Fireworks

Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans! 601px-US-GreatSeal-Reverse-Lossing1856

Here’s to liberty, equality, and fraternity! Here’s to education and intellectualism! Here’s to science and reason! Here’s to truth and justice! Here’s to tolerance, multiculturalism, and diversity! Here’s to working for the public good!

Here’s to the idea that all people are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Here’s to the Enlightenment!

Fear and Loathing

It’s amazing how the GOP (along with its propaganda wing, Fox News) is always so eager to throw out the Constitution and let the government treat criminals as enemy combatants who can be tried in secret and tortured for information…but talk about passing gun laws that they see as a threat to the Second Amendment and it’s “NOOOO!! THE CONSTITUTION IS SACRED!! WE NEED TO HAVE UNFETTERED ACCESS TO GUNS IN CASE THE GOVERNMENT EVER BECOMES A TOTALITARIAN POLICE STATE THAT IMPRISONS AND TORTURES CITIZENS WITHOUT JUST CAUSE!!”

I try to imagine their ideal society and it makes my brain hurt. A lot.

Priorities

Things I think are more important than military build-up, war, and invasion:

  • Keeping the poor housed and fed.
  • Providing affordable/free medical care for all citizens.
  • Making sure all public schools are well-funded and teachers are paid well.
  • Helping unemployed people find new jobs and get training the might need for new careers.
  • Making sure important government agencies that ensure the welfare of our citizens–like OSHA and the EPA–are well-funded.
  • Shoring up our infrastructure of roads, bridges, etc.
  • Building high-speed rail networks across the country.
  • Developing renewable energy resources to replace coal and oil.
  • Developing new technologies and building vehicles for space exploration.

Yes, defending our nation is important. And yes, wars are sometimes necessary. But the last war that was actually necessary ended 68 years ago. I think we spend too much on weapons and far, far too much on unnecessary wars and invasions. We should be spending more on peaceful technologies and social welfare that benefits all of our citizens.

Playing the Free Speech Card

DC Comics has hired SF author Orson Scott Card to write a Superman digital comic. This has launched a lot of vocal protest and sparked petitions for DC to not employ Card. I’ve signed a petition and have spoken out against Card online. Why? It’s not for his views on homosexuality, abhorrent as I may find them. It’s that Card is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that actively works to deny equal civil rights to homosexuals. I have friends and family members who are LGBT, so NOM’s actions have a direct impact on the lives of people I care about. Card is very open about his views and his activities, so as far as I’m concerned, if DC hires him, they’re complicit in Card’s work against equal civil rights for LGBT people.

You may disagree with me. That’s fine. But in the arguments I’ve seen defending DC and Card, I’ve seen some misconceptions, so let’s get a few things straight.

The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Absolutely. It does not, however, guarantee you a microphone and it doesn’t guarantee you freedom from the consequences of your speech. (In fact, certain kinds of speech are illegal precisely because of their effects. You can’t lie in advertisements. You can’t commit libel or slander.) Asking for DC Comics to not hire Card is not censorship. Neither is petitioning advertisers to pull their support of people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. If the government were to silence Card (or Limbaugh or Beck), that would be censorship. But the First Amendment in no way guarantees Card be paid for what he writes, what he says, or what he does. DC–or any other business–has every right to not hire Card for his views or his actions. (Similarly, neither Rush Limbaugh nor Glenn Beck are in any way guaranteed a voice in popular media. If no one would hire them because of the things they say, that would be their tough luck. That’s not censorship, that’s a free market.)

This does not mean I advocate every company firing anyone who espouses an unpopular view. It’s not so sweeping as that. This is an individual case, and as I said, it’s not about what Card thinks or says, it’s about what he actually does. I would no more support DC hiring someone who was well-known for being active in fighting equal rights for women or people of color.

I will defend Card’s right to speak his mind with every fiber of my being. But I will not support his right to speak his mind without consequence and I will fight against him writing a character I believe embodies and supports the opposite of Card’s views. The character of Superman was created as someone who fights against oppression, bigotry, exploitation, inequality, and injustice. I expect DC Comics to live up to that, and I believe hiring Orson Scott Card goes against that legacy.

 

If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be in Your Revolution.

