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Friday, July 4, 2014

Self Evident Truths

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…

Life. Liberty. Happiness.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Great words, great ideals, especially when you’re telling a king to stick it up his ass.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Except for that that part, of course, where those truths weren’t self evident.

Not at all.

The men who wrote that letter to King George may have found certain inalienable rights to be self evident, but they were in the minority.  King George III certainly didn’t find those rights to be self evident, nor did his governors in the colonies, nor the nobles of the British Empire, nor did most American colonists for that matter.

It turned out that there was nothing self evident about any of it, as the Founders themselves found out once they’d won their independence and set themselves down to write the Constitution . That lack of evidence is one of the reasons the words in the Constitution are very, very different from those in the Declaration. 

Even after the Constitution was hammered out, those truths were anything but self evident. For the better part of 1787 the Framers locked themselves in the Pennsylvania State House and shouted at each other, arguing over whether or not an enumerated bill of rights should be included. George Mason and Elbridge Gerry demanded a formal list of rights, but others such as James Wilson passionately argued that incorporation of any specific rights in the Constitution was a bad idea because it directly implied that any rights not explicitly enumerated did not legally exist – inalienable though they may be.

Turns out, both sides were correct.

Two centuries later, you’ll find Americans declaring with a straight face that citizens have a God given right to carry a full military arsenal into the toy section of Target and gun down whomever they perceive to be a threat but not the right to vote or even a minimum degree of healthcare.

If rights are not specifically spelled out in the fabric of the country’s governing document, then it’s not long before some pinch-faced self-involved jackass decides those rights don’t exist, or that they apply only to a certain segment of the population. If you say “all men are created equal” when what you really meant was “all human beings regardless of sex, creed, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, age, ability, height, weight, dexterity, eye color, ear size, attractiveness, income bracket, military service, pacifism, reading ability, bilateral symmetry, political affiliation, taste in music, and any other bullshit category we divide people up into” then what will inevitably happen is that somebody, somewhere will argue that those rights don’t apply to people they don’t like.

And that, Folks, that right there, is just about the only self evident truth.

Ironically enough, that is also exactly what the Founding Fathers were talking about in their declaration to King George.

The Framers corrected their naiveté in fairly short order. Those today who would enshrine the Constitution as holy writ, handed down from their deity inviolate and Divine, ignore the fact that the very men who wrote the Constitution considered it a flawed and imperfect product of human endeavor right from the very beginning – and many said so, loudly.  And they not only included in the very fabric of the Constitution itself a mechanism for change and update, they themselves set about making modifications and corrections almost immediately.

The Bill of Rights is one of those changes – the first ten changes in point of fact, if you want to get technical about it.

Those Amendments addressed certain truths that weren’t self evident to all.

But it wasn’t enough.

It took a Civil War and another modification to the Constitution to force the nation to acknowledge certain rights, rights that should have been self evident  but weren’t – and apparently still aren’t to a significant fraction of the population.  Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, the battle for Gay Rights, these struggles exist because for far too many Americans, Americans who should damned know better by now, the truth of human rights just isn’t all that self evident.

And the fundamental problem is this: For Americans, our rights come without responsibilities.

The Founding Fathers apparently had a much higher opinion of us than we deserve.  As such they overlooked this simple self evident truth: rights must come with accountability – otherwise, for a population increasingly without reason and prone to extremism, rights become less about individualism and more a license for violent ideology and unhinged fanaticism without consequence.

And you don’t have to look very far to find proof of what I’m talking about here.

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.

Freedom of religion was intended as exactly that, the personal freedom to believe or not without the government imposing belief, or not, upon you.  It’s as simple as that, if you believe, fine, then go believe. Go to your church, say the hosannas, sing the hymns, drink the wine, fondle the snakes (or the priests, whatever), shake, dance, and rock and roll. But the First Amendment does not give you the right to use your goddamned religion as a club to beat the rest of us about the head and shoulders. You have no right, no right at all, none, to threaten the rest of us with your God. Fuck you. You have no right, no right at all, none, to tell the rest of us who we can marry or how to manage our own reproduction or to demand equal time with science in the classroom. Freedom of religion was intended to keep your god out of my government, and my government out of your church, not so you can go around acting like a raving jackass or so that TV personalities can grow insanely rich tax free or so that corporations can make healthcare choices for their employees in the name of their CEO’s small and selfish god. If you claim that the earth is 6000 years old and you demand creationism be taught in public schools in direct conflict with everything we know about how the universe works, then before you’re allowed to damage the next generation you should have to prove your silly nonsense to the same exact level of scientific rigor we demand from any field of science. If you claim that same-sex marriage “will destroy the fabric of society” then the burden of proof is on you and you alone, you should have to prove your statement in a court of law in no uncertain terms. Freedom of religion wasn’t enumerated in the Bill of Rights so you could use it to deny everybody else their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For far too many Americans that is exactly what Freedom of Religion has become – a club to beat others with.

Freedom of speech was intended to allow each citizen to express themselves without fear of a king lopping off their head.  But it doesn’t mean that you can go around saying any stupid-assed thing you like without consequence or without taking responsibility for your idiotic nonsense.   Freedom of speech wasn’t intended to protect you from getting punched in the nose when you say something stupid, ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, jingoistic, demeaning, insulting, hateful, inflammatory, or so you can just keep flogging your pet conspiracy theory over and over and over no matter how many times it’s been soundly debunked.  It’s one thing for some drooling nut with a bad comb-over to call the president a communist Muslim from Kenya, it’s another thing entirely for a sitting Congresswoman to do so over and over without consequence. 

