This is the World Wide Web edition of J. Neil Schulman's book Self Control Not Gun Control. It's posted for informational and entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author. If you wish to purchase the hardcover edition, it's available for sale at this website, or at fine booksellers everywhere.
Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. Rights to make copies and print-outs from these files are limited by the license agreement. All other rights reserved.
The Politics of Self Control
The Last Mile
Innocence will not save her.
The prisoner is marched away
Screaming, of course
that she doesn't want to go.
One final kiss
that's all either of us gets
then the heavy hands
of the authorities
take her from me.
at the last minute
I could stop this
if only I said the word.
I am the governor
of her fate.
But I may not stop this.
I must not stop this.
She looks at me
accusations of betrayal
in her eyes
as I abandon her
to her fate.
I can't stand this.
Her screams echoing
I turn away from her.
Her screams tell me
she will never see me again.
and I have no one to blame
I have brought her to this.
I have abandoned her.
I have turned away from her
in her moment of greatest need.
I close the door on her
as her final screams fade
into the early morning.
Damn all the fates that
led me to this moment
I hate leaving my little girl
You're laughing now.
I got you.
A nice Reader's Digest moment.
This is my experience
and it might be yours.
But what if
instead of for a day
the parting was
because of some judge?
June 9, 1995
Natural Rights And Social Utility
Leaving out various plans that have been proposed to implement one or the other--everything from Plato's Aristocracy of Philosophers to the Constitution of the United States--there are essentially two main schools of thought in non-royalist political philosophy.
The first, and older, view, is that the interests of the group--whether it is called the People, or the Tribe, or the Folk, or Society--are of primary importance: the welfare of the group must take precedence over the welfare of any one, particular individual. One may rightfully tag this viewpoint as the utilitarian position, since in one form or another it argues that the social usefulness (utility) of a thing is the measure of its desirability.
The alternative primary view, and the more recent one, is the doctrine of individual "natural" rights. This view states that an individual human being has certain immunities from invasion by others which are absolute, no matter what the basis of the claim by others, and without respect to how many others are making the claim or how serious their need is. The basis of this claim of immunity varies even among its proponents. Some, like Jefferson writing in the Declaration of Independence, say the individual or individuals "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Jefferson's position is simply the other side of the "Divine Right of Kings" coin: the divine right is held by all individuals, who are to be considered "sovereign" in the way kings have made claim to be.
Others, John Locke among them, argue that individual rights derive from their social utility: that without individual rights, society as a whole suffers.
The most modern view is that of the nineteenth-and twentieth-century libertarian (nomenclature may vary): the idea that human beings have these absolute, individual rights (immunities from invasion by others) by virtue of their identity as sentient beings: the very nature (identity) of a human being as an entity that seeks its survival and well-being by the exercise of its rational faculties is an existential (or ontological) truth that requires a set of "oughts" (a code of moral values) to implement this.
The choice of one view or the other--social utility versus individual rights--is the defining feature of a society, since this choice is so fundamental that all social institutions will reflect this philosophical base. One may say without any hyperbole that a society is what it is because of how closely the people in that society adhere to one viewpoint or the other.
Most people seem to accept utilitarian outcome as the sole basis on which to judge whether or not a "social" policy is good or not.
I used a reductio ad absurdum of the utilitarian premise as the basis of my novel, The Rainbow Cadenza. I merely posited a set of circumstances in which the maximum social utility would be achieved by society drafting young women for three years to provide sexual gratification for the men. Those readers who were able to "buy" the premise were horrified by the book--largely, I believe, because they found nothing in the philosophical premises of the society we are now living in that could provide an effective barrier to the implementation of such a social policy should the particular (and farfetched, granted) circumstances ever arise.
Once the "social utility" of a policy is accepted as the final reason for accepting or rejecting it, everything is now thrown into the public arena for debate.
No holds barred. No sign which clearly states, "Beyond this line 'society' may not cross."
And without such barriers, the nightmares of Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany are only a slippery slope away.
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The Social Contract
The doctrine of universal individual rights distinguishes American civilization from all previous ones.
A quote from the Declaration of Independence should be sufficient to illustrate this:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The question of how best to effect our safety and happiness is, of course, the constant of American political debates; and American political theories of government usually proceed from the assumption that we have entered into a "social contract" in order to do so.
I do not accept John Locke's particular interpretation of the origin of the social contract, nor do I accept Hobbes's or Rousseau's views on the state of nature versus "civilization."
My own view on the moral foundations for a social contract is expressed in my own two novels: in the General Submission of Arbitration Agreement used by the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre in my novel, Alongside Night, and the General Lease used by the Ad Astran colonists in my novel The Rainbow Cadenza.
In my commentary on the Lease from the Glossary to The Rainbow Cadenza, I describe the Lease as the explicit social contract--which all inhabitants or visitors must sign, have a guardian sign for them, or leave--by which one agrees to answer for all liabilities which impose costs or damages on the life, liberty, and property rights of all others. This avoids Hobbes' "war of everyone against everyone" that Rousseau argued the social contract of government was supposed to prevent, without the necessity of imposing government on any individual without that individual's consent.
This eliminates the entire argument between those who argue for no government and those who argue for minimal government.
Statist thesis: without a social contract, there would be chaos.
Anarchist antithesis: imposing a contract on a person without that person's consent is self-contradictory, since the concept of "contract" requires free, individual consent.
Synthesis: the Lease: contractual consent is unanimously achieved, individually, from all persons before they are allowed to make further contractual arrangements to live in a place, whether that contract is to buy, lease, or rent property, or to purchase food, or to buy air.
You don't want to sign? "Your right, sir or madam: but we are not willing to take the risk of allowing you on our property unless you sign the Lease or find a guardian to sign for you."
The idea of the Lease is derived from "proprietary community" theories that say if it works in a condominium or shopping center, it would work everywhere else.
An explicit social contract eliminates the question of whether rights are natural or artificial by spelling out the terms of the social contract in a document which is executed as are all other contracts: by individual ratification. But I imagine that the only people who would be willing to ratify such a social contract by signing it are those who believe in maximizing individual freedom in the first place. In other words, it would have to start in the land of people who believe in freedom, and invited only those others who also believed in freedom.
There is precedent for this: that's what the Constitution of the United States attempted--though not as successfully as its framers would have hoped.
The Declaration of Independence tells us that when government fails to secure our rights, we are entitled to try out something new that might work better.
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The Libertarian Insight
What distinguishes libertarian thought from other philosophies is the doctrine of individual sovereignty. This doctrine is expressed in a number of different ways, ranging from doctrines of individual rights and individual powers, to purely pragmatic or utilitarian arguments, to a plethora of cautions based on historical experience, to principles which can be applied as value-free sciences of human behavior.
