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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Modern Federalism: A Great Compromise - Part I: Rights

A Preface

Under our current political landscape, one of increasing divisiveness and abrasion, it is key, for political sanity, sanctity, and efficacy, to seek a common ground. Unfortunately, one main realization becomes clearer as each day passes: the larger the political divide grows, the more difficult it becomes to reach that mutual, common-ground goal.

Before we appreciate why Modern Federalism is truly a prodigious compromise, and before we discuss the various mechanisms by which it is, it is important to preface a discussion about this endeavor with a mastery, both in understanding and execution, of the very set of ideas around which most of our political and ideological disagreements revolve: rights.

Of all things manifest, rights are perhaps the most sacred, protected, and revered. As Americans, we cherish our American rights, and from the time of our country's founding until eternity's end, we will fight for our American rights until we're at death's door. These rights, while safeguarded and treasured, are often misunderstood. Regardless of an individual's religious beliefs or lack thereof, rights are often thought of as a divinely-granted proposition. This, however, couldn't be further from the truth.

While the very notion of what I'm about to say might cause some to gasp, it's a reality few comprehend. Rights, regardless of their perceived heavenly origins, are simple permissions granted and protected by a society. In other words, rights are nothing more than a set of laws by which a group of people decided to adhere. The cultures, views, religious beliefs, etc. of a group of people that decide the rights they will protect in one country or region are inherently different from those of a group of people that decide upon the rights they will protect in theirs. Rights are absolutely shaped by many factors including culture, geography, climate, religion, and other endogenous characteristics. Conversely, rights are not granted by God, Buddha, Muhammad, or any other spiritual being or concept, and in spite of what Hobbes and Locke might say, they're not an automatic condition inherently preserved by and executed in nature. They are not limitless, as one cannot engage in libel though free speech and freedom of the press are protected by the Constitution, and they are forever changing. As I alluded, many people might take this as an abhorrent attack on freedom and religion all in one. It's understandable, and one of the reasons for this expected sentiment is because we are accustomed to our Constitutionally-granted American rights. It's not an attack, and I beg for patience, a clear head, and an open mind as we progress.

One of the best ways to look at rights is though the examination of anecdotal examples. Before we do this, I ask that you do your best to step away from the pre-existing notion of American rights. I say this because, as mentioned previously, we are predisposed to view rights through the lens of our Constitution. While yes, I cherish and am forever thankful for our Constitution, it embodies, to a "T," the very notion of society-granted, man-protected rights. It was crafted, by men, via a semi-democratic process, to protect the basic concepts and desires a young nation sought.

Moving forward, suppose the Founding Fathers wanted the Colonies, and further down the road, our new nation, to be strictly vegetarian. If they banned the consumption of meat, citizens would not have the right to eat meat. They could chant and protest in the town square about their right to eat meat until they turn blue, but, if meat eating was not a law adhered to and protected by society, to do so is not the citizen's right at all. If this was agreed upon in our supreme law of the land, the Constitution, then our regional socio-economic group known as America would not have the protected right of eating meat. As odd as it sounds, and while it might take a slight pause to realize the gravity of this, this is how rights work. If this was a sincere issue at the beginning of our country's founding, an Amendment in the Constitution might say, "the people's right to eat meat shall not be infringed" (simply put), and voila, you'd have a "right." You can expand this issue to any number of subjects that can be discussed as a "right." In fact, let's look at a relevant one: religion. Our Constitution permits religion to be practiced freely (for the most part though there are still limits on this), and it grants the citizens of our country protection from government interference with respect to how, when, where, and why they practice their religion. But what if this wasn't a right that was protected by our society? What if the First Amendment did not offer the religious protection it did? Quite simply, people would not have the right to practice religion without the possibility of punishment. Of course, many would still say, "but it's my right!" No, unless accepted and protected by the members of society you live in and near, it would not be. If your society does not agree on what your rights are, you do not have those rights. We are pre-programmed to believe that rights are something that we're entitled to without proposition or cause, but again, this is not true. We are only "entitled" to rights if society sees fit to adhere to and protect them.