Freedom of speech was intended to ensure individual liberty, not to tear the country apart for a political agenda or to enshrine booger-eating paranoid stupidity as some kind of virtue.

Freedom of the press was intended to ensure that the people had multiple sources of independent information about their world and an avenue of inspection into their government. The Framers weren’t so naïve as to expect unbiased truth from the press, but they intended Freedom of the Press to provide an independent check upon the excesses of government power.  Freedom of the Press was never intended to allow media moguls and pundits and corporations to become petty tyrants themselves. Freedom of the Press was intended to keep Americans informed, not so that the media could become a substitute for critical thought. Freedom of the Press was intended to give Americans food for thought not a replacement for it. Like Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press was intended to preserve the Union not tear it asunder, it was intended to preserve liberty not to destroy it under an avalanche of hate and fear and falsehoods in the name of profit and politics.

Freedom of the Press was intended to give the people a voice, not to put words into their mouths.

Freedom of Assembly was intended to allow people to gather together, in celebration, in communication, in worship, in concern, in defense, in petition, in whatever peaceable manner they choose up to and especially in criticism of government.  Freedom of Assembly wasn’t intended to allow a bunch of gun waving racists and haters to gather together and threaten to shoot down the government and snarl at their neighbors because they don’t want to pay their fair share or because they refuse to acknowledge the rights of other Americans.  We settled that, long ago, we called it the Civil War.

Freedom of Assembly was intended to facilitate direct communication between the people and their government, not so the raging mindless mob could burn our nation down and squat in the ruins.

Freedom to Petition the Government For Redress of Grievances was intended to do exactly what it says, to allow each citizen to face the government on a equal footing in court and demand legal satisfaction for violation of their rights and liberty.  Freedom to petition the government is similar to Freedom of Assembly, the difference being that Assembly is a direct form of communication and Redress is through the government itself via the Judicial Branch.  Freedom to Petition applies to business as well as individuals but it was never intended to allow business to dictate individual rights.

Freedom to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances was intended to preserve individual liberty, not so business or the church could use the courts to force their version of morality upon the rest of us.

And there’s this:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

If there is any right – enumerated or assumed – that we Americans have perverted beyond all rational recognition, it’s this one.  If ever there was a right Americans demand free of any responsibility whatsoever, it’s this one. The right to keep and bear arms was intended so that every American could muster to the defense of the nation in time of crises, not so a bunch of dimwitted paranoid droolers with tiny brains and even smaller dicks could carry an arsenal of automatic weaponry into restaurants and the toy section of their local department store.   The right to keep and bear arms was never ever intended to allow thirty thousand Americans to die or be injured every single goddamned year in firearms related violence.  The right to keep and bear arms was not enumerated in the Constitution so that a bunch of irresponsible government hating religious nuts could go around threatening to kill the rest of us.  A nation of crazy fanatics with guns is not the price of freedom.

The right to Keep and Bear Arms was intended to secure liberty, not to make Americans afraid in their own communities.

And so it goes, from the First Amendment to the Tenth.

Two and half centuries ago Americans fought for freedom from the tyranny of a foreign king.

They fought for the rights we now take for granted, that we take as our birthright and our due as Americans without effort or responsibility or thought for the consequences of our abuse. 

As I sit here, on July 4th, 2014, it seems to me that the inalienable truths that were so obvious to our Founders are no more self evident for many Americans today than they were to the King of England 238 years ago.

It is long past time to shout down the crazies and the haters and those to whom the truth of life, liberty, and the promise of happiness for all human beings, whoever and wherever they are, is not self evident.

It is long past time for Americans to start living up to the promise of our founding.

Happy Independence Day.

Now, get to work.

In Moscow we fought for an inch of freedom! Here you take it and pour shit all over it.
  - Vladimir Ivanoff, Moscow on the Hudson, Columbia Pictures 1984

144 comments:

  1. Once again, BRAVISSIMO!

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  2. Welcome back, Jim. I've missed your cogent analyses. As this latest post shows, you have an eloquent way with words. Thank you for your blog.

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  3. I about squeezed out a tear. Good job.

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    1. I got angry! How dare we fight and leave our blood all over Iraq and Afganistan and then allow SC to do what it has been doing to this country! I sick of it!
      Smilingl8dy

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  4. South Jersey DocJuly 4, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    Well stated, as usual. Especially the "get to work" part.

    Happy Fourth to you, your family and the Stonekettle Station family of commenters, readers, pedants (myself included), acolytes and satirists.

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  5. And if ANYONE wants to do ANYTHING with this superb essay other than provide a simple LINK to this page, realize that it is copyright protected and that you MUST request permission from the author himself. (And if that caveat does not appear at the end of the essay, it does appear elsewhere, so honor it. Happy 4th)

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    1. Good looking out, Cynthia. :)

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    2. Just the link and a snippet to lure them in...

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  6. Well said.

    And for my fellow nitpickers: I just emailed Jim with the proofreading fixes, so you don't have to tell him. ;)

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  7. I love your thought process and your writing. You express what I feel is accurate and necessary for USA to hear and think about. Perhaps, a little less name calling (even if the names are fitting) and fewer "F" words would better. I am looking forward to your next posting.

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  8. A fine essay for a fine day. Thank you.

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  9. As to freedom of religion, you know the biggest most prominent example that we have in this country that we as a nation revere freedom of religion is the existence of one particular sect.

