Saturday, October 15, 2016

The History of the World, Vol. 4

The invention of the USA: “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.”  


The natural state of man, excuse me, the natural state of male and female H. sapiens, is that though we’re all unique in how we look, how smart we are, and what innate talents we have, nobody is born automatically better than anyone else. We are entitled to live as long as biology and fate permit, we’re free to pursue our own path and discover what it is that will keep getting us out of bed in the morning until we can’t (or won’t) get out of bed in the morning. I maintain that this is obvious (self-evident) to any more or less well-adjusted kid on the playground. I also maintain that this is obvious to any emotionally healthy, clear thinking grownup. I maintain that any well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) king, cleric, or bully (even politically correct bullies) that maintains otherwise is delusional and needs to be dealt with appropriately.


Yup. Well, sorta/kinda. It’s obvious to those of us that have grown up fortunate enough to take the concept for granted. The, um, traditional way was the way of the alpha male. A method of social organization still in vogue in more than a few places. We’re hard-wired to function that way and when the excrement hits the air conditioning we’re often rudely reminded of that fact.    

We have two choices. The traditional way -- the way of the alpha male, the way of the bully, the way of the king, the way of the high priest -- or the way of the (at least superficially) rational person. Rational people employ reason. Wikipedia: “Reason is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions and beliefs based on new or existing information.”  

And yes, I used the word superficially. Rationality is a buggy, crash-prone app still in beta testing. For the dead white males that invented the USA, fortunately for us, reason was a thing, a very big thing. We got lucky. They were the 1% of their day, but back in their particular day, something that came to be called the Age of Enlightenment was rockin’ the world. A new meme was going around.

If you decided that the traditional way of doing things only worked well for a very small group of people and you could rewrite the rules, using reason, to set up a new system that benefited everyone equally (at least in theory), what would you do?

What they did, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, was set up the USA. The wailing and gnashing continued, and continues, as it should in a democracy. Fortunately, the new system includes built-in mechanisms to fix and/or change what the people decide needs fixed and/or changed. It ain’t easy to change, and it shouldn’t be, considering how thin the veneer of rationality is.            

Emotionally healthy, clear thinking grownups realize they’re not the only kid on the playground and that just enough rules are necessary to ensure everyone has fun but has to share the equipment and that bullies are not allowed. This is called government and it requires that a few conditions be met in order that the people remain as free as realistically possible. First, we the governed, get to decide what the rules are. Second, the rules should be as few in number as possible so that individuals remain as free as possible.Third, great care must be taken to avoid the potentially huge, honking, downside of democracy, the tyranny of the majority.

If a majority of the kids on the playground get together to ban little Timmy from the premises just because of his unfortunate tendency to pick his nose, even  though he’s not breaking any rules, a grownup (the rule of law) must step in to protect not only Timmy’s right to be there but also make sure he isn’t bullied. This is the why and what of the U.S. constitution. It’s called the American experiment because no one else in history had managed to pull off anything quite like it and many thought we wouldn’t either. Some still don’t, and there’s no guarantee that it will ultimately end well.

Now, just because we’re lucky enough to have been born into the species that sits at the top of the food chain, in the most prosperous nation the world has seen (so far at least) we still live in a dangerous, hostile world that guarantees nothing but our eventual death. It’s up to us to come up with food, clothing, and shelter and defend ourselves from those that want to kill us for fun and/or profit.

I once heard a nurse that was the head of some organization or another declaring with passion and conviction that, “Healthcare is a right!” in a radio interview.

No, it’s not.

Life, freedom, and the pursuit of whatever it is that keeps us getting out of bed are the fundamental rights everyone obviously should get. But even these natural, fundamental rights are a reality, not just a potential reality, only for those fortunate enough to be born into a culture that acknowledges and defends them. You may have noticed there’s no shortage of thugs that look at things a bit differently. Everything else that you think you’re entitled to depends on what you and/or your fellow citizens are prepared to work your bums off for. If you don’t believe this, try performing the following experiment.

Have yourself stranded on a desert island without a crew from a reality television show. Raise your fist to the sky and DEMAND! food, clothing, shelter (and healthcare), then wait and see what happens. Oh, and make sure you don’t let your situational awareness chops get rusty while you’re waiting because mother nature is notoriously oblivious to our rights. Like any good mom, if she has a favorite, she’s keeping it to herself, and, she doesn’t seem to lose any sleep when her kids eat each other to stay alive.

Oh, and please note that you don’t even have to ask nicely for life (however temporary), liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Self-evidently, unless Gilligan and company show up and turn out to be evil, drug-addled crazies (which would explain a lot), you’re about as free as you can be within the physical limitations of life on Earth. And unless one or more  of the zany castaways has brought a trunk full of meth, you could stay as free as possible (all things considered) simply by agreeing respect each others unalienable rights. Next, on to the original Mr. Smith.

Have an OK day.

©2016 Mark Mehlmauer

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