It's because of our unique, constitutionally-supported history we feel, as Americans, that we're the benchmark of rights. We are the benchmark, yes, of American rights, but not of human rights in general. Human rights, just like American rights, are also permissions granted and protected by a society. Try, for example, to drive as a woman in Saudi Arabia. Many in our society would think that restricting someone from driving based on gender is disgraceful. I am one of these people. But I have no platform or right to enforce my belief on someone else's culture, societal, and religious beliefs. While I might think their views are "crazy" and "immoral," they are certain to think mine are as well. We can push and fight for our view of rights to be the example and standard of rights around the world, but frankly, it's a lost cause. No matter how disgusting we view the "suppression" and lack of rights in other cultures, that is how that society chose to govern itself. This view will be expounded upon in further discussions when examining ways for America to move forward as a nation of various cultures and societal wishes.

The relevance of understanding the nature of rights is imperative, and before launching into a touchy subject which is certain to bring about upheaval, we must have a clear head and a realistic grasp of rights. Because of the rapid increase in technology, people now learn more quickly, mobilize more effectively, and change views and personal opinions often. Rights, the society-granted permissions of people who wish to live under the rules they set, should never be taken for granted, and they should never be misunderstood. While technology does link unique cultures across vast geographic separations, it's truly important that these cultures and separations are recognized, respected, and accepted. People should, through the most efficient process in existence, namely democracy, be able to decide the rights by which they live. People should also know that rights can change, and there is no right that exists outside of the realm of the society that grants it. Modern Federalism can provide a balance between those who wish to live by certain rules and those who do not. It allows for people to be accepting of others within a defined national existence while not compromising on their personal, religious, and cultural views. As this discussion moves forward, we will see how Modern Federalism can truly be a great compromise.

For Part II, visit:

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  1. I appreciate that the start of this conversation is this brief but impassioned outline of the topic of moral relativism. why? because it speaks to a parallel and related topic, that in my opinion is our main obstacle as a country and as a group of people attempting to live together. the political discourse in the united states is currently approached by each political sphere with one basic premise: we are right. 100%, through and through, unequivocally correct. I don't think this emotion is entirely new, and I think it always would've been difficult to find a politician (or even an average citizen) who would be comfortable publicly admitting that they were wrong about something, but I think that a variety of relatively recent developments have exagerrating this polarized climate. As a country we face some big decisions, that even though detail-wise are between ideologies, can by hyperbolized down to basic arguments about the role of government. Also, the internet has irrevsersibly lead to a fast-paced and incessant exchange of information, along with the ability for small groups of people to rapidly and effectively manipulate that information. This has lead to the media situation we currently have, which is essentially two parallel positive-feedback loops (LME, I think you were hinting at this in your very first paragraph). now that the democrats have fully caricatured the republicans, and vice versa, any action by either side gets fed into this feedback loop, amplified, and exaggerated, and spit back out by the media as a twisted and distored version of itself, leading to deeper and deeper political lines being drawn in the sand. I very much appreciate this introduction, as I believe our government is currently more than anything else hindered by the fact that the political discourse has broken down. legitimate honesty, data-driven discussions and open-mindedness are currently far out of reach in our legislature. instead: political cover, blame games, distortions of reality (lies?), unwillingness to compromise, and games of chicken/prisoner's dilemma are what dominate our political landscape.

    1. Slowdownn and LME, very well stated and explained.

    2. Good afternoon Slowdownn and RKen! I have to run to a meeting in 7 mins, but I wanted to comment.

      Slowdownn - Thank you for your input, and yes... it's well stated. I definitely think you're seeing the writing on the wall with respect to where this discussion will go, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from you.

      RKen - I thought for sure you'd be disagreeing a lot. But then again, I'm not surprised... well, kind of. You're incredibly sensible, and you're self described as "liberal" socially. The sensible perception leads me to believe that you would see where I was coming from with this; the social views you have have caused me to expect that you'd be in the boat of "my rights are my rights, damnit!" :-) Looking forward to this discussion going forward with you as well.

