A Glimpse at the Sickening Reality

The Weekend in Gun Violence – NYTimes.com

If one has the temerity to reach the end of this list, the base incivility which envelops this nation should not be in doubt. And while the passive observer may glance and proclaim, this Memorial Day compendium should be parceled out and each incident treated judiciously as its own individual circumstance, the attentive observer must not so dismissively ignore the whole for what it is. For the whole is what WE are and what WE have become. Nocera’s list encompasses a single holiday weekend in America; this is a glimpse at the sickening reality of societal choice.

Society chooses for itself what it deems appropriate for the whole, that which it chooses to disregard, and that which it chooses to avoid. This Memorial Day carnage wasn’t unfortunate inevitability nor an unavoidable conglomeration of random events, but a societal choice, an unconscionable and unacceptable societal choice. America has chosen the mere possession of guns by individuals as more valuable to society than preventing the carnage produced by individuals possessing guns – be that carnage intentional or accidental.

By now, my position on guns in society should be no surprise. I find individual gun ownership untenable, the pretext of the 2nd Amendment indefensible. For me, as a concrete matter, the 2nd Amendment isn’t in question. Ultimately, with respect to rampant gun violence, the questions this nation faces do not involve 2nd Amendment Rights, but rather the rights of society as a whole to choose for itself its own course. Ultimately, should Society choose to do so, Society may rightfully repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Certainly, one would hope that the sickening reality of how American society has devolved needn’t be evidenced by this tragic Memorial Day weekend. But, the impact of its sheer and senseless volume does prompt one to step back from the sickening, empirical reality to the abstract. One cannot but be compelled to ask oneself the questions Society seems unwilling to answer: “Is this what a free and open society looks like?” “At what cost?” “Who is free anymore?” The questions we need ask ourselves as a Society are not so much legal queries, but philosophical queries and inquiries as to how Society wants to shape itself. The questions we need ask ourselves needn’t rely on verifiable data or statistics. One needn’t quantify the tragedies that occurred over Memorial Day weekend. One need only read through the list from beginning to end, and by the final tragedy, a certain sense of justice will be evoked. At some point Society must confront its philosophical underpinnings and adjust itself to its overall desires when its soul descends into incivility. It is within every Society’s purview to shape itself as its majority sees fit. Therefore,

Do we need a Second Amendment? Regardless of one’s interpretation of its meaning, what utility, what purpose for Society does the Second Amendment serve? Why do we need individual gun ownership? Why is the 2nd Amendment essential for a free and open Society?

Is there any wisdom in assuming individuals in American Society are the most trustworthy repository for arms and ammunition?

Do typical “self-protection” justifications for individual gun ownership like paranoiac fear of each other or fear of the “government” inhibit an open and free society? Can “open” and “free” be derived from or predicated upon excessive fear?

How prudent, or for that matter how moral or sensible is it to inhibit public safety to preserve the perception of individual safety?

Thomas Jefferson proposed the following syllogism in 1816, I propose we think on it now in 2013:

“Man was created for social intercourse; but social intercourse cannot be maintained without a sense of justice; then man must have been created with a sense of justice.”

For Jefferson, our sense of justice as human beings wasn’t Hobbesian or the kind of justice intimated by Destutt – as convention. But rather, justice is derived “from our natural organization” as we form ourselves into societal entities, and “..justice is the fundamental law of society.”  To this I add, as a societal entity we ought not idly accept insensible violence as an individual phenomenon that isn’t preventable due to acclimation or convention. Jefferson acknowledged that society can’t be perfect, but it can be perfected. That we can’t eliminate all harm isn’t a rationale for not preventing as much harm as we possibly can. I would add, if Society cannot  prevent widespread injustice, then an unjust society it will be.

On that note, a return from the abstract back to the empirical, to the sickening reality, and to Marian Wright Edelman: “As a nation we seem to be hardened and numb to what should be emotionally disturbing when we cannot legislate the most modest and reasonable measures for national gun safety even after children in as seemingly safe a place as Newtown, Connecticut, far from an inner city, can be shot down in school. We are numb when the same child can be shot one year at his own birthday party and shot again the next year at a Mother’s Day parade and both shootings are just another day on our cities’ streets. Why are we not calling our legislators and expressing outrage? How can we let the voices of gun dealers and manufacturers drown out the cries of children?”

Indeed. The sickening reality is that we can.

