorious Patriot, and just as he proposed, the Senate decreed.

Now as I had learned much by Reading, much by Report, concerning the glorious Actions of the Romans, in War and in Peace, by Sea and Land, I was exceedingly curious to discover, by what principal Cause such stupendous Events were accomplished. I knew, that with a Handful of Men, they have combated mighty Hosts: I was apprised, that, with small Forces, they have maintained War against mighty Monarchs; that they have often borne, and even braved, the Storms and Traverses of Fortune; that, in Eloquence, they were surpassed by the Greeks, in military Renown by the Gauls.

So that, having canvased every Cause, it appeared manifest to me, that only to the signal Virtue of some particular Romans, all our Superiority was owing. It was thus that great Wealth was vanquished by Poverty, great Multitudes by a small Number. Even when Rome became depraved by Voluptuousness and Effeminacy, still such was the surpassing Power of the Commonwealth, that she was thence able to support herself under all the Faults and Excesses of her Magistrates and Generals: Even when, like a Mother superannuated, she forbore, for long Intervals, to produce any Citizen of transcendent Virtue. Two I myself remember, Cato and Cæsar; different indeed in their Pursuits, but both of surprising Abilities: And since it here fell naturally in my Way, I would not omit displaying, according to my best Ability, the Temper and Accomplishments of each.

In their Race, Years, and Eloquence, they were nigh equal. Both possessed the same Greatness of Spirit; both enjoyed the same Degree of Glory, but in different Ways: Cæsar was celebrated for his Generosity and Munificence; Cato, for his unvaried Integrity of Life. The former gained Renown by his Complacency and Acts of Compassion; the latter heightened his Dignity by an inflexible Severity. Cæsar derived Fame from his Readiness to give, to relieve, and to pardon; as did Cato from his Austerity in bestowing nothing. In one was found a sure Refuge to the Wretched, in the other, certain Vengeance to the Guilty. Cæsar was extolled for his Flexibility; Cato for his Firmness. Cæsar, in short, had intirely turned himself to active Life, to a Habit of Pains and Care, Night and Day; was zealous to advance the Interest of his Friends, regardless of his own; and refused to grant nothing worthy to be granted. His own ardent Aim was to command in Chief, to lead Armies, and to be engaged in new Wars, thence to signalize his military Virtue: Whilst the whole Bent of Cato was to Simplicity of Life, to regular Conduct, and, above all, to invincible Strictness. He contended not in Wealth with the Wealthy, nor with the Factious in Practices of Faction; but yielded not in Bravery to the most undaunted; nor in Temperance, to the most reserved; nor in Purity of Morals, to the most upright; and aimed not so much to appear, as to be, a virtuous Man: So that the less he courted Renown, the faster it followed him.

After the Senate had, as I have related, concurred with the Proposition of Cato, the Consul judged it the securest Way, to snatch the instant Opportunity, without staying for Night, though it approached; lest any Time should be given for new Attempts. He, therefore, ordered the Triumvirate of Justice to accelerate all Measures necessary for the Execution; and, having posted proper Guards, conducted, in Person, Lentulus to the Prison, as the Prætors, by his Orders, did the rest.

In the Prison, after a small Descent towards the Left, there is a Place called the Dungeon of Tullus, sunk about Twelve Feet under-ground, fortified round with strong Walls, above with an Arch of Stone; a sad Solitude, full of Stench and Darkness, loathsome and hideous to behold! As soon as Lentulus was thrust down into this Place, the Executioners strangled him, as they were ordered.

Thus this noble Patrician, he who sprang from the Cornelian Race, a Race of the first Eminence and Lustre, he who, as Consul, had borne the supreme Magistracy of Rome, suffered a Death worthy of his Life and Crimes. Upon Cethegus, Statilius, Gabinius and Cæparius, the same Execution was done. "
I can't help wonder how many people will click upon, and then click away from this page, impatient to get to something more 'relevant' to their lives, missing the beat and the rhyme of history, and putting themselves into the position of being retaught its lessons once again.

But that's ok, History has no shortage of lessons to teach, and all the time in the world with which to go on teaching them.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Have you thought about what 'What you mean', means?

Do you know what 'what you mean' means? Have you thought about it? Recent conversations happening at my periphery have ranged from 'let govt give Presidential Candidates $500,000, 2 months time and no more to campaign, I think that'll force them to behave', to 'since we are not a tyranny, the state can continue on doing what it's been doing, and it should, because it works!'. But what's interesting in what these well meaning people mean, is that any initial questioning & concerns voiced over what they mean, elicits the response 'Oh, that's not what I mean!'.

Well, maybe so, but do you even know what 'what you mean', means?

Did you start your propositions from the point of view of what you understand? Or 'pragmatically' from the effects you dislike and would prefer to see fixed by doing 'what will work now'?

Here's a hint: If you don't start your thought process from principles, you are extremely likely to violate them. If you don't begin a political discussion with fundamental law and Rights fixed firmly in mind, then what you are going to propose, is very likely going to violate them both. Egregiously so.

