Friday, October 25, 2013

Transcript of Facebook debate on rights, the 2nd amendment, education, and constitutional ambiguity

When I shared the same link my aforementioned conservative friend posted, it sparked another interesting debate on my Facebook wall. Once again, I'll post the transcript here, and try to update it as it goes.

Friend #1: the contradiction. it hurts.

Me: ? explain

Friend #1: The part where the author explains the difference between the first ten amendments and FDR's second "Bill of Rights" just frustrates me. None of those "rights" had stronger language than the actual bill of rights. He completely breezed over the second amendment acting like that wasn't exactly what he just argued against when it came to FDR's rights. Yes, sure, you have the right to bear arms, but no one has to arm you. Yes, sure, you have the right to health care, but no one has to give it to you. That is what the language says if you take out his rage filled interpretation.

Me: Except the people he was raging against do indeed interpret the right to healthcare as a right others have to provide for you. The real bill of rights is a list of limits on governments power: government cannot restrict your speech, it cannot prevent you from bearing arms, it cannot quarter troops in your house, etc. This is compatible with the definition of a right as something you have inherently, which others cannot provide, but can only take away. FDR's so-called "rights" turn that on its head, because they're a list of things people do not have inherently: a job, food, clothing, medical care, education, etc. Also troubling is the repetition of broad and subjective phrases like "adequate" and "decent", which are ill-defined and open for interpretation (which rights oughtn't be). So I disagree with you on that: FDR's rights are fundamentally different from the second amendment, especially in their modern interpretation.

Friend #1: You just used the term "inherently have". Why do people inherently have the right to bear arms? With that being said, how is "arms" not "ill-defined and open for interpretation". The founding fathers never put in the "no missiles, no tanks, no F-22" clause.

Friend #2: I want an F-22...just sayin...I really do.

Friend #1: well you do have the right to bear arms...

Friend #2: Also not to be cynical, but if education is not something that we all "inherently" have then we should be up in arms about having a public school system that "wastes" our money. We have these systems in place, not because we are guaranteed them, but to provide an opportunity for the populace to better themselves in an ever-changing competitive world so that they can "Pursue Happiness" and guarantee themselves "Life and Liberty." It's written there not as a "right" (the meaning of which is not to be interpreted as a certainty) but as a PRIVILEGE; a gift, if you will, for living in a nation that has built itself on the basis of cooperation from the local to the federal level. Cooperate or get the fuck out. Join or Die. Honestly the rhetoric has been the same since the country's inception.

Friend #1: The main point I wanted to get across that I didn't really approach was that the constitution, to me, is a dynamic piece of literature written by politicians with specific political interests. To behave as if the original bill of rights is somehow more important or is invincible to the same level of criticism as a new right is simply incorrect. Every part of the constitution is amendable and for right reason. The second amendment, as I mentioned before, seems to give every person the right to own ridiculous weapons that most citizens would imagine to be unnecessary in today's world. The fourth amendment protects us, the people, from illegal government searches, but where is that line crossed today, over 200 years after it is written in the world of the NSA, the ever expanding internet, smart phones, etc.? Keep in mind I am not giving a history lesson or a lesson on political ethics, but rather pointing out that a 200 year old document will have flaws; some that we have already found and changed.

Me: I'll respond in order. Aaron's first question is "Why do people inherently have a right to bear arms?", and the answer is that people inherently have a right to bear anything. "Bear" is a verb, and verbs are things people may do. In the absence of government, or what Hobbes and Locke called a "state of nature", people may naturally DO whatever they please. Perhaps they will not attain all they desire, and they might even use that freedom to oppress one another - as Hobbes said, perhaps life in a state of nature would be "solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short." But the fact remains that without any uniformly imposed restriction or law, I am free to carry whatever arms I'm able to acquire, without the fear of coercive reprisal for the act itself.

Of the 8 rights on FDR's list, 5 are not verbs, but nouns - a job, a home, medical care, protection, and education. In a state of nature, man may provide himself with these things, or enlist the help of others to provide them for him, but he does not have them inherently. Unlike life, liberty, or property, FDR is not asserting a right to things we already have - he's asserting rights to things which must be provided for us. Even the three rights which are phrased as verbs - "to earn", "to raise and sell" and "to trade" are not framed as permitted activities of which everyone is naturally capable, but actions which cannot take place in the absence of government intervention. Locke's rights must be PROTECTED by government; FDR's rights must be PROVIDED by government.

Friend #1: I understand exactly what you are saying, but I hope you agree that there are clearly flaws within the bill of rights that do no address our modern society. Why does the people's right to bear arms have to be protected? I see the obvious reasons such as if the government gets too strong or for self-defense. However, I think it is common knowledge that if you don't have an F-22, but the government won't be a long fight. As for self-defense, according to a survey I just read a few weeks ago, guns are used more for suicides by people that own them (or know people that own them and acquire them) than for homicide or robbery. Although, I digress, for I am a bit off topic.

Me: [Friend #1's] next question is "how is 'arms' not ill-defined and open for interpretation?'". To some extent, they are, but not nearly so much as most people say. Arms are weapons. "to bear" means to carry, and arms which can be borne are arms which can be carried: handheld weapons. Arms which it is impossible to carry would presumably not be protected. This is the definition Scalia employed in his DC vs. Heller decision in 2010, and it excludes tanks and warplanes.

I concede that debate exists on what the word means, but it still has a much more concrete definition than "adequate" or "unfair" or "decent", which are entirely dependent on subjective interpretation.

Next is [Friend #2]. "if education is not something that we all "inherently" have then we should be up in arms about having a public school system that "wastes" our money." - hehe. you say this like we libertarians AREN'T up in arms about this...if you think legal handguns are radical, I should introduce you to some of my friends...

Overall, though, you seem to get it. You concede education is not a right, so much as "a privilege; a gift, if you will, for living in a nation that has built itself on the basis of cooperation." Of course, this gift comes at the expense of others, it's funded through coercion and theft, and you're not allowed to decline the gift because schooling is mandatory...but that's close enough.

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