Use It or Lose It

Most people, whether they are religious or not, believe in a power outside themselves that influences our existence and over which we have no or at best limited control. Call that power what you will, we understand that it is beyond any one individual’s needs, or desires, or imagination. 

Our founders knew this and sought to create a governmental power greater than one individual person, a power which we as a people might control. They strove to establish a model for governance that took everyone’s needs into account while giving us structure to accomplish it. They did not succeed.

They were imperfect, as are we all, and thus their creation was imperfect. But it shone with light, enough light to guide a people toward a new way of looking at and organizing government. It was a grand experiment that men of learning and toiling alike felt in their souls to be the best way they could imagine to “form a more perfect union”.

‘The people must rule’ was their mantra. But they knew when individual people themselves chose what they should do, for their benefit only, as individuals, there would be anarchy. After intense discussion they fashioned a heretofore unknown system, the American Democratic Republic. It featured representatives from a number of sovereign states, working together under a federal umbrella of common purpose.

Federally, its foundation was three distinct branches of government. Each branch tempered the power of the other branches and each had exclusive power over certain procedures, creating a system of checks and balances. No one branch would dominate. Returning to their original premise, they gave the people the ultimate power of choosing those of us who would represent the people in that government. They gave all citizens the right and responsibility of voting for those representatives.

State governments had a significant amount of freedom to govern in whatever fashion their voters chose. They retained control over many of their governmental functions. The people also democratically elected their state representatives as well as local and regional government officials, each having their own jurisdictions. 

To put this agreement in writing, after intense deliberation they forged a document, a Constitution, which codified federal law as the ultimate arbiter of how power should be wielded in these united states to provide both liberty and protection to the people of the union. It also addressed which aspects of government the states retained. This document, the Constitution, is the definitive law of the land to this day. Americans in power, and those they serve, accept this Constitution as the benchmark against which all American law is measured. When the elected representatives of the people’s power are sworn in they take a vow to protect and defend that Constitution.

The Constitution has held up as our organizing document for nearly 250 years. It is the true source of the unique American way of life, of both our freedoms and our limitations. It is the real thing all Americans should revere, not symbols or institutions. Symbols, like our flag and institutions like our military help us remember what is good about America, but the constitution itself is what we are to remember. Our freedoms originate in the Constitution, not in the flag or the national anthem. These symbols simply remind us of how to honor our unique American experiment. There is no one way to honor the Constitution. That right to choose is protected by the words of the first amendment.

Americans are called, as are their representatives, to honor and respect the Constitution. The symbols of America, the flag, the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, exist to focus our hearts and minds on the promise enshrined in the Constitution. The institution of the military, protectors of the people’s power, do so to uphold America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, as is directed by the Constitution. There is no one way to honor those who volunteer to protect American interests around the globe. This right is also constitutionally protected.

It is our founding document, our Constitution, which deserves our reverence. The symbols, the flag and anthem, as well as the uniforms of our cherished military protectors, are to be honored only in so much as they reflect the people’s power as written in the Constitution. They are not the people’s power itself. They are not America. The Constitution is America. The people are America. Those other things are symbols, signs and signals that point us alway, to the real idea of the rule of the people. They are institutions, means created in the Constitution to serve the people. They are worthy of our respect but nowhere in the Constitution is that respect demanded. We give it freely through our liberty. The symbols’  and institutions’ value is given to them by the Constitution and not the other way around.

The founders’ means of balancing power was unique in its wisdom. There were formed three branches of government, each separate but equal contributors. The Legislative branch, Congress, is elected to represent the people, measured by population and also by the union of sovereign states. Its purpose is to create laws based on the designs of the Constitution. The Executive branch is headed by the President, who is elected and appoints an administration of leaders for the primary departments of government, his Cabinet. This branch’s vitally and necessary function is to execute those laws. The Judicial branch consists of the federal legal system, federal judges, appellate judges, and the Supreme Court. They act act as arbiters of the law. They determine a law’s relevance to the Constitution. They are not elected but appointed by the President, who is given advice by and with the consent of the Senate. It is the Senate that holds this specific power because it has equal representation from each united state. The purpose of the court is to determine if the laws created and passed by Congress and signed into law by the President follow the Constitution’s edicts.