Isn't that a problem? Shouldn't that be a concern? Or do you not consider the fundamentals of our system of  law (you know, that pesky 'Constitution' thingy) to be important, because all you want to do is regulate things? Or do you not give due consideration to Rights, because you don't care about, or believe in, Rights? I'll bet you do when 'your rights' are violated, but then that's probably not what you mean either, right? Or is it that you think that 'Rights' are only those privileges that most people, a democratic majority, want... and you just figure to be in the 'most people' all the time?

Have you ever given any thought or had any concern for what it is you think you don't need to bother with thinking about? Oh, they didn't bring that up during your 12 years of K-12 & 4 years of College 'education'? Huh. Go figure.

Be that as it may, seeing as though our form of govt, and the laws written under it, were conceived of, defend and abide by, the principles of Individual Rights - before proposing new laws, or voting for candidates to run our govt - don't you think you should have some idea of what it is you are talking about changing? Such as the fundamentals of our system of law and the Rights they were designed to protect?

Or do you, as our modern system of schooling and political thought encourage, simply want to 'fix things', to use govt to regulate matters and so make matters fairer for all?

Surely you've heard the phrase 'Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it', yes? Shouldn't you at the very least, have some concern for how other nations who just 'made things work' worked out? All through the later 19th & early 20th centuries, the ideal of the first govt to try to 'make things work', Bismark's Germany, was the ideal that 'progressive' thinkers raved about because his Prussian Welfare State imposed administrative law & regulations in order to please the people, keep the radicals at bay, and ensure that the state remained powerful and in control for the 'greater good' of all:
"In 1915, an American admirer of the German welfare state, Frederic Howe, explained the nature of the system in a book called Socialized Germany:
The state has its finger on the pulse of the worker from the cradle to the grave. His education, his health, and his working efficiency are matters of constant concern. He is carefully protected from accident by laws and regulation governing factories. He is trained in his hand and in his brain to be a good workman and is insured against accident, sickness, and old age. While idle through no fault of his own, work is frequently found for him. When homeless, a lodging is offered so that he will not easily pass into the vagrant class.
Howe admitted that under the German system, with its extensive controls and regulations, “The individual exists for the state, not the state for the individual.” But he insisted that this did not mean a loss of freedom. “This paternalism does not necessarily mean less freedom to the individual than that which prevails in America or England,” he argued. “[T]he German enjoys a freedom far greater than that which prevails in America or England. This freedom is of an economic sort. . . . It protects the defenseless classes from exploitation and abuse. It safeguards the weak.” "
Doesn't the fact that the financial chaos, militarism, first world war, Nazism and still another world war, which resulted from how those efforts to 'make things work', actually worked out, warrant at least some concern and interest for what Bismark's Germany, had no concern for either? You know, constitutional law based upon principles of individual rights and supported by property rights?

Behind Bismark's Germany, were the ideas of Hegel, and Kant and the father of fascism & communism, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wanted to abolish property rights, marriage & the family and empower the Legislator with the power needed for the state to manage the peoples lives and 'force them to be free'. For all our modern concerns with Karl Marx, he was only a two bit marketer of their repackaged ideas & there isn't an obscenity he came up with that Rousseau hadn't thought of first & in many cases practiced (see 'The Terror' of the French Revolution for examples of how others first put his ideas into practice. Do you like how they worked out? Any examples of their working out differently since? Still thinking that 'this time' it'll work?).

Their ideas swept the universities of Europe, and were the IN places of status seeking American educators in the early 1800's. Educators such as Charles Eliot, who brought their ideas back to universities such as Harvard and put them into practice here, where they spread from, leading directly to the pragmatic ideas of 'making things work', which have gradually supplanted the traditional American sense of 'First do what is right, and things will work best because of that'.
Bismark's Germany did not just 'happen', it came from somewhere, it came not only from ideas that were thought, but from ideas that were never considered; as did the wrack and ruin which followed after its collapse.

Rousseau's ideas of education, such as are found in his 'Emile', in their fundamentals, formed the basis for the 'new! Modern!' system of education that took root in America. Beginning around 1800, his modern ideas 'progressivley' displaced the system of education, and the materials it drew from, which produced our Founders era. Interesting, no? Is it not curious, that his rejection of 'Free Will', of the Individual Rights and Property Rights derived from Natural Law, has been reflected more and more in the students 'educated' in his virtual image? And the fundamentals of our system of government, and all it relies upon its people knowing, less and less?

More often than not, it's the ideas and principles that you don't consider or think about, that are more important than the ideas that you do 'think' about. 'What you mean' means far more than you might mean - you might want to consider that.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A quick question: What political -ist is Obama? Quick answer: Who cares?

I have a quick question for you, which political -ist is Obama? Marxist? Communist? Socialist? Progressivist? Democratic Socialist? I have a quicker answer for you: Who Cares?!

For those of you leftie leaners, or 'fair minded' moderates who are feeling offended by the question... what? Is there something wrong with asking that? You're not going to say that there is anything wrong with any of those answers, are you? Half or more of his staff is or is fond of, one or the other. Obama himself gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Democratic Socialist, are you saying that there is something wrong with those?

