Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Woobie of No Authority

Posted by PintofStout on October 10, 2006

Being an iconoclast isn’t easy. It takes wit, intelligence, diligence, devotion, and conviction. I’m not an iconoclast – professionally anyway. If I were to become an iconoclast, I promise I’d use my powers for good. No? Fine. One of the great iconoclasts in American history who used his powers for good was Lysander Spooner. He wrote the essay “No Treason: Constitution of No Authority” for the people who didn’t know or realize the title proclamation: the people not holding public office and not aspiring to public office. The political class of our society (society defined here as those within range of the big stick of soft talkers) already know that the document known as the Constitution is worthless except for one single purpose: letting the non-political class feel protected.

Yes, the non-political class can be robbed, abused, and repressed violently so long as they can clutch to the threadbare and stinky woobie (complete with mystery stains new and old) of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. (On a side note, wouldn’t it be more fitting if the benevolent masters of the swampy traffic circle called their military spending bills “The Bill for Rights?” That is what they tell us anyhow.) Nevermind that the very same woobie is the wool over our eyes while we’re taken to the gulag. More often than not, the Constitution has been perverted to fit someone’s justification for systematically violating an unenumerated right, making it a weapon of aggression more than a shield against it.

It has been argued quite logically that the Constitution may have actually been better off without the negative statements of the Bill of Rights and stuck to the positive statements concerning specifically defined authority of the Constitution itself. Think of it as being in a mall and being told you can purchase anything from one particular toy store, but nothing else. That would leave little doubt about the scope of your purchasing power. On the other hand, if you were told that you absolutely cannot purchase anything from one particular toy store, the options are virtually unlimited; you could purchase anything in the mall or even outside of the mall, for that matter. This is the difference between positive statements and negative statements like the enumerated powers and the Bill of Rights. This metaphor can also be carried to the points of fiscal discipline (buying everything in the mall and lots of stuff outside of it whether one can afford it or not), international neutrality (shoplifting outside the mall), and loopholes (what if the stuff from the forbidden store were somehow removed from the store before purchasing?).

Instead of a bulwark of protection from government, the Constitution is merely a symbol now. It can be argued later whether it was every anything more than a symbol. Symbols can be dangerous when used improperly. They are essentially a kind of visual shorthand for ideas, but the image (or words) are only pure for a very short time before the ideas morph into something different and almost unrecognizable or fade into non-specific, amorphous emotional responses. This regular hijacking of language happens all the time, and visual symbols are no different. Consider the USA’s founding documents and their use in political rhetoric; the flag, any flag; quotes and sayings of old patriots; general language in the form of clichés; or any institution with a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

The icons of freedom rhetoric were powerful when they were created. Back then they were short-hand for the beliefs of the people; now the beliefs of the people are mere short-hand for emotional response to the icons. The real problem I have with this is in the inconsistency with, what I feel, the icons stand for (mainly what they were historically used for) and the actions of those using the symbols. To espouse a “Live Free or Die” position and then to support the most egregious tramplings of freedom or even to accept them humbly from the masters because it is good for “the country” is a contradiction in the plainest sense. To shout “Don’t Tread on Me” and yet use all the available mechanisms of state for one’s advantage or to worship at the alter of military might and grand monuments to usurpations of freedom (built with treaded upon taxpayers’ ransom) is simply inconsistent. But perhaps the holder of the espoused beliefs and worshiper of the symbols of statism believes the inconsistency is perfectly consistent with what he believes. Therein lies the danger of symbols and icons; for all the people who see and hear will not understand the same meanings. But the symbols don’t allow for an explanation and the symbols can then be used for the emotional response produced while acting opposite to the connoted meaning.

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4 Responses to “Woobie of No Authority”

  1. Bugaboo said

    Pint – just wanted to say that your writing style has really been improving through the course of your experiment in self-publication. Keep up the good work.

  2. B_____ said

    The Constitution says that the federal government can write with a red pen. The bill of rights says that the government can’t write with a blue pen. What happens when the federal government wants to write with a black pen? To me this also points at the heart of the way people behave towards government and the way people think about their rights. What about that black pen? Today the federal government has probably written with every color pen imaginable and even that blue pen that’s specifically prohibited against. People have allowed themselves to only think inside that bill of rights and those other amendments. I’m going to stop calling them a bill of rights and call them a “box of rights”. By accepting those as “your rights” you put yourself into a box from which it is difficult to escape

  3. Thanks, Bugaboo. I appreciate the vote of confidence. The early stuff wasn’t that bad was it?

    B___, I’m sure you are aware of this and certainly of my view of said constitution, but like Twain says (roughly), “If someone says something and says it well, have no shame; take it and copy it.” So to elaborate my sentiments I’ll take my favorite line from Spooner: “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

  4. I found a coincidental article over at the Partial Observer where James Leroy Wilson eulogizes the Constitution:

    http://partialobserver.com/article.cfm?id=1983

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