  2. Yes, I agree with slowdown, and I am looking forward to hearing about how this ties in to federalism and how to move the country along peacefully. THough I think you did a cliffhanger here on purpose, LME? Or was this truly just a preface for an overall argument.

  3. I've never thought of it this way. Great points! Great writing!

  4. Let us not start promising additional rights, lest we begin taking us to The Founding Fathers had it correct.

    1. Anonymous - Thank you for stopping by. I just want to see if I understand your take:

      You're warning against becoming a USSR-like system? I think that's what I gathered, but I wanted to make sure. Also, we aren't advocating for more federally-recognized rights; we are just saying, in upcoming analyses, that states should be able to choose the rights they grant.

      Thanks again... I hope to hear more from you soon.

  5. This article is very thought out and well written.

  6. You almost lost me right here: 'Regardless of an individual's religious beliefs or lack thereof, rights are often thought of as a divinely-granted proposition. This, however, couldn't be further from the truth.'

    But, I'm a reasonable person, so I gave benefit to my doubt - and read on... it IS a great article, but CHANGING America is EXACTLY what Obama and his ilk seek, and I'm NOT on-board with that in any way, shape or form.

    Okay, as I've said many, many times before: Whether you like it or not...our Founders WERE God fearing men. Our American rights, as set forth in our Bill of Rights/Constitution have their BASIS in the Biblical (Ten Commandments, which IS LITERALLY set in stone - at the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building.)

    They pondered for a long time over WHICH rights were to be the foundation of our new nation (The Federalist Papers) and came together in the end to produce our Constitution.

    For over TWO Centuries, people from ALL OTHER NATIONS have lined up to taste the Freedoms our Great Nation offers...We're NOT perfect, by any stretch... but, New Media/the Internet/'other countries' concept of what IS and IS NOT a right - SHOULD have ZERO bearing on US, as Americans.

    While I'm not fond of the 'nation building' concept for other countries... We ARE what we ARE, because/not in spite of our National Principles of basic rights and freedoms.

    Now that I've ticked a bunch of you off: NO WAY, NO HOW should ANYONE, EVER propose CHANGING our BASIC Constitution, particularly in this anti-American, anti-Colonialist environment. The Founders were wise, and they included an arena for 'modifications' - in the Amendment process.

    Attempt to change the FRAMEWORK, I believe, WOULD send us into a USSR type system. I also believe that's what the Radical Left has in mind.

    That said, I believe our Founders foresaw these current upheavals, and subsequent disagreements and they included a ready remedy in the Tenth Amendment:

    'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.'

    See: No 'changes' necessary! : )

    1. Dara - Thank you so much for choosing to read on, and thank you for sharing your opinions.

      Let it be known, I myself am not a religious man, but I will not ignore history, either. You're absolutely correct in this statement:

      "Okay, as I've said many, many times before: Whether you like it or not...our Founders WERE God fearing men. Our American rights, as set forth in our Bill of Rights/Constitution have their BASIS in the Biblical (Ten Commandments, which IS LITERALLY set in stone - at the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building.)"

      That being said, I do not want to live under a FEDERAL theocracy... but I also do not want, in any way at all, to impede on the religious freedoms granted and protected in our Constitution.

      What does that lead to? Well, it's the subject of this series that I'm writing: Modern Federalism - I think, based on what you wrote here, that you'll like it. I can't spill all the beans now because I haven't written it yet, but, as the title implies, I think it's a great compromise, and I think it will give us the most peaceful "best of both worlds" solution.

      Yes, the Constitution does have in it, a mode for amendments, and yes, I agree, changing the framework of the Constitution should be rare. While our differences grow, it's important to keep the Federal government small and return to our state's rights roots... since, as you put, the Constitution says we must do:

      "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

      I hope you stay tuned. I look forward to expressing my views and hearing yours and everyone else's on how Federalism is truly the compromise we need. Thank you again, Dara.