Since its creation, approximately three hundred years ago, the foundational and definitional, “trademark” of our Nation, has been one, whose principal philosophy has been consistent with Thomas Jefferson’s declaration, that …all men are equal, and endowed… with liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our choice of the noun, “trademark,” a word ordinarily asserting a claim of legal proprietorship to an identifiably existing product or entity, is here, somewhat optimistic. Due to the nuanced complexity of the human persona, to date, the stated philosophy has insufficiently evolved, at best, into an assertion of a consensus moral goal, and dedicated good purpose, rather than to an accomplished reality. After three Centuries, there yet appears, to be contention as to its specific intentions, and, shamefully, for too many, reluctance in its compliance.
In accordance with our acquired historical perspective, given the transient and fluid character of history, the proper understanding of most declarations, of ultimate principle and philosophy, are obliged to be read, and understood, with knowledgeable reference to the historic times and relevant context, of their utterance.
We have stated our belief, in past mini-essays, that the understanding of the intended meaning and historical context of the Founders’ declarations of “equality” of all “men,” has to be seen in a historical and sociological reference to their own times. While we unquestionably agree, that all individuals are equal and possess inalienable rights, such statement is contemporarily worded, and not, possibly, anachronistically, the intended meaning and applicability of the chosen words, of our great, 18th Century Founders.
We have always had the understanding that the Founders’ intentions, as declared by their important and memorable words, “all men are created equal,” was, in reality, the declared demise of the long-established European system of privileged birth, and its consequent differentiated class system. Ownership of slaves, (not then contemplated as “men”), lack of women’s rights, child labor and other societal features, which are currently, seen as improper infringements on life and liberty, were not, in their day, we feel, conceivably, within the understood contemplation of the Founders.
In essence, what we would specifically premise, in this mini-essay, is that the quoted declarations of our Founding Fathers, eternally possess unassailable merit, as they are applicably and relevantly applied, to the ever evolving, and changing context of the times. By illustration, in our view, the famous declaration “all men are created equal” might now be worded, “every person is entitled to equal rights;” which reading is, in our estimation, incontrovertibly (and timelessly) correct.
Those who believe that one must defer, regarding presenting issues to the “original intent,” of our Founders ignore the intentionally employed, general language, which wisely, and prophetically, suggest that its provisions, were meant to be interpreted in accordance with the relevant, sociological context of its time. We, without reservation, fully ascribe to the original, proclamations of our Founders, but, necessarily, as they are eternally, read and made relevant and applicable, to the respective times as they evolve. [read the brilliantly written essays, of U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and noted intellectual, Benjamin N. Cardozo].
A very useful illustration of this guiding Constitutional principle, and by corollary reasoning, compliance with the Constitution, relates to its Second Amendment. Hot and divisive contention exists, regarding the phrase, “..the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The gun lobby and the NRA, adamantly insist, that the plain reading of this partial phrase, constitutes an unassailable, unlimited franchise to own and use guns [ inclusive of military, rapid firing, semi-automatic weapons of war]. This cynically, reductive misinterpretation, albeit profitable for the gun industry, is an insidiously, false tactic and has tragically resulted in a horrifically uncountable, number of tragic homicides. A proper understanding of the Constitutional intent behind this dangerously asserted right, requires more than an adamant and ignorant insistence, solely, on the universality of a partial phrase, and perhaps, a nuanced personal inclination to disobey societal mandate.
In order to knowledgeably and rationally, resolve this continuing hot and divisive, debate one must appropriately, familiarize himself with the facts and the contextual history of the times; most especially, the specific motivation behind the Second Amendment. At the time of the formation and negotiated consolidation of our Federal (Central) Government, contested issues existed, between “Federalists” (proponents of a Central Government) and those who were adamant supporters of State governance. The relevant terms of the Second Amendment were, finally agreed to, as a demanded provision of the final settlement and resolution: The States (“the People”) were, [in order to close the deal] granted the right to individually, maintain an independent and armed militia, notwithstanding the maintenance by the Central Government, of a standing Federal army. The final, negotiated, language, therefore reads: “A well -regulated militia being necessary to the security of a State, the right of the People (please contextually read, people’s Militia) to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” There never was intended, nor, reportedly debated subject of a social franchise for every citizen to arm himself, for any purpose, including, paranoia. This existentially impactful language, properly read, in its historical, situational context, would not then, conceivably, authorize the false, reductive, purportedly Constitutional right to own, and use, at will, instruments of death.
The Constitution, when properly and contemporaneously, read, mandates, in its undeniable essence, that all people are equal, in rights and worth, irrespective of skin color, sex or gender, ethnos or origin. Unlike the reductive ignorance, unfortunately, prevailing in the gun issue, those who offend against these fundamental, keystone supports of our modern democracy, by contrast, presumably aware of the contemporary meaning of these basic principles; here, it is a problem of compliance.
Unhappily, the practice of bigotry appears to have irrational, psychological and emotional roots, and is communicated and taught; in some cases, even subtly and unwittingly by reactive, often nuanced but objectively, discernable behavior. For the latter reasons, such pathology may be difficult to prevent and cure. Its pernicious existence seems to be an enduring one, not directly relevant, to the proper contextual reading and understanding of the provisions of the Constitution, discussed above.
In past writings, we have expressed our personal views on the etiology of the pathology of bigotry. Our view is, that it is often an unintended, and later exacerbation of the very young child’s, instruction as to his societally, secure and personal identity, by (ultimately dangerous) lessons in “we” and “they.” Even taught in a fair and respectful manner, such differences will usually remain with the child, and possibly, later, lead to a dangerous transmogrification and demonization, of the “they.” We must construe our early teachings, and purpose our behavior, in the context of a one world family.
In a past writing, we have created a fictional (but, realistic), anecdote, to illustrate the difficulty of unlearning those early childhood lessons: a young, attractive, white, well-educated woman is walking her five- year -old daughter to school. A supporter of liberal causes, this white mother is also an outspoken supporter of Civil Rights, donating regularly to the local chapter of the NAACP, and at times, vocally participating, in peaceful protest demonstrations regarding police brutality against innocent black Americans. Approaching them is another young, attractive, well- educated mother and her young school daughter, both black. The parents are familiar friends and the daughters are close buddies in the same class, at school. The mothers, as usual, exchange warm smiles and greetings; yet at the first notice of the black mother and her child, the white young child feels a subtle, (probably, involuntary, and reflexive) cautionary squeeze of her hand. Life’s early inoculation of “them,” is difficult to eradicate, even by later ardent resolve.
All Americans must endeavor to respect the universal rights, contained in the U.S. Constitution, usefully and relevantly, in their evolving, contemporaneous context. To eliminate prejudice, our early teachings of identity to our children must also be contextual, and eternally within the communal construct, of a One World of all of mankind.