Marian Wright Edelman: Numb — Spiritually Dead — Nation







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9 thoughts on “A Glimpse at the Sickening Reality

  1. PJ, hope you know what high regard I have for your opinion. The fact that we disagree completely on this does not change that.

    masaccio said it much better than I ever could.


    Run your post past some union steam fitters. Run it past some families surviving on mining Wisconsin sand for fracking. Those are votes Dems need and gun control’s the “Benghazi” of the left. Obama and the oligarchs know that both bases agree about Wall Street, foreign occupations, and pot. They desperately want to prevent any attempt to unite on issues.

    “Do we need a Second Amendment? Regardless of one’s interpretation of its meaning, what utility, what purpose for Society does the Second Amendment serve? Why do we need individual gun ownership? Why is the 2nd Amendment essential for a free and open Society?”

    With all due respect, get back to me about what a “free and open Society” is after you’ve driven a few miles with an African-American. Those three-girls in Cleveland are the tip of an immense trafficking network. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/03/super-bowl-sex-trafficking_n_2607871.html

    Again, with all due respect, observe the harassment women who have to walk city streets are routinely subjected to. Does carrying a weapon solve that, of course not. But, the idea that our society is “open and free,” is still a male, 100% European-American fantasy.

    Look what happened to Occupy and our First Amendment rights. Law enforcement arrested everyone they could and branded them in the criminal justice system.

    Right now local law enforcement has been federalized to such an extent that we’ve largely lost local control in Milwaukee. Our tax dollars were used to suppress the First Amendment rights of NATO protesters in Chicago. What’s to stop CPD (who has brutalized striking teachers) from doing the same in Milwaukee?

    Would the Second Amendment change that? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

    Wisconsin attorneys used states rights arguments to protect Joshua Glover from the FEDERAL Fugitive Slave Act. South Carolina lawyers used the identical states rights arguments to flatten Fort Sumner. Messing with the Second Amendment, creates the very real possibility of eviscerating what little is left of the Bill of Rights.

    IMHO, a Baldwin and now Pocan are playing a similar game with their sexual orientation. Since it means they, “must be libs,” they take every opportunity to tack back to the oligarchs. On her last day in the House Baldwin voted (fiscal cliff) to help Obama give away all his leverage on taxes. I could make the argument that a SUPER SAFE Dane County Congressional rep can do a lot more damage than any wingnut. Obama needs every Dem vote to get anything out of the House. So Baldwin let Stupak with 7 votes trim public funding for choice. That tells me that Baldwin and 8 progressives could have blocked STUPAK and gotten a “public option,” put into Obamacare.

    Where has Pocan been on Obama “chaining the CPI?”

    1. David Dayen has a great term, “pity liberalism.” GOP has done an outstanding job of painting Dems as the party of the losers. You want success? Vote Republican.

      All Dems do is fight for hand-outs for the poor. GOP wants lower taxes for workers and business.

      It’s a huge win for the GOP every time a Dem argues that we should NOT lower taxes.

      Dems should be leading the way for LOWERING taxes on the 99% and RAISING them on the oligarchs and their anti-capitalist oligopolies.

      Federal Revenue 1950 – 2010

  2. “Why is the 2nd Amendment essential for a free and open Society?”

    It’s increasingly not “free and open” for poor, pregnant women. You want the “nanny-state” to take away their guns, but that same big intrusive government cannot protect little babies?

    IMHO, it’s a lot easier to defend “choice,” if you accept what imho is a very well constructed Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    “Well regulated” is plenty broad enough to allow universal gun checks.

    How much damage are you willing to do to “choice,” in order to get rid of the Second?

  3. John Casper,

    Never fear. In my book, respecting and disagreeing are perfectly compatible positions with regard to opinion. Although, never let it be said that my book might condone the respecting of unfounded, ungrounded, or ill-reasoned opinion. Quite the contrary, the latter should be scorned, ridiculed, and reviled. 🙂

    Part I
    First, about this “nanny-state” nonsense…. If I were pushed and shoved to choose my preferred “nanny-state” I’d be awfully tempted to go with either of two “Julia Andrews-Model Nanny States” – either the “Mary Poppins Nanny State” or the “Maria Von Trapp Nanny State.” That’s a toughy… so much merit to both…. and each make for such creative, liberating, free-spirited possibilities. I certainly wouldn’t go with the “Peter Pan Nanny Dog-Nanny State” for fear of all that “flying out of the window” business. In the end, I’d go with the Thomas Jefferson Nanny State. Yes, Virginia, there is a Thomas Jefferson Nanny State.

