The U.S. Constitution does not grant a single right to anyone. Do you want me to repeat that? Take some time to process what I just said, because it’s a very important truth; the U.S. Constitution does not grant a single right to anyone. And it’s a very good thing that it doesn’t because any entity, like a government, that can create a document giving rights to people can also turn around and create a document taking rights away. I would not feel like our rights were secure if a government, through a document, could grant rights to its citizens. Sure, if the government were truly democratic and represented equally all the citizens that might be okay…..maybe, although I’d still be concerned. But when the government only purports to represent all, but has actually been high jacked by a small, powerful minority, I’m glad it is not the true giver of rights. So again, it is a very good thing that the U.S. Constitution is NOT the source of our rights.
What the U.S. Constitution does, is recognize in an official and binding way that our rights are inherent as human beings ...
What the U.S. Constitution does, is recognize in an official and binding way that our rights are inherent as human beings; God given if you prefer. The Constitution in a way was not created for the citizens so much as it was created for the government. It is a restraining order on the government as it were. It is a document recognizing that all human rights are inherent and that they cannot be taken away or infringed upon by the government. Even as amendments were added, these amendments did not create new rights, but broadened the recognition of these rights to people that prior to that sadly were not recognized. The fourteenth amendment for example, did not grant rights to African Americans, but just now recognized them as fully human and deserving of having the rights of being fully human recognized and protected. It is a sad commentary that the fourteenth amendment has been cited more, wrongly, I believe, to protect oppressive corporations then it was to protect oppressed African Americans.
The fact that so many people’s rights were not protected and recognized is the dark side of having a constitution like ours. I already stated that the Constitution does not grant rights, and I explained why I consider that a very good thing. But it seems a fact of life that almost every good thing, has within itself its own destructive or contradictory aspect; and our constitution is no exception. The U.S. Constitution is fundamentally a negative document. In other words, while it recognizes positive rights, it protects those rights in a negative way. It basically is a document that requires the government to leave us alone. In fact one could argue that the Constitution does not protect our inherent rights at all, but just recognizes and affirms them and then requires the government to get out of the way and leave the actual protecting of the rights to us. Sure we have police to protect us if our lives (a human right) are in immediate danger, but the constant less immediate threats to life such as hunger, the possibility of homelessness, the specter of poor health, etc. are left to the individual to deal with.
Now, all things being equal, a negatively applied constitution such as ours would probably be sufficient for all people under it to live somewhat comfortably, especially if the people are educated, informed and humane. But unfortunately that is not the reality we live in. Our democracy is no longer a functioning one, but a procedural democracy at best. The government has been high jacked by the corporate and financial elite and while it purports to represent the people, it is quite clear that it really represents moneyed interests. And this is where having a negatively applied constitution is insufficient for protecting the rights of the people because it opens the door for two sets of laws, the laws for everybody which are negatively applied (prohibitions) and the laws for the few which are positively applied (protected privileges), such as laws crafted to protect capital, enforce contracts and benefit the few over the majority. The majority of us are treated with indifference by the very representatives who are supposed to represent us while they create laws which by design are meant to protect a privileged few, but which put the rest of us in legal straightjackets with no effective recourse to redress our grievances because these laws by their very nature are not positively applied to us and therefore cannot even be willingly resisted, much less repealed through the legislative process. In other words, these laws are even immune to being broken through civil disobedience because they are negative laws for the majority, but positive laws for the few. Let me explain with an example of what I mean by this negative/positive law dichotomy: A good example of a negative law or prohibition is the speed limit on the highways. If the speed limit is sixty-five you can get to your destination quicker by going seventy. You can break that law and if you are lucky, you won’t get caught and you will have arrived at your destination sooner. The outcome is that by refusing to obey the law, you achieved a goal you set and you were in a way empowered by that. Most of the laws that apply to the majority of the people are just of that nature, they are prohibitions; some very good obviously (prohibition against murder) but some just plain ridiculous nuisances such as prohibitions against marijuana use or gay marriage, etc. But, my point is one still has a certain level of freedom where these nuisance laws are concerned; one may be able to violate them with impunity.
The laws of privilege that benefit the elite come at a cost. That cost is the disempowerment of the majority and the attendant despair, rage, and marginalization that is so prevalent today.
But the laws of privilege, many which were literally written by lobbyists representing the parties whose very interests they serve, cannot be ignored or broken through civil disobedience because the majority of people are only affected by the consequences of the law but not the law itself in the strict sense. For example, the law supports a multi-payer, profit driven health insurance system which leaves many with no health insurance or inadequate health insurance. This is a positive law or law of privilege for the health insurance companies, but restrictive, cumbersome and downright cruelty to most of the people. But how do you break a law like that through civil disobedience? You can’t. And that disempowerment, especially in a time of health crisis, leads to anger, resentment and sometimes violence. The laws of privilege that benefit the elite come at a cost. That cost is the disempowerment of the majority and the attendant despair, rage, and marginalization that is so prevalent today.
It is obvious that the majority of laws which keep people constrained and immobilized are laws of privilege. They are so numerous, convoluted and sometimes contradictory that many people are not aware they are breaking a law. I was in New York City over the summer and saw a gentleman during afternoon hours, sitting next to a major bookstore reading the paper and enjoying a bagged lunch. He even tossed a few crumbs to a couple of pigeons. A big, bad security officer told him to move. I’m sure that man didn’t realize he was a lawbreaker as he sat