Immediately before the day of the 2008 US federal election, I posted this article in which I said I wouldn’t be voting, and listed three major problems with the Constitution. The gist of the problems were these:
1. Majority rule leads to tyranny of the majority over minorities.
2. Government should be by the consent of the governed — but I am not allowed to withdraw my consent.
3. The Constitution violates basic tenets of almost every religion — for example, the War Powers clause blatantly violates injunctions against murder.
Slavery by the Consent of the Enslaved
These flaws were literally on parade during the Civil War. The Constitution did nothing at all to help those who were bound to servitude, forced to live, eat, and work by the whim of the master; whose families were broken; who were abused, physically and emotionally, and packed on trains or forced to march hundreds of miles away, and told they were doing all this for the good of the country, and then lined up and shot. If they were lucky, they died quickly; if not, they were frequently captured and sent to prisons that would make Guantanamo Bay look like Club Med.
Yes, I’m talking about the draft, too. There are many kinds of slavery.
In the Gettysburg Address — delivered 145 years ago this week — Lincoln dressed up this atrocity in pretty words. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” A beautiful sentence, a beautiful lie — because the United States was never in danger of destruction. It would endure regardless of what the Confederacy did.
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” Where have we heard this before? We can’t pull out now — we have invested so much already! Do you want their deaths to have been in vain? Ask one of those dead drafted soldiers whether he appreciated Lincoln — another man, “equal” like himself — deciding what his death was for, and whether it was worth it, and using it to sell the war.
Let me be clear: both the North and South exploited the Constitution’s fissures. The North exerted the tyranny of the majority in the draft of its soldiers; the South did the same, and added bald-faced slavery as well. And “consent of the governed”? The South didn’t care whether the slaves wanted to be governed; and likewise, the North didn’t care whether the southern states wanted to be governed. As for murder, theft, and other violations of the human spirit — well, it was a war. That’s pretty much what it’s about.
Shades of Evil
If there is any such thing as evil, surely this fits the bill. But there is another kind of evil that is done by governments, evil more pervasive, more insidious, harder to see.
Just today, one of my co-workers was laughing about a government agency that had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing an electronic document-sharing system that ended up being unwieldy and unusable; so they just started using Google Documents.
If a private company had made this error — well, it was their money, their mistake, and they’d pay for that mistake with lost opportunities and lost revenue in the marketplace. Such mistakes would be less likely to happen in the future. But when the government makes that kind of mistake, will there be any accountability? Again and again, agencies and programs that are failing get more money, not less. And when tax money is misallocated, especially on the grand scales at which governments operate, the market is distorted, and money and resources move to accommodate. Tax money spent on software or warfare is money that could have been given to a successful, job-creating business, or to a charity.
Governments are ludicrously inefficient, so it’s natural to laugh. Until you remember that when the government is inefficient, it’s the poor and helpless who suffer most. This is the evil of bureaucracy — a banal, everyday, invisible evil, but evil.
Have you walked down the National Mall in Washington, DC, and seen the high Roman columns, and the huge blocks of white stone foundations, and the granite statues and wide gray staircases? The great white monuments of power, crawling with important men in their dark suits. Open your eyes, and look carefully at the white stone, and you will see the stones are made of millions of crushed human bones.
Is there no alternative?
The preface to the Constitution says that the government was formed to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, for ourselves and our posterity. Surely someone or something must do these things; if not the government, then who?
The government controls our currency and polices the streets. If not the government, who?
It paves roads, builds schools, feeds the poor. If not the government, who?
It funnels tax money to save failing businesses, and provides inspiring leadership in times of crisis. If not the government…?
It builds monuments to itself…
The faces of four dead white men were stabbed into the side of a sacred mountain in the Black Hills South Dakota. I say sacred, for all that region is sacred, as the Sioux and other people native to the area will tell you. These faces were carved into the living rock with tax money. Mt Rushmore is classic government work: a monument to imperial power, surrounded by Park Service museums about the feats of engineering and the mighty works of the immortal Founding Fathers. It was Orwellian before there was an Orwell.
If the government doesn’t build monuments, who will?
In fact, there is another project underway in these Hills — another carved mountain, but this one does not take the form of a dead white man. Crazy Horse, one of the greatest warriors to stand up to US imperial power, is taking shape not far away, the carving funded entirely by charitable donations — because the foundation refuses to take government money.
They have been carving for 60 years. Around the base of the sculpture has grown up a major Native American cultural and educational center — something desperately needed for a people who are destitute after a century of gentle treatment at the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A University and medical training center are planned, too. The whole thing was planned from the beginning with the initiative, participation, and blessing of the local tribes.
Which of these monuments is really for the people, by the people, of the people?
We The People
If not the government… can private citizens do it as well, or better, with no violation of person, property, civil rights, or common decency?
Would our inspiring leaders be teachers and entrepreneurs and religious leaders? Would our extra money be given to charities instead of bailing out corrupt, inept businessmen?
Would we feed our neighbors from our own larders, instead of asking, as Scrooge does, “Are there no work-houses??” Would our children’s education be world-class, instead of a laughingstock? Would our privately-maintained roads be lined with trees and parkland instead of billboards and auto dealerships?
Would our domestic tranquility be ensured by for-hire security forces who are polite, unobtrusive, and deferential to us — their employers — and have no use for tasers or intimidation? Would our currency be sound, and our banks solvent, instead of propped up by taxes and military might?
Would our rights be protected and our disputes arbitrated by private judges who live and work on their good reputations, instead of being appointed for life? Would the common defense be composed of a network of insurance policies, international arbitration, and strong trade links, instead of belligerent posturing and bloated corporo-fascist warmongering?
Who better to establish justice, and form a more perfect union, and secure the blessings of liberty — who better than ourselves?
The more we rely on government to do these things, the bigger it grows, the more power it has, and the more atrocities it commits. It is nothing but a monopolistic middleman. We the people should promote our own general welfare, and bring to birth at last the true seeds of liberty that have lain trampled and dormant for so long.
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