    Finding it takes some gleaning; let’s begin with his friend Pierre du Pont de Nemours (We can thank this French fellow, by the way, for fathering the founder of DuPont Chemical Company, but we can also thank du Pont himself for conceiving the Louisiana Purchase).

    Here, Jefferson compares and contrasts America with Du Pont’s Equinoctial Republics:

    “I acknowledge myself strong in affection to our own form, yet both of us act and think from the same motive, we both consider the people as our children, and love them with parental affection. But you love them as infants whom you are afraid to trust without nurses; and I as adults whom I freely leave to self-government.”

    Here is the catch – sorting out what, very precisely, Jefferson means by “[trusting] as adults whom I freely leave to self-government.” Would he entrust self-government to beloved infants? And just how trusting was he? Answers: 1). Depends – early on, no, later in life, maybe. 2). (a qualified) not very. To continue, from the same correspondence:

    “We of the United States, you know, are constitutionally and conscientiously democrats. We consider society as one of the natural wants with which man has been created; that he has been endowed with faculties and qualities to effect its satisfaction by concurrence of others having the same want; that when, by the exercise of these faculties, he has procured a state of society, it is one of his acquisitions which he has a right to regulate and control, jointly indeed with all those who have concurred in the procurement, whom he cannot exclude from its use or direction more than they him. We think experience has proved it safer, for the mass of individuals composing the society, to reserve to themselves personally the exercise of all rightful powers to which they are competent, and to delegate those to which they are not competent to deputies named, and removable for unfaithful conduct, by themselves immediately. Hence, with us, the people (by which is meant the mass of individuals composing the society) being competent to judge of the facts occurring in ordinary life, they have retained the functions of judges of facts, under the name of jurors; but being unqualified for the management of affairs requiring intelligence above the common level, yet competent judges of human character, they chose, for their management, representatives, some by themselves immediately, others by electors chosen by themselves.”

    Above all, first and foremost, Jefferson considered an uneducated, unenlightened populace the death knell for any democratic republic including our own. The masses, if uncultivated and/or deluded by a licentious press, would be incapable of electing enlightened representatives. I agree. Our contemporary circumstances bear this out in glaring, garish horror. For reasons previously stated, Jefferson advocated for universal, publicly funded K-College education with a specified curriculum grounded in science, the humanities, and the classics. I agree again. And let’s be clear. These were hardly novel ideas among the key Framers of the Constitution. Universal education was not unique to the Framers, the idea featured prominently among their rivals. Most notably, the evangelical upswell moving North to South also advocated a program of universal religious education. But, this form of universal education Jefferson did not endorse, and definitely not for the purposes of sustaining a democratic republic.

    If there is any question as to how nannified Jefferson’s ideas could get, consider this bit of nannification (again, addressed to du Pont):

    “In the constitution of Spain, as proposed by the late Cortes, there was a principle entirely new to me, and not noticed in yours, that no person, born after that day, should ever acquire the rights of citizenship until he could read and write. It is impossible to sufficiently estimate the wisdom of this provision. Of all those which have been thought of for the securing fidelity in the administration of the government, constant ralliance* to the principles of the constitution, and progressive amendments with the progressive advancements of the human mind, or to the changes of human affairs, it is the most effectual. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

    *I’m following an admittedly poor transcription, I’d have to see the original, but I’m fairly certain Jefferson probably intended to convey ralliance from “rallier” as in ‘to join, rally, ally” possibly one of the senses of “relance” from the French “relancer” – to rely, remind, fall back upon… but this is guesswork on my part. Again, without seeing the original, hard to say. Both make equal sense, I suppose. The latter might be more elegant. Frankly, it’s possible I’ve made a few transcription errors myself – hopefully not… I am kind of rushing it though, I’ll admit.

    Also, with his remark, “Enlighten the people generally…” he means enlightening the general and broadest mass of people with a sophisticated level of education.

    But wait, not done yet. All this may seem ever so patrician and aristocratic of Jefferson. Not quite so. The nitty gritty of government, for Jefferson (and most of the Framers), was pragmatically Roman – as in purposively cultivating skill and wisdom by/and applying skill and wisdom to the administration of government. In short, what Jefferson continually and in myriad ways describes is not the perpetuation of the patrician class, but of the Roman bureaucracy – where patrician favor didn’t hurt, surely, but was institutionally unnecessary – for the wise and skilled.

