Thursday, May 6, 2010

Government and Rights; or, where the line is drawn

How do you judge judging? I think it's a question that deserves at least an attempt as answering. How do you know when you are being prejudiced?

To me, it's pretty simple. If you are making a decision, or having a thought about another person or persons, and there is any consideration of race, creed, gender, gender identity, or sexual preference. The problem is, we're a judgmental people by nature. We size people up at first glance and reassess them based on what we learn later. We are completely subjective. I'll get into that more in my next post on subjectivity. So what's to be done?

[digression]In the United States of America, which is where I live and therefore the frame of reference for my comments of political nature, there is a plethora of idealism in the essential documents of our founding and development. There is the ubiquitous flowery phrasing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; the concept that all men (and later women and transgender get the point) are created equal (and the issue of religion, like subjectivity, is for many other posts), and therefore have inalienable rights. Along with the bill of rights, these established documents and their amendments have given us the lovely image of a free nation. In the ideals of America, we have a vision of a world where everybody accepts everybody. Okay, not everyone has that vision...the religious opposition to gay marriage, for example, would disagree with me. Yet another topic I will address later. But in general there is a dream of America as the land of the free and home of the brave. Play ball. [/digression]

How does this relate? Well, humans are subjective; there is nobody without prejudice or opinion on issues, and therefore nobody who is truly objective and fair. I tend to agree with the late great Howard Zinn on the idea that the only way we can even approach truth is to have a marketplace of ideas, where we combine all the subjective viewpoints. Such, in essence, is the concept of democracy. But in the United States, we have a representative democracy, which means that the marketplace of ideas is consolidated into a couple of stalls with similar merchandise that don't really help their customer base like they promised. If I may hop off of the overextended metaphor...

It is the job (not the sole job but the most important one) of the U.S. government, in my opinion, to ensure the fairness that our country espouses; to put our money where our forefathers' forefathers' pens were. To do so, we must create an even playing field. Not to give wealth to all who want it, regardless of effort, but to protect those who need it, to support the needy, and most of all to eliminate prejudice. That is why not only should any laws that restrict freedoms be repealed (I'm looking at you, Arizona!), but laws should be in place with tangible punishments for those who restrict freedoms on any basis. At all.

I've had an argument with a friend of mine, a right-leaning moderate, with an intellect I respect and a good sense of humor. We were discussing the use of "enhanced interrogation" (hurrah for selective vocabulary. Shoutout to my boy Calvin Coolidge and "normalcy") in Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. base in Cuba. He insisted that the ends justified the means, and, more relevant to this meandering mess of a post, that the terrorists and accused "enemy combatants" had forfeited their human rights by being accused terrorists. This didn't, and doesn't, sit right with me. Accuse them if you like. Jail them. Charge them. Sentence them if they're guilty. But do it WITHIN the law. Within the realm of human decency and fairness. They may have committed horrible crimes and they may not have. Either way, that have basic rights and denying them those rights is hypocritical and dangerous. I'm going to separate this next sentence out so it will stand out.

Once the decision is made to suspend or rescind rights based on ANYTHING, once that precedent is set, it becomes a matter of choice; rights become mutable and it becomes up to whomever is in power to decide where that line is drawn between enemy and friend, between human being with rights and thing without them.

It was unacceptable when Lincoln did it in the Civil War (jailing thousands for sedition and deporting outspoken political foes), and when Roosevelt condoned it in WWII (Japanese internment, one of the largest scars on modern America), and when recent presidents, Bush the most prolific, allowed it to happen at Gitmo.

Rights are not privileges. They are solid, nonrefundable, or they are not really rights at all.

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