Monday, August 30, 2010

Individual Rights & 'Right Things To Do' Aren't The Same.

As a nation, we are historically big on individual 'rights' because our Constitution specifies their importance.
In fact, the first ten Amendments are actually called the 'Bill of Rights'.
Of course, each subsequent, duly adopted Amendment either impacts and/or modifies our 'rights' as well.

Our Founders excelled at identifying and broadly describing those basic principles that we value most.
But, sometimes the devil is in the details, which means specific, fair and consistent interpretations must be made -and vetted- from time to time by appropriate Federal officials, whether Judicial, Legislative or Executive.

Sometimes, these 'rights' may seem to conflict with each other, which requires other legal judgements be made.
Too, there are bound to be differences of opinion, some of which never seem to be completely settled to everyone's satisfaction.
That is the nature of what we term unalienable 'rights', even though much good faith effort has gone into their adoption over time.

What we do when disputes and disagreements arise is usually handled through our system of laws, which may also be susceptible to change and interpretation.
However, the one principle that is essential is to have the rule of law, as determined by a representative democratic process.
Without that, we are toast as the nation we profess and aspire to be.

So far, we can count on at least two levels of interpretation that are inherently built into our basic government system.
If these are conscientiously adhered to, or enforced as necessary, our system can work pretty well, despite the complications of timely decisions and increasing complexity.
The key is voluntary understanding, trust and compliance by citizens, which is difficult to obtain and easy to lose.

Then, there is a third level of interpretation for which every citizen has the responsibility; the choice and inclination to 'do the right thing'.
Now, that's a pretty nebulous concept, isn't it? And, essentially unenforcible, too.
Not a big surprise for the standard of freedom our Constitution sets, either.

Moral values and codes of conduct are matters of individual choice and judgement, as long as they comply with our laws.
That can be both a blessing and a curse, as we can readily observe every day in countless ways.
Motives for actions that are mean-spirited, dishonest or self-serving may not be strictly illegal, but they certainly do not support the lofty principles our Constitution promises.

Too often, we seem to allow this variable third level of interpretation to color our appreciation for the first two essential levels.
The 'media', as we now experience it, is certainly complicit in spreading -at light speed- opinions that are often questionable at best.
And, we know the media is in a constant, frenzied competition for 'market share' or ratings.

It's pretty well known that passions are more easily aroused and influenced than the intellect, which likely is attributable to our earliest survival instincts.
That is why a large part of the 'media' frequently uses emotional issues and techniques to attract its audience.
Have you noticed?

I'm really glad every citizen -including me- has the right to determine what issues are important and what to do about them.
But, sometimes, our knee-jerk reactions are definitely not the product of fair-minded, rational thought.
Here are a few examples for readers to consider from their own perspectives:

The proposed development near the WTC in New York

Does an owner -any owner- have the right to finance and develop private property?

Does the impacted neighborhood, city, state or nation have the right to object to an owner developing its property, to the extent this is not the right thing to do?

Glenn Beck's Rally in Washington, DC

Did Beck have the rightto do this?

Was this the right thing to do?

Sarah Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska

Did she have the right to do it?

Was this the right thing to do?

The myriad politically motivated organizations, campaigns, clever slogans, books, articles, statements and blogs that are meant to disseminate misinformation, half-truths, smears and outright lies

Do people have the right to create, finance and perpetuate such things?

Are these the right things to do?

Each of the three levels of interpretation identified here can add a layer of mature certainty, but if we are not careful they can also add confusion and unhelpful division.
I sincerely hope our Constitutional principles endure and serve to enhance America, and that we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
But that outcome is not certain, particularly if we do not honestly and consistently demand the best choices and decisions for ourselves and our nation as a whole.

Freedom and individual rights are not free and never have been.
If we truly treasure these concepts we must practice them ourselves.
An environment that nurtures civil rights requires constant renewal if it is to be sustained.