After my previous post, the only arguments I got in favor of owning gun to keep tyranny in check were of the abstract “we’ll all recognize it when we see it and have a mass uprising against it” variety. Which is lovely, but not at all convincing.

Frankly, I think if the government were really afraid of armed citizens, all guns and ammunition would already be outlawed. The fact that they aren’t points to a more important idea: it isn’t armed citizens that are standing between us and tyranny, it’s our own laws, our own checks and balances. The darker areas of our government–and the businesses and the wealthy who fund the lobbyists that push for some laws and push against others–are far more concerned about information being in the hands of all citizens than guns.

I generally try to be understanding of other points of view. I try to be generous and give people the benefit of the doubt. But I’ll be blunt: if you think you need to be armed because the government might become a tyranny someday and an armed rebellion will spontaneously and righteously rise up against it, I think you’re being utterly paranoid. And your desire to be armed is not more important than my right to not be shot.

The arguments I see defending the 2nd Amendment as “the right for any and all citizens to be armed with whatever we can get our hands on” invariably become an argument about the rights of the individual versus the rights of the state. What gets lost is the rights of the community. I think a community’s safety is far more important than an individual’s desire for weapons. Never mind what the government is or might possibly maybe someday become. If you live in a community, your individual rights are subservient to the needs of the community when your individual rights threaten the safety, the security, the health, the very lives of other members of the community.

Yes, there are countries where might makes right, where the strongest with the best weapons hold dominance. The US was set up to not be one of those places. If you want to live in a country where your weapons make you stronger and more dominant, feel free to move there. I prefer to live in a country of laws, where differences can be and should be settled peacefully. Yes, sometimes you have to bloody some noses and kill others to defend that society. But that in no way justifies the kinds of lax gun laws we now have in the US. As other countries clearly show, you don’t need lots of guns in the hands of citizens to live a peaceful, democratic life.

So until you can come up with a better argument than “my guns make me safe and keep the government in check” (because they don’t), you’re not going to convince me that stricter gun laws are anything but necessary and justified.

Sic Semper Tyrannis

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and the ensuing debates, arguments, and frenzied screaming from all sides regarding gun laws in the U.S., I’ve seen a number of people say that the reason the 2nd Amendment is so important is that private citizens need to own firearms in case the government becomes a tyranny and we all have to rise up in revolution.

This raises a lot of questions for me. But the main one is this: at what point is armed revolution against the government justified?

Now, I come from a family of rebels and activists. My great-grandparents were Communists and Anarchists. My grandparents were labor organizers and supporters. My parents were involved in the Civil Rights Movement and counseled draft resisters during the American involvement in Vietnam. I was raised to question authority, to fight for what I believe in, and to engage in civil disobedience when necessary. (My great-aunt was arrested for protesting police brutality in New York City when she was in her 80s.) Casablanca is one of my favorite movies, and of course I always root for the French Resistance.

But still, I wonder…

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants!”) from the stage of Ford’s Theatre. He clearly saw Lincoln as a tyrant who needed to be removed. Were his actions justified? Was he right to assassinate Lincoln? What about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing? Was that a justified action? I think the George W. Bush administration’s actions and policies verged awfully close to fascism, so would I have been justified in legally purchasing arms and ammunition and striking out against the government? We’ve seen right wing rhetoric about Barack Obama being a “socialist dictator” (as laughable as that rhetoric is), so is taking arms against the current government justified?

Defenders of the 2nd Amendment love to quote Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And in theory, that’s all well and good. But at what point is violent revolution actually justified? If you truly think we need to legally arm ourselves to protect against a tyrannical government, what’s your definition of tyranny and what violence will you actually endorse and defend? How do you know you’ll recognize a tyrant, and what makes you think John Wilkes Booth or Timothy McVeigh didn’t recognize one? Or do you think they did and they were on the side of the angels? When we get away from the romantic notion of a popular revolution against a cruel tyrant (a romantic notion that I quite like, in fact) and get into the real business of arming ourselves against an oppressive government, whose blood do you imagine you’ll be spilling? When is the spilling of blood the right thing to do and when is it wrong?

If you can’t answer these questions–or if you can answer them without hesitating–then I think you have a lot of thinking to do. And I don’t want you armed while you’re thinking it over.

“I am Involved in Mankind”

From John Donne’s Meditation XVII:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.