Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Death, Enslavement, and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

B.J. Lawson handed me a copy of “The Declaration of Independence” and “The Constitution of the United States”. He challenged me to read it, to absorb the intent of its crafters and to embrace a wave to go back to the truths of these documents. I wasn’t buying it.

It’s the old Libertarian argument-all that talk related to economic issues, state rights and person freedoms had me back peddling. Lawson then made a pitch for his man for President, Ron Paul. The Texas congressman and former Libertarian U.S. Presidential candidate is considered to be a philosophical libertarian, even though he is technically affiliated with the Republican Party.

We went back and forth on the consequences of being tagged as a supporter of one political part. I told him it would be painful for me to align myself with anyone with ties to the Republican Party. Call me blinkered for refusing to see the merits of Lincoln’s Party, but I carry too much old baggage around actions taken by those Elephant folks. I’m still in need of therapy for the damage done during the Reagan years.

My issues with Ron Paul go deeper than his political affiliation. At the heart of my disgruntlement is his presupposition that all of America’s problems can be solved by revisiting the merits of “The Constitution of the United States”. By going back to the conceptions outlined by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and the other so called Father’s of the country, we will undo the mess created by those who have misused their power to lead us down this miserable road of confusion.

To begin, I hate it when anyone approaches me with an easy solution to all of our woes. Granted, America is in a mess. It is true we are enduring castigation caused by centuries of congressional misconduct. America has functioned while refusing to honor the very document created to rule the way we operate as a nation. That is a given.

My problem is with the assumptions of the Constitution. Getting back to the original intent is as confusing as finding the kernel of truth in the Bible that will put an end to this muddle called denominationalism. The variety of viewpoints regarding authentic faith makes it virtually impossible to shift the tide when it comes to the way we embrace Biblical truth.

The interpretation of the constitution clouds our ability to step back into the minds of those who wrote those words we hold so dear. That’s not to mention the matter of culture, and how they were operating within a specific historical ethos; which makes it difficult for us to evaluate their truth as relevant to our own. An example is gun control. I doubt if they had the prudence to write those words mindful of how guns have changed the way we function in this country. I’ll buy dinner for a year to the first person who can prove to me they had the foresight to envision a world embedded in gang activity.

Then there’s the matter of contradiction that stands as a reminder of our historical truths. I told Lawson that I, as an African American male, find it difficult to celebrate “The Constitution” when it was fashioned by people who failed to live according to the creeds mentioned in “The Constitution”. That Libertarian notion that states “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..,” is difficult for me to read knowing the slaves they owned weren’t included in their definition of manhood. The document also assumes that women aren’t provided with the same rights as men. So, based on what is written, those given the Rights of life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are white men.

The point is in the way one enters into a conversation of the intentionality of those who craft an old documents. Void of interpretation, we would be forced to make many of the assumptions made by those who decided to construct laws designed to rule the way we govern our nation. They were locked within their historical vantage point, and, as a result of that, were unable to foresee many of the variables that now block progress.

For some, the Constitution stands as the recipe to the nation’s ills. For others, it is a reminder of our historical hypocrisy, and is regarded as an instrument manufactured to keep certain people in the rightful place. For those with the power, it is a great thing. For those broken by the continuation of manipulation and misuse of power, it is a very bad thing.

I wish it was an easy as going back to the intent of those dead white dudes. I didn’t trust them then and I certainly wouldn’t trust them now. Sorry, come back with another solution.


  1. Carl -- I really enjoyed our discussion and I apologize if I gave the impression that anything is an "easy fix". Our country is being ripped apart at every level, and as I think we *all* agree, the challenges we're facing do not discriminate.

    For me, the ultimate question is "What to do?" Do we dismiss the ideals upon which our country was founded because the founders themselves were flawed human beings? We have all sinned and fall WAY short of the glory of God.

    Or can we choose a different path, where we all struggle to implement ideals established in those founding documents?

    The irony of our current situation is that we've never been *less* free as a nation. We've got more felonies than ever before, and while things like the ludicrous federal "war on drugs" disproportionately target the poor and people of color, ALL socioeconomic classes find it difficult to stay out of trouble these days.

    Then there's economic freedom. If you're not getting all of your assistance from the government (which doesn't buy as much as it used to, if you haven't noticed...), you're paying a lot of money in taxes every year to a government that still cannot live within its means and continues to print and borrow money. (Thanks, Uncle Ben! Gold is now over $800 per ounce! Or, $1 now buys less than 1/800 ounce of gold... but it's not just gold, it's your gas, milk, cereal, hamburger, and everything else...)

    This may seem trite, but the first time I saw this Hollywood rendition of the Declaration of Independence, I was pretty moved:

    My favorite quote is Morgan Freeman saying, “The real glory of the Declaration of Independence has been our nation’s epic struggle throughout history to close the gap between the ideals of this remarkable document and the sometimes painful realities of American life.” (Sometimes? That’s an understatement for many...)

    All I'd ask is that folks stop focusing on labels that are used to divide us. Shorthand kills just as surely as ignorance. "Libertarian" "Republican" "Black" "White" "Straight" "Gay"... what? How about being Americans with individual rights given to us by our Creator?

    Does the Constitution (and just as importantly the Declaration) have to be just a "reminder of our historical hypocrisy, and ... regarded as an instrument manufactured to keep certain people in the rightful place"?

    Or can We, the People, take back these founding documents?

  2. Saying that the writers of the Constitution cannot be trusted because some of them owned slaves is ignoring a lot of important history. Throughout all of history, no society has had a document like we do, saying that government should be "of the people." Prior to that, government was what the king or queen wanted and what the rich people in society wanted for their serfs or peasants or slaves. If they hadn't come up with these documents, let me assure you, your life would be a lot different.

    Sure, they were wrong on a few things. As a woman myself, I'll also remind you that the 1970s feminist movement was founded from the civil rights movement-- because many of the women working on the cause of the civil rights' movement found that they were being treated as second-class citizens by the other men helping in that very movement. Even those who fight so hard for freedom for a race felt they could turn a blind eye to discrimination because of gender. It doesn't mean they were wrong on every issue, just that they were wrong on some issues.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. is a good example of this. He doesn't seem to have had the best personal life, and I was disappointed when I found out a few things about that because I like his wife Coretta very much and respect her. Does that take away from the "I Have a Dream" speech and the wonderful ideas Dr. King had throughout the '60s for non-violence and civil change? No, it doesn't. In the same way, the founders having slaves and not including women does not mean that their words have any less meaning. They were revolutionary for their time, and we are each a product of our time. Revolution comes in stages.

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