    So, before we go on nanny-stating, let’s be clear about what a democratic-republic nanny-state was intended to be. I, for one, heartily embrace the nanny state and emphatically endorse its advancement.

    More later.

    1. PJ, you’re a treasure.

      Pledging $50 to Blogging Blue because site deserves it and for recruiting in you such a fine thinker/writer. Unfortunately, Zach can’t cash it just yet. Might take a few months.

  4. John, I’m underserving of your kindness, and I thank you.

    Sorry, I have to go in installments here, a quick follow through, probably too quick…
    On with nanny-stating etc: I wouldn’t change a word of my post if running it past steam fitters and mining families. Ultimately, the 2nd Amendment perversion reverts to the gun manufacturing industry, diseased tort law, oligarchy, and a dictatorial, privileged economy which doesn’t function for most people. I would ask the same questions I ask here. And I would listen. If there were arguments put forth I find compelling, I would rethink, and perhaps alter my course. How much damage would I do to “choice?” A helluva lot. I’m willing to entirely reset the choice debate with respect to the 2nd Amendment and every issue I just mentioned. Refocusing on what choice really means, I think, is critical to dismantling the oligarchical hold. I’m also willing to completely reverse my position if I encounter persuasive reasoning. Until then, Yes, I want the nanny-state to take away guns. I remain unconvinced that our society of individuals are competent enough to wield them. Perhaps, as Jefferson urged, with a fully enlightened society of individuals, the patterns we see now would shift. I tend to think they would, but until then, I favor gun-free. I urge every elected representative to take gun control very seriously by not falling for political expediency (i.e. universal background checks alone), but by taking on a range of issues surrounding the gun debate. I’ve posted a number of articles outlining this wide field of discourse. Yes. A gun-free republic. Absolutely. And I’ll defend that position at every turn. I’d much prefer an enlightened populace that rejects the fraudulent, right-wing extremist, industry-inspired 2nd Amendment construction currently in vogue. Individual gun ownership is not a Constitutionally protected right. But, as long as we treat it as such, it ( and the weapons and ammunition industries) are subject to restriction and regulation.

    My concern isn’t votes for the Democratic Party and it won’t be until the Democratic Party refashions itself Progressively. I’d agree with you fully – a supersafe Dem can do more damage than any wingnut. Precisely why I can’t support the Democratic Establishment until it abandons the DLC and the “Blue Dog Group.” I gave up the fictional maxim, “lesser of two evils” long ago.

    II. States’ “rights”
    I’m still thinking through your assertion regarding Joshua Glover. A good initial point, yet at the moment, I think, conclusively at least, it has some holes. Only in that how slavery survived the Constitutional process and how it wrenched its way through the Antebellum period are two related, but far from identical phenomena. The latter not in the least bit Constitutionally sound nor “federalized.” If I’m not mistaken, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court argued for the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions as their defense of the abolitionists who freed Joshua Glover. In which case, I’d have to say they were woefully, woefully mistaken. During the nullification crisis, when the nascent nullifiers justified their argument with the K&V Resolutions, James Madison (still alive, though quite old, crippled, but still well within his wits) launched a number of vociferous retorts denouncing their usage as perverted subversions of his and Jefferson’s intent. In no way could the V&K Resolutions be construed to justify nullification, secession or “states’ rights. His push-backs were extraordinarily lengthy and technical, but this niblet from 1834 does some justice to the character of his position:

    “But it follows, from no view on the subject, that a nullification of a law of the U.S. as is now contended, belong rightfully to a single state, as one of the parties to the Constitution; the State not ceasing to avow its adherence to the Constitution. A plainer contradiction in terms, or a more fatal inlet to anarchy, cannot be imagined.”

    Keep in mind, too, that the “federal” Butler-Pinkney clause was never agreed upon in 1787; its inclusion was among the earliest instances of corrupt and belligerent subversion of the government before the government even got going. How it occurred remains a mystery. The subsequent revision in 1850, therefore never, in the strictest sense, possessed legitimate standing despite its enactment. If we’re talking the Compromise of 1850, we’d need to discuss the Compromise of 1820, the nullification crisis, the NW Ordinance, and ultimately the Articles of Confederation and the “lost decade” between Articles and Constitution, in addition to a suite of other state and federal measures. Please take no offense, but I’m not sure I’m up to it. Perhaps I’ll try some shortcuts that might segue easily into your overall concerns. I fear I won’t be doing the events justice, but here goes: Abolition of slavery for all new states entering into the Union was the overriding federal intent. So if federalization is at issue, what should be at issue is misguided compromise, obstructionism, and subversion of federal statutes.

