Thursday, March 8, 2018

Being Capable of Self-Rule

I don’t like the idea of elite vs. the great unwashed, or the proletariat, or the uneducated masses. I’m with Martin Luther King, Jr., willing to look at the content of a person’s character, rather than where they come from or some other arbitrary detail.

But the purpose of politics is to persuade large numbers of people—people who may or may not be educated or clear thinking enough to understand the issues on their own and be capable of recognizing solutions.

The difficulty is that, in a democratic society, the persuaded masses rule, whether they’re right or not.

Our founding fathers tried to prevent the damage that could happen from a straight-up democracy—which is essentially mob rule. They gave us a Constitution, which limited government to certain enumerated powers. And within those constraints, they set up a representative government, with a bicameral legislative body, with the House of Representatives based on population, and the Senate based on the separate states equally. The House would respond more directly to the people, but the Senate would be a more deliberative body, thinking more of state interests than individual interests.

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution"
painting by Howard Chandler Christy
image from Wikipedia

They separated the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, with more or less equal powers that would be a check and balance on each other. All of this was to prevent any branch from usurping powers it was not granted.

The founders took great care to set up government to do only what it was intended to do: protect life, liberty, and property.

But a self-ruling people—that is, a people who set up their own government, rather than become subjects of a ruler—must be capable of ruling themselves.

Usually I have a lot of faith in people in general to think things through and try to do the right things. That’s what I do. So sometimes I believe any normal person does that.

But there’s a lot of evidence that large portions of the populace do not think things through. And that leaves them subject to being swayed by propaganda rather than truth.

There was an example this week. Steven Crowder did one of his “Change My Mind” sessions at a college campus. This one was “White Privilege Is a Myth: Change My Mind (2nd Edition)” on the campus of Texas Christian University. It’s rather long, most of an hour. But I’ve included it in full below.

Most of the conversation is between Crowder and a young black woman who defers mostly to her white friend (Crowder points out that the white girl is “white-splaining” for the black girl). The white woman claims that America was set up by white men for the sole benefit of white men, and has been corrupt and oppressive from its inception.

While she is right that women didn’t originally have the right to vote (and, depending on the state, neither did white or any other race of men if they didn’t own property), she fails to understand that all of the Bill of Rights pertained to women every bit as much as men. Slaves were originally excluded in slave states—but of course we suffered a Civil War to correct that.

When Crowder asks what evidence she has of men having privilege today, she claims it is really white male privilege; there’s no privilege for black men, who get sent to jail for having a quarter ounce of weed while white men would get away with it. Crowder asks for statistics; she has none. He uses his handy phone and looks up data on the NAACP website, which shows that black men are incarcerated at higher rates, but that site has no mention of behavior. The girl insists that of course black men don’t commit crimes at higher rates, because it’s all about the racist system. She knows that is so, but she doesn’t have data. Crowder provides some for his side, but she cannot. But she’s sure it’s just a matter of doing a little online search, and then her views would be proven.

Except they’re not.

After Crowder talks with her, he has a young black man and his Asian friend, neither of whom believe they’re oppressed in America. Their conversation is more uplifting.

The earlier white girl was absolutely certain that she was right. And she was absolutely certain that what she was saying was common knowledge and common sense. Even though it was either unsupported opinion or provably false.

She was a college student, and made it clear she had gotten a scholarship for being top of her class. So she knew what she knew—accusing Crowder of enjoying privileges that were unrelated to his life growing up in a French Canadian culture with a fair amount of oppression and difficulty, not coming to the US until adulthood.

As Reagan used to say,

“It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so.”

On Tuesday, working at the polls—primary elections where Republicans and Democrats had to awkwardly share a room for their separate polling places—I was gratefully aware that voters were trying to do their civic duty. But I was also aware that not very many spend as much time as I do researching and figuring out who to vote for, especially for the many smaller judicial races. I do believe if everybody studied as hard before voting as I do, we would have better outcomes, even though they wouldn’t always agree with me. 

In order to be an informed—instead of a propaganda-manipulated—people, we need to know the criteria to look for. A nice candidate who seems articulate isn’t enough. And it certainly isn’t enough for a candidate to try to sway voters by appealing to their tribal issues (race, gender, etc.) We need voters who understand how our government is set up.

When you’re looking at candidates, there are questions that help gauge just how likely a person is to pursue freedom, prosperity, and civilization for all. These are Spherical Model questions, rather than right/left questions. I laid them out in 2015, here.

If you—or your representative—need to decide on an issue, you can ask these freedom-leading questions: 

·         Is the policy being debated something that an individual has the right to do, and therefore has the right to delegate to his/her government?  For example, a person has the right to protect his own life and property. He can, therefore, combine resources with his neighbors and hire a government entity, such as a sheriff, to do that job for him. Similarly, the several states can combine to delegate the power of defending the nation to a national government entity. Conversely, a person does not have the right to take his neighbor’s excess grain production, for example, and bestow it on himself, because his neighbor was more prosperous in a particular season. He can, of course, ask his neighbor for charity, but he cannot coerce the neighbor to give. That would rightfully be considered theft. Therefore, the person cannot delegate the redistribution of wealth to the government to do for him. 
·         Does the policy infringe in any way on the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights? Does the policy infringe on the free exercise of religion or try to establish a particular sect as a state religion? Is political speech hindered? Does the policy infringe on the right of citizens to bear arms? Does the policy constitute an illegal search or seizure? Does the policy deprive a person of life, liberty, or property when the person has not committed a crime for which that deprivation is the just sentence? Does the policy try to claim for government a power that was not specifically granted in the Constitution? etc. If the policy infringes on the God-given rights, then government cannot take that power without usurping power from the people.

·         Is the idea being debated a proper role of government, some aspect of protection (including defense, protection from interstate crime, enabling international and interstate commerce, standardized weights and measures and currency, the judiciary that guarantees the protective laws), as enumerated in the Constitution? If not, then accepting the idea is outside the Constitution and below the northern 45th parallel.
Two years ago I listed the Five Essential Attributes of Active Citizens, as outlined in a speech on Citizenship by Lawrence C. Walters.

1. Accept responsibility.
2. Do their homework.
3. Engage with others.
4. Take action.
5. Learn from their experiences.

If we’re going to remain a self-governing people, rather than slip downward into being ruled by power mongers, then we need a critical mass of educated populace, willing to do their part. If you’re reading this, that’s a start. You’re probably doing your part. So share it with anyone who has a sense of civic responsibility. If enough of us do that, then we can trust it will be enough.

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