Posted tagged ‘Civil Rights’

Guns Are The Enemy Of Liberty

December 17, 2012

I’m going to be posting a number of shorter (for me) posts on this over the next day or so; I take on board the injunction that general expressions of sorrow and disgust have their place — but are no substitute for specifics.

I’ll have some thoughts about actual measures to be advanced (more invitations to the community to continue to think together).  But here I’d like to start off making an obvious point:

An armed society may be a polite one.  But it’s not one that is free. It is not one in which a civic life in any meaningful sense of the term can take place.

Guns kill liberty.

Édouard_Manet_-_Pertuiset,_le_chasseur_de_lions

That’s what philosopher Firman Debrander argued in this morning’s New York Times, and he is in my ever-humble opinion spot on.  It’s worth the time to read the whole thing, but here’s the core of his case:

…guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

Exactly so.

Obviously so.

“Smile when you say that, mister,” is great fun from the back row of the movie theater; much less so at arms length, bellied up to the bar.

Gun nuts, the NRA’s official core and all their acolytes and enablers are the enemies of American freedom, of the liberty you and I and everyone should take as our right.  That would be the liberty to walk where we choose, wearing what we want (an “I Reserve The Right To Arm Bears” t-shirt included), to assemble peaceably in protest or at the doors of our kids’ schools every weekday morning.  As Debrander discusses, the openly armed asshole at one of the town meetings during the summer of Obamacare, did not shoot anyone — but no one challenged him; his views echoed in the silence; actual debate was suffocated because no one wanted to piss off a guy who could kill you.  If you can’t have such civil debate, if you can’t even comfortably, free of fear, assemble for politics, or shopping, or a night at the movies, or in kindergarten, you don’t have a democracy in any real sense of the term.  And in that context, tyranny wins.  Debrander again:

After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be….

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that.

One last thought:  What does such philosophical high mindedness (Foucalt, forsooth!)  have to do with actual change in the way America understands and regulated guns?

Obviously, words don’t stop bullets.  We do need a new, powerful legal framework in which the nitty-gritty of guns and American life are reshaped.  There’s all the stuff we have and will talk about, from regulating the registration of firearms and the licensing of their owners, to restrictions on types of weapons, to insurance and its role in internalizing the social costs of civilian gun ownership and so on.  Others here have already started those lines of thought, and I promise I’ll do so as well.

But one of the biggest challenges we face is that over the last two decades or so, the NRA and its gun nut allies have captured much of the language of liberty as it applies to guns.  Framing regulation of guns as an infringement of gun rights has seen a drop in support for gun regulation from close to 80% to below 45% in Gallup’s polling of the question.  The ability to assert the “guns everywhere” position as a test of freedom has given the NRA and its running dogs* a huge rhetorical advantage.  We need to take it back.  Arguments like the one Debrander makes can help us do so.  We can amplify that one voice with our own…as in this small way, I hope to do here.

*you can take the China hand out of the business, but you can’t take the China out of the hand.

Image: Édouard Manet, Mister Pertuiset, The Lion Hunter, 1881

Get Me To The Church On Time

October 18, 2012

Good news out of the 2nd circuit. A second appeals court rules on DOMA:

We conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional. Judge STRAUB dissents in part and concurs in part in a separate opinion.

I know that Dinesh D’Souza is a boil on the ass end of a louse infesting Eric Cantor’s sheets, but still, the juxtaposition of his story with this gives me a chuckle.  And when you read the opinion, It Gets Better:  Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge for the circuit and a George H. W. Bush appointee, writing for the majority, handed the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (aka BLAG)* its collective head:

BLAG argues that, unlike protected classes, homosexuals have not “suffered discrimination for longer than history has been recorded.” But whether such discrimination existed in Babylon is neither here nor there. BLAG concedes that homosexuals have endured discrimination in this country since at least the 1920s. Ninety years of discrimination is entirely sufficient to document a “history of discrimination.”

More:

The question is not whether homosexuals have achieved political successes over the years; they clearly have. The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination…

David Lat, writing at Above the Law, pours an extra pinch of salt in BLAG’s wounds:

It would appear that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is defending DOMA, has now lost at least six cases in a row — and spent about $1.5 million doing so.

Your taxpayer dollars at work.

One last thought:  Lat points to commentary by Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed (where you can find the full text of the opinion) who notes what seem to me to be a couple of very important elements to the court’s ruling. For one, as Jacobs wrote:

Because DOMA is an unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage as the only inconsistency (among many) in state law that requires a federal rule to achieve uniformity, the rationale premised on uniformity is not an exceedingly persuasive justification for DOMA.

And for another, perhaps yet more significant determination, Geidner writes:

Beyond striking down the law itself, the most significant development in today’s ruling is that the Second Circuit held that laws that classify people based on sexual orientation, like DOMA, should be subjected to a heightened form of scrutiny when courts examine the government’s claimed reasons for such laws. The holding that “intermediate scrutiny” applies makes the Second Circuit the first federal appeals court to do so. The First Circuit did not apply heightened scrutiny in its earlier decision striking down DOMA.