What is it that aggravates you about the question?

Do you think you know the answer? Based on what?

I'd say go ask Obama, but being as he's a liar, I don't really think that would get you anywhere. But, ok, whichever answer you'd like to give, go ahead and insert that here ___. There. Now. What did that tell you about him? What is it you think you now know about your President that you didn't before, or what do you now feel more confident, or justified about, that you didn't before?

Personally, I think the question, and whatever answer is given, is pretty much worthless. Better to ask, whatever label he goes under, are his actions compatible with governing the United States of America?

Before you go getting offended again, can you tell me what IS and IS NOT compatible with governing the United States of America? Or, taking baby steps, what are the requirements of that?

  • Wouldn't they have to govern within the constraints of the Constitution?
  • Wouldn't they have to respect the Rule of Law?
  • Wouldn't they have to respect an individuals Right to live their own life as they see fit?
To take just the most recent example of his contempt for all of that, he recently directed his various agencies to disregard enforcing the laws, on some people, based upon arbitrary parameters of age. His Director of Homeland Security, said that they will effectively 'Only impose the law on illegal immigrants who have broken the law.'

Which law? The immigration law, or some other law? Hint: It doesnt' matter which law you answer as being 'more important', to arbitrarily - which means without an objective basis, simply asserting a preference for one or another by whim - select one law over another to impose, follow or disregard, is to officially discard, repudiate and discard the rule of law.
The foundational idea of America was best summed up in John Adams'
"A Republic of Laws, not of men!"
, or even with Jefferson's,
"The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management. "
, all of that, every concept and principle of that, is quite simply jettisoned with any such Executive Order as that which has been given on immigration... or education... or EPA... or... etc., etc., etc.

Tell me how that is compatible with governing the United States of America, a Constitutional Republic which was designed to secure the fundamental rights of its citizens, their property, and their liberty to live their own lives?

It is enough for me to know that President Obama is an Anti-American President... which flavor of political party he claims, or disavows, is of no consequence.

Let me give you another hint: If what you have is a government which imposes laws or rules on the people at the whim of executives in the White house, the EPA, the DOJ, the SEC, the DHS, the HHS, the etc., etc., etc., then what you have are a people who conduct their lives under the permissions that they've been granted by those in power, to do what those in power have not forbidden them to do. What you do NOT have, in that scheme of things, is liberty.

Now, you go ahead and fill in the ___ for what you want to refer to Obama as being.

I don't really care. I know what he is not, he is not fit to govern the United States of America.
Are those who are opposing him, or the current leaders of the 'loyal opposition', in the next election any better? Can they be called 'Pro-American' in this view?

Oh great, now you're really going to get me depressed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What's so special about being special? Graduation time.

An English teacher, David McCullough Jr., recently delivered something rare for a commencement speech at a high school graduation, it was unusual, unexpected, and most of all, not boring. Even more unusual, for a high school graduation commencement speech, is that it made the evening news, and it also went viral across the Blogosphere, Twitterverse and YouTube as well. My guess is that it did so, not because it was itself a remarkable speech - the Gettysburg Address is still safely in the top ten - but because the themes it struck within so many of us, provided a perfect platform for effortlessly spinning language, dropping uncomfortable contexts, and most of all, giving easy access to feelings of offendedness for ourselves, and/or for giving offense to others.

It almost seems as if shielding us from what we don't want to learn, from those we're sure we should dislike, is languages new purpose in public speaking.

The speech itself, I thought, in tone at least, was geared well towards its target audience, which was, lets not forget, high school kids, and to their parents and faculty as well. It contains some good natured, humorous digs at all in attendance, which they responded well to, and it was a decent speech, and unusually thoughtful for what it was - a high school graduation commencement speech.

The reaction to his speech though, has surpassed its value as a speech, ranging from Bill O'Reilly's 'Talking Points Memo', to the Daily Kos, and it has been fascinating to watch.

My own first reaction went both ways at first. When I heard the title, "You're not special", it tugged an approving and amused contrarian chuckle out of me, but then as I heard a small clip that seemed to suggest 'selfless service', that swung me off in the other direction with concerns that the less obvious message would undermine whatever 'dose of reality' value the rest of it (which I'll get too in a bit) might have. But both of my reactions were just that - reactions, an expected starting point for considering the thoughts of another person, but to end where you started without having taken a step... that's not a good thing, and it is certainly not something which reflects a concern for Education... but it does seem to be the common practice today, even the 'natural' thing to do. But for those who are satisfied with what comes naturally, I'd like to point out that Liberty, Natural Law, Individual Rights, are very unnatural events in the history of mankind, and they cannot be promoted or preserved by a people who are satisfied with starting and finishing with what comes naturally.

Reflecting on reflections
No matter your opinion of the speech, on the one hand you've got to give this teacher credit for having the brass to tell the graduating class (and his fellow faculty members, and the kids parents) that, despite what they've likely been told by everyone from Barney the Dinosaur & Mr. Rogers (would any of them be old enough to remember either?), to their sports participation trophies, he tells them that most shocking thing of all in today's educational world, that as far as the outside world is concerned, they're not all that special:
"Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman. And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not."
[Watch the video for the ' I... like that?' expressions of the blond lady behind him as he says this.]

