Saturday, December 31, 2016

If Democracy, Republic, Electoral College, Popular Vote, are the answers, WTH was the Question? Representative Government pt. 1

I find that when it comes to New Year's Eve, rather than making new resolutions, I prefer pursuing older and more satisfying questions. And going into this new year, with all the post election controversy, the maligning of the Electoral College, and the bi-partisan angst over the new President-Elect, I hereby resolve to pursue a whole line of old questions, into the new year, beginning with one that has been going loudly unasked for so long, and that is:
What do we mean by 'Representative Government'?
Unfortunately, if anyone does attempt to have that conversation, it typically takes an immediate turn, Left or Right, into one of a number of polarizing false dilemmas, such as 'Electoral College vs. Popular Vote', or 'He Is/Isn't my President!' or everyone's favorite fever-fest of replies that follow from that long dead little old lady's question of 'what type of government did you give us, Mr. Franklin?'. Old Ben had answered: "A Republic, if you can keep it.", which should provide a fine crop of follow up questions to anyone who is actually interested in what his answer meant, but instead, we turn down the road of:
We're not a Democracy! We're not a Republic!
We are America!
  • 'We're Republic!'
  • 'We're a Democracy!'
  • 'Wrong, we're a Republic!'
  • 'You can't have a Republic without a democracy!!!'
  • 'Democracy means two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner!
(and then of course the one point they all agree on:)
  • 'Why do you hate America?!'
Unfortunately, the only thing that we seem able to keep, is fighting over those same dead end answers, over, and over, and over again. I know that I've often been diverted into that dead-end cycle, and good lord how I'd like to punch my fellow man in the nose after just a few rounds of it! But the truth is that those answers might as well have been designed to shield us from considering the question that they are supposedly given in answer to. And as the true answer is that we are an intricate formulation and development of both, rather than either one answer or the other, we never get past the false either/or answer, in order to ask them.

That is the nature of these coin-toss dilemmas, which is a clue for us, if we care to pay attention. Such answers prevent any real consideration of the questions that prompts them, and maybe, the fact is that when what you're looking for is a cheap fight, then an answer which encourages more questions and requires respectful conversation - well that just won't do, will it( self, I'm looking at you...)?

I think you'll see what I mean if you imagine that same coin toss played out on a different field - like this: Picture walking up to someone on the street and calling out to them: "Hey, you're an animal!", it's unlikely that such a comment would be taken well.

Right? Right. But would it be technically wrong? No, it wouldn't. Human beings are, in the biological sense, Animals. But... how much better of a reaction do you think that'd get, if someone else ran up and yelled out "No! That person isn't an animal, they're a Mammal!'?

Sure, yes, technically... that is also correct... but....


The nature of such coin tossed false dilemmas (which are kissing cousins to "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"), is that they ensure our failure to acknowledge that we are a more developed form of that subject - whatever it is - that either answer alone provides for - and that should catch our attention like an mid-day siren, that an important context has been dropped from our awareness. The nature of that 'Heads or tails?!' answer which they expect you to give, is to manoeuvre our discussion away from recognizing that that particular 'more' which you are being diverted away from, which in this case, is that you are, in fact, Human - and that's the part it doesn't want you to take notice of.

The coin toss dilemma of 'Democracy!' or 'Republic!, is doing the political equivalent of demanding that you answer to being either an Animal, or a Mammal, in regards to our form of government. Both answers are technically correct, within a given context, but without defining that context, and in fact wiping the need for context from your context, they instead restrict the discussion from noticing or questioning the full hierarchical nature of the issue, and in that sense both answers are wrong. Wrong, because when taken, or given, on their own, they effectively drop the context of the critical question which America is the most revolutionary answer in history, to:
  • How best to provide Representative Government' to an entire nation?
Plato asked a similar question to this too, though in a very different context, in his Republic, but his Republic, is nothing like our Republic, and no coin toss level answer can ever supply the reasons for explaining why our republic is so different, let alone answering what those differences are, or why. Today it's perhaps even more important to realize that the discussion you're being prevented from having, is the discussion we so desperately need to be having... but which we can't have, while the answers we've become so accustomed to giving and arguing over, are keeping us from really considering the question that we thought we were answering.