There is nothing in libertarianism that tends to the view that human nature is good or even perfectible. The libertarian insight is often stated extremely as, "If Man is good he needs no government; if he is not, you dare not let him have one." The political moderate might go along with this to the extent of recognizing, as did Lord Acton, that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Whatever danger evil human beings represent as individuals is nothing as compared to the dangers of evil human beings in charge of governments. Charles Manson and Ted Bundy are nothing as compared to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.
This insight is the basis for all libertarian suspicion and caution regarding government taking on any task.
George Washington said it as, "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." Government must be restricted as much as possible to do as little as possible because unlike all other institutions, every task given to it is the occasion for the use of force. It is enough if government attempts to limit the evil actions that individuals commit against each other. If it does more, either in attempting to restrict the evils that individuals do to themselves, or if government attempts to use its force to engineer positive good, it increases occasions for the creation of power centers which can be captured by amoral or immoral persons who will corrupt such power to their own ends.
Libertarians believe that every right has a corresponding obligation. You can't have a right to life without the responsibility for taking those actions which further life. You can't have a right to liberty if you don't have the obligation to prevent others from restricting liberty. You can't have a right to property without the obligations of stewardship of that property.
What libertarians believe is that there are no rightful obligations that are not individually chosen due to moral sentiment. An obligation imposed on someone else is tyrannical because it substitutes the moral sentiments of one person for another. Behind every person advocating forced moral obligations is a theocratic premise.
Libertarians are often called advocates of selfishness because we believe that there are very few objectively definable positive moral obligations; that moral obligations are largely subjective. But this isn't selfishness; it's mere common sense.
Let's test the doctrine of unchosen moral obligations by using blood donations as a paradigm.
The doctrine of moral obligation would suggest a moral necessity of giving blood. But how much? A pint every six months or so might not hurt--but where does the obligation begin and end? How much satisfies the obligation, and how much is too much? Must I give blood to the point that I am short on blood myself?
What about contributing money? How much money must I give on the basis of other people's perceptions of my moral obligations? Spare change? Or enough that it starts to interfere with my ability to give my children the education I think they deserve, or my ability to save for a house? Again, why does someone other than me get to make moral claims on the fruits of my labor? Why isn't this entirely my decision?
Finally, let me briefly deal with foreign policy. The doctrine of moral obligations when applied to States necessarily leads to colonial imperialism if it is not to lead to the moral atrocity of later abandonment.
You can't have it any other way because a country which takes on obligations to other countries has taken on an obligation for that country's final well-being. The U.S. took on the burden of defending Vietnam. Because it did not take on Vietnam as a colony, it pulled out its forces when it believed it was prudent to do so, leaving Vietnam to its fate.
We know what that fate was: a reign of terror which even Joan Baez, who had protested American involvement in the war, had to decry.
I heard a caller on a radio talk show, an American of Serbian extraction, protesting American support of the Bosnians. If America uses its military forces to bomb Serbia, tax money extracted from him by force will be used against people he considers kinsmen. Where's the justice in this--to make a man support a cause he finds morally reprehensible?
One may disagree with him about the necessity of the action, but why should our moral perceptions rule how his money is spent?
That's the central problem with all money put into the commons by the government power to tax. It's now winner take all--and those with the most power will use their perceptions to dedicate money extracted from those with different moral perceptions.
Much of the rest of the world is more institutionally savage than we are. The Wounded Knees, Kent States, and Wacos in the United States are not policy, but aberrations. If we take on the whole world's troubles, it can't be done without bleeding ourselves dry.
Merely trying to deal with Mexico's poverty-stricken masses seems to be more than the American people can stand right now. Many Americans are rebelling against Mexican immigrants coming here for jobs on the one hand, but beefing about exporting jobs to Mexico that would raise the Mexican standard of living and keep them at home on the other hand.
These are our next-door neighbors. How can we expect this country to take on the burdens of European and African nations locked in centuries old savagery by applying the concept of moral obligation to the politics of nations?
Where must this doctrine take us? How many pints of American blood must be donated to foreign soil this time? How many American families must place the interests of strangers' children above their obligations to their own? How can "America First" be derided as "isolationism" when the doctrine of obligation makes Americans the blood donors to a hemophiliac world?
All a libertarian would add to this is to quote George Washington again: "You can't have an imperial power abroad and a constitutional republic at home."
As the history of the United States has amply demonstrated.
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Who Would Build the Roads in a
From a December 22, 1992 discussion in the Science Fiction RoundTable on Genie. --JNS
Why does it always come down to the damn roads?
I swear to God, this is a question that anyone with a microgram of imagination could answer. Or anyone who's read a history book about roadbuilding, for that matter.
Yet, every libertarian is hammered about it, as if the question is profound.
It's not intrinsically troubling. It is, however, troubling that people are so used to thinking in socialistic terms that they can't think their own way out of it.
You asked if I should have to pay for roads I don't use, or infrequently use.
You want a moral answer, an economic answer, a political answer, or an historical answer?
You're in luck. I have one of each.
Moral answer: No one should be forced to pay for things they don't use. If other people have a vital need which they can't provide themselves, charitable people will help them out. But I believe in freedom of charity: you morally have the right to choose which causes the sweat of your brow should support. No one morally has any basis for taking that decision away from you and deciding it in your stead. The fact that they outnumber you and can muster the force of the state to do so does not change the moral equation.
An economic answer: Roads are capital goods with a fairly long utility. Some roads built by the ancient Romans are still in use today. The financing of highways in a modern industrial society is a trivial problem. The primary cost is acquisition of rights-of-way; once that cost is paid (and in a market system this would require land options which only cut in when a route is completely acquired; this reduces difficulties of hold-outs) you can provide multiple transportation services over the same routes. You could simultaneously license bullet trains, self-driven automobile highways, computer-control automobile lanes, no-speed-limit lanes, no-insurance lanes, drunk-driving lanes ("Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here!"), and so forth. Even routes such as this can have both horizontal competition (competitive rights of way) and vertical competition (alternative modes of transportation, such as air flight, suborbital rockets, or information transfer which doesn't require an actual physical good to be transported--the difference between mail delivery and faxes, for example). None of this requires government intervention to accomplish. Capital accumulation for such a project is a simple problem.
Political answer: Even with government-built roads, you have a choice between "freeways" (road bonds paid by taxes) or "tollways" (road bonds paid by direct use fees). Lots of times, a road starts as a tollway, and when revenue exceeds the pay-off of the bonds, either the tolls are eliminated or revenue is redirected into a general tax fund.
Historical answer: Most of the turnpikes in this country were originally built by private capital. If you look into it, you'll find that government intervention was usually due to some sort of overweening greed, whereby some business interest bought off politicians to condemn (read: steal at below market cost) someone else's land, so they could make money without honest effort. Some railroads were built without government aid; others with political land grants, the rights of way of which far exceeded the breadth necessary for laying rail--it was piracy, pure and simple.
