Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just What Does the Far Right Not Understand?

Well, here we are again, pawns in yet another game of “chicken” that puts the economic well-being of the United States of America at risk. The current situation is the result of many things, but I want to point out the complicity of my fellow citizens, because without their ignorance and intellectual laziness, we might not be in the mess we are in.

What galls me the most, is how many people do not know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA‒a.k.a. "ObamaCare"–a label that sounds like it was made up by a 7 y/o playground bully–which seems about right given the apparent cognitive capacities of the right-wing rank-and-file) is already a law! It was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law on 23 March, 2010 by President Obama. It then withstood a challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States (ScotUS)! Check it out yourself–there may be a quiz later. The coup de grâce of the whole thing is after all the wrangling, all the far-right rhetoric, all the "tea party" protests, and the legal challenges...the President that spearheaded the push for the law was re-elected in a campaign against an opponent who swore they would immediately repeal the law if elected!

Why is it that so many on the Right do not get that? Did they miss some episodes of Schoolhouse Rock!? The rights of citizens to share their opinions with others until they are blue in the face, which as a matter of principle, I would give my life to defend, in no way, shape, or form, means that the content of their opinion(s) is entitled to anyone’s respect, independent of the merits of said opinion(s). Students of all ages, from elementary school to grad students, are expected to turn in their assigned homework, but the teacher grades the work on its merits alone, and the same principle applies in the marketplace of ideas.  

Citizenship in a democratic republic is serious business and if such a nation is to endure, it demands that its citizens do their homework before opening their mouths, pulling the lever, punching a chad, or blackening in a box!. The Framers knew that the only way our young republic would thrive was to have an educated, informed electorate. For the Framers, the bloody English Civil Wars of the 17th century were recent history and they acknowledged that human nature had a darker side, where passions frequently trumped reason, which is why they designed our system of government with the system of checks and balances they did.

Early efforts to ensure the ideal of an “informed” electorate led to things like requirements that one be a white, land-owning male‒which, however well-intended such requirements were to begin with, they were soon used to systematically dis-enfranchise, by law, whole classes of citizens‒women and African-Americans in the Jim Crow South‒to name just two such groups. As a nation, our collective moral compass (at least for most of us) learned to reject such things as antithetical to the ideal of a participatory democracy. There are, however, steps we can, and must, take in our everyday interactions with others to minimize the damage caused by baloney, propaganda, and outright deception. We do not impose legal sanctions on people picking their nose in public, but we don't need them because the embarrassment people feel upon learning that others think them an uncouth, gross, disgusting boor for doing so is sufficient to quickly cure most people of the habit while still adolescents. Similarly, “civil discourse” does not mean giving someone spouting patently false nonsense a pass out of concern for their feelings, nor does it mean that we throw them in irons send them to a dungeon for being idiots. The “civil” in civil discourse hearkens back to the (albeit idealized by us today) age of the ancient Greek agora and the Roman forum, where citizens engaged in economic activities and discussed and debated matters affecting the polis, and its Latin equivalent, civitas‒what we would call today the citizen body.1 (p.204)

As individuals and citizens, we must realize, and remind others when necessary, that in any discussion, debate, or outright argument, we must not only respect the rights of others to speak their mind, we must also defend our right not to have our time wasted. If our fellow citizens, elected officials, and media talking-heads demand that their right to be heard is respected, we, as the “audience,” have an equal right to demand of those laying claim to our time and attention that they do their homework and not insult and disrespect their audience by wasting their time.

Thomas Jefferson wanted his gravestone to note the three achievements of which he was most proud, The Declaration of Independence, the founding of the University of Virginia‒the first University in the former colonies intended, from the ground up, to have no religious affiliation, and his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. For this essay, the money quote is in the last paragraph of the Virginia Statute:

“...all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.2 (p.289–90) (emphasis mine)

The point is, the right to publicly air ideas, beliefs, and opinions carries with it a duty to defend those ideas, beliefs, and opinions. If one's constitution (or intellect) isn't up to the task of defending their deeply-held beliefs using argument and reason, there are places where one can talk about them with little fear of churches and NRA conventions. The trick is to not let one's beliefs write checks that their intellect can't cash and having the courage to keep ourselves, and others, honest.


1. Price, S. R. F. & Thonemann, P. The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine. (Viking: New York, N.Y, 2011).

2. Jefferson, T. The life and selected writings of Thomas Jefferson: Including the Autobiography, the Declaration of Independence & His Public and Private Letters. Ed by. Adrian Koch & William Peden. (Modern Library Paperback: New York, 2004).

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