    In 1845 they were founded for one purpose and one purpose only, to promote and uphold the scriptural definition of slavery. Fifteen years later, they had effectively seized political control of a significant number of state legislatures and kicked off a revolt that left over 360,000 US soldiers dead. But the US government didn't go after them. They were still permitted to retain their churches and their hateful white supremacist ideology as if nothing had happened. And what was the ultimate result? That sect has de facto political control of one of the two major political parties and is the second largest religious sect in the United States today.

    If ANY religious sect, by their conduct, has merited official extinction it is without question the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet they are more powerful now then they ever have been since 1860. And the only reason this anti-American white supremacist terrorist cult even EXISTS today is because we value freedom of religion. We know that if we go after even the very worst and most horrific religious sect even once, and the SBC has more than deserved it, we open the door to take down any other sect we decide that we don't like. And that is a price that we're not willing to pay. Nor should we. Ever.

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    1. I hope you understand that you are only speaking for yourself about prices you are unwilling to pay. Given the hate coming from most all religions, the murders and terror various religions have justified and inflamed over the centuries through today, I am quite willing to discuss removing the undue reverence our society gives to untaxed unregulated purveyors of so-called morality.

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  10. I've been keeping an eye out for a 4th of July essay on Stonekettle all day. Thank you, Jim, for *again* exceeding every hope. I shall treasure this one, and share it, and come back and re-read it every so often; it deserves a spot in the SKS "Best of" roll of honor.

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  11. Alas, as per usual, too few people trumpeting the words, ever READ the words. Yeah, the Declaration is too wordy, it gets bogged down enumerating the grievances against their king. The Constitution -- too wordy. Confusing because these damned Amendments keep trying to change the words. Ri-iight.

    Keep up the civics lessons, Jim. The country needs it.

    Dr. Phil

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  12. Thank you for reminding us what we are celebrating today.

    Paul Cooper (former QM3/SS)

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  13. YES. No, wait. HELL YES! Why is this so damn hard for people to understand? I'm not even that well versed in history and I can figure this much out. Sheesh. (Oh, and thank you.)

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  14. That has the ring of truth to it, as does pretty much all your writing imho.

    One typo glaring at me: should be petty tyrants rather than pretty I think.

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    1. Americans would groove on a pretty tyrant.

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  15. As always a great read Jim. Typo report: near the beginning incorporation should be incorporating.

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  16. Looks like the little break did you a world of good. Outstanding! This will go viral.

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  17. And so countries go -- from anarchy to loosely-structured country with rights for pretty much everybody simply because a new and young and not-very-well-shaped-yet country *needs* all those people to work together to make itself grow; and if it needs them, then it has to give them something in return. Once it's structured, those rights persist for exactly the length of time it takes for the sociopaths to figure out how to game the system... whatever system it might be. Doesn't matter; we've seen this in Samos with the Tyrant, and Athens with one of the world's rare true democracies; and Rome with the Republic; and Britain with the parliamentary monarchy. We've seen it around the world in many other places which are out of Americans' usual frame of reference. As soon as the sociopaths learn to game the system, they begin taking: a little at a time at first, and then more and more, and then everything; and the rights go away for everybody except the sociopaths. Then you get dictatorships or empires or oligarchies; something that allows rights only for the small group at the top. We're pretty close to that now, though there are some of us fighting it like hell.

    And then the whole thing collapses, because no system which gets that topheavy can survive. Either revolution or almost-revolution (as the English had, when the Labour reforms took shape), or invasion from the outside, or simply the top imploding from its own decadence the way it happened to Rome. At which point we're left with anarchy, and a need for people to all work together to create some sort of structure, and so it begins all over again.

    That's the cycle, and I've never seen it broken. I only know of once where it backed up and went a different route: the Labour reforms of the UK in the Victorian age. We're trying to back up and go a different way, but it's *hard*, because it means fighting the sociopaths when they already have control of almost all the money, most of the government, and most of the media. All we have is a lot of frustrated mostly-ignorant people who don't know what's actually wrong, let alone what to do; a small group of people who *do* know what's wrong, a Constitution which the sociopaths still have to work around in some ways, though it carries less and less weight; and the Internet for communication.

    This isn't an impossible fight, but it's a difficult one. And sometimes I think we're better off leaving it to collapse under its own weight, and then working from the rubble to build something new again.

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    1. An excellent post. Well put!

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    2. Excellent points, every one -- both yours and the original blog.

      But giving up is not the answer...continuing the fight, knowing we might fail and have to rebuild IS. I fought for Civil Rights since the 60s, continuing on with environmental rights, women's rights, and marriage equality. We HAVE made progress, even if we've lost some ground in the last few years. To me, it boils down to two things: educating our young (which will have to be done at home since schools are not allowed to anymore), and letting the stupid die out. Seventy years ago, everything that is being said about Islam was being said about the Jews. Sixty years ago, everything that is being said about the Muslim was being said about the blacks. Fifty years ago, women in industry and business were rarely anything more than secretaries, now they have been Secretaries of State. Thirty years ago, the mention of homosexuality was done in whispers, now it is being shouted from the rooftops. Twenty years ago....well, 20 years ago was the 90s. Enough said. We've managed to struggle through 238 years of wars both internal and external, drastic changes from farming to business to mega-businesses and a global economy, and we can struggle through this, if we keep trying.

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  18. Very glad to read your writing again, and I hope to do so for many years in the future.

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  19. Well said Sir!!

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  20. Thank you. Glad to see you back. Any chance you'd like to forward this to Justice Roberts et al.?