Socialist critics of the free-market often use businessmen buying off politicians as an argument against the free market. It isn't: it's an argument against government having the power to violate private property rights. That power, once legitimized, destroys the free market and replaces it with a mercantilist or fascist economic system.
Finally, a practical answer. We have around 50,000 deaths per year in automobile accidents. This is a direct result of government monopolies of roads. By granting government road monopolies, we have subjected ourselves to constant invasion of our privacy by government road police, the replacement of market criteria for "piloting" expertise with unrealistically low government fiat standards, and the suppression of technological development in roadbuilding to accommodate increasing traffic loads, time-dependent traffic loads, and enhanced guidance systems.
A halfwit could design a better system from scratch.
Or you could hire a decent science fiction writer and move this problem into the next millennium.
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I wrote the following message to Joe Miranda, editor of California Liberty, on May 23, 1995, in reply to his computer message suggesting an ad-hoc coalition of groups with interests in specific liberties. --JNS
Joe, there's a fundamental principle in your proposed freedom alliance that you, and I believe the Libertarian Party, have missed.
That principle is that people will not fight for things they feel guilty about.
So long as homosexuals were ashamed, "gay pride" was impossible. And, homosexuality could not become a rallying point for political activism until homosexuals asserted that the homosexual lifestyle was as rightful as the heterosexual.
Now we come to several problems. The drug war is largely fought against recreational or social-anesthetic uses of drugs, the abuse of which is self-destructive. As libertarians, we have argued that people have the right to go to hell in their own way--commit slow suicide if they choose--but this is not a compelling argument to those who see government as a teaching tool for moral behavior. We do, after all, live in a country where the two major parties are the Mommy Party (Eat your spinach!) and the Daddy Party (Sit Up Straight and Respect Your Mother!).
The reason there are gun rights activists more than drug rights activists is that gun owners know that guns produce a social good: individual and social defense. The arguments are largely factual: do guns create more good than harm?
But, it's hard to argue the social good of crack cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. The best one can argue is that prohibition produces unintended consequences which are as destructive as the drugs--but that pointy-headed argument has no emotional appeal to those who can focus only on lost lives and potential in drug self-abusers.
This is a general problem with libertarian defenses of vice. Smokers don't demonstrate for their rights because they believe that smoking is generally bad for them and they agree with the Mommy Party which tells them they should stop.
Americans are far too fastidious about both sex and commerce to see prostitution as a social good--and certainly one which produces different goods for each sex--money for the women and vicarious masturbation for the men.
Which means that libertarians, if our philosophy is to make inroads on the concrete-bound mainstream mentality, must focus on those areas of repression where that which is being repressed has a provable social good: gun rights (self-defense), Internet (education and communication), alternative medicines (cures not yet recognized by establishment), home-schooling (family and religious values sustained), etc.
This is the sort of freedom alliance that has a chance in this country.
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Compulsory National Service
Compulsory national service, whether done in the name of patriotism, progressivism, or any other noble goal--whether it's being used to fight wars or pick up roadside trash--is statism at its naked worst.
Conscription is premised on the idea that merely by being born, you are in debt to the collective. This is not the premise of a free society, whose goal is the nurturing of the individual spark within each of us. A free country shouldn't want and doesn't need a draft. The land of the free and the home of the brave will find freemen to "stand Between their loved homes and the war's desolation" should the need arise. The draft is and always will be the tool of tyrants who need cannon fodder for a war the people won't freely support, usually because it isn't a war defending their own country but instead contesting someone else's.
It's bad enough that the combined state and federal tax burden in this country is around fifty percent of the gross national product--that alone would qualify this country as fascist by any of the classical definitions.
But any call for compulsory national service "to teach kids the value of serving society" is the last straw, showing that its advocate either has no proper understanding of the principles of a free society, or is completely opposed to freedom.
Libertarians have a history of using slippery-slope warnings that go unheeded, because our arguments sound theoretical, abstract, and long-term, while the problems that political "solutions" aim at are immediate and apparent.
So we must acknowledge that the problem which compulsory national service addresses is real. There is certainly a problem with a younger generation that is largely illiterate, unintellectual, vulnerable to the demagoguery of the moment, morally uncentered, and prone to meaningless violence. Of course that may well be a description of most younger generations, as seen by their elders. But young people are always the targets of dirty old men, whether their goal is seduction of young girls or turning young boys into cannon fodder.
I could probably argue the benefits of drafting teenagers into community service as well as anyone. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble. It instills "civic" virtues--which is whatever "virtues" those in power wish to cram down their young throats. It creates a cheap labor pool for maintaining "infrastructure"--a code-word for that fifty percent of our economy which is under the direct control of those in political power. In short, it teaches them "discipline"--another code-word for passive compliance.
No doubt some practical good would come of compulsory national service. Young people tend to the excesses of self-consciousness: service to the state cures that with bright, shiny, noble other-directedness. How selfish one must be to wish to keep one's life's blood to oneself, when a nation of vampires is so thirsty!
I have to admit that universal military training of the sort they have in Switzerland does in fact assist the "well-regulated militia" that our Founding Fathers said would save us from the standing armies that lead to imperialism abroad and the reliance on professional police which leads to a crime epidemic domestically.
But to whatever extent that consistency to the principles of individual liberty draws a firm line in defense of actual liberties, even so noble a goal as safe borders and safe cities must give way to the right to say "no" to one's polity.
So while I favor as widespread training in arms that a society may encourage with carrots, I oppose the stick.
The main lesson of compulsory national service is that slavery is permissible, just so long as you're young, physically strong, and politically impotent.
Libertarians call a spade a spade. We've said that taxation is theft, because you have no choice to refuse the debt, and collection is at the point of a gun. But though taxation is obviously an unavoidable part of our political reality, the maintenance of a relatively free society requires understanding that compulsion of any sort is evil--a violation of the human spirit--and the evil must be minimized whenever possible.
The statist premise is, by contrast, "In for a penny, in for a dollar." If we concede that it is permissible to rob people at the point of the armed tax collector, then what premise did we have to object to dragging young people off to the programming of the government schoolmaster, or--if the drafters have their way--the overseer?
Social utility is no excuse for evil, and even possible benefits to the slave are insufficient to justify slavery. When the government becomes overseer to our children, we are no longer arguing a slippery slope: we have already hit bottom.
Anyone who can't see that has lost the moral premises needed to distinguish between slavery and freedom.
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Ignoring The Framers
What? The Founding Fathers weren't all that intelligent you say? Their ideas are outdated? We know far more than they did?
I'm reminded of a very funny scene in the movie Bedazzled in which Peter Cooke plays the Devil and Dudley Moore plays a poor schnook who the Devil is tempting by giving him his fondest wishes -- and of course everything is going all wrong.