    As to tyranny or overriding oppression, it was the states that were regarded as tyrannical bodies by the enlightened Framers because the states WERE the corrupt and tyrannical bodies under the Articles of Confederation and the primary reason for abandoning it. The states remained the seats of tyranny, then and now. Even as late as 1811, Jefferson observed: “But the true barriers of our liberty in this country are our state governments…”

    Even so, Jefferson also objected to disunion on nullification grounds and made his objection clear just when the seeds of nullification began to sprout. While he normally stood staunchly in defense of Union, really one might conclude NOTHING could be more hateful – he made one VERY interesting exception, and that exception speaks in favor of your oligarchical concerns. That being licentious commerce, in other words, the financialization and capitalization of the economy. He put forth his opinion on the matter, in no uncertain terms, to William Crawford in 1816:

    “The exercise, by our own citizens, of so much commerce as may suffice to exchange our superfluities for our wants, may be advantageous for the whole. But it does not follow, that with a territory so boundless, it is the interest of the whole to become a mere city of London, to carry on the business of one half the world at the expense of eternal war with the other half. the agricultural capacities of our country constitute its distinguishing feature; and the adapting our policy and pursuits to that, is more likely to make us a numerous and happy people, than the mimicry of an Amsterdam, a Hamburgh, or a city of London. Every society has a right to fix the fundamental principles of its association, and to say all individuals, that, if they contemplate pursuits beyond the limits of these principles, and involving dangers which the society chooses to avoid, they must go somewhere else for their exercise; that we want no citizens, and still less ephemeral and pseudo-citizens, on such terms. We may exclude them from our territory, as we do persons infected with disease. Such is the situation of our country. We have most abundant resources of happiness within ourselves, which we may enjoy in peace and safety, without permitting a few citizens, infected with the mania of rambling and gambling, to bring danger on the great mass engaged in innocent and safe pursuits at home. In your letter to Fisk, you have fairly stated the alternatives between which we are to choose: 1, licentious commerce and gambling speculations for a few, with eternal war for the many. 2, restricted commerce, peace, and steady occupations for all. If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative, to continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.’ I would rather the States should withdraw, which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture. I know that every nation in Europe would join in sincere amity with the latter, and hold the former at arm’s length, by jealousies, prohibitions, restrictions, vexations and war. No earthly consideration could induce my consent to contract such a debt as England has by her wars, her commerce, to reduce our citizens by taxes to such wretchedness, as that laboring sixteen of the twenty-four hours, they are still unable to afford themselves bread, or barely to earn as much oatmeal or potatoes as will keep soul and body together. And all this to feed the avidity of a few millionary merchants…”


    More later.

  5. John,

    I don’t know about that Naked Capitalist link. I didn’t read through all the embedded links, but the few that I did leave me in much dismay. The Winters article is mostly okay I suppose, but the Garfinkle article embedded within it is so deeply flawed I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Its only worthy portions are the two concluding segments.

    Masaccio’s article “The Roots of US Oligarchy are Deep” detailing the “oligarchical apologist” clauses contains a number of conceptual errors that just don’t accord with the Constitutional process. Blunting the authority of the individual states + curbing individual avarice and ambition + establishing the rule of law + preventing a narrowed authority in some respect (Individual King vs. Co-equal branches) + widening authority in others (republicanism and democracy) all represent goals the Constitution intended to address. In the end, the Constitution is a hodge-podge of compromises made for a slew of reasons predicated on a slew of contradictory assumptions, but it was “the best they could do” so to speak during a period of intense crisis.

    I won’t go through each of his points in depth, but here’s a smattering of concerns:

    Of Article 1 Section 10 Mosaccio conlcudes: “This clause was intended to keep states from using their powers to relieve their citizens from oppressive terms of contracts.” To some extent this is true in the sense that the Article intended to prevent state governments from interfering in the affairs of individuals, and in the sense that the Article primarily intended to kneecap the state legislatures and intended to prevent them from regulating economic affairs. I don’t think the position of intent that Mosaccio argues is quite right. The debtor-contract situation may be a consequence (and a grave concern – raised by the Anti-Federalists), but I don’t think it would be proper to say that was the intent. The contracts clause, I think, had more to do with bolstering the prohibition on ex post facto – a double whammy against retrograde encroachment by the states. The debtor issue itself is pretty complex as well given the various states of property and debt between individuals who were “English” and those who were “American” after the war. Very confusing. Also, Article I Section 10 prohibits the states from granting any titles of nobility which works against Masaccio’s argument. But really, I think most of all, the clause intended to ensure individual rights guaranteed by the federal government freed from the whimsy and corruption of the states. Because above all whichever iteration of ‘states rights’ you choose, none constitute liberty or right to the individual, only to the arbitrary institution of the state.