One result of not allowing the full context to be dropped, is that, we'd waste little or no time on the arguments we've been so bogged down in having! If the context were clear, no one would even assume that anyone was advocating for 'Democracy!' in the sense of unlimited majority rule, as it'd be obvious that they were only advocating for a political system of self governance. And by that same token, if the full context were taken into account, no one would ever assume that those who answer 'a Republic!', would intend that to mean some sort of rule, where laws were issued by an unelected platonic elite, but would instead understand that they meant only that very particular form of a Republic, which our nation was designed to be, something along the lines of:
A constitutional, representative government of laws which stand in opposition to the fickle rulings of men's passions
, and the fact that we are that form of a republic, of course requires some degree of democratic participation from the electorate.

IOW, the arguments we've been having, are little better than diversions from those conversations that would have been extremely valuable, to have been having these last many years. As it is, I know that in the past when I've let that context be punted away with my answer that we're a 'Republic!', the next thing I knew was that I'd been practically prevented from going a syllable beyond that coin toss of an answer, and no matter how ardently I might have tried to explain that what I meant was less a case of my calling out heads or tails, but the act of planting my flag on the peak of that mountain which America is the pinnacle of... instead it became apparent that the nature of the coin-toss, is that its answers are expected to not only evade that full context, but to seek (as if it had a will of its own) to prevent our gaining an understanding of the principles and purposes which that full context would have self-evidently demanded of us.

So for this coming new year, please, resolve to stop giving answers that answer nothing, instead start asking questions that lead away from easy answers. 'Why is a democratic means of self determination, worthwhile?' is a question worth asking, but realize that the easy answer that's dying to be given, is not the answer that's worth being accepted. Pursue it! Yes, it is necessary, it is the foundational layer of our political structure, but why is it so important? We need to begin asking that, because without asking that question, the answers of Democracy or Republic become the means of losing our understanding of what we are so very fortunate to have. To accept the 'Democracy!/Republic!' answer, is to ignore the vitally important features which our system of government has developed, features which could not have been built without that foundation, and which resulted in our Republic - and realize that answering only 'Democracy!/Republic!', is the means of dropping the necessary context, and is willfully dismissive of, and insulting to, all that has been built upon that foundation, and all of that which make us so much more than simply either a 'Democracy!', or a 'Republic!'.

Seeing that our answers have become the means to ignoring the questions that gave rise to them, it's worth asking why... isn't it?

America is, and can only be, an answer, to that full context of questions being asked. If they are no longer asked, or even known, then either answer will become truly meaningless, and the historic exceptionalism that America is, will cease to exist, drowned out, no doubt, in a war of competing answers shouted after coins tossed into the air, answers that are doomed to be shouted down, as the coin falls to the ground.

In order to determine how to provide Representative Government, we need to understand what Representative is, and why it's needed so that when those representatives are elected to positions of power in our government, they will govern in that particular manner, that makes our government so very different from any other in the history of the world. Those are the conversations that we need to engage in, even more so now, than four or eight or sixteen years ago, but before we can, we've got to ask, and pursue, those questions which alone can spawn answers that are worth understanding the meaning of.

Those are the questions I'll be pursuing over the next few posts, into the new year of 2017.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

What gifts has Christmas brought you?

(With a post from 2011, here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas!)
What meaning is there to be found in Christmas, even by those who find no meaning in Christmas at all?

First off, grant that the false alternative of 'Not all Christians are good, therefore Christianity is bad', is in fact a false alternative, one that you should not burden your thoughts further with. Don't look at how Christians often misbehave as badly or worse than non-Christians, or that Christianity has failed to make heaven on earth, look instead at what is here in our lives as a result of the birth which Christmas commemorates.

Christianity has given us the ability to see that each person, peasant or prince, is as beloved of God as another, and that their choice is such a holy a thing that even God himself does not attempt to prevent it - not even with the choice of whether or not to accept God into their lives - Christianity declared that every man has the ability to accept God into their life - or to reject him - and that such godlike power is given to every man, the power to gainsay the will of All Mighty God - now there's a gift worth giving.

And every man, Christian or Gentile, has profited from it.

It has brought us the concept that the mistakes you make are of little value against what you eventually get right and true. Even if everyone of your choices were to reject God and what God wanted for you... your change of heart is enough to restore you to him... as if you who had persisted your whole life in adding two plus two and behaving as if the answer were three, or one, or any number of other numbers - the fact that you might finally see, and admit, that two plus two equals four, wipes your slate clean (note: it doesn't claim that the consequences of your errors will be wiped away, only that you would be accepted as finally whole and true).

Western Civilization is inextricably a Greco/Roman Judeo/Christian One
Through Christianity and the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans; the Good, the Beautiful and the True, are not just ideals, but principles of eternal Truths attainable by every person, birthrights, no matter their station in life. With this understanding comes the realization that every man, woman and child has the God given right to pursue them, and that the worldly power of government should be devoted to defending their choices in that pursuit. That is an ideal that would not exist, America would never, could never have been, without Christianity having come into the world first.


