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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

A Game-Changer? Hopefully

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene in several appeals of same-sex marriage equality. There are reams and reams of analysis on the ramifications of this decision all over the Interwebs, all of it better than mine, so I won’t even try.

I think this is great news. I support same-sex marriage and general equality for the LGBT community. Part of this is my own system of values. I just don’t see anything wrong with it amongst consenting adults.

But beyond that, I think this is great news for the principle of a limited government. I think even conservatives should rejoice. It really boils down to good, limited governance of a free society.

I know staunch libertarians will disagree with me on this, but a free & prosperous society actually requires a strong, functioning government. The key is strong & functioning with regards to what a good government should be doing.

In my view, the good government of a free society needs to provide these functions:

  • defending the nation from external attacks
  • keeping the internal peace when individuals cannot do so themselves
  • providing a legal framework for conducting business and settling disputes
  • ensuring all citizens have equal voice and are subject to fair treatment; and that the weak are protected from being abused by the strong
  • funding and implementing beneficial public works projects that cannot effectively be completed by the private sector

And … that’s it. Sure, one can quibble on exactly how these functions should be done, but this is really the list on what a government should do for its people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The problem many social conservatives have is they add this sixth bullet, in one form or another:

  • be the guardian of a moral code

This is what the gay rights limiters, the “no sodomy” lawmakers, the abortion deniers really want: they want the U.S. government to be the enforcer of a moral code (specifically, their moral code).

Ugh, what a horrid thought. It amazes me that these folks don’t see this as a horrid thought!

It’s not too hard to imagine a world where governments enforce moral codes. It’s happened ever since the dawn of civilization. Tyrannical regime after tyrannical regime has done everything from slavery to ethnic/religious cleansing to forced castration to progroms and ghettoization, all to enforce their “moral code”. These are all terrible things, and to think some people don’t see it this way is immensely troubling. A government, even the U.S. government, enforcing moral codes is a bad idea!

Plus it’s just a waste of money, if you’ll permit me to be so crass. Do we really want to pay taxes to enforce this stuff? I don’t

This ruling should be taken as a signal that laws governing behavior solely for the enforcement of a moral code, and for no other valid reason covered by good governance, should be overruled.

The Other Reason This Is Right

Awareness.

Enlightenment.

Piety.

Oneness.

Grace.

Ascendancy.

All are terms, terms across so many religions and belief systems. Toss in Heaven, or Nirvana, or Bodhi, or any of a number of more specific words. All words connoting the apex of spiritual existence.

Now look at all the greats across all these religions or philosophies. St. Thomas Aquinas. John the Baptist. Siddhārtha Gautama. Mohandas Ghandi. Mother Theresa. There are lots, lots more.

Do you think any of them needed a government entity to enforce their moral code upon them? No. They believed it, took it to heart, made it their own, and based their lives upon it. Oh, and what lives they led! Such lives, that we we still speak their names with reverance, even millenia later!

Religion, spirituality, philosophy: these are all things that are yours. They are personal to you. Your journey to whatever the apex of your own belief system is yours, your own, no one else’s.

And it is a hard journey. I don’t know of any major religion that claims it’s easy. It’s difficult, and it is intended to be difficult. Heaven isn’t just something that you can stroll into, you have to earn it, through good works, or a pious life, or self-sacrifice, or whatever your beliefs call for. It requires strength of will and strength of character.

if you need a government to enforce your morality upon you or another, you may want to consider not only what, exactly, that morality means to you, but also what your character lacks that you can’t lead the good, clean life you want on your own, without the government enforcing it for you.

This is a good ruling, no matter how you look at it.

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In preparation for our secular High Holy Day, I watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Thomas Jefferson. Recently, Jefferson’s importance as an American Founding Father was debased by the Texas Board of Education and members of the Christian Right. I, in contrast, maintain that Jefferson was our most important Founder and if anyone deserves to be remembered for All Time, it is Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson was the preeminent American philosopher. He, practically single-handedly, crafted (as George Will said) “the catechism” for our country’s “civil religion”. He stated clearly, unequivocally, and absolutely what it means to be an American. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There are no greater words ever written, prior or since, that so succinctly, accurately, and magnificently state our core values. Go ahead, I dare you to take any other quote written from colonial times to the present, and weigh it up against that singular sentence from the Declaration of Independence, and claim it a better statement of American values. You can’t do it, and if you can, I will weigh it. Most likely, I will tell you that you have missed the ruddy point of our entire existence from Plymouth Rock to today.

What is remarkable about Jefferson the Philosopher is that America doesn’t really have any other philosophers. We really don’t. We’ve had poets and statesmen and authors and capitalists, but we haven’t really had philosophers. We haven’t had philosophers because we don’t really need them. We don’t need anyone to examine and decipher the soul of America. We know what the soul of America is: it’s what Jefferson stated back in 1776. No further national introspection is needed. Those words are encoded in our DNA, and we know they are there, and we’re all glad for it.

What we have needed since that fated day, now celebrated as Independence Day, isn’t philosophers but pragmatists. Thanks to Jefferson, we have the core value, the goal of our existence as a nation and as a society, but we’ve needed direction on how to attain that goal. That’s where our other great orators, thinkers. artists and musicians  come in: trying to figure out how to get there, gain freedom and equality for all, and remove the bonds of tyranny without simply adding more under another guise.

That’s the journey we’ve been on ever since: not to find out who we are, but how do we get where we’re destined to be. And that’s the journey that seems hopelessly stalled. Today, we are as divided as a society as we’ve ever been since the end of the War Between the States. Reasoned discourse has failed, the two-party system is gridlocked in contests of pointless rage, and our government certainly appears to be an impediment to, not an enabler of, liberty. We are under tremendous strain: a faltering economy, a failed energy policy, a lackluster educational system, three branches of government withered and cracked, and a social safety net that could very well be the anchor pulling us under. Toss in environmental catastrophe and the threats of global terrorism and you’ve got quite the fecal stew. No wonder 55% of Americans think we’re on the wrong path.

I think we’ve simply lost our way. The guiding star, Jefferson’s writings, are still out there. We need to train our binoculars and find it again. Find it, and study it, and accept it as our own. Honestly look at how we’re going down the right path, and reinforce that. Honestly look at where we’re going wrong, and stop that. Then we can get back on the path and travel to that grand destination.

Happy Independence Day to all Americans, and to all across the world who’ve been inspired to act in the cause of liberty by the words of Thomas Jefferson put forth 234 years ago on July 4th, 1776.

And here’s to hoping that, in our 235th year, we figure out how to get back on the right track.

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My 2009 Independence Day essay

My 2008 Independence Day essay

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