In the scene, Dudley Moore is hanging from a telephone pole, holding on for dear life, and Cooke's Devil says to Moore, "In the words of the great Zen master Li Quai Quat 'If you were hanging from a cliff by your fiingernails and above you was a raging tiger baring his fangs, and below you was the tiger's mate baring her fangs, what would you do?'"
And Moore replies, "What a stupid question! Cliffs and tigers, I wouldn't get myself into such a ridiculous situation, would I?"
"Of course not," the Devil replies. "You've got the secret. You're far better off. Here you are, halfway up a pole, in Berkshire, damned in the hereafter for eternity, half your wishes gone. You've nothing to learn from Li Quai Quat and his tigers, have you?"
We have ignored the framers' advice about avoiding foreign entanglements and standing armies, about relying upon the general citizenry rather than government police for public defense against crime, about relying on gold and silver as money and disallowing government intervention into banking.
As a consequence of ignoring their advice, our country has a four-trillion-dollar federal debt, unemployment, an increasingly impoverished middle class, homelessness, repeated stock-market crashes, and a recent banking scandal caused by government insurance of irresponsibility.
After a century of repeated intervention in European and Asian wars, we have had a military-based economy, the dismantling of which after a century of continuous war threatens to destroy the economy of California.
Our failure to heal the legacy of chattel slavery in this country in the century-and-a-quarter since it was abolished has made our inner cities war zones.
Our education system produces high-school and even college graduates who can't read or do arithmetic that sixth-grade graduates routinely mastered a century ago, and a lack of moral education that makes illiteracy seem like a minor problem in comparison.
No, we couldn't possibly learn anything from the dumb Founding Fathers.
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From a May 29, 1989 "cafe" discussion on the Connected Education "virtual" campus. --JNS
Let's say that a "Virtual" State is the informal sector of a State in the same way that a black-market is considered the "informal" sector of the economy. It is the sector of a State which is nominally private, but in fact is where much of the State's decision-making power actually is.
Both left-wing and right-wing observers have identified sectors of the Virtual States: the International Monetary Fund, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, other "Old Boys" clubs such as Bohemian Grove and the yearly Bilderburgers meeting. Much of the Virtual State isn't that formal; it's found in thousands of small conferences, seminars and week-long overseas junkets to Singapore & Bombay. Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter may never hold public office again; they are important players in the American Virtual State nonetheless. David Rockefeller has never held public office, yet he has long been accorded honors due a Head of State when he visits Moscow. Dr. Rockefeller is a premier Virtual Statist, and the Soviets publicly recognize it.
The interests of the Virtual Statists cut across their national borders; instead they tend to align along philosophical, economic, and class lines, as well as other mutual interests.
Regardless of their faction, there are some things upon which almost all of the Virtual Statists agree:
They oppose wars that would cause damage to their own power base; they support wars that extend their power base. In the Nuclear Age, this means that they prefer "limited" wars fought safely in economic backwaters such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, Lebanon, or Nicaragua. (Be a shame to turn the golf course into one big sand-trap, wouldn't it?)
The Virtual States are not the stuff of paranoia: they operate almost completely in the open; they are far too powerful to need secrecy. The Virtual States are where the CEO's and CIO's and Board Chairmen, and Corporate Directors of Exxon, Chase Manhattan Bank, GM, IBM, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, etc., exchange views and formulate long-term policy.
For a long time, the Cold War served the interests of the Virtual States; it was a good excuse for increasing the size of the Formal States by 10,000% in half a century. (Check out the growth curve of the U.S. Federal Budget and gross military expenditures from World War II to the present, if you don't believe me.) The Communist Menace was necessary to tax and regulate the West; the Imperialist Menace was necessary to keep the proles in line. Without the Cold War, economic anarchy (i.e., an unregulatable, untaxable free-market) would have broken out, and the Virtual States would have been run out of business by the capital accumulation of "New Money." In fact, we can easily define the Virtual States as "Established Money"; their common enemy is any New Money or Power Base which insists on remaining unaligned with at least one of the Virtual States. Thus their public enemies: Khomeini, Khadaffi, and Noriega.
You can't fool all of the people all of the time; it became obvious that "National" States such as the USSR and the People's Republic of China, which couldn't even feed their own people properly, weren't going to cut it as a credible threat to the rich, superpowerful National States of the West. Fifty years without a Nuclear War have created a population who don't worry about it much anymore, except for a few days following TV extravaganzas like The Day After.
So there's been a change in strategy. National Competition is being replaced by International Cooperation. In essence, the Virtual States are surfacing, and are replacing the National States.
The Better to Rule Us All, My Dear.
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The following defense of American culture and values was written as part of a "cafe" discussion on the Connected Education "virtual" campus, in late summer, 1989. --JNS
July 25, 1989
Americans have been conned into accepting plenty of statist crap but, unlike the rest of the world, Americans had to be conned; our values tend to enhance personal evolution and resist any tribal claims that would get in the way. We value individual merit above all, and racism has been on a steady decline here for the last two centuries because our veneration of the individual leaves no room for it. We mythologize individualism, of course, but we try to live the myth, which puts us way ahead of the rest of the world, which is so trapped by collectivism and its constant tribal wars that only the strongest individuals can keep their sanity long enough to develop the autonomy to be creative.
I keep on hearing yammering about American "cultural imperialism." The phrase is a damned lie, part of a statist con job on the rest of the world. The truth is, American culture is sweeping around the world because when people are given a choice for even a few weeks or months, they grab onto the American way of doing things for the same reason that a drowning swimmer grabs for a life preserver.
America leads the world not because we're stronger than the rest of the world (nobody is that strong), but because we're freer.
July 26, 1989
If America has no culture, then why does the rest of the world have to pass laws to force their own people to buy their homegrown TV shows and popular music instead of the American TV shows and popular music they'll turn to at every opportunity? When I was in Paris, French TV was playing Star Trek and a few months later, I am told by a friend who was in Paris, the episode of Twilight Zone which I wrote was shown there. As we drove through Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, every radio station we found was playing either American-style rock or American rock. Soviet rock bands sound like American rock bands from two decades ago. In other words, the rest of the world is living off of America's hand-me-downs.
American culture? C'est moi!
August 16, 1989
Do I expect the world to take Dallas and Star Trek seriously as culture? Did the Elizabethans take Shakespeare seriously? Did the English of the last century take Dickens seriously? Did the Americans of the forties take Orson Welles seriously?
Popular culture is the grapes from which the wine of classical culture is made. And I predict that at least some of what today's intelligentsia sneers at will be regarded as great art by their grandchildren.