Has this realization made men better? Perhaps not entirely so. But it has made it possible for men to see that they can, and should, be better, and because of that the world is immensely better off than it was before the advent of Christianity.

Prior to the Judeo-Christian views, the world was ruled by power without rival. Even on those rare occasions where truth and wisdom was sought, and an effort to see the scales of justice balanced was made - Greece and Rome - nowhere did the desire to do good have value in and of itself, so much so that people would expend great amounts of time, effort, blood and treasure in an attempt to improve the lot of others, to bring them not just goods but Goodness, nowhere else did this occur upon the globe (and I do not mean do-gooders, a mirror image, and often a rejection of doing good).

Charities are something you will look in vain to see in pre or non-Christian cultures, and those few exceptions which you might find some semblance of them, simply prove the rule.

Even Art - not as decoration or garish depiction, but as an idealization of truth and goodness and a means of mending and lifting the soul - that is not found outside the Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian, world view (and no, do not attempt to compare an oriental gong or pipe to Gregorian Chants or Bach, do not attempt to equate a golden Buddha with the Sistine Chapel - do not).

More than all of that, Christianity has brought with it the idea of 'you must be born again', or 'born from above' to a central position in every life; even to secular views this brought the conviction that your ideals and actions must come from and align with higher principles, rather than settling for greater quantities of measures and pleasures; that Quality is infinitely greater than Quantity. With the idea that God became Man, came the possibility of the idea that man could participate in the divine, and that even though you will never become perfect yourself (itself a monumental realization), you can strive to become more perfect through aligning your ideals with those of God - the meaning of progress itself is meaningless without that.

And that is Good.

And through this, there comes the possibility that men can, and should, strive for peace on earth and good will towards all. And whether or not you believe that Jesus was ever even born, let alone the Christ, the idea that he was, has opened the possibility of more meaningful lives for all in this world, than was ever possible before Christ.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Burning our Freedom of Speech in action

In light of all the uproar last week over Trump's questioning of whether burning the flag should perhaps be protected as 'freedom of speech', or not, I'll exercise my freedom of speech by questioning some common assumptions about what freedom of speech is, and isn't.

To get the easy part out of the way, here's Trump's tweet that started the latest round of 'discussion':
"Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"
, now, even allowing for his 'perhaps', the notion of losing your citizenship over burning the American Flag, or being imprisoned for a year, is, IMHO, silly, and further sensationalizes a subject that is already too saturated with it. But, that being said, what we associate with the 'flag burning issue' is something that needs a lot more consideration than the two existing poles of 'Burn it!' and 'Revere it!', tend to permit, especially since the burning of the flag is the least important aspect of it, and more often than not, it is a distraction from what the real issue is: our Freedom of Speech... and the rest of the 1st Amendment.

As much as I disrespect those who disrespect our flag, it's not the burning of the flag that I have an issue with, from a legal standpoint at any rate. What I do have an issue with, is what has become one of those default 'givens' that we hear and have heard over and over, from all sides, for so long, and so often, that we no longer get around to seriously questioning it, and that 'given' is the idea that the action of destroying property in as inflammatory a means as possible, can be considered 'speech' - let alone constitutionally protected speech. For decades I've heard that position being asserted (from the Left, and now even from the Right), and while I've heard objections to it being ridiculed, I've rarely heard the assertion really being questioned, and it seems like maybe it's about time to begin doing just that.

Here's the text of the 1st Amdt:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Simply reading the text of it isn't enough though, you need some understanding of what the idea is, and why it was considered important to prevent the Govt from infringing upon it, before you go attributing your own preferred meaning to it. If it's been a few years since you've done anything of the sort, here are a few links worth reading, beginning with the ideas and debates that went into writing it, up to the case most often referred to in flag burning discussions, Texas v. Johnson:
In reading these cases and comments, and thinking about what is meant by 'Freedom of Speech', it seems to me that most of the judgments attributing the actual burning of flags (or draft cards, etc) to being a form of speech protected under 'freedom of speech', or to 'symbolic speech', are not only inappropriate, but they cheapen, degrade, and dangerously blur that concept of speech which the framers of the amendment were seeking to preserve and defend. The treatment of the action of burning objects as that were equivalent to speech, waters down and weakens our understanding of what Freedom of Speech is and was meant to be, which I think jeopardizes our hold on this fundamental right far more than even an authoritarian government ever could.

Examples of just that are easy to find in our recent news headlines, with masses of people