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  21. Glad you're back. Figured you wouldn't stay away for long.

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  22. Always a joy to view the clarity of your vision on so many subjects. I will continue to remind those who share your work to give credit where credit is due. Keep hammering home the point of responsibility for individual actions. I continue to remind those who think corporations are people, that Texas has yet to execute one, and many have taken actions that should have resulted in such a permanent act if they were people.

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  23. Jim, you have the remarkable ability to cut to the chase in your writing. When I read your posts, I think many of them should be required reading for every American citizen. Who could argue with what you have said in this one?

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  24. You put into words my feelings, stress, anger, frustration and disappointment with the political arena and the bastardization of many of our founding documents. Superb. Thank you.

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  25. Don't hold back, Jim. Tell us how you really feel ...

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  26. Glad you are writing again. Thanks great posting.

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  27. the problem is that dogmatic ideologues with a cause are orders of magnitude more energetic than people with any sense.

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  28. Thank you, a cogent analysis which will likely have the drooling, paranoid, s#@t slingers jumping up and down again. Maybe you could charge fitness club fees. ....

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  29. *multiple standing ovations* Jim, this should be required reading in every classroom, at every grade level up to graduate school! *salute*

    Scott Burnell
    1st AD '86-'92

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  30. Welcome back Jim, and thank you !!

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  31. Thank you, from an American-by-choice. --Mario R.

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  32. Welcome back!

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  33. Thanks, Jim. I might want to tease apart a couple of fine points over a beer, but wholehearted agreement with the other 97%.

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  34. Oh Jim, you just knocked it right on the head again.

    For years I have been saying to people that Rights come with Responsibilities.

    However, while I have no idea how the EU is going to evolve (and as an Ulsterwoman one might say I am from a Country far more oppressed by Britain, than the Americas EVER were), as a UK Citizen I have far more freedoms than does the average Spam.

    It is Law over here that you CAN NOT discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, sexuality, race, religion, whatever; yet there is no written Constitution or Bill of Rights here.

    I often wonder how the USA can call itself 'The Land of the Free' when it discriminates against its Citizens so much.


    Having said all that, I would wish my American friends a Happy Independence Day.

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    1. "I often wonder how the USA can call itself 'The Land of the Free' when it discriminates against its Citizens so much."

      That amazes me too, Deborah. I'm sure there are some here who believe "free to discriminate" is one of our rights.

      bd

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    2. Especially when we're the number one country in terms of our own citizens being imprisoned.

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  35. Thank you so much for your words.

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  36. That's a great line from Moscow on the Hudson! I'm going to borrow that--it's been a long time since I've seen it!

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  37. I was waiting for your 4th of July essay. And I'm appreciating all the thought and work that went into writing such a brilliant piece. Thanks, Jim.

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  38. I was thinking as I read this self-evident piece of writing that "This should be required reading for every civil servant." Then I thought "Probably every teacher too." And then "Probably every journalist, every editor, and every law enforcement officer. And it should be taught in schools."

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  39. How painfully true to the bone.

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  40. How true and also sad.

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  41. Thanks Jim. Really! Thanks. I fricken love what you do!

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  42. Jim! Thank you for returning to Stonekettle!

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  43. I agree with everything in the article. It's not especially new, people have been saying this kind of thing for many years, but it is extraordinarily well written, and it is a good and timely reminder. We need it.

    BUT

    The devil is in the details. Follow the money, honey. How can we have a free and independent press when all the major news organizations are owned by business moghuls, are dependent on business money (advertising) for funding, and dependent on government and businesses for material (press releases)? We definitely should have a free press, but how should it be organized and funded? Should it be a state entity? But that's getting away from the very purpose: a media free from state control.

    How can we have free speech when the media is corrupted and lies and propaganda are spewed forth in torrents? Should there be laws against slander and libel and lies and misinformation, including deliberate unreporting of known truths? Scientific journals are the only papers I know where truth is essential and if anything is to be published it must first pass the bar of peer review. Should all media be subject to some kind of similar test?

    There are already laws in the country restricting the kinds of behaviour you are talking about, laws about slander and libel and inciting people to violence. Is the problem that these laws are not being enforced? Then how can they be better enforced? Who is responsible, the police for not prosecuting or the victims for not pressing charges? I mean, if you say "Obama is a communist Muslim from Kenya" in public, you should be prepared to stand up in court and produce your evidence.

    Is the problem that there is simply too much crap being thrown out there, so that the already stressed law enforcement don't know where to start so they don't bother? Then how to deal with this? Should reporters have to have a licence to report, much like a doctor's or lawyer's practicing licence, from which they can be struck and barred? How would that work in today's age of tweets, facebook, blogs and "home video news"?

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  44. Please know that your words mean so much to so many...So many that have wondered and feared the end of this ideal. Thank you Jim for your service and the fact that that service honed a mind that is set in what this America is truly about. Thank you for your truth...Happy 4th of July to you and yours....

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  45. Caryn J. O'KeefeJuly 4, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    Thank you, Jim. Excellent piece. I no longer am stunned by the stupid statements that Congress people make. I am almost over being stunned by SCOTUS. When a sitting justice can opine that women have no rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution or anywhere else in that document for that matter, I despair of anything rational coming out of my government anymore.

    One small correction: It is long past time for we Americans to start living up to the promise of our founding. "We" should be "us".

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  46. Excellent. I'd been wondering when the next essay was coming.