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Censorship and Hate Speech
From a discussion in the Science Fiction RoundTable on Genie. --JNS
November 29, 1989
I guess I have the same feeling as Lenny Bruce on racial slurs: let it all out into the open and remove the "charge" that suppression gives to "forbidden" words. I also think that a closet racist or sexist is a lot more dangerous than one who's been exposed.
November 30, 1989
The question about swastikas and garages depends, of course, on whether the swastika is being painted on someone else's garage or on one's own. I strongly recommend S.I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action--the classic popularization of general semantics. Robert Heinlein first recommended it to me in 1973 and this recent trouble about flag burning makes it evident that Sam Hayakawa is more needed than ever. There must be a clear distinction between human action that "causes evident damage to another" and human action which is merely "symbolic." This applies to many hotly debated current issues such as the cutting of National Endowment for the Arts subsidies to "obscene" art, flag burning and--it would seem from the comments in this topic--to the necessity for tolerating offensive opinions and symbols, since tolerance is the hallmark of a free society.
February 6, 1990
If an "adult content" labeling law is past, the manufacturers should comply with the law literally by putting the "adult content" label on everything; cheaper than having to go through the lyrics and deciding what might be "offensive" to some assholes.
And, I think there would be salutary educational benefits by having the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and the Brahms Quartets labeled "adult contents."
February 24, 1990
I'd like to point out that censorship of textbooks arises because people are taxed for public schools; kids are forced to attend these schools by law unless their parents have the dough to pay twice and put their kids in private schools; and public schools therefore become subject to a "winner take all" political process where parents have to fight to have the views they want their own kids taught imposed on everyone else's kids, too.
Thus censorship of one stripe or another is an inevitable consequence of government schooling.
February 27, 1990
State licensing means that if you don't fulfill the politician's idea of what "education" is, you don't get credentials.
I agree that most Americans don't take seriously the idea of abolishing public schools. That's because most Americans have already been brainwashed by public schools. Catch-22. (Another Book to Ban, if ever there was one!)
I have a request to teachers in Rainbow Cadenza not to make it required reading. I figure people will find enough reasons to dislike it without any help.
February 27, 1990
I encourage anyone who wants to do so to buy up copies of my books and burn them. Full price, please, not remainders--and remember that hardcovers will burn longer and brighter.
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The Semantics of Hate Speech
From a February, 1993 discussion on the Writers Guild of America computer bulletin-board. --JNS
Being a libertarian, I'm somewhat out of touch with what's politically correct these days and what isn't. Is it now okay to make jokes about the size of nigger's cocks, just so long as the euphemism "Clarence Thomas" is used in place of "nigger"?
Thomas and Racism
I have no problem with people having contempt for Supreme Court justices. I rather have contempt for them on a number of recent issues. I think affirming the constitutionality that the capture and trial, on American drug charges, of Noriega--a man who not only was on foreign soil when the alleged actions took place, but was the de facto head of state of another country--was a travesty of the principle that a country's laws end at its borders. The Supreme Court legalized American imperialism with that decision.
I think the Supreme Court's refusing to enforce the Second Amendment is a destruction of the principle that the Bill of Rights is whole and meaningful.
I think the Supreme Court's upholding police roadblocks and bus searches, looking for drugs or illegal aliens, is a destruction of the fourth and fifth amendments.
I think the Supreme Court's ruling that commercial speech isn't protected by the First Amendment is a destruction of the Bill of Rights.
I think the Supreme Court's ruling that the FCC can fine a station for the content of its programming, under the theory that the airwaves are a scarce resource and therefore must be "public property," is particularly destructive of the First Amendment, considering that the first principle of economics itself is that if something isn't scarce to begin with, there's no need for trade or a marketplace at all.
So, yes, I think there are plenty of good reasons to be contemptuous of Supreme Court justices.
But the size of their black cocks isn't one of them.
Jokes Personifying a Racial Slur
I might agree with Lenny Bruce that we should make the word nigger common enough to remove its emotional charge, its ability to insult or hurt. I might also say that I think making racial humor taboo deprives the comedy field of a wealth of material, and that it should be socially acceptable to make jokes about the size of niggers' big cocks, kikes' skill with a shekel, micks' drunkenness, wops' association with the Mafia, and spics' sensitivity about their manhood. Let's add to this jokes about bums, cripples, and faggots, and make sure there's enough to go around that nobody ends up with a clean face at the end of the pie fight.
I just think we should be forthright about it, and not try to maintain our purity while engaging in that which we deplore.
Clarence Thomas's "Long Dong"
As a matter of fact, I don't believe you intended the Clarence Thomas reference as a racial slur. But it is one anyway.
Clarence Thomas, in the hearings, never referred to Long Dong Silver--unless it was to deny that he made the reference. Anita Hill did. Thomas, himself, referred to the hearings as a high tech lynching of an uppity black--obviously he represented that the purpose of Anita Hill's charge was to keep a black conservative off the Supreme Court.
Anita Hill is believed and Clarence Thomas isn't not for any factual reason--there were as many character witnesses at the hearing for Thomas's virtue as there were for Anita Hill's--but because Thomas was a conservative expected to provide the Supreme Court the vote necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, Anita Hill has gone on to become the poster child for sexual harassment--a well-paying gig on the college lecture circuit.
Neither you nor I can give a definitive answer as to what went on between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, if anything, nor can we say with certainty which if either one of them is a liar. We only have our inclinations of who we believe based on their public sayings and writings--and how telegenic each is.
But I am revolted by posters in the street showing a picture of Clarence Thomas with the legend "Long Dong Condom." I don't find racism pretty when it originates on the right, and I don't find it any prettier when the left does it.
I think the effect of posters and jokes like this are racist, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator. After a couple of centuries of racial stereotypes about black men's penis size, how can it be anything else?
It wasn't a cheap debating trick. It was identifying an underlying truth of an ugliness concealed by the American liberal's agenda to protect abortion rights by Borking conservatives.
And as good as the cause of freedom of reproductive choice is, I don't find that it justifies the presumption that the only black justice on the Supreme Court should be assumed to have a stereotypical fetish about the size of his cock based on the questionable testimony of a woman who has gained fame and fortune for playing Delilah on national TV.
What Good Are Assertions When Not Backed Up with Facts?
You say "Clarence Thomas" is not now nor has ever been a euphemism for "nigger." First of all, I'd like to see you try to prove a negative proposition--that something has never happened or doesn't exist. You can't. On the other hand, I think it is pretty evident that people are opportunistic in their behavior, and if the only way a closet racist could get away with making a stereotypical joke about black men supposedly having big cocks is to substitute the words "Clarence Thomas" for "nigger, then I see that as behavior which is being shielded by the liberal contempt for Thomas's conservatism.
