Reflection 111: Higher Authority

June 3, 2009

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Once you surrender to a higher authority, you never have to think again. No longer on your own, you serve the will of another. How reassuring that is, how comforting. As long as you bow your head in submission, you are off the hook. Which is the point, isn’t it?—not thinking for yourself, not taking risks or responsibility, not making yourself vulnerable. It’s like being a child forever, placing your trust and your life in safe hands, belonging to something bigger, wiser, and more enduring than your own mortal self. Like the National Rifle Association (NRA), which stands ever ready to do your thinking for you. But I’ll get to that.

 

First, human rights. A right is a claim such that when made, it will be backed by the authority of the state. In the case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948—over 60 years ago—the assumption might have been that the authority of the international community would back any such claim. Or if it didn’t, Eleanor Roosevelt would personally step forward on the claimant’s behalf.

 

The Declaration begins with seven whereas clauses presenting the rationale, the last two leading to the now therefore clause revealing what actions are to be taken, culminating in the proclamation of world-wide human rights:

 

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

 

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

 

Now Therefore,

The General Assembly

proclaims

This Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 

The individual rights flow from that beginning, arrayed in thirty articles, starting with “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” through 28 more articles spelling out the climate of idealism at the end of the Second World War. Since 55 million people died in that war, it would be nice if they had not simply been wasted but had given their all for some worthy cause. Here was an after-the-fact compilation of such a cause—the basic principles for which humanity had suffered for so long.

 

After that sublime example of authority, I now turn to an absurd one in the instance of the NRA flexing its muscles to turn our reading of the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution 180 degrees in its favor. In my last post I briefly examined the logic of scripture in the instance of a selection from Paul’s first letter to Corinthians. Here I take on another heavyweight authority. In particular, the second amendment, which some interpret as granting the right to possess handguns and assault weapons to the people at large (even though AK-47s and such were unknown at the time the amendment was ratified in 1791). We are fortunate in having the NRA to interpret the intent of the Founding Fathers for us today.

 

I here break the second amendment into clauses along natural lines of cleavage set by marks of internal punctuation.

 

Amendment II.

[1] A well regulated Militia,

[2] being necessary to the security of a free State,

[3] the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,

[4] shall not be infringed.

 

In [1] the subject is not just a militia, but a well regulated militia—that is, one conforming to the principle (from Latin regula, rule) of militias by which members supply their own weapons. Such militias, according to [2], are necessary to the security of free states, in this case those joined together to form the United States. Both [1] and [2] provide justification for the actual amendment, serving as the rationale for the action specified in [3] and [4]. In this sense they serve as a whereas clause according to the well-established legal formula: Whereas such and such, now therefore the following action is taken.

 

This brings us to the heart of the amendment in [3], the right of the people to keep and bear arms . . . [cliffhanger . . . resolved in 4], shall not be infringed. Infringe means to break or violate, in this case, the law. The punctuation seems excessive by modern standards, but the form of the amendment is clearly one of cause-and-effect, or justification-and-result. Which is exactly what our left-brain interpreters require in making sure that actions taken are appropriate to the situations which call for them. Easing up on commas and capital letters, clarifying the format, the amendment now reads:

 

[Whereas] A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,

[now therefore] the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

 

Section 8 of Article 1 of the Constitution makes it clear that the federal interest in this issue was “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” This serves as another whereas clause written into the body of the Constitution itself. Armed citizens fought back the British in 1775 at Lexington and Concord with their own weapons in the service of the colony or colonies (not self-defense as now claimed).

 

Six years later in 1791, when it came to ratifying the first twelve amendments (two didn’t make it, leaving a Bill of Rights comprising amendments 1-10), the several states made it clear they wanted their own interests spelled out. The rationale was that, if the militia was to be called up on short notice to repel an insurrection in—or invasion of—one state or another, there might not be time or money to procure proper arms, so members would be expected to supply their own weapons.

 

The National Rifle Association downplays the reasons for maintaining a well regulated militia as spelled out in the Constitution. It sees nothing but what it wants to see in the second amendment, a guarantee of an individual’s right to bear arms of any and all sorts that may be available—now or subsequently—to the public. As a corporation, the NRA employs a legal staff known for the fabulous reasoning of its left-brain interpreters, dressing the wildest dreams of its members and generous supporters as rights inherent in the law of the land.

 

In this instance, an activist corporation is bent on remaking the Constitution in conformity with its private self-interest—which is largely to promote the manufacture, distribution, sale, and ownership of deadly firearms, both nationally and internationally. Not in the interest of public safety as claimed, but more to tighten the control of the military-industrial complex over the nations and peoples of the world. After all, this is the axis that enabled the U.S. to invade Iraq preemptively in 2003, and gives power to all manner of disgruntled students or workers so they can inflict killing sprees on their peers. Not in self-defense, but as vicious assaults.

 

The problem for the NRA is that the second amendment as written makes it clear that, since we no longer depend on a self-armed militia to defend ourselves, there is absolutely no guarantee of gun ownership spelled out in the federal Constitution. If the NRA finds such a guarantee, that is the result of expensive left-brain interpreters in its employ working overtime.

 

Our left-brain interpreters love self-affirming gestures. They love serial order and logic spelled out in terms of whereas and now therefore clauses. When consciousness is coherent, it is because a great many neurons are firing in synchrony, which turns our interpreters on and leads them to find out not only what is happening in the mind, but what we should do about it then and there. Nobody gets as fired-up as an NRA attorney at a gun rights rally or court hearing. Eloquent interpretations pour forth—as long as they represent the interests of the donors who profit gloriously from firearm sales.

 

Where would civilization be without attack weapons in the hands of Earth’s children, veterans, drug dealers, criminals, and fearful citizens? When higher, better-funded, more powerful authority speaks, Congress listens. Mrs. Roosevelt is dead. We don’t hear much about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights these days; in 30 articles, it makes no mention of any universal right to bear arms. We do hear a lot from well-funded lobbyists for AIPAC and the NRA, fossil-fuel industries, big agriculture, and similar authorities making sure the world turns to their corporate advantage.

 

¦

 

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2 Responses to “Reflection 111: Higher Authority”

  1. tp said

    And suddenly the law of the land, in its wisdom, sanctions firearms in national parks, for those among us who enjoy shooting at glaciers, geysers, and waterfalls.

  2. You probably never realized that the parks were conceived with people carrying concealed weapons in mind. It’s becoming the American way. Proof, once again, that the Republicans have sold their souls to the devil. –sp

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