His message sparked cheers or jeers from across the spectrum, left, right and center, which quickly brought Mr. McCullough a heaping helping of notoriety, and which is also an unusual result from giving a high school graduation commencement speech.

Why would an English teacher risk straying from the usual safe putty of graduation speech platitudes? Even if it hadn't gone viral around the world, it surely would still have caused a stir among his immediate audience, many of whom he has to continue living and working with, why open himself up to that? He explained why, after the initial flurry of attention from his speech, to a local news reporter, saying that,
"I took seriously the responsibility of sending these kids off into the world. And to go out there with unrealistic expectations, for unreachable goals or an inflated sense of self, is doing them no favor."
, which is a refreshing approach for a teacher to take in a high school graduation commencement speech - and just think about how sad it is that that might be seen as a refreshing approach, rather than the norm.

Mirror, mirror, on the Facebook wall...
Take a moment and try holding his speech up as a mirror, and if you are on Facebook, you must have seen this speech hanging on someones Wall, and see which passions of yours and your friends, you see reflected in it.

Conservatives have, for the most part, given his speech (perhaps too quickly) a big two thumbs up, and that mostly because of the obvious 'dose of reality' message that the likes of that paragraph injects into students who they feel are too pampered by society; O'Reilly summed this view up as,
""Talking Points" believes that students need to hear McCullough's stern message. Unlike some countries America is a very competitive place. Nobody is going to hand you money except the federal government and those funds will by paltry.

In the private sector you must compete, you must prove yourself to be special. And believe me few will care if your feelings are hurt. Performance is what counts.

Sadly many American students are not prepared for the real world. They have been pampered by both parents and the public school system. The old saying is life is hard and then you die."
, which is vintage O'Reilly, and fine for him, but I think if you take the message of the speech as being 'toughen up! Only performance counts!', then likely the only thing you took from the speech was what you brought to it, a chance to restate what you already thought.

Many others were quick to give it the presumed Ayn Rand seal of infamy (and I tended this way as well, at first, before I actually read it) for containing the buzz-word 'Selflessness', which they associate (correctly, IMHO) with the collectivistic crushing and smothering of the Individual to spiritual and eventually physical death; or even for not trumpeting the supreme value of the individual. Typical of this view was this from the comment section of Flopping Aces,
"I wish I could read the speech the way others have, but I cannot. Not once does McCollough mention the word “unique”, which each person is. And he is wrong about “special”, because each individual can be special if they prove it by earning the accolade by finding their niche in life. In addition the end of the speech encourages all the students to be selfless. Anyone who understands the first thing about individual freedom, about free market capitalism, about business, who has read Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, De Toqueville, Adam Smith, Henry Hazlitt, Milton Friedman, etc., knows that people should work in their own self-interests. "
Other conservatives liked the speech because of how they interpret that same word, 'selflessness', because they associate it (wrongly,IMHO) with admirable qualities of 'public spiritedness', generosity & a willingness to help others.

The comments of leftist pages (though not exclusively) are peppered with charges of

  • 'anti-intellectualism',
  • 'over competitive fascists!'
  • 'This whole meme reeks of right-wing hypocrisy and low information. I disapprove'.
, views which I think are largely stupid on the face of them, and I won't spend more than a sentence each on them. To charge a speech as being 'anti-intellectual', when its core theme is asking its audience to look past appearances and to give more deliberate consideration to the more substantive issues behind the appearances you may have been led to think were important - is what the word 'stupid' exists for. The terms 'over competitive' and 'fascists' don't go together at all, fascists (and their cousins in the proregressives) are for using the power of govt to pick winners and eliminate actual competition (calling it 'fairness'. doesn't change its spots). As for 'right-wing hypocrisy', McCullough's speech has critics who claim he is expressing left wing views, and right wing views, which I think reflects only the fact that they themselves see all in terms of which wing they want to promote - and charging anyone else with hypocrisy, is itself hypocrisy. I saw no 'wing' expressed in the speech... but if you do, please, point it out to me.

Enough of those comments - its pointless reflecting further on reflections that don't reflect even a facet of reality.

Still others seem to be whipping both speaker and speech for daring to say that their kids aren't 'special', or for McCullough's presumed status as an 'elite', through the associations they assume he (or at least his famous father) surely must have or is intent on promoting still more chipping upon their shoulders, which I'll get into more in a bit.

All of those charges came swirling swiftly up out of the Internet at McCullough's 'You're not special' speech, and in that same post-speech interview ref'd above, McCullough points out, a little defensively,
"The front end of the speech is the 'you're not special part', of course everyone is special... but... if everyone is, then no one is, so... there's 37,000 high schools in this country... that's a lot of competition."
And it's with numbers such as that, that McCullough begins to build a drumbeat of daunting statistics to stack up against the unrealistic expectations that your individual, unique specialness has a chance of standing out and being recognized by the world for being special, simply for having graduated from high school, or for engaging in the typical activities which lead up to that point. If that's considered too harsh to point out, let me ask you, is it more unkind to tell students that such things are foolish... or to let them go on thinking them?