Words and Meanings
Richard Pryor is a brilliant comedian, but for questions of semantics, I'd rather use S.I. Hayakawa. Words do not have innate meanings. They are sound symbols that have both denotations and connotations. The strict denotation of "nigger"--if we were to separate it from centuries of connotations--would be "person whose skin is black." That we allow this word to carry centuries of connoted insult is entirely based on how we use it, and how it affects those who hear it.
Lenny Bruce's point is valid: if a word changes its connotations, it loses its ability to insult.
Let me give you another example. The word "gay" started out meaning "happy" or "glad." Earlier in this century, the phrase "among the gay" was used as a euphemism for homosexual. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, activists for the rights of homosexuals determined to adopt the word "gay" as a non-pejorative self-description, and what began as a minor connotation of the original meaning became the sole meaning that can now be attributed to that word, unless one is a scholar of old books.
As a writer, it's my business to choose words carefully, according to an original meaning that may be buried in current usage, or to derive a meaning that may have otherwise been lost on a particular reader or listener. Since different people have different contexts, it's always chancy to use any particular word with powerful connotations.
But that's the risk that goes with the possibility of saying something significant, and to make arbitrary rules about it diminishes our ability to think clearly and project our thoughts.
An Experiment in Semantics
I've selected neutrally descriptive and complimentary sentences out of a current encyclopedia article. I'll reproduce them, first, as they were written, then, afterwards, substituting the word "nigger" for "black." Let's see whether the sentences become pejorative merely by the substitution.
Blacks in the United States today are mainly an urban people. Their shift from the rural South to cities of the North and West during the 20th century constitutes one of the major migrations of people in U.S. history.
Niggers in the United States today are mainly an urban people. Their shift from the rural South to cities of the North and West during the 20th century constitutes one of the major migrations of people in U.S. history.
Religion has traditionally been important to black American life. The first major denomination among blacks, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, grew from the church established by Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1787.
Religion has traditionally been important to nigger American life. The first major denomination among niggers, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, grew from the church established by Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1787.
Black ministers who have figured prominently in politics during the post-World War II period include Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Leon Sullivan, and Andrew Young.
Nigger ministers who have figured prominently in politics during the post-World War II period include Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Leon Sullivan, and Andrew Young.
In the 1970s the percentage of blacks attending college increased markedly, but in the 1980s blacks lost ground.
In the 1970s the percentage of niggers attending college increased markedly, but in the 1980s niggers lost ground.
Black Americans have also made significant contributions in many other fields, despite the patterns of prejudice and inequality that historically have restricted their opportunities. Charles Drew's work in hematology leading to the establishment of the American Red Cross blood bank and Ralph Bunche's appointment as undersecretary of the United Nations in 1950 are examples. The first black American in space was Air Force Lt. Col. Guion S. Bluford, who took part in a 1983 space shuttle flight.
Nigger Americans have also made significant contributions in many other fields, despite the patterns of prejudice and inequality that historically have restricted their opportunities. Charles Drew's work in hematology leading to the establishment of the American Red Cross blood bank and Ralph Bunche's appointment as undersecretary of the United Nations in 1950 are examples. The first nigger American in space was Air Force Lt. Col. Guion S. Bluford, who took part in a 1983 space shuttle flight.
Does this tell us anything useful about denotation and connotation? Lenny Bruce theorized--perhaps idealistically--that descriptive words are insulting only because they are used that way, and when they are not, they lose the ability to hurt.
How Do I Feel About Being Called a Kike?
To me, all language is context dependent. I can conceive of it being used as a compliment or an insult, and I would look to the user's intent. Anyone who'd call me that, intending it as an insult, however, has already eliminated whatever else they have to say from serious consideration.
I was one of two Jewish kids that I knew about at my elementary school and junior high school in Natick, Massachusetts. Most of the kids were either working class Protestant or Irish Catholic. Yes, I heard the word kike, and it was not meant as a compliment.
But I've grown up and learned about context.
You keep on avoiding--or misunderstanding--my point. Of course the words "kike" and "nigger" have high charges--no subtlety, as you put it. Fine, we have a fact we can agree on. Now why do those words do that? Is it the central meaning of the words, or they way they have been used? The former is "denotation"; the latter is "connotation."
Words are symbols, either sound symbols, or alphabetic graphic mnemonics for those sound symbols. Go up to the next person you see and say, "Hey, you're a gricksorp, aren't you?" The word "gricksorp," being without any denotation, does not tell the listener anything. To respond, they will look to your tone of voice, expression--anything they can latch onto--to find a connotation to your comment, so they know how to respond.
My experiment in semantics posted above was to highlight the difference between a word's denotation and its connotation. Somebody who calls me a kike has a set of connotations associated with that sound symbol. If it's a person I don't know, I would assume, all other things being equal, that the person is being intentionally provocative. If it's a person I knew, I would look deeper before responding.
My ex-wife wasn't Jewish. At Christmas time, she'd call me a Christ-killer and I'd call her a tree-worshipper. The symbols were affectionate; our marriage ended for unrelated reasons.
Context is everything.
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Symbolic Speech versus Speech-as-Action
One of the enduring debates between libertarians and those who believe in greater state authority is over the proper limits on freedom of speech.
Libertarians--who bring economic insight to such questions which other believers in civil liberties often lack--tend to solve a lot of these problems by invoking property rights: you have absolute freedom of speech only insofar as you have a right to the physical medium in which that speech is disseminated: the printing press, radio station, computer network, etc.
Those who would limit freedom of speech often invoke the image of crying fire in a crowded theater--not remembering that the legal case that this question was used to illustrate had nothing to do with either fires or theaters, but was a metaphor used by a U.S. Supreme Court justice in a case involving a law prohibiting "alien sedition." Clearly, the metaphor is politically suspect from its first use.
But the question is not so easily dismissed by such paralogia: bypassing the question of whose theater it is and what contract you have implicitly agreed to by buying a ticket for a performance, does anyone have the right to cry fire in a crowded theater?
One can answer flippantly, perhaps reducing the question to absurdity. Firstly, is there a fire in the theater? Or, may an actor in a play be prohibited from crying fire if the script calls for it? And what if the play is being performed in a fire station? Clearly, there is a better way to phrase the question: is there a difference between purely symbolic speech, and speech which is intended by the speaker to alter the human action of the listener to produce harmful effects?
I think, consequently, that there needs to be made a clear distinction between "symbolic speech" and "speech as action." I think the following scenario can define the latter case.
I'm driving along a strange road at night, in pouring rain that has gone on for days. I'm lost on my way to town. I see a Stranger walking on the side of the road, pull over and ask for directions to town. "Take the next left--it'll take you to where you want to go." I thank the Stranger, roll up my window, and take the next left. And, a half mile further, I plunge 200 feet down to my death on the rocks below because the bridge on the road was washed out.
I'm assuming that the Stranger knew that the bridge was out, and that his words, should they be followed, were likely to lead to my death.
