Notes on the Misappropriation of Patriotism

Jan 17

Notes on the Misappropriation of Patriotism

Posted by: George Grundy

A warm January afternoon on the Southern coast of Western Australia is truly to be within nature’s bosom. Life is good.

Perhaps even better than yesterday, with the news that the US Supreme Court has overnight agreed to hear a motion debating the role of same sex marriage in relation to the US Constitution. I believe the hearing is set down for late June, and that Justice Kennedy is widely expected to rule in the affirmative. This means, almost unbelievably, that by the wedding season in the year of our lord 2015, the United States is more likely than not going to adopt the position that same sex marriage is legal, and constitutionally protected, across the whole country. This massive social change has taken much less than a generation, and is evidence – to me at least – that progressive viewpoints can take hold very quickly, when they are understood and experienced. Either way, it’s incredibly good news, both for the people involved and for all of us who wish for tolerance and inclusive societies, free from stupid prejudice and laws written in ignorance.

Even moreso, watch as this reform sweeps the Western world. If it’s OK for them, we will say, it’s OK for us. First Northern Europe will go, then Britain, then perhaps even Catholic and conservative Italy. I don’t think Mr Abbot is likely to change, but who knows, stranger things have happened.

So – quietly – rejoice, rejoice.

But wait, yonder looms a dark cloud. At the very same time, the campaign grows from the so called ‘gun lobby’, for broader acceptance of ‘open carry’ laws, meaning ones that allow you to openly wear a pistol on your hip when you walk down the street, at church, at school even. This utter insanity proves that there really are two Americas.

Some issues are complicated. Some just pretend to be. Like the situation with Israel and Palestine, this argument can be won with a level of morality familiar to a child. The reason Americans don’t look at the world as we do is not that they’re that different to us, it’s that the arguments are framed in such a different way within US society, and there is so much money involved, that people remain fearful, misinformed, and adherent to the prevailing message.

So, I propose three simple questions to end the US gun debate for once, and for all. I just saw a recent clip where armed civilians stormed into a politicians office in Texas to demand he change the local laws to allow open carry – the men armed with loaded weapons on their hips, of course, just to make their point. I wish the politician had been able to (get them to put their guns down, and) ask them the following…

– Whilst the US Constitution is one of the great documents of modern history, drafted wisely, by wise men, it was also written 230 years ago, so can you accept that whilst it can remain the backbone of America’s polity, it is necessary to at least interpret it’s Articles, to take note of the world which we now live in, which you probably have to admit is somewhat different to the picture in 1787. When, for example, America decided to change the space programme from rockets to the Space Shuttle, the Constitution was mostly not required, as Thomas Jefferson had little need for governance over space travel. The internet was also not mentioned very much, back then. So whilst the Constitution is important, it is also important that America writes laws today, to deal with today’s issues. Otherwise it’s like basing your life on the questionable teachings of a 2,000 year-old Palestinian who….oh, sorry, now I see what I’ve done there. The Constitution is important, but does not have all the answers for how America lives on, 230 years after it was signed.

– We acknowledge your adherence to the Second Amendment, and it’s unfortunately rather flowery language in relation to bearing ‘arms’, which at the time meant muskets of course. Do you accept that even if you’re right, and the Constitution allows you the right to have a gun, there are still some limits on that sacred right of yours to bear these arms. For instance, you may believe that it’s OK to own or wear a pistol, or a hunting rifle, but presumably even the most dribbling NRA member wouldn’t want someone to be allowed to walk down Wall Street wearing 100 grenades on his jacket, or carrying a rocket propelled grenade launcher, or a ground to air missile near an airport. Clearly, that’s ridiculous, so can you at least acknowledge that the ‘right to bear arms’ is not literally, totally, the right for any US citizen to walk around with any kind of weapon he or she so chooses.

– If you accept my general points 1 and 2, and you must, if your brain is more evolved than the ape-men of the Indus, then my last question is who do you think should be the arbiter of where the restriction on the right to bear arms lies. Surely – surely – you don’t think that it should be up to each individual, as that basically negates the second point – if you don’t want someone on Sunset Boulevard with a white phosporus gun, but think the Second Amendment should be up to each person then, well, the two parts of your position don’t hold together, do they. So we’re agreed – the interpretation of the Second Amendment should be handled by the duly elected representatives of the people, serving – as they do – the wider held views of the community. Should the community not like the decisions of their representatives whilst in power, they are able to vote them out, every four years. A perfect system of checks and balances.

You and I know that anyone who can do their shoelaces up has to agree with all three points. So why are so many Americans unable to at least chart their way through these simple bits of logic. The answer of course, as with so much in US society, is money. The domestic arms industry in America is worth at least $6 billion per year – probably more than $10 billion – it’s hard to get an accurate estimate. The NRA is one of the most powerful and well-connected lobbyists in Washington. They have politicians in their pockets, so nothing ever gets done, and even events as ghastly as Sandy Hook elicit no meaningful response. When England had Dunblane, and Australia Port Arthur, laws quickly changed. In America, no shooting atrocity or sober assessment of numbers can make them see what we see as simple common sense.

Social change can come. Later this year every US citizen will be able to choose to marry someone they love, regardless of sex. No institution is so powerful that people cannot rent it asunder. Change can happen, and it can happen quickly.

My fingers are crossed. g