That he's getting any flack for the 'not special' theme of the speech is doubly baffling, for as he notes,
"Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you'll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same."
Have you never wondered why graduates are all dressed alike at graduation? Graduation doesn't celebrate your uniqueness, but your uniformity with your fellows as together you all pass beyond the highest levels of the student world - where you may very well have been 'special', in order to arrive, together as a group, in your new position - at the bottom of the 'real world'. For anyone to be surprised...Helloooo...!

The speech itself of course has 'flaws', internal and external. For instance, if he's wanting to cure kids of their sense of specialness, telling them
“Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in”
, seems to me to appeal to the 'I'm too smart to fall for that' trait in the young, in the same way that the newly converted tend to say "LOOK HOW HUMBLE I AM!", which is not only counter-productive, but they'll be in no position, experience wise, to recognize what work is worth believing in, or be able to judge what is important and what isn't; being that they are only high school graduates, right? They've supposedly learned what they need to know, in order to begin learning what is worth knowing - emphasis on 'begin', not 'conclude'.

But even that, which was part of what getting education once was, is unlikely to have been learned in a modern school; today they aren't taught to judge, but to do; not virtues, but skills. If the Common Core of what they were taught in school, were basic minimum skills which the Dept of Education says are required for entering the marketplace, what could possibly qualify them to determine whether one sort of work or another is worthy of 'bothering with'?

What sort of judgment could they have learned through bubble tests in Math, or 'Science' or 'Computer skills'?

In what class which follows along with Arne Duncan's 'Common Core Standards', would a student possibly learn what is worth believing in? Sure, it'll tell you what you should follow... over and over again ... but following and swallowing and filling in bubbles to match up with memorized replies does very little towards preparing students to recognize whether or not something is worth believing in.

No, what our modern system of education prepares students for, is to be very unspecial, ordinary cogs, nothing more. That's one of its key features, not bugs... the sooner someone points that out to them, the sooner they might have a chance of overcoming the handicaps they've been taught to acquire.

But that's probably far enough down that facet - back to face of it.

McCullough opens his speech with some comments about marriage that are amusing, though mostly irrelevant, which provides a statistic that 50% of all marriages fail, which is more than a little misleading, if not untrue, but it does serve as a useful rhetorical device to set the stage for the rest of his speech, and when the 'you're not so special' theme came on, the audience, maybe most surprisingly, responded well to it, which, in this politically correct age where everyone is too unique and special to accept criticism, was encouraging on its own.

But again, many people didn't see it that way at all. The UK's DailyMail which said,
"In a rant targeting modern American parenting,"
And then there are the ladies of the 'Potter Williams Report', commenters on all things Educational. I usually find myself in agreement with them, especially in their opposition to govt programs such as 'Race To The Top' and 'Common Core Curriculum', yet on this speech it looks like we have no common ground. They said about his speech, in part,
"Don’t you love pampered delusional people like David McCullough, Jr. son of millionaire historian David McCullough, Sr. calling out other affluently raised offspring for being “doted upon, helmeted, and bubble-wrapped?” McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, gave a commencement address that proved one thing—he’s a know-it-all blowhard with his own latent feelings of inferiority and he thinks he’s “special” enough to tell others they ain’t.

Didn’t his Dad tell him he was special? If he doesn’t like being around suburban kids who do get a lot of what they want and don’t know anything else, then why is he teaching there?

Has he appointed himself the pied piper of setting the young and the rich on the right track?

Just think about the parents in the audience, most of whom have loved and nurtured their children, who had to listen to this smart-alecky nonsense."
[emphasis mine]

First and least, is being a millionaire something which we believe disqualifies you from having an opinion? If so, is there some ground, somewhere, which you expect to be able to stand upon, which would prevent those millionaires from saying that in their opinion, that your opinion, has no value because you lack the wealth that they have?

Further, and you should read McCullough's actual speech if you haven't already, it's much briefer than my post on it, I challenge you to find something 'delusional' in it. And 'know-it-all blowhard'?! Find me the words in this speech which justifies That charge! And then "latent feelings of inferiority" lol, really? Where in the text of this speech does that come from? Better yet, where does their ability to psychologize a speaker by way of a single one of his speeches, come from? And doesn't that raise a few unsavory characteristics all their own?

I don't like knocking these folks, especially them, but when discussing matters of Education, the discussion should be enlightening, not endarkening - I mean, a cave is a cave, no matter who dwells in it, or with what cliche's and presumptions its walls are made of. And that's not nearly the worst of their reaction to his speech; to me it sounds as if they are ranting against their own prejudices about McCullough, and his associations, and even the preferences they assume his father, historian and author David McCullough, must have,
"But the kicker isn’t that well-off, country club children like McCullough speak and act like the wealthy elites they rail against, it’s that conservatives can’t see this tomfoolery for what it is—privileged leftists (his father, David, Sr. told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in 2011 he greatly admired Barack Obama) co-opting the tough love topic of the far right while pushing the 'we're all the same but we're really not’ illogic. "...