The judiciary is specifically designed not to be elected, so as not to be subjected to the whims and desires of politics. We elect the President and Senate to do this job for us. The founders were insistent that the court not be politicized. The reason for the Court’s impartiality is significant. The Judicial branch exists as a check on the people. Even the people’s power must be balanced and regulated. The people or their representatives can make laws that do not clearly follow the Constitution, out of neglect or by design. The Supreme Court protects us from this “tyranny of the majority” through impartially adjudicating conflicts between a law and the Constitution. This requires impartial justices. 

For most of our history an unwritten law was honored by our elected officials that justices should be chosen and appointed only through an appraisal of their suitability for this incredible honor and responsibility. Their knowledge of the law and their non partisan dedication to the Constitution were to be the only considerations used to select them for appointment. Over time this honor has deteriorated. A flaw exists in the process of selecting judges, in particular Supreme Court justices, and is now being exploited more than ever.

Justices are meant to be non partisan, impartial, using only the Constitution as their guide, and not political ideology. Some Presidents, who appoint Federal judges and nominate Supreme Court justices, slowly began to appoint them using the criterion that a justice must practice a political philosophy in line with the president who appointed them. Application of this partisan plan rests solely in the hands of any political party which controls both the Presidency and the Senate. In this situation a Supreme Court justice, who is appointed for life, becomes not a politically neutral advocate of the law but a tool of that party, giving that party a better chance of seeing Constitutional law decisions, cases that come before the court, determined from a partisan political standpoint.

This politicization has slowly deteriorated the Judicial branch’s ability to check and balance the power of lawmakers and the executive from a non partisan position. One political party could ‘stack’ the court with justices who have a political bias toward interpreting the constitution. By appointing comparatively young justices, that party’s philosophy could dominate the Court’s decisions for a generation or more, even after those politicians lose the elected power of their offices. 

Perhaps the primary partisan division of judicial interpretation rests in the competing philosophies of perceiving the document as ‘living’ versus ‘dead’. A more liberal interpretation of the Constitution says the document was wisely designed to account for the inevitable changes in the evolution of society and continued advancements in technology and knowledge of the world. The document is living. The meaning of its words can change. 

For example, the addition of the Bill of Rights and the opportunity for the people to amend the document gave us the power to reflect in the Constitution changes in the will of society such as ending slavery and giving women the right to vote. This more liberal philosophy also allows for new interpretations of the language of the original document as it pertains to modern times and the evolution of our citizens.  

Conversely, a more conservative bias sees the document as being strictly interpreted, literal and rigid, unchanging. These literalists see the Constitution as, in essence, dead. It can only be interpreted using what they consider to be the original intent of the founders. Interestingly enough we see a similar division in interpretation of religious law between conservative, fundamentalist Christians and the more progressive denominations. Thankfully, it is no longer legal to stone to death an adulterer or force a widow to marry her husband’s brother. Human values change with time. Regardless, the Constitution will be interpreted according to the philosophy of Constitutional jurisprudence of a predominance of justices.

The politicization of the Supreme court is, in my estimation, the most significant factor in the slow but substantial movement of American government toward a place that looks less like a democracy and more like an authoritarian state. The grooming of vulnerable Americans by advocates for the theft of power from the people into the hands of moneyed interests, has been facilitated by their hand picked, bought and sold politicians. Mesmerized  Americans, like the frog in the boiling pot, have given away their power and freedoms, slowly, over time, almost invisibly. It has been accomplished through psychologically powerful propaganda, pandering to our most selfish interests. This deliberate erosion of our power through the efforts of these same moneyed oligarchs serves their ultimate goal, retaining their power at all costs.

It is interesting to me that as in physics the two opposing ends of the political continuum have come, in the eyes of their most radical liberal and ultra conservative factions, to the same conclusion. They posit that the country is being dominated by a somewhat secret and financially powerful cabal. The only difference being each side blames a different culprit. It’s as though the strategies and tactics behind the goals of both sides are exactly the same and only the names have changed.

