Sunday, August 19, 2012

God-given or demonic?

What do we Americans think about rights and privileges? What does our government--and in a democracy, that is supposed to be us writ large--do about the distinction between the two?

Do we have a right to own a gun or is it a privilege? At what point in the limitation of any right does that right become merely a privilege?

If we think about the laws that restrict voting, which is supposedly a right, we might start to think of it as a right for whites if we are in favor of the deep concern that Republicans have for stopping voter fraud, the ways in which they have done so, and the resultant disenfranchisement of many people of color. Indeed, the real fraud in these cases are the initiatives that have stripped so many legitimate voters of their rights, reducing them to mere privileges for voters more likely to vote in the likes of Romney-Ryan.
Tom Toles
Guns, by contrast, are viewed by about half of Americans as so sacred that they oppose gun control. Mass shootings are becoming a weekly phenomenon in the US, and the silly argument that these shootings tend to happen in places with more gun laws is belied by the nationwide proscription of real gun laws imposed by a Supreme Court much more enamored of the Second Amendment than of the post-Civil War amendments meant to enfranchise all US adults, not just whites.

We Americans need to think about rights and privileges and make some decisions from the grassroots, since decisions made from the top seem to serve the elites first and the rest of us last, if at all. Is the ability to threaten life on earth with nuclear weapons a right or privilege? How about health care?

It comes down in many cases to a fine balance and critically considered evaluation of our enlightened self-interest and compassion, two things that more critical thinking would help us bring closer together. I am cheered most right now about how we are thinking about "illegal" immigrants and what to do about them. Three out of five of us think they should be able to seek citizenship and just a third of us want them deported. This is amazing to me when I think about the tough talk by so many politicians, especially the Republicans, who try to divide and, as usual, conquer us.

It is indeed time to arm ourselves--with the knowledge and ability to resolve conflict nonviolently, which reclassifies many rights and privileges and helps us promote egalitarian and just solutions, not the big divide gaps that make us so fearful and confused.

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