"...Didn’t his Dad tell him he was special? If he doesn’t like being around suburban kids who do get a lot of what they want and don’t know anything else, then why is he teaching there?"
, not to mention possibly a number of issues they have with those who are affluent because they are affluent, or associated with Michelle Rhee (Common Core Curriculum pusher & Race To The Top lobbyist, YES lobbyist). No, it looks like they're comments are more directed at everything they associate with him, and his Dad and his Dad's politics, Rhee, the affluent and celebrities in general, than with the speech itself.

For my part, I had my favorable/unfavorable first impressions from the title and an excerpt of the speech, but I found they didn't stand up in the face of the whole speech. Now, I know nothing of McCullough or his views, and I could find nothing more about him in a single quick googling, than his attending a gala banquet for his father, Author & Historian David McCullough, Sr. (author of the popular "John Adams" book & miniseries), and so I'll confine myself to commenting upon the content of this speech only... and to wondering how others managed to comment on information beyond that.

Looking past your own reflection - what's so special about being special?
If you haven't already, go back and read the speech. Aside from the rhetorical flourishes, his message is not that "You are NOT exceptional", instead what he says is that that's not enough:
"“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree."
, what he says is that that is a given, your undeniable specialness is a given shared by graduates from 37,000 other high schools across the country, so you'd do well to not expect to be thought exceptional just because you are special, after all, what is it that you think is so special about being special?! Everyone is special? But no one does, or can be expected to know and appreciate your own uniquely special qualities, except those who know you personally and well. Everyone IS special, every single one of us, but by that very fact, it is common to all and cannot be counted upon as something that will make you stand out from them- because they have it too!

Of course you are unique, of course you are special, and you will be so whether you are pushing a broom at WalMart or making decisions as a CEO of a major corporation (missing that is something which the elitist and anti-elitist have in common) - that isn't the issue, and behaving as if it is, is to devalue your true worth. Who you are can, and only will, be known by those who know you well, it can't be seen from the outside, and it won't show up on a resume or in your SAT's. Stop behaving as if you expect it to.

Everyone else beyond your closest associates, requires tangible deeds to assess you by. Those assessments must come from others who don't know you, being able to see and cite something which you have done, and shown a habit of dependably doing, what is right, doing what needs to be done, doing it well, and showing some initiative in getting those things done. Things which common obstructions are sufficient to keep most others from accomplishing, and it is in that way, and only in that way, that you can come to demonstrate your unique and valuable specialness to those who do not already know you well.

Your reputation is how you establish your uniqueness, and you don't come by that simply by being you, but by being you consistently and over time. Any other pretensions, you'd best chuck into the big can of political correctness, asap. Only in that way can you expect to develop and demonstrate an exceptional ability to earn and achieve something of value - do that first, and recognition will follow.

And then there's the 'elitist' charge. What is there in that speech that is elitist? Seriously, tell me? Is it elitist to face up to the reality of your situation? Is it elitist to say that trophies, advancement and accolades, in and of themselves, are of infinitely less value, than understanding what is more important, and doing that, no matter the rewards?
"No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it's "So what does this get me?" As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors
Is this 'elitism'? Or how about this,
"You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness."
Is that elitism? That little nugget was central to the education which brought about our Founding Fathers era, and it is today nearly lost - is it elitist to say that? To teach that? If so, count me down as an elitist! This 'elitist' charge, this guilt by assumed associations, is this somehow to be a demonstration of educated thought and criticism? If that is thought elitist, or a valid criticism of them, then we as a country had better be prepared to occupy a very special spot at the very bottom of a very crowded world. There are a lot of buzz-words in this speech, a lot of hot topic themes and assumed associations that seem natural to associate with McCullough, his position and his speech, but if we do not make a point of directing our thoughts beyond the seemingly obvious... our quality of Education in this country will never be regained.

From O'Reilly's 'stern message' to the wannabe Randian 'Selfless' charges, to the lefty's of being 'anti-intellectual' - they all have something in common, which I find disturbing, they are reacting to the appearances of the speech and don't touch the substance of it, which, however small it may be, is significant, they don't seek to spark any thoughtfulness in themselves or others, but only to nudge our reactions, and that has far more in common with propaganda, than thoughtful commentary or criticism.

I don't have much to go on about McCullough, but if I go with what are thought to be safe (!) assumptions, it's unlikely that there is all that much that McCullough & I would agree upon, and it maybe, as some have said, that he does have more wealth & privilege (as an English teacher? Is it possible that his father is wealthy and he is not? Maybe not) than I'll ever see - but that is, and should be, beside the point.

And as far as 'elites' go... I don't have a problem with them in and of themselves, only if they try to force their sniffiness upon others, and I just don't see that in this speech. In fact I didn't see a single political policy or issue supported - did you? Where were you looking when you saw that?