In all of this it is easy for the individual common citizen to despair of having any power at all, unable to exert any influence over the decisions that critically affect their lives. Despite the machinations of those who think their vast wealth gives them license to run roughshod over the people, we still have one, and only one, power remaining to us which we can use to regain the ruling power granted to us by our founding document. That is the power of the vote. 

For any of us who think that our vote doesn’t count, or that all politicians are crooks and liars, or that both parties are the same, or that certain of our particular pet policies and issues are more important than the failing health of our democratic republic, I have this to say. Those are all illusions dreamt up in the backrooms of think tanks and the secret meetings of powerful white men designed to disillusion us and trick us into giving up our power, begrudgingly or willingly. They know our power, as given to us clearly in our sacred founding document, is the poison that can bring them, choking, to their knees, foiling their corrupt, degenerate plans for dominance. They will do anything, illegal and immoral, to diminish the real power of the American citizen that they fear. 

Our only remaining power lies in the accumulated will of our individual votes, in concert with what we know to be good for all peoples and not for only those few white men,  rich in wealth but poor in spirit, desperate to hold on to their last gasp of dominance in a changing, evolving world.

Our only remaining power is in our vote. If we abrogate our responsibility to govern, a responsibility the founders intended we wield, we will deserve the dire fate we so clearly will suffer. One of my great fears is to know that many of my fellows stayed home, feeling proud of upholding their principles and not voting for either of the “corrupt corporate parties” they despise only to find out that one party is worse, and has won, and is taking away their freedoms daily, one by one. Their pride lasted only until they realized the American experiment, the government they are privileged to live under, is being destroyed before their eyes, and they can do nothing to stop it. 

This fate can be diverted if only we can gather with single minded courage to citizen and defeat those we know in our hearts are the destroyers. It is said that the destroyers come to destroy that which is rotted and create a space in time for new ideas to flourish and new grown to thrive. That may be so. But I am not ready to give up American Democracy to rot.  To citizen is a verb. (Thanks Aric) It means taking one for the the team, the team being the real idea of the America envisioned by the founders, through the still viable tool of the Constitution, our right to vote. It means doing absolutely everything we can to save our democracy, including dragging our friends, family and neighbors to the polls if we must. 

We don’t need to ’unite’. There are too many and diverse factions extant to come together singing Kumbaya. But we all have single minded purpose. We can go our separate ways and do our hard work after we have removed the cancer from the body politic; the rot that threatens us existentially. Only if we, all of us, citizen, will we fulfill that clear and true vision of our founders.

Know your power. Feel your power. Use your power.

It’s all we have.

Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.

Contradictions. Or Contradictions.

There are a limited number of basic and meaningful things that happen in a human being’s life. There is nothing in this world that we can name that is infinite. Excepting perhaps infinity. The only thing that makes life limitless is the fact that it is limited. A relationship can be concurrently both absolute and relative. Herein we will be discussing contradictions, seeming and otherwise, and what they mean to us.

As we mature we find that life is not so complicated as we may imagine it. We are all prone to experience any or all of existence’s aspects, regardless of our particular viewpoint or place in life. These experiences can be felt as individually unique and separate from other people’s perceptions and consciousness. Or they can be known to be individualized, but related, experiences of those finite and essential human flavors. These states of being have infinite permutations. Our first contradiction.

Although not so complicated, life is never totally clear, cut, and dried. In the words of Winston Churchill, people’s and nation’s intentions are often “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Life is full of these irreconcilable contradictions. What may be assumed to be an individual experience can subconsciously be informed by a group narrative and what may be thought of as mutual can in reality be simply an imagined commonality. Both of those points of view originate in obvious flaws, of thought, perceived reality, or ignorance. They can also come from the skewed views of normal unique to one’s family of origin.