    Madison defended the Article in Federalist Paper #44 with reference to Bills of Attainder, Ex Post Facto, and Contracts together conceived in this way:

    “Very properly, therefore, have the convention added this constitutional bulwark in favor of personal security and private rights; and I am much deceived if they have not, in so doing, as faithfully consulted the genuine sentiments as the undoubted interests of their constituents. The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed with the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influencing speculators, and snares to the more industrious and less informed part of the community.”


    “They very rightly infer, therefore, that some thorough reform is wanting, which will banish speculations on public measures, inspire a general prudence and industry, and give a regular course to the business of society.”

    Masaccio’s idea that Article 4 Section 4 “which guarantees that each state will have a republican form of government” should be construed as “That should enable the government to quash any serious effort to reign in the oligarchs,” is madness. It is through state governments that privileged kin networks, the old boy’s club, and licentious commerce operated. True. The idea was that a republican form would not only benefit the nation in terms of uniformity, but also in limiting this old world influence that dominated state governments. The general thought about Westward expansion was that it would be less encumbered by wealth inequality by virtue of perhaps a number of admittedly odd assumptions, some strangely enough Malthusian, but in general, naive to a large extent. At any rate, the overall intent was to severely delimit the perpetuation in new states the corruption occurring in the “old” or current states. I think Mosaccio has it backward. The NW Ordinance, for example, also banned primogeniture – a proactive measure intended to curb the development of de facto aristocracy, what we are now terming oligarchy. The primary question with oligarchy/aristocracy was wealth inequality (wealth accumulation) via hereditary means. Here’s an exchange between Adams and Taylor that sheds some light on the nature of the dispute (where doth the source of wealth inequality/aristocracy derive?):

    “in page 10, you say, ‘Mr. Adams has omitted a cause of aristocracy in the quotation, which he forgets not to urge in other places, namely, – exclusive wealth.’ This is your omission, sir, not mine. In page 109, vol i I expressly enumerated, ‘inequality of wealth” as one of the causes of aristocracy, and as having a natural and inevitable influence in society. I said nothing about ‘exclusive wealth.’ The word ‘exclusive,’ is an interpolation of your own. This you acknowledge to be, ‘by much the most formidable with which mankind have to contend;’ that is, as I understand you, superior wealth is the most formidable cause of aristocracy, or of superior influence in society. There may be some difficulty in determining the question, whether distinctions of birth, or distinctions of property, have the greatest influence in the world? Both have very great influence, much too great, when not restrained by something besides the passions or the consciences of the possessors. Were I required to give an answer to the question, my answer would be, with some diffidence, that in my opinion, taking into consideration history and experience, birth has had, and still has, most power and the greatest effects; because conspicuous birth is heredity; it is derived from ancestors, descends to posterity, and is inalienable. Titles and ribbons, and stars and garters, and crosses and legal establishments, are by no means essential or necessary to the preservation of it.”

    This exchange occurs post-Constitution, one of Adams’ responses to Taylor’s “An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United Sates,” which was a reply to Adams’ “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.” A vituperative set of exchanges erupted between the two. This bit, though, should give an idea of how undecided the Founding generation was in handling wealth inequality and the development of a ruling class. But not addressing the issue or addressing it specifically to favor oligarchy is just not an accurate description – as Masacchio suggests.

    #4 – “The Senate gives disproportionate votes to small states, including those that are easier for oligarchs to dominate.” I can’t fathom what this even means. The proportioning of votes to smaller states is such a huge issue it simply can’t be rationally explained in this way. First I don’t understand what “including those that are easier to dominate” means. I can get the gist of what he’s probably suggesting, but I’m unclear about his meaning. First, the smaller states (North and South) wouldn’t confederate without it period. Second, the Northern smaller states were threatening non-confederation under any new framework and secession from the current one absent some provision like this one. That’s really too simplified too. But really, it would have made sense had Masaccio mentioned the Senate itself as an oligarchical tool because it was devised to mirror (in most respects) the House of Lords. I believe it was Gouvernor Morris (honestly I’m not sure, but pretty sure that it was Gouvernor Morris) who proposed a Congressional house devoted entirely to the wealthy – reasoning that the wealthy might be given their own special interest so they would always be checked by the others (balance of power). In that way, the wealthiest interest in the new nation would never be able to subsume every other interest. In retrospect he may have been right.