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  47. Jim,
    Thank you for this. You always provide food for thought. I wish you a good Fourth of July. Again, Thank you sir.
    Paul Sams

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  48. Excellent summary of the development of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It makes perfect sense to me, obviously to you since you wrote it, and to millions more Americans. So how is it that we've all allowed it to be so perverted over these past 200+ yrs? I think perhaps you hit that one too -- these documents spelled out the rights, but did not do as well in the responsibility and accountability department.

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    1. "So how is it that we've all allowed it to be so perverted over these past 200+ yrs?'

      I submit that most people have not actually read the Constitution, and they have a tendancy to confuse the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independance. Matter of fact, if you read the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address to most people and asked them if it was the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, they wouldn't get the answer correct.

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  49. Nothing else need be said. On the mark!

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  50. Nothing else needs to be said. On the mark!

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  51. Bravo sir, another excellent post! I am so happy to have found your site.

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  52. Jim, Once again you have found a way to put in words what I am not able to. We have reached a point in our history as a Democracy where most or at least, seemingly, most of our citizenry are not making the effort to understand the issues that confront us. All of the founders of this country understood that an informed electorate was essential to the success of our great experiment. I hope that we are able to find the will to again care enough about our freedoms to make the effort the understand the issues, determine the truth about them, and take the necessary actions to insure the continued success of our nation. Again, thank you for your efforts in this endeavor, and thank you for continuing to write and share your insights.

    Rick Morton

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  53. I say we should start referring to the 2nd Amendment as the "Militia Amendment". Maybe that would put it in perspective.

    Bruce

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  54. Thank you. Appropriate piece for this day.
    Keep it coming. The louder and more frequent, the better. Eventually, it'll get through to more.

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  55. A Happy Fourth of July to you too, and thanks for continuing to write crisp, clear, and compelling thoughts.

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  56. "pretty tyrants" wasn't quite what you intended?

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    1. It works for me either way.

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    2. Eh, in the immortal words of Mr. Zevon, Tyranny "ain't that pretty at all."

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  57. With great power comes great responsibility.

    - Voltaire (not Uncle Ben)

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  58. I think you meant petty tyrant rather than pretty tyrant...
    Excellent analysis. Thank you.
    Chandra in MO

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  59. Coming home from our parade today I was musing over the fact that the Tea Party always features the Constitution in their float rather than the Declaration which should be the subject for July 4. And then I found your post and the answer became obvious -- inalienable rights are way outside their comfort zone. Thanks for this wonderful ode to freedom.

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  60. "Now, get to work." It just seems that this nation is so damned divided that we would certainly get to work. Get to work threatening each other, fighting against each other, arguing until we are blue in the face. It just seems, generally speaking, that we just don't see eye to eye. It seems we have lost all understanding of how this country came to be. How hard they fought for our freedoms. Even our 'esteemed' politicians have forgotten what our freedoms are all about. I don't even know what to do. Voting worked SO well for me...maybe it's time to start writing letters...many of them.

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  61. great exposition, but ALSO:


    "Why, yes, my wife did make me add this disclaimer, thanks for asking." ...I so admire a big strong man who doesn't feel diminished by doing as his wife suggests! :-D

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  62. "It is long past time to shout down the crazies and the haters and those to whom the truth of life, liberty, and the promise of happiness for all human beings, whoever and wherever they are, is not self evident."

    Until we put a higher value on education (homeschooling used to be for special situations, not because you don't trust the system) we will get farther and farther from our truths and reality.

    Thanks again, Mr Wright. Sanity breaks are needed by us all in these times. I don't know where you go, but we come here, so it's awfully nice to have you back writing for us.

    bd

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  63. What a joy to see a new Stonekettle post! Thank you, as always, for your well thought-out words and the interesting bits and pieces you bring forth from all your research and reading. I'm glad you had a good 4th of July and thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us. We need them. -Martha

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  64. As a subject of Perfidious Albion I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise for exporting all the crazies to your country over the years. I guess the Australians are grateful we only exported our criminals to them!

    I often wonder how long before you are known as the States of America, rather than the USA.

    Best wishes to you and yours.
    Another phil

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  65. This won't be a popular opinion, but I don't really care about that so much these days. A true civil-libertarian constitutional republic will ultimately only be as good and worthwhile as the people who are its constituent elements. And the United States of America is and always has had a disproportionately large percentage of deranged asshats in its population. This may be because we are, with the exception of Native Americans, a nation of immigrants, and perhaps such societies attract a certain undesirable element alongside the more desirable elements they attract.

    It's a profoundly sad thing when a CLCR starts failing on account of the unworthiness of a large portion of its population because it just ends up giving ideological ammunition to assholes such as Lenin and Hitler. Such individuals end up in power because they succeed in convincing the population that ordinary humans can't handle freedom and representative government, and therefore must instead be ruled by whatever form of "scientific dictatorship" these horrible freaks advocate.

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  66. Thank you for this! You have a way of putting into words, what any sane American believes. Please keep on writing the truth as it is so needed today.

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  67. Wow, just wow. As usual you nailed it.

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  68. Good to have you back!

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  69. As much as I love the 14th Amendment, the 9th Amendment is my favorite (and the most overlooked).

    "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    This one amendment holds my right to marry the person I love, even though they are the same sex as me. This amendment is the one that holds the right of women to decide what to do with their bodies, even if it is to have an abortion. This amendment is the one that holds my right to privacy.

