Lela on Slavery and Individual Rights   1 comment

Thom StarkLast week, Thom Stark expanded upon his centrist views. And, I’m still hung up on the idea of government being obligated to pursue policies for the greatest good, while also protecting the rights of minorities. I still don’t think it’s possible.

Again, we agree on quite a few points.

Slavery and US slavery particuarly are huge topics we could discuss. How a country could claim, on the one hand, that all men are created equal but allow some men to own others is incomprehensible. It’s tempting to say the Civil War was fought for wholly moral reasons and therefore was a “good” war, but I know too much about what was also going on besides the issue of slavery to agree. Just the fact that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves until halfway into the war suggests there was something more going on than slavery.

And, then you also have to deal with the repression that grew from the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction was a brutal and immoral period that raped the South economically, forced it into a subservient role for the next century, and led to Jim Crow and the eventual need for the Civil Rights movement, but worse, the abrogation of states rights has had profound negative effects on individual rights throughout the nation in subsequent years. It has been used as an excuse for repression of regionalization ever since. In effect, the moral crusade to end slavery empowered the federal repression of states and gave structure to Plato’s Republic in modern America.

But that would be a later discussion, I think.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI still believe strongly that the individual is the smallest and most powerless of minorities and that government generally is the antithesis of protecting the rights of the individual. We could certainly delve into how various minorities groups have banded together to create a statistical majority bent on forcing others to fall in line with what they want. A case in point would be the Masterpiece Cake Shop, which shows that minority group power overrides the individual right of freedom of faith.

Or we could tear an example from the headlines.

Eric Garner was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island — coincidentally only blocks from one of the neighborhoods my husband grew up in. First a single police officer confronted him with the victimless crime. I’ve seen the video. He was agitated and loud, but never violent toward the officer, but it quickly escalated into four officers holding him on the ground, one with his knee in Garner’s back and another with his hand pushing Garner’s face into the concrete. Yes, very much police brutality, but while we’r freaking out over a symptom of government repression, I want to look at the cause.

I hate cigarettes. They’re stinky, unhealthy and produce trash that I usually end up having to clean up.  I hold similar attitudes toward marijuana and alcohol. I do not see these things as societal goods. I can understand why folks would ask their politicians to regulate them for the “maximum good”. I also think all such attempts at prohibition are stupid ideas.

That “societal good” zeitgeist and desire to prohibit or regulate individual liberty is the root cause of Eric Garner’s death. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — vices like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs fall under either the liberty or pursuit of happiness clause. When society tries to tell individuals they can’t do something (usually because it’s unhealthy), individuals find a way to continue doing it. Unable to prohibit tobacco, people who hate cigarettes asked their government to do something to curtail its usage — make it difficult for individuals to smoke by increasing taxes. Sounds good. You let those individuals continue to smoke, but you give the do-gooders a warm-fuzzy feeling of having done something to discourage them. Except ….

Every time they walk by a group of smokers and get their panties in a knot that their efforts have not made everyone stop that vile unhealthy habit, they lobby their legislators to raise the tax a little higher … which led to a market for untaxed cigarettes. Had there been no market for “loosies” the New York Police Department would have had no cause to harass Eric Garner that day and he might be alive today (I say “might” because he was obese and that’s another do-gooder target for societal improvement). Yes, you can blame Garner’s death on lesser causes like police brutality and racism, but if government had not been given the power to restrict individual liberty for “societal good”, any racism in the hearts of the cops would have been moot because they would not have been given permission to deal with Eric Garner.

I think it’s these little compromises with individual liberty — usually under the guise of something good for society as a whole — that lead us toward full scale repression. It happens gradually and so we don’t object until we see it working to kill citizens, but far too often when we seek to fix what our policies have wrought, we don’t acknowledge the cause, but try to fix the symptoms while leaving the cause in place. You can modify police training and try to modify police racial sentiments, but those efforts will be of limited effect because the real cause is inherent lack of respect for individual rights that is part and parcel with majority rule. When a societal consensus has been reached on any given issue, government feels it has a mandate to repress the individual for the greater good.

I wanted to talk about capitalism here, but I’m hitting my 1000-word guideline, so I may post something about it later.

One response to “Lela on Slavery and Individual Rights

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  1. Pingback: Thom Stark Replies on Slavery and Social Justice in America | aurorawatcherak

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