Now, I know some (including libertarians) who would argue that the Stranger had no obligation to tell me about the missing bridge, because we had no contract requiring him to give me truthful information. Caveat emptor, or the equivalent.
Is the Stranger responsible for murdering me? One can argue he was speaking symbolically when he told me the road would take me "where you want to go" inasmuch as he may have assumed that what I really wanted was to die.
Gee, not a bad idea for a story. All we have to assume is that I was looking for a hotel to commit suicide in and the Stranger was psychic. A classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents idea.
Leaving out my intents, or the Stranger's psychic abilities, what we clearly have is a case of an information provider deliberately passing on toxic information. I do not classify this as "symbolic speech."
On the other hand, what about a grave insult? One Jewish writer I know has referred to seeing a swastika as emotionally equivalent to being spit on.
Spitting is a physical action, which can cause evident damage, if nowhere else than to one's clothes. In the Age of AIDS, however, it might even be truly toxic were HIV-positive saliva to end up on exposed human tissue.
The swastika, however, is a symbol and the reaction to the symbol will be dependent on the viewer--Nazi, Jew, Native American Indian, or Hindu--and even whether the swastika is dexter or sinister and the viewer understands the difference. To the Hindu or the Native American Indian, the swastika is not a symbol of the Nazi Party, but of good luck. and the dexter swastika is a "good luck" symbol: Hitler intentionally used the sinister. Do we have the right to deprive the Hindu or the American Indian of one of their religious symbols, because it will be badly reacted to by another religious group?
Clearly, a Native American displaying a swastika for religious purposes is not necessarily intending a Jew to feel spit upon by it--and sensible semantic interpretation of such an event requires a full context.
A lot of the problems surrounding "symbolic speech" are side issues that need to be resolved along with the "free speech" issue. What constitutes "evident damage" or "proof of evident damage?" Are human beings "volitional" in their responses, or automatons who will react to symbols as invariantly as a computer "reacts" to programming? Is there a bias in granting exemptions for "evident falsehood." People have spent years in jail on bunco raps for promising a lot less than the average parish priest.
Anybody who wishes to restrict other people's right to be insulting should tread softly, lest the Wiccans start a class-action suit to ban the King James Bible.
After all is there any speech more intended to cause direct harm to others than its command: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"?
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Taxing Slashers Doesn't Go with Slashing Taxes
June 5, 1995
As a novelist and screenwriter, I've had only positive regard for Michael Medved's critical faculties: he endorsed my science fiction novel, The Rainbow Cadenza.
But I find his Op-Ed suggestion to Bob Dole of a movie "slasher tax" in the June 5, 1995 Los Angeles Times to be chilling. It was Chief Justice John Marshall who told us "the power to tax involves the power to destroy."
One of the films Mr. Medved calls "vile, hyperviolent, altogether irresponsible," and worthy of a slasher tax, is Johnny Mnemonic--a fine science-fiction film with less inventive violence than The Rainbow Cadenza would be if, like Johnny Mnemonic, it were moved to the big screen. Johnny Mnemonic merely has people shot, dismembered, and exploded. The Rainbow Cadenza, which Medved called "thoughtful, unusually well-written," has a leather-clad man in a flying belt aerially raping a woman then dropping her to splatter in view of a five-year-old girl.
Medved suggests that the tax be applied by "a panel of media and psychological experts." Novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in a 1958 essay, warns us, "In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel, and dishonest. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?"
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The Citizen's Line Item Veto Proposition
When in 1990 I wrote this essay, proposing a California initiative, I was not a registered voter. In fact, I had not voted for two decades, not out of apathy, but out of the belief that the use of political power always harmed innocent victims, and therefore any participation in the electoral process was immoral.
What changed my mind and got me to register to vote, in August, 1991, was buying my first gun.
It did not come to me in any sort of blinding flash of insight. It just dawned on me that since I was willing "in the gravest extreme" to use the lethal power of a firearm to defend myself from physical attacks, why shouldn't I likewise be willing to wield political power to defend myself from political attacks? The "purist" libertarian position that all use of political power was invasive finally seemed to me wrong.
Depending on how I used my ballot, couldn't I vote defensively also?
It may strike someone who takes voting for granted as a silly argument I was having with myself. I disagree. There's no question that the existence of government, even in its mildest form, creates innocent victims. The question, then, of whether voting is a moral or immoral act is entirely dependent on the choices being offered. If Adolf Hitler--murderer of twelve million--were in an election against Joseph Stalin--murderer of over twenty million--would it be moral for me to vote for Hitler because he was less efficient at murder? Eight million fewer victims would be the "lesser of evils," no?
When I registered to vote in 1991, I knew that if I couldn't find candidates I wanted to vote for, I could at least vote on ballot propositions, whereby my vote would directly decide political questions which affected my rights and those of others. So it was, in fact, the logic of the following essay that finally convinced me to become a registered voter.
Presented herewith, then, is a proposal to make voting by the citizen even more powerful.
For historical purposes, I am including my original introduction. --JNS
"If voting could change anything, it would be illegal." --Karl Hess
"If a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?"
--The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
Here's a proposition that, if passed, would convince me to abandon two decades of abstinence from the political process, register to vote, and vote early and often-too often, I think, for this proposition to stand any chance of being enacted, for it would actually place real power in the hands of the average voter in a way that the established Powers That Be would not permit.
You are free to try proving me wrong by attempting to get it passed: I assure you it will not be enacted into law without being watered down so much as to be meaningless. But I offer it as an exercise for the politically active, to demonstrate to them the contempt in which the electorate is held by elected and appointed officials, and how any real attempt to enfranchise power in the hands of the people will be resisted tooth and nail.
California has in place a method of amending the state constitution through voters' initiatives called propositions. Very well--California is as good a place as any to test any wacky new idea. If successful here, it will be imitated in other states, and perhaps even federally. Therefore, herewith proposed to be placed before the voters of the State of California is
The Citizen's Line Item Veto Proposition
Summary: The State of California shall establish a statewide voicemail telephone system whereby voters may exercise a line-item veto over all legislation signed by the governor. A one-third vote in favor of vetoing a line item shall prevent it from becoming law, with no override available.
Within one year of the passage of this proposition:
I. A. The State of California shall register any California voter who wishes to enroll for Citizen's Line Item Veto participation. Such enrollment shall identify these voters in a manner not invasive to their personal privacy, but with a level of security equivalent to that used by the commercial banking industry for telephone banking transactions.
B. The State of California shall establish a state-wide voice-mail telephone system, operated by touch-tone telephones using an (800) area code telephone number or other free-to-caller area code. All California voters enrolled for Citizen's Line Item Veto participation shall be entitled to vote on this system.