A primary subconscious influence that distorts our perceived reality is the concept of privilege. Privilege is nearly always invisible to its owner. Its contradictory nature stems from the fact that it is a reality that distorts their perception of reality. The distortion, oblivious to the owner, all too often leads to the oppression of the unprivileged by the unaware, privileged soul.

People feel their privilege is normal because its subconscious nature is hidden. Its stark dividing of people from what should be shared humanity creates chasms unseen by the oppressor but painfully obvious to the oppressed. Sadly, there is nothing one can do to escape their privilege. And there are numerous kinds of privilege one carries, white, male, cisgender, and others, too many to name here.

Privilege is defined by what we are and not who we are. One cannot talk away or take away what someone is. But through love and education the privileged person can change who they are. There are many different types of ‘who’ that we can be, from artist to attorney, from republican to recluse, from self-conscious to self-aware. And there are many ‘whats’ as well, from British to blind to black to a baby. Anyone can be a ‘who’. An artist or CEO or homeowner can be black, Catholic, rich, poor, Danish. But only a white person can be white. That is a ‘what’. In essence ‘what’ is exclusive, and ‘who’ is inclusive.

Now, one might object, saying that an artist is a ‘what’, and thus exclusive. The taste test here is if others can profess to be artists. If there is the opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘who’. If there is no opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘what’. Only people with blue eyes can have blue eyes. It is an exclusive club. Regardless of who we are or profess to be the only ‘what’ that we all share is being human. Our only universally shared privilege is human privilege. We would do well to understand that human privilege does not guarantee that we will remain at the top of the food chain forever. We are not the end-all and be-all of existence.

As humans we all share many qualities. All humans are born with umbilical cords. Now that I think of it, all humans were born. All humans want to love and be loved. All humans want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. We all think and make decisions and worry and laugh. There are so many things we have in common. They are so basic as to be taken for granted and not considered as things that bind us together, small creatures on a small planet in a small galaxy in a vast multiverse. To awaken to these facts and embrace them is a step in the direction of successful human interaction.

Our differences color our world and allow for the precious contradiction of life itself. Christians tell us all humans are in the body of Christ, many into one. Hindus say that God multiplies himself infinitely, and every individual human is a part of God. We recognize the various colors on a TV screen as being different. But if the screen is entirely red we do not see any differences even though there are thousands of individual pixels. It’s easy to see differences and often difficult to see similarities. One thing for certain, when we are being born we are all the same and as we die we are all the same. What makes us think we are completely separate creatures while we are in between the two? We are all the same yet all different. A most sublime divine paradox. It is this contradiction that is the engine of a life that can contain both mystery and misery, both freedom and boredom. 

Life is not static. It moves. For life to move there must be different places. For there to be different places there must be different spaces and for each individual to exist they must occupy their own particular space. Two of us cannot occupy one physical space at once but any of us can occupy the same mental or spiritual space at any given time. Different and the same. How we can be one and many at the same time is a powerful contradiction, a mystical puzzle we can never solve. It is this paradox of time/space that we strive to answer all our lives, whether we know it or not. 

We all seek out differences to legitimize our own individuality but we also know in our deepest hearts that the things in life that truly matter are the things we all share, like family, and, hunger, and desire. I love being just like you. And I love being just me. Remember, there is a balance to life. If you won’t recognize me, I don’t have to recognize you. If you don’t respect me I won’t have to respect you. I grow weary of spending so much energy disliking people. I already love everybody, but if we are to like each other we must work together. We must love each other.

Love is the Alpha and Omega. If we can recognize and respect the love in each other it will go a long way toward making it acceptable to not like each other. And when it is acceptable to not like each other, because of the presence of divine contradiction, it is much easier to actually discover we do like each other. Regardless of what and who you are, when you occupy space in this world you create the boundaries for a place I can occupy. But it is all one space. And it is ours to enjoy.  

For this I am grateful.

On Each Side of the Equal Sign

It is important to consider the idea of equality as a contested concept with different meanings to different people. It’s just as important to learn the difference between equity and equality.

 Equality does not mean the same thing to different people. I have found that this discrepancy can lead to conflict and confusion when discussing the rights, responsibilities, social standing, opportunities, abilities, etc. of various peoples, both individuals, and certain demographics.