    As to the Constitution and slavery – first, slavery was never institutionalized federally in the Constitution. It was really only narrowly allowed and only due to extreme intransigence. It wasn’t federalized precisely so states could adopt it at will or reject it. But it wasn’t a federally sanctioned principle. Slavery was fundamentally important to the Southern economy, but the Triangle Trade sailed north too. Rum running, slave trading, and a number of other commercial ventures that supported slavery were not confined to the south. Masaccio is so so so so so wrong about the 3/5 Compromise. It did not count slaves as 3/5 of a person, and it was a revived pre-Constitutional concept that disfavored the South when it was introduced. And it was devised as a necessary Compromise by Wilson and Sherman at a time when the states were filching on their payments to the Confederation. Wilson didn’t favor it, it was a Compromise made during another desperate period of crisis. Yes, it did impact representation and elections in a way that favored the south. True. That was a happy benefit, but not so much an intent.

    Anyway, MY intent was to address some more topics in your comments. I will get to them, you bring up some good points. Not trying to avoid them – I’m sorry I just can’t let these conceptual discrepancies slide without speaking to it just a little. In the main, the idea that oligarchy can exist within democracy is true enough I suppose, if you’re trying to draw attention to the fact we have an oligarchical system. I don’t hold oligarchy and democracy as compatible. Democracy can’t function for the masses they way it should with a ruling class that distorts the legal code. Likewise, Republicanism as political economy isn’t necessarily compatible with the 3 interests of the hyper-wealthy that Masaccio identifies.

    Now, there is something to be said about the oligarchs playing on the same team. But I can’t concur with the idea that sole focus should be given to oligarchy. It should be a primary focus, yes, but with a competing cohesive agenda. Suggesting that focusing on social or non-financial issues somehow diminishes the goal of eliminating wealth inequality doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The oligarchs aren’t doing that. That’s one reason they’re winning. The Koch-octapus is a prime example. Inordinate interest in education institutions by the Waltons, the Gates, the Eli Broads etc. ALEC’s diverse and corporate interests – all oligarchical.

    I should think if we’re seriously battlling a multitudinous strategy like the “Koch-octapus” (and I think we are), I would say the only way to defeat a Koch-octapus is with a hydra. In other words something more monstrous, unrelenting, and indestructible. That means confronting that koch-tentacle with a hydra head wherever that tentacle may emerge. Only doing one thing at a time – that’s how we lose. Honestly, there’s no shortage of knowledge on what and where these problems manifest. It’s not a matter of coordinated resistance in one area, but all areas. We need a Progressive juggernaut. We need a party of teal – something like the Greens agenda grafted onto the something like the DNC infrastructure.

    More Later. I do want to get back to you about the free and open society.

  6. John,

    On this pity liberalism thing – I’m not familiar with Dayen’s thesis. But given the direction I think you might be pointing – In my view Dems lose the rhetorical battle because their agenda is NeoLib for one. As fusty, outmoded, and inconsistent as Conservative-Libertarian fantasy economics. Given the vast and outstanding work emerging from new economic perspectives (worldwide), Dems have zero excuses for not entering the real, empirical 21st century that is staring them right in the face. Equally important, Dems have zero excuses for not remembering and learning from the empirical 20th century. Dems lose the rhetorical field for lack of a cohesive, Progressive agenda. As critical, Dems don’t proactively combat any aspect of the subversive propaganda machine disseminated by Republican morlocks. End of story.

    As to taxes, Dems are equally responsible for fostering the idea that lower taxes are prudent or desirable. Taxes, as I often say, are the lifeblood of the republic. To revile them is UnAmerican. Period. Taxation isn’t killing individual American prosperity, it is the cost of everything else. It’s the inescapable expense of every other aspect of our lives. Utilities, television, phones of all stripes, computers of all colors, food, gas and transportation, clothing, k-12 education, higher education, insurance of every variety, health care, retirement, shelter (rent or mortgage take your pick), and on and on and on and on. Haven’t even factored in arts, entertainment, and culture – those superfluous components that make us human… Dems shouldn’t be discussing lower taxes, they should be discussing how to lower (and in some instances eliminate) the costs of everything else. Likewise, Dems should be devising a full employment agenda and confronting the extortionist private sector in the process. Big government isn’t the source of this nation’s woes. The American individual suffers at the mercy of big business – an ever encroaching, incessantly creeping, incrementally invasive private sector.