So where does the truth lie (ahem) here? Within - as always
The points of agreement between most of those who liked this speech, have got to be centered around the cursed participation trophies, because, as I've already said, there is nothing special, and shouldn't be expected to be, about being a decent person. There is no reason to reward you for being decent, because being that is, and should be, reward enough itself, and trying to grant any further reward, to what everyone should be, would be beyond meaningless.
"So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. "
, etc. Doing a decent job at simply showing up, is not exceptional behavior or worthy of being rewarded for - and attempting to do so undermines the value of those who do manage to turn exceptional efforts into exceptional results.

But I also cringe at the participation trophies because they seem to say that doing your best and not beating those who are the best in one activity or another, makes you inferior to them - counter intuitive though it may be, especially to those who don't bother to think things through, a person who tried and failed to be the best, shouldn't need to be consoled for the fact that they failed.

They tried. As they should.

And not only should trying, be something that should be expected of all, failing had better be something that you seek to avoid through succeeding, not something that you will be consoled for not achieving - incentives, as anyone who has ever considered actual economics would know, are things which are best not to have working at cross purposes. Even so, with that in mind, failure, if honestly come by, is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no shame, no boo-boo that needs to be soothed for there being in the world someone who is better at an activity, than you are.

The danger here is two fold.

  1. it is only an activity. Telling all children that they need to be consoled or 'recognized' for not excelling at it, shouts, as loudly as an implication will allow, that NOT achieving a skill is something to be ashamed of.
  2. it plants the notion that the person who outperforms you in some activity is to be resented, and that you should be rewarded and soothed, and that they - or SOMEONE - owes you for the crime committed of depriving you of the status of being recognized as being the best.
That is a path of folly, and folly upon folly. The sort of stuff an Iago would plant into the minds of Othello's and Roderigo's alike, and like Iago's 'motiveless malignancy', far from producing 'self esteem' in children, which actually achieving a trophy for actual exceptional behavior, it is far more likely to produce expectations of rewards for simply desiring to do good. McCullough notes,
"“In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. "
Which I agree with wholeheartedly. Such practices develop an appetite for rewards, deserved or not, rather than for that which is rewarding,.. and being rewarded for doing nothing produces a desire for nothing but rewards.

The Virtue of Selflessness...NOT!
"We are all here on earth to help others. What I can't figure out is what the others are here for." --W. H. Auden"
Selflessness means to have no self, or to have no regard for yourself. Q: Can what you are talking about when using the word selflessness, be what it means, if you are talking about the importance of your being true to your self? A: No.

So now we come to the two lines which, for anyone with even (or only) an ounce of Ayn Rand in them, causes their knees to jerk:
"Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. "
'Ooh... Altruist!' we seethe. 'We've been tricked by all these rugged individualist distractions! This is the creed of the second-hander! This is what is killing the world!' As one person said on a private email,
"He does not talk about doing things in their own self interests. He is doing the same thing politicians do....making the assumption that you should spend your life deciding what is good for others, like going out and organizing communities (he did not specifically say that, but the ant-hill syndrome is there). He never mentions that each individual is different, unique, and needs to exploit their own uniqueness. Being unique is special, and telling people that they should all be selfless is ridiculous. As anyone who has read Ayn Rand, Hayek, etc., knows, one has to look out for ones self interests first before one is in a position to do things for others."
But no, that is not what he has said in this speech, please, look into the speech, and not only at your reflection upon it. What he is saying is not the second handed altruistic opposition to reality that IS killing the world. But there is something else, IMHO, that is also killing the world, and that is the failure to look at things in their proper context.

I'll admit that when I first heard this sentence I had the same reaction, but when I read the full speech, it faded away as an incidental error in an otherwise worthwhile commentary.

Context matters absolutely. Look at the rest of the paragraph, you don't even have to look at the full speech, just at that lines fellow sentences within that paragraph, and you should be able to recognize a common, though imprecise, 'common sense' approach to making a very great point. For instance:
"Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge..."
There is nothing 'second-handed' about this, in fact what he is saying means the exact opposite of the self-denying creed which 'Selflessness' demands, what it means is that you should not let silly things, like the dull approval of uninformed others, distract you from what is most important to you and the healthy development of your self. What it means is that you should do what is right and worthy, not for the accolades it may bring, or for what other people might think or post on their facebook pages about you, but because it is right and worthy and beneficial to your own soul - that is precisely what Rand was speaking of in her 'Virtue of Selfishness', do it for the worthwhile challenge and accomplishment, not for the praise and recognition of others, but for the value of embracing the challenge of doing something worthy of you.

That is the only individualism that can be practiced by an individual. The sort of individualism which needs applause, is mere collectivism with a gaudy narcissistic lighting.

He repeats the same here,
"Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly."
The clear intent here, is that you must forget about doing what others value, and don't seek after anything solely because others would look admiringly upon it, but do it for its own value, live it and enjoy it, you, personally, and though he doesnt' use the word Ayn Rand would, its meaning is the same: do it selfishly.