For example, to some, equality means everybody starts at the same starting line and uses their knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, etc. to move ahead in a ‘race’ toward ‘success’. This view of equality is somewhat myopic in that it does not consider the fact that race, religion, sexual orientation, and supremacies based on numerous types of privilege do not, in practice, allow for everyone to start at the same starting line. This effectively negates the idea that everyone has an equal chance to ‘win’ the race.

One might attempt to justify that particular definition by referencing the Declaration of Independence quote “all men are created equal”. However the Constitution made it clear that, in the words of George Orwell, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. According to our governing document blacks were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person and women were not allowed to vote or own property. Thus the reality of equality is and has always been dependent on evolution.

A different definition of equality allows for the fact that people have differing abilities, backgrounds, educations, etc. and it is reasonable to expect ‘the rat race’ does not lead to the same outcomes for everyone. This definition sees equality as equal opportunity, not with all other things being equal but with equity of opportunity based on accounting for the presence of societal roadblocks, many of which originate in privilege and supremacy. This gives us a hint at why equity is not the same as equality. But I digress.

This definition takes into consideration that while we are all equal in the sense that we are all born with umbilical cords we are not all born into situations that give us an equal chance to thrive. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other isms prevent many people from beginning at that hypothetical equal starting line. This definition sees us trying to balance these inequities (another hint) by making an effort to compensate for negative societal realities.

Both of these disparate definitions are based on a degree of wishful thinking. Certainly, when people start a discussion with different definitions of the same concept the situation is ripe for misunderstanding and argument. So when someone challenges your understanding of a concept, be it equality or freedom or security or any other, take a moment to listen to the other person’s arguments and see if you can determine if the disconnect originates in a contested concept with opposing definitions of terms. In formal debate, agreement on fundamental definitions of terms is very important. In informal debate perhaps even more so.

This brings us to the difference between equality and equity and the misunderstandings that can arise from it. These words are different in meaning, as much as some of us like to use them to mean the same thing. Words have power. Concepts that are in reality contested but assumed to have only one definition turn that power into power failure. Those false assumptions lead us into deep and murky waters in which agreement can easily drown. 

Simply put equality is about state of being and equity is about fairness. For example, equality is that the 100-yard dash is the same distance for anyone. Equity is the fact that there is a Paralympics that gives elite athletes with disabilities a fair chance to compete. Equality in golf is everyone teeing off from the same marker. Equity in golf is your handicap.

So when someone speaks about equity and someone else answers with a statement about equality they immediately are talking about two different things. The conversation then begins to deteriorate and an argument ensues where a discussion should live. These misunderstandings, based in language and syntax as they are, point to an almost desperate need for the pursuit of understanding among peoples, as a starting point toward good relationships, political or otherwise.

Understanding doesn’t require much more than calm patience, humble listening, and self-respect. That may be hard work but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Oh, and one more thing, Privilege is about what you are and not who you are. Therefore you can’t talk away or take away one’s privilege but through understanding you can change who the privileged person is. That’s a conversation for another time.

Ch, Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes

For a long time I have been told by mentors, friends, and frenemies that my my writing was better on content than style. They said it was clever to a fault and all about me. It didn’t communicate as well as I wanted and expected. I was more concerned with creating my floral and florid stylistic egomaniacal prose (See what I mean) than I was in making my work accessible. After too many years I believe I’m hearing their advice. I’m making a real effort to rein myself in, not entirely, but still holding on to some of what makes me different than better writers than I.

I agree that it has been all about myself. I have been more interested in showing off than really communicating. My claims of giving back to the community, writing for others instead of myself rang hollow. It’s not easy to admit that you have been a hypocrite all your life but I must admit it is liberating.

Enough of talking about how wonderful I am. I should have learned this stuff long ago. My evolution in this regard is simply a testament to the fact that we all continue to grow and learn, up to the moment we pass on. I hope you enjoy what I have to say and somehow it can help you on your unique journey. Lotsa love!

Will S.