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    1. Sorry to disagree, but I most respectfully do. The 9th was used as the pretext for the (un)Civil War; I think you mean the 10th amendment which states the rights not enumerated to the Fed and state governments vest in the citizens. This has been COMPLETELY forgotten by SCOTUS (or more than likely, considering the make up of the court, deliberately ignored).
      Some 46 years ago when I graduated HS a Civics course was required to graduate, not anymore. I have also spent many years reading history because I enjoy it so .
      Jim have you eve read any Heinlein? If not I suggest you read his Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He postulated in the late 50's that these would be called the "crazy years" when any nut could take a gun up to a tall tower and get his 5 minutes of fame. This time frame would be followed by a religious theocracy led by a "Prophet" named Neimiah Scudder. It would take another Civil War to end his rule.
      There are also parallels to Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy going on now.
      Jim freedom of religion also means freed FROM religion, as you alluded. There used to be a member of some obscure sect who used to try to proselytize to me; I laid that line on him 1 day and he NEVER came back. We also have a huge Mormon temple here ( the largest outside of Nevada) and I often get these 16 year old 'elders' showing up to "witness' to we. You should see their eyes when I tell them I'm a Zen Buddhist; you'd think I claimed to be a baby killer. They always get on their bikes and haul ass very quickly.

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  70. As always, I marvel at the thoughts that come from your head and heart and flow down to your pen, and I do think of you as putting pen to paper. Such moving expressions of your thinkng deserve to be viewed in my imagination along with the scribes of old. Thank you so much.
    Robin in Colorado

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  71. Thank whatever powers that be that Jim is back at strength. Each day I looked and was saddened not to see a new posting. Friends I related this seeming loss to said, "Find another blog." I said I didn't want to even try. I am ever grateful, thank you Jim for hanging in there.

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  72. “Sovereign," like "love," means anything you want it to mean; it's a word in a dictionary between "sober" and "sozzled.”

    A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.

    I wonder how harmless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers?

    It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population.

    Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part...and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.
    ― Robert A. Heinlein

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    1. He also said that "some forms of loud mouthism should be a capital offense."

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  73. I've been reluctant to visit Stonekettle recently after the Great Train of Thought Robbery incident, half-expecting to find that Jim's had enough of this crap and moved on. I am so very glad to find out otherwise. I received a pen from Jim's shop, as a gift. It's a touchstone for the craftsmanship of the hand, but also for the mind that can write such freaking awesome essays. I also make beautiful things with wood, but they make music. This thing is a metaphorical weapon; I treasure it.

    Mike

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  74. God am I glad you are back. Lovely read, I wish I could express these ideas as well as you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  75. Brilliant piece, Jim. I am absolutely in awe of you!
    Thank you for tearing your heart-out for all of us to see and understand.

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  76. Made the mistake most of the US would. Mixing the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and the Constitution together.
    No one fought the Revolutionary War for the Constitution. Not that you said they did.

    But jumping from a rights based document, the Declaration of Independence, to a war, Revolutionary, fought for a rights based document, the Articles of Confederation, to a document that wouldn't even fly, the Constitution, without another rights based document attached, the Bill of Rights, is what keeps most people in this country ignorant about it's history.

    It's that the Bill of Rights didn't have ANYTHING to do with the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War that followed that I hope to point out.

    But I do like the points you made about the Bill of Rights, just, historically, why July 4th? It just confuses those less interested in history. And in this country we need a lot more interest in history. This repeating business is getting old, and so am I.

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  77. A very good read Jim, thank you. After seeing 55 July fourths I find these days it does not mean as much as it once did. That makes me sad.

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  78. As others have said, welcome back, Jim, and I hope the badgers have fed well...

    I’m not welcome on the left. I for damned sure don’t belong on the right.

    The last half you got right. As for the first, fuck that shit. Any part of the Left that thinks you don't belong is not a part I want to be in. The Left is a Big Tent, and in our tent are many mansions. And in some of those mansions the plumbing doesn't work too good (and some of the elevators don't go all the way up). Easy to avoid by the distinctive bouquet, and incessant alarm bells at all hours of the night.

    Non illegitimi carborundum, Bubba. Ur doin' it rite.

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    1. A couple years ago Jim was guest speaker for his neighbors who make up the Mat-Su Dems. He was extremely well received, and we'll be inviting him back once the mid-terms are over. We would love to see him run for public office, even as an Independent.

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    2. Me too. He'd be 10 million times better than Caribou Barbie could ever dream of being.

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  79. Jim,

    You seem to believe that no rights are self evident. Perhaps not. Perhaps every right is evident only when it is fought for and won. You approve one right. You demand one right. You demand property rights. Are personal property rights self evident? Must you fight for copyright rights?

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    1. I think you need to go back and read the essay again.

      As to property rights - Obviously not self-evident to a great many people. QED.


      Frankly, I don't believe in self-evident rights. Or natural rights, for that matter. The concept of rights comes from the fact that human beings in absence of law or absence of authority, inevitably attempt to impose their wills on other human beings. This is provable and repeatable, as many times as you wish to run the experiment in whatever size sample you like.

      Rights don't come from any divine agency, they are an agreement between human beings. The only rights that matter are legal rights and only so long as those in power chooses to acknowledge the law. Anything else, including the idea of "inalienable" rights handed down by some magical creator in the sky is just wishful thinking. There is no right "granted by God" that can't be, and hasn't been, taken away by men. If rights were actually inalienable and god given, then we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?

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    2. This, Mr. Wright, is the clarifier that too many in this nation do not seem to consider.

      With every right, there is a corresponding responsibility.

      If the second part is ignored, the system is skewed and will devolve into anarchy, no matter which sector of society feeds the base instincts.