The Second Circuit, however, held:

“In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I’ll leave it to those members of the commentariat that are to weigh in on the significance of those aspects of the ruling.  But naively, it seems like a big deal to me.

All of which to say:  good times.

And to celebrate such, how about a couple of tunes?  The first, sent to me by a member of the BJ community, is a  sweet (perhaps too much so for some of you jackals) love song, purposed now to support same-sex marriage rights in the various referenda up for grabs around the country:

And the second? Well, consider it an antidote to any excess of sentiment above:

*BLAG is, of course, hardly bipartisan.  With three GOP members to two Dems, it is the vehicle for the House leadership to bother themselves with what American citizens do in their private lives.  It took up this case after the Obama administration decided it could not defend DOMA’s constitutionality.

Image:  Augustus Leopold Egg, The Travelling Companions, 1862.

Every Day in Every Way We Are Getting Better and Better

August 14, 2012

Remember the Gaypocalypse that swept away US military capability once the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell allowed the pink hordes to overrun our defenses?

Me either.

Hence, this fine news (via GOS):

Army reserve officer Tammy Smith calls her recent promotion to brigadier general exciting and humbling, saying it gives her a chance to be a leader in advancing Army values and excellence.

What she glosses over is that along with the promotion she is also publicly acknowledging her sexuality for the first time, making her the first general officer to come out as gay while still serving. It comes less than a year after the end of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

“All of those facts are irrelevant,” she said. “I don’t think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries.”

But Smith’s pinning ceremony on Friday marks an important milestone for gay rights advocates, giving the movement its most senior public military figure. She has already been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve, and spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan.

Congratulations to General Smith, and to the institution that has made this civil rights step pass so smoothly that this news is mostly an afterthought.

Also:

Stars and Stripes interviewed Smith last summer before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal was finalized. Speaking under a pseudonym, she said she had no plans to come out to her colleagues, but was looking forward to the relief of knowing that her career wouldn’t be threatened if she was found out.

“Finally my partner and I will be able to go out and have drinks together without worrying,” she said then.

Imagine! The nerve of those gay folks! Presuming to hope for a stress-free evening with one’s family. Clearly the reckoning must be upon us.

Image:  Jan Steen, Tavern Gardenc. 1660

“What Do You Think I Fought For At Omaha Beach”: No on 1 in Maine

October 20, 2009

Nothing to add to this.  The man says it all:

(h/t DougJ over at Balloon Juice.)

In which I Godwinize myself: Prop. Eight: Vote No…

November 1, 2008

Another unsought endorsement .

But even if it is or ought to be obvious where this blog and blogger stand on California’s Prop 8 and marriage equality (and civil rights universality in general), it bears witnessing in public.

Many others over much longer periods of time have made the case for marriage equality and for the defeat of the California initiative attempt to roll back that state’s recent championing of the, to-me obvious, recognition of the ethical imperative involved.

Here I’m going to offer no particular science — no arguing about the evolutionary genetics of homosexuality; no reference back to animal studies of sexual preference and behavior — no personal connections either, like the memory of the bar mitzvah I attended last year of the wonderful son of my closest married gay friends, none of that.

Rather, I’m just going to tell an anecdote:

When I was working on my book about Einstein, I borrowed a friend’s apartment near Nollendorfplatz in Berlin.  The U-bahn stop next to the plaza is an elevated one, with an arch piercing the track right-of-way to serve as the street underpass.  On the left hand limb of the arch there was a small plaque, topped by a triangle made of pinkish cut stone.

The explanatory inscription reads, in translation, “This memorial plaque at Metro-station Nollendorfplatz in Berlin-Schöneberg is to commemorate the Pink triangle. It was one of the Nazi concentration camp badges, used by the German Nazis to identify male prisoners in concentration camps who were sent there because of their homosexuality.”

It is the most modest memorial I have ever seen, demure, almost embarrassed to remind passers-by of the particular viciousness which it seeks to preserve in historical recollection.

The Nollendorfplatz station is a minor one in the Berlin system.  Not that many people climb the stairs just to the side of the plaque.  It is just there, waiting to be noticed.

And when you do — when I did on a grey February morning hurrying off to trace the progress of National Socialism in the newspapers housed in the state archives — the question of marriage equality, of full civil rights and social unconcern* for same-sex couples becomes extraordinarily uncomplicated.

When you can’t count Adolf Hitler as your enemy, you count me as your friend.

There is no real argument that needs to be made, I think, or rather, the implications of the Nazi search for markers through which to define people as less than human make an overwhelming argument for marriage equality, for social and legal indifference to sexual preference in general:

If we do not accept that human beings living their humanity must be equal in the eyes of the law and the state we open the door for all kinds of inhumanity, as Nollendorfplatz oh-so-gently reminds us.

I grew up in California; I wish I lived there now, just so I could vote against Prop. 8.  If you have that opportunity, seize it.

Update: minor corrections to fix the inevitable by-products of late-night, post canvassing blogging.

Image:  Michael F. Mehnert, Nollendorfplatz memorial, 2006.  Licensed under a GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.


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