Monday, July 04, 2005



Independence Day

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...

Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago today, America's founding fathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honour in defence of the above ideal in America's Declaration of Independence. It is a great ideal, and one which provides the bedrock of modern liberal democracy around the world. It's therefore appropriate to celebrate the birth of the United States as a landmark in the Enlightenment project of freedom. However, I do not celebrate its present state. Since September 11th, the United States has turned from being a generally progressive nation to being an outright regressive one, and is now as far from its founding values as it has ever been.

When George III deprived the people of the American colonies of trial by jury, transported them beyond the seas to be tried for pretended offences, and affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil government, the signers of the Declaration of Independence rightly called him a despot. Yet now, the United States holds hundreds of "enemy combatants" without charge or trial in its Caribbean gulag at Guantanamo. It has established a system of extraordinary rendition, transferring suspected terrorists to despotic regimes so that they can be tortured. And it has held one of its own citizens in military detention without charge or trial for over three years, and shows no sign of releasing him anytime soon. But what is truly frightening is that most Americans do not seem to give a damn. They have simply given up on the project of freedom.

So, rather than sending America a birthday card this year, a "get well soon" card seems more appropriate. Like Margaret Drabble, I hope America recovers from its present insanity - and the sooner, the better.

14 comments:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Just out of interest, how do you take this as an atheist I/S? Because the way I read this, is that our unalienable rights are a direct result of our divine "creation", that we are all endowed with rights from outside a human ability to confer. Thus also humanity can not renege these rights.

Just wondered... It just seems a bit incongruant for you to post a quote that claims human creation via a supernatural being who has endowed humanity with rights, as a self-evident truth.

Posted by muerk : 7/04/2005 10:46:00 AM

I can't speak for I/S, but my co-creators were a sperm and an egg. Maybe not as impressive as a giant imaginary sky fairy, but a lot more scientifically sound.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/04/2005 12:35:00 PM

It's the Rights that matter, not the assumptions about how they are endowed, which weren't up for debate at that point in history.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 7/04/2005 03:03:00 PM

Muerk: people in the past believed some pretty funny things, such as the existence of a divine creator, the divine right of kings, and that beavers chewed their own testicles off and flung them at hunters to avoid capture. Generally, I take the ridiculous stuff with a grain of salt...

As CMT said, it's the assertion of rights that matters, not where they came from. America's founders were pretty much just following Locke anyway.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/04/2005 03:31:00 PM

Oddly enough, I'd just finished a blog post saying something similar to this, I/S, when I logged in and found you saying it too.

How's that for synchronicity. :-)

The birth of the United States is indeed a landmark in the Enlightenment project of freedom. I agree with you that its present state offers little to celebrate, but our reasons for thinking so differ a little.

CMT, you said, "It's the Rights that matter, not the assumptions about how they are endowed, which weren't up for debate at that point in history."

It's true that it's the rights that matter, but their lack today and the debate and musinderstandings about them suggest it is important to understand how they were endowed since that understanding should help us to defend them.

Rights are far from self-evident, but they are so crucially important to political freedom that it behoves us to understand the principles that underpin them

Posted by PC : 7/04/2005 04:27:00 PM

"As CMT said, it's the assertion of rights that matters, not where they came from. America's founders were pretty much just following Locke anyway."

Yup, yup, just wondering. Although if you have humanly asserted rights, then you can have humans removing said rights just as easily.

BTW, calling the belief in a divine creator ridiculous is quite bigoted. Not that I am personally offended, just that you might want to revise your level of respect when it comes to other people's experiences.

It's too easy to just charge someone with stupidity, rather than engage in actual dialogue.

Posted by muerk : 7/04/2005 04:36:00 PM

At least with humanly asserted rights, it is theoretically possible to debate the rights and develop a consensus. Claiming a divine mandate for determining who has what rights denies the possibility of questioning, and that's frequently a bad thing (Tamaki and co being an obvious example).

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 7/04/2005 05:34:00 PM

Well what is a strength is also a weakness I guess. Just as something can't be written out, it can't be written in either.

As for Tamaki, I'm just... disturbed by his life and actions. It seems to me to be a denomination of personality. I can't see his church lasting longer than he does.

Posted by muerk : 7/04/2005 06:17:00 PM

Muerk: I call it ridiculous because it is ridiculous. While people are perfectly entitled to believe in stupid and irrational things, like gods or astrology, that doesn't mean that we have to take those beliefs at all seriously, or avoid calling bullshit by its name.

As for human-asserted rights, they make it clear that those rights are interdependent, which is why we have to stick up the rights even of people we despise.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/04/2005 06:54:00 PM

Couldn't agree more I/S. Couldn't agree more. Two paragraphs showing tremendous insight.

Posted by PC : 7/04/2005 07:00:00 PM

I have to say, it would be nice if we were "all endowed with rights from outside a human ability to confer. Thus also humanity can not renege these rights." Unfortunately though, the Founding Fathers wouldn't have been able to point to any evidence for their assumption that these rights were endowed upon us by a Divinity, and it's been proven over and over again just within the last century that those rights can in fact be reneged by humanity pretty much with impunity. The sad fact is, the endowment and protection of those rights is a burden we have to take on ourselves.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 7/05/2005 12:50:00 AM

How about this as an improvement Muerk & Psycho Milt:

"We hold these truths to be demonstrable in reality: that human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights, which are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of private property and happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers - and only such powers - from the consent of the governed; that all laws legislated by governments must be for the purpose of securing these rights; that no laws legislated by government may violate these rights; that all citizens are equal before such laws; and that whenever any government becomes destructive of these rights, it is in rebellion against its citizens, who may then remove it and institute new government."

Posted by PC : 7/06/2005 07:42:00 AM

"that human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights"

Why are they possessed of these inalienable right? Why not might is right, and the higher up the food chain you are then the better you eat? If we are just really clever animals why not use social pecking orders just like high primates? Or promiscuous sexual contacts to create social relationships like the bonobo chimps if you prefer?

Why does Homo sapiens get to be so special?

Posted by muerk : 7/06/2005 02:35:00 PM

PC: I'm with CMT and I/S - it's the rights that matter, not the question of who endowed them.

Muerk: we get to be so special because we can decide for ourselves what kind of society we're going to have (although I can't for the life of me understand why we haven't copied your Bonobo example, that sounds pretty cool).

Posted by Psycho Milt : 7/06/2005 08:52:00 PM