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    3. I look at self evident rights in the context of the time. Before the creation of the United States was there ever any other government that granted basic rights to the common man? Maybe the Magna Carta of England, but that was more for the aggrieved nobility than for the peasant.

      For the most part the founders were very religious. They had to be. For most of the Revolutionary War they were losing. To persist through the hard times took religious faith. The fact that they won validated their belief that God favored their experiment in self government. I believe that is where self evident came from.

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    4. The exact wording is: 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.

      Break that down. WE hold two assertions to be self evident : 1.) that all men are created equal; and 2.) that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

      Which is different, subtly, than saying any rights at all are self evident. It's really saying that from our point of view, a.) we refuse to accept your feudal notions that some men are born with more rights than others, and b.) we believe in God and the God we believe in insists that all men have certain inalienable rights.

      In the first draft, the pursuit of happiness read "property". No doubt they took a deep breath and realized just how radical it would be to insist that ALL men had a right to own property, so backed off and put in the much squishier "pursuit of happiness" instead. All the while thinking, in their own minds, that pursuing happiness without pursuing property would be well nigh impossible for most citizens.

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    5. "For the most part the founders were very religious."

      Wrong.

      For the most part, the founders were deists, and not at all religious.
      Please exercise your responsibility to verify facts before using your very limited—by the blog owner, and not the Constitution—right to post things here.

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    6. I had to look up Deism to be sure of what you are talking about. The definition I came across is that of a creator who no longer interacts with the beings in the Universe. The use of the words endowed by their creator, seems to contradict your assertion, but I bow before your superior knowledge and authority.

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    7. The notion of "pursuit of happiness" incorporated the right to own property. Essentially it means the right to own property and do with it whatever makes you happy. If you are allowed to own a boat but not put it on the king's waterways, what good is that? They understood from Adam Smith (more popular in the states than his native England) that property rights were human rights.

      The inalienable rights are devised from the natural law notion that you own your own thoughts/values/beliefs and, by extension, own the right to act on them. Whether they came from God or nature is moot.

      The fact that someone can use force to take away the implications of owning your own thoughts (your actions) doesn't invalidate that you own your thoughts and therefore doesn't invalidate the self evident nature of the inalienable rights.

      Deism espoused that the creator set the world in motion with certain rules and left it to its own devices. It is a fallacy that most of the founders were deists. There were only a handful. Most were Protestant in some form, many Anglicans, some Quakers, and a handful of others.

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    8. Anon @ 1:15-
      I would suggest a quick review of http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights/#6 as regards status based rights of which notions of natural-rights is a subset.
      Section 7.2 as regards criticisms of the language of rights is quite useful. I would suggest Mr Wright has made an excellent practical guide of the hows, wherefores, and the likes of 7.2 here.

      Thank you Mr Wright.
      Alaska Pi

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    9. Thanks for the link. Yes, the founders were heavily influenced by Locke, including and especially property rights. "Status-based rights" wasn't a concept available at the time, but that is semantics. It does point out "non-religious theories tend to fix upon the same sorts of attributes described in more or less metaphysical or moralized terms". The source of natural rights isn't relevant.

      What Glendon in 7.2 and many posters here miss about property rights is that, while you are free to hoard stuff, almost no one does. "Pursuit of happiness" means you and I can enter a voluntary transaction to trade our property without some 3rd party's approval. We can give it to charity, risk it in a business venture, whatever we see fit. Property is dynamic, not static.

      Property rights are necessary to voluntary transactions which are necessary to mutual benefit for the parties involved. Most property is gained or lost though voluntary transactions.

      This is a well written piece, but I think the author neglects to make the distinction between immutable inalienable rights and contractual civil rights. The Declaration lays out the case for inalienable rights, then states that governments are formed among men "as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." That leaves a lot of wiggle room for how civil rights are structured.

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    10. Even if the Founders were religious (I think not), they gave the rest of us the path to not be constrained by the draft of religious dogma. I'm quite comfortable running outside the channel markers not fearing running aground or hitting rocks charted by believers in fairy tales. I can think for myself, thank you, and I am NOT required to believe in your fucking sky-god. Whether I do or not is strictly my business, especially if I'm the CEO of Hobby Lobby. Ah, crap. Never mind.

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  80. What Meanie-Meanie said.

    I don't know if I could be called a "lefty," (you'd have to tell me what your definition is of that) but I am a liberal and registered Democrat, and I certainly welcome you. I don't think most of the teatwits would spit on you if you were on fire.

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  81. Sir,
    You do have a way of putting things down on paper, I'm pretty sure I understand how that came about, the Navy wouldn't have put you in the position, you were in, if they didn't know you had an eye for detail. All I can say is wow and thanks.

    StavoV

    PS. Personally, I think your words should be posted in every news media in the US. Just maybe, maybe some person of another political leaning, might take heed and rethink all of the silliness that is going on today,.

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    1. I think your words should be posted in every news media in the US.

      If Duncan Black can get a column in USA Today (well, hell, you have to start somewhere, right?) then I see no reason Jim Wright couldn't also. And they pay money!

      Why not submit one, Jim? Nothing to risk but the heartache of a USAT rejection slip, and hey, how bad could that be...

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  82. Responsibility and consequences.

    These are the two most important things we have, but so few are willing to accept either. It makes me sad to see what this country is doing to itself.

    Thank you for writing this.

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  83. Bravo, Jim, and thank you.

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  84. Brilliant as always, Jim. BZ.

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  85. Heres a thought. Everyone fawning over how much they appreciate Jims writing go to his site and buy a pen or a bowl or something.