But he does makes the unfortunate slip of the lip, starting with the first offending sentence,
"Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others"
But even in that sentence, he refutes what the knee jerk individualist reacts at. Look closer at it, 'Exercise free will and creative, independent thought' - forget for the moment what follows immediately afterwards and take that in. You cannot exercise free will, creative and independent thought, except through being a creative, independent person intent upon making their own choices. You cannot be creative and independent if you are doing it for what you expect others needfully desire or what their reactions might be - you can play to their expectations, but that ceases to be independent or creative in doing so. And when he makes the unfortunately worded (in the eyes of some),

'but for the good they will do others',

, can that really undo the rest? Can it nullify the rest? Can it be taken to be in opposition to all the rest of the sensibility of the speech? What's more, can it really mean what you think it does? Isn't it possible that doing good for others is actually an objective good?

The answer is Yes, it can be... with the emphasis on 'can' - it depends upon the context, 'can' depends upon 'why' and 'how'.

I dont' think his comment can be taken in that negative manner, not without dropping the context of the entire rest of the speech, and in doing that I think we risk putting ourselves in the exact same shoes as those who want to target people for using words like 'target', because they can be taken as exhortations to violence... providing you studiously avoid, disregard and discard all you know and understand about figurative speech and metaphor and the context within which they were used.

I, of course, wouldn't word it as McCullough did, but I do not believe that, given what the rest of the speech clearly intends, that these few words can be taken as being at odds with the entirety of the rest of the speech. I don't think he is saying that the point and goal of life should be to turn yourself into an altruistic shmoo, seeking in word and deed only after the pleasing of 'others'. I think he is simply saying, that there is value in aiding, helping supporting others, and to try and deny that for some point of doctrinaire objectivist phrasing is to risk turning philosophy into ideology, and all criticism into propaganda.

If you have ever helped a child to understand how to tie their shoes, and felt the burning sun of their smile of delight and thanks, you know that there is value, supreme value, to be found, honestly, objectively, in helping others. Doctors, nurses, teachers, etc., these people also know this too well, and if you have 'objectified' yourself into an inability to recognize the value of being human with other human beings... I pity you. Truly.

Now, that doesn't mean that you should lose sight of the fact that 'good' things can be done for bad reasons and purposes. Mafia Don's are famous for 'taking care of' their neighbors in order to secure good popular opinion. A person could also set about teaching children to tie their shoes IN ORDER to collect their thanks (or those of their parents)... not because it was a kind thing to do or as the result of their having a generous soul, but to tally up chits of thanks to be stowed away for later bragging rights, or as claims upon them, 'you owe me!' to be trotted out in order to collect admiring glances from those you tell the stories of your deeds to.

That IS second handedness,and that is the corrupt expression of the participation trophy mindset, and in that context, which it seems to me consistent with the rest of his speech, he is entirely correct to say 'do what you do, not for collecting second handed glory, but for the true treasure of satisfaction and value you can bring to anothers life, and in doing so, you bring them to your own life as well.' There is no Kantian or August Comte altruism there at all, in fact Kant would say that that would nullify the categorical 'virtue' of serving others.

I would not choose to put it into these words, because I think it too easy to be taken as promoting the leftist, altruist credo, but I think what he means by this,
"And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. "
, is meant that in doing what you do, do it because it is what you do best, or because it is what is best to do at the time, and is the right thing to do, not the popular thing; the good thing to do, not the YouTube viral thing to do. To bring true value and enrichment to the world (which for anything other than your pet, private hobby, cannot be done except through others), is what the full context of the speech indicates to me that he had in mind.

If I were to put that into my own words, I'd maybe say,
'and then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience, is that in doing what you know to be good and true and right, not because it might bring accolades, but because you can see that it is good and true and right, cannot help but bring value to circumstances and even joy to others as well, and in the end, as in the beginning, that is the best thing you can do true good for yourself.'
, which I think is what he IS saying, and saying better, and briefer, than me, when he said this,
"Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, ah a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things."
Summing Up
I could very well be entirely wrong about David McCullough, Jr. himself, for all I know he could be a raging proregressive leftist whose fondest dream is to mainline Marx into his students intellectual bloodstream. Or he could be a staunch conservative. I don't know. I only have this speech to go on, and what I was able to get out of it, is above. This fellow, David McCullough, Jr., son of historian & author David McCullough, is a teacher, a high school English teacher, and for my money, the fact that he thought and said every other sentence in his speech is remarkable enough to me that I can willingly spot him a mulligan on those portions, of those two questionable sentences, without hesitation. And I congratulate him not just for participating in his students education, but for an interesting speech which might actually - shock - do those who listened to it some good.

Here's how he finished the speech up, and sent his students into their graduation from High School:
"Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, ah a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things.

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.

Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives."
Maybe it's best to leave the last word to a couple of his students, who left the world of students with some of his last words,
"Greg Stravinski · Account Executive at Mid-West Family Broadcasting

I had Mr. McCullough as a teacher several years ago, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that he had a significant impact on how I live my life today. He's one of the few teachers who will give you the facts of life whether you want to hear them or not, and this speech is a perfect example."
Martha White Collins · Wellesley, Massachusetts My son has learned more from Mr. McCullough in one year than we could have ever expected or possibly hoped for. The education he received went beyond reading, writing and critical thinking. What a great example Mr. McCullough provides of a life lived extraordinarily.