C. Each line item in all legislation signed by the governor the previous week shall be placed before the enrolled voters on this voice mail system. Each voter on the system shall be given one vote per line item of legislation signed by the governor, YES or NO.
D. A count shall be made each week of all votes on each line item. If a line item gains one-third or more NO votes, it shall fail to have been passed into law, and no appeal to any legislative, executive, or judicial authority may override this veto.
II. The State of California shall provide a weekly line-item summary of all legislation which has been signed into law by the governor the previous week. Such summary shall be in a form understandable to any resident of the State of California with a high school diploma issued by a California public school, and shall be made publicly available.
III. To compensate voters in the Line Item Veto for the time and effort of reading the legislation and registering their vote, all voters enrolled in the Line Item Veto who vote on the system at least eight times per year shall be exempt at point of sale on all purchases from the California Sales Tax for the next year.
IV. No line item vetoed by the voters of the Line Item Veto may be reintroduced into legislation for a period of three years.
V. No tax or other method of public funding, including all usage fees, shall pass into effect without being subject to the Citizen's Line Item Veto, nor shall any tax or other method of funding, including all usage fees, remain in effect two years from the passage of this proposition unless it is placed before the enrolled voters of the Citizen's Line Item Veto.
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A More Bulletproof Bill of Rights
I've heard two good objections to tampering with the Bill of Rights, even to make it stronger.
The first is that we don't have the likes of James Madison and George Mason around any more, so any attempt to do any wholesale revisions on the Constitution of the United States will be done by people whose basic philosophy isn't thoroughly grounded in the principles of liberty.
The second good objection I've heard is that the Constitution of the United States is a minimalist document that states broad principles--and if you don't have good enough people to apply those principles in the first place, rewriting the constitutional protections to make them less abstract and more explicit won't do any good anyway.
So I'll agree that perhaps the following exercise in strengthening the Bill of Rights shouldn't be taken literally.
But I do think that using this as a commentary on the original purposes of the Bill of Rights, might be useful to bring to it a couple of centuries practical experience in how judges and politicians can twist things away from their original intent. --JNS
Proposed New Preamble
Derived from the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Individuals are by nature free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience has shown that humankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
To avoid another bloody revolution or civil war, these revised amendments for the Constitution of the United States are proposed to strengthen the Bill of Rights adopted in 1792 so that the people will not have to once again take up arms to fight to regain liberties lost in the last two centuries.
Accordingly, upon adoption of these articles of amendment, all Individuals within the United States and its territories and possessions, and those of its citizens abroad, are hereby declared to hold the following Rights, and all laws within the jurisdiction of the United States or the several states which are repugnant to these Rights are immediately null and void.
The amendment currently reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Article 1 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States would be replaced by the following article:
All Individuals have the right to be free from laws respecting an establishment of religion or taxing or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or taxing or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or of communication public or private; or peaceably to assemble in the commons, or to petition the Government for a redress of grievances; or to travel freely domestically or abroad; yet none of these freedoms shall be taken as an immunity to invade the private life, liberty, or property of any individual not holding government office. These being among the most fundamental human rights which enable the existence of a free and just society, any public official who violates these rights shall be guilty of a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year and a day in prison with no possibility of probation or parole.
The amendment currently reads:
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.
Article 2 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States would be replaced by the following article:
The Right of all Individuals to keep, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any arms conceivably suitable for defense of themselves, their kin, their loved ones and friends, their neighbors, the public peace, or their state, shall not be called into question in any place in the United States, except for those persons being held to answer for an infamous crime or those who, having been convicted of an infamous crime have had restrictions placed on their liberty as a consequence of their representing a continued danger to the public, or in places where such persons may be imprisoned. Nor, other than requirements that may be enacted for training of the Militia, shall the government place any burdens on the acquisition, possession, or ownership of arms. Nor shall privately owned arms be enumerated or registered with any authority by force of law. Nor shall any taxes, tariffs, fees, or regulations be placed on the manufacture of or trade in personal or militia arms. Nor shall any Individual be held criminally or civilly liable for any reasonable act in defense of life, liberty, property, or the public peace. Nor shall any sworn police or peace officer have any greater Rights or powers than those enjoyed by any other law-abiding Individual. These being among the most fundamental human rights which enable the existence of a free and just society, any public official who violates these rights shall be guilty of a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year and a day in prison with no possibility of probation or parole.
A large standing Army being repugnant to the people's Liberty and creating a likelihood of foreign military adventures, and public liberty and security being predicated on the ability of Individuals to act on behalf of their liberties and personal safety, a popular Militia is the natural defense of a Free Society, and posse comitatus drawn from such Militia is the best protector of public order and safety; however, sense of duty naturally arising from an Individual's free exercise of his moral conscience, no Individual who conscientiously objects to service in the military or organized Militia shall be required to bear arms.
Article 3 of the Amendments would remain unchanged and continue to read:
No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner; nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The amendment currently reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Article 4 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States would be replaced by the following article:
The right of all Individuals to be secure in their persons, houses, documents, files, private communications, and effects shall not be violated, nor any warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, by a Grand Jury elected yearly by the People, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the Individuals or things to be seized, and if such Warrant shall have come about by perjury, malice, manufacture of false evidence, or malfeasance by any Individual, such Individual shall be held to answer, criminally and civilly, for such malfeasance, and Individuals not charged shall be compensated in full from public funds for any costs or damages resulting from such a search, seizure, charges, or trial resulting therefrom. These being among the most fundamental human rights which enable the existence of a free and just society, any public official who violates these rights shall be guilty of a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year and a day in prison with no possibility of probation or parole.
No Individual in the United States may be denied or have abridged by law, public, or official act, any Right, privilege, or immunity held by the people as a whole; and any official, elected, appointed, or otherwise receiving remuneration from public funds, who violates the least of these Rights, even to proposing or supporting a law that would violate the Rights set forth in this Constitution, shall be held personally liable, criminally or civilly, for any damage or dishonor against any or all citizens of the United States or of any state; and upon conviction of criminal violation of a citizen's rights may as part of punishment be further barred from holding any office or position of public trust within the United States thereafter.
Any citizen of the United States or of any state may petition a Grand Jury to bring criminal charges against any public official he believes has violated his Rights; and if the person who might be charged sits upon that Grand Jury, that Grand Juror shall be recused and the charges considered by the remaining Grand Jurors.
Charges against any government official which, if conducted by a foreign government at war with the United States, would be regarded as atrocities or war crimes shall be tried under the dictum of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials that following orders in the commission of such a crime is no defense.
In any case where the life of any individual shall be lost as a direct consequence of an operation conducted by officials of the United States government, or of the several states or any subdivision thereof, a Grand Jury shall automatically convene a criminal investigation of the officials responsible, and no additional tax-derived funds may be used for the defense of any individual indicted as a result of such investigation than would be available to any private individual under criminal indictment.