    I too value his writing more than you can imagine but his pig-headed insistence of writing for free doesnt mean you cant do something to actually support the guy. Besides, I bought a pen and its equal to his writing.

    Ken.

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  86. Welcome back with another impressive post.

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  87. Great piece, Jim! Have you seen this? Better watch those periods ;) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/us/politics/a-period-is-questioned-in-the-declaration-of-independence.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%5B%22RI%3A7%22%2C%22RI%3A15%22%5D

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  88. Just a simple thank you - as always, brilliantly well said. When my daughter is older, your essays on government and politics (among others) are going to be required reading. No one explains it better.

    Jon Wolff

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  89. Speaking of rights, why are conservatives the ones who yell the most about preserving their privileges, yet are always the first in line to take away those very same rights from others?

    Peace
    Chris in South Jersey

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    1. Because conservatism is based on fear, selfishness, drastic oversimplification, and hypocrisy.

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  90. Oh yeah? Well what about MY bear arms?

    /snark

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  91. to enshrine booger-eating paranoid stupidity as some kind of virtue

    It's not? Well, there goes MY plan.

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  92. Jim - another masterpiece, well done Sir! Keep up the good fight ...

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  93. Damn glad to read your words again.

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  94. Wow, that was brilliantly written!!!! BRAVO!!!

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  95. Kudos Mr. Wright. I'm always confused by those who use the Constitution to back their intransigence when that very instrument is a masterful guideline for compromise.

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  96. Rights come in several flavors. The Declaration declared the existence of "inalienable" rights and how the crown had violated them. It also expressed the intent to form a new government better capable of protecting the inalienable rights. The Articles and Constitution expressed the "civil" rights by which citizens would interact with and among this new government created to protect inalienable rights.

    Why does it matter? Inalienable rights are immutable. Civil rights can change. The Bill of Rights was a set of civil rights, stipulations for how the country would be governed in accordance with natural rights. Freedoms of the press, religion, arms, etc are not inalienable rights. They are civil rights intended to afford people protection of their inalienable rights. You have an inalienable right to hold your own beliefs. You have a civil right to express them through speech, press, assembly, and religion. You have an inalienable right to own property. You have a civil right own a firearm in order to protect you property from either thieves or tyrants.

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  97. "You have a civil right own a firearm in order to protect you property from either thieves or tyrants."

    Well. No, frankly. The 2nd Amendment guarantees a civil right to bear arms as part of a "well regulated milita". Nothing in there guarantees you the right to use deadly force to protect your property. And you will find, in many states, under entirely constitutional laws, that using deadly force to protect property is a crime.

    BB

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    1. Property ownership is not an inalienable right. It is open to discussion as there are many versions of property ownership, up to and including current societies where all property is owned in common by the group and nothing is owned individually. Human beings do not stop breathing just because property is not hoarded. (Well, maybe gLibertarians do, but I'm patient. I can wait as long as needed.) As far as the "civil right" to harm or kill another human being over property. that is not universal even in the United States. I agree with the second Anonymous that use of deadly force can easily be a violation of an inalienable right to life.

      The first Anonymous shows how "inalienable" rights are not so inalienable and are also open to interpretation. The first Anonymous seems quite willing to deprive another human being of their life over a dispute about the lesser right to property. (Yes, lesser, since losing life trumps losing property. A dead person owns nothing, not even themselves.) Therefore, the first Anonymous is advocating that property rights are inalienable, but the right to life is not. This is not logical. It is also not a civilized place.

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    2. Here's an interesting concept for your consideration, and I really mean that; think about it:

      In Canada, Australia and New Zealand, you need a permit to own certain types of weapons. You are interviewed. Your spouse is interviewed. One of the things you may not own one for, specifically, is for self defense. They have decided that there are better ways than coming out guns blazing. They have also found that weapons kept for such purposes are more often used during crimes of passion, accidents and so forth. Despite what the NRA promotes, and indeed, what they have successfully prevented study of, is that owning guns for self-defence is a mug's game. Guck those fuys.

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    3. "My property is worth more to me than your life" is pretty much the Libertarian watchword.

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  98. "Pursuit of happiness" was understood at the time to mean your right to own property AND do with it whatever makes you happy. So, yes, property ownership is an inalienable right. In places where property is supposedly owned in common, it is typically controlled by and for the benefit of oligarchs. Public ownership is a myth. Where it isn't controlled, it falls prey to the "tragedy of the commons" where it is raped and pillaged by the first arrivers because no one has a long term interest it in.

    In "lesser rights", you have conjured up a false distinction. If you took a person's property or liberty, you likely deprived him of his livelihood and jeopardized his life. The three are intertwined and inseparable, not hierarchical. Another fallacy is that dead people don't own anything, since your estate will exist after you die.

    As for Anon2, read it again. Well regulated militias were necessary for a free STATE. Militias were controlled by the states, and states could decline to make them available to the Federal government if they didn't agree with it's reason for wanting them. That freedom existed so the central government couldn't overrun the states by disarming their citizens. Militias were made up of citizens who were called up by the state in time of need. The militias didn't own the weapons. The citizens did. Well armed citizens made up a well armed militia.

    Deadly force to protect property is legal in every state, but with stipulations to prevent vigilantes. You typically can't shoot some on your porch trying to break down into your house, but once he is inside, you can legally do so. It is an imperfect attempt to decipher at what point your life, liberty, and property are actually at risk. "Stand your ground" is getting a review, as it should be.

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