    If Dems really want to challenge the GOP and the Tea Party traitors on taxes – tell ‘em to adopt the progressive taxation schemes proposed by the Founding Fathers – taxing speculative transactions (ie wall street) or taxing ONLY the rich and not anyone else or setting a limit on individually accumulated wealth, taxing the remainder and adding that surplus to the public kitty – and spending those revenues on public infrastructure and the public commons.

    More Later. I really am going to address the subject of a free and open society.

  7. John,

    First, I didn’t claim we do have a free and open society. We don’t.

    Another article on SuperBowl trafficking:

    I scanned a few other reports on Super Bowl trafficking. I’m not shocked by it in the least given the prevalence of global crime syndicates. None of the articles I found bothered to discuss the NFL’s role in the matter nor bothered to mention how trafficking operations at the Super Bowl probably aren’t isolated, possibly connected to funding other crime schemes – probably global, and possibly only a few schemes or syndicates away from some form of terrorist network – domestic or foreign. Yeah, did you catch the number of extra reinforcements the Texas Attorney General coughed up in addition to FBI and NGOs? 2 dozen. Uh, yeah, that’s a well-reasoned response….I’m bound to go on about that for longer than necessary, so I’ll leave it there.

    I agree with your assessment that we don’t have a free and open society for the reasons you have listed. Still, the questions remains: how does citizen gun ownership limit human trafficking and unorganized street crime? It doesn’t.

    TIP (Trade in Persons) i.e. human trafficking occurs due to frameworks of privation (extreme poverty, wealth inequality), profit-motive, globalization, and deregulation. Also low social mobility, civil disorder, and political instability or uncertainty. An open and free society cannot exist under these conditions either – they are interrelated. Disconnecting Super Bowl trafficking from the bigger picture of complex crime globally doesn’t make any sense. It is precisely due to privation, profit-motive, globalization, and deregulation etc. that we do not have a free and open society.

    Other causal factors include culture and civil liberties, and these, of course, are linked socially and politically.

    In my view, a free and open society implies very high degrees of social mobility. This country doesn’t have any fluidity at all and for myriad reasons. Not least among them devotion to aggressive competition, heredity, inadequate mass education, discrimination, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, racism. social disarray, cultural regression, rising poverty, wage stagnation and depression, low degrees of flexibility and decision-making in the workplace…

    Open and free implies very high proportions of leisure – personal free time not devoted to “working” “earning” – time to engage in individual interests and pursuits, in other words freedom from subsistence existence, a concept now foreign to too many Americans; freedom from peonage, subservience and bondage, homelessness…

    Open and free implies freedom from harassment, crime, exploitation, and victimization of every extreme; freedom from inadequate law enforcement, inadequate crime prevention, inadequate first response; freedom from mass advertising and mass consumerism including social manipulation and inundation by mass marketing…

    Open and free implies freedom from demonstrably unhealthy conditions, environments, and products…. Not an exhaustive description of open and free, but there it is.

    Altogether, the 2013 Memorial Day massacre couldn’t be more illustrative of a society that is not open and free. I’d offer a juxtaposition – the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre – committed in one city with two Thompson submachine guns. Seven deaths. 4 perpetrators. The massacre sparked public outrage and immediately prompted legislators to ban machine guns for private use. The effort took a few more years due to resistance, much of which took the same form as we see today.

    The final analysis boils down to this: When our society of individuals is incompetent to possess and use firearms, free and open society is impossible to achieve. I reiterate what I wrote earlier – the Memorial Day Massacre is a glimpse at the sickening reality of the base incivility which envelops this nation. The number of gun deaths since Newtown has now surpassed the total number of American deaths in Iraq – nine years of war in Iraq.

    Our society of individuals is perfectly within its rights to decide for itself whether it chooses to tolerate any more single-day or long-term massacres, and during that process it should and must consider the purpose and utility of the 2nd Amendment – its necessity and what precisely the 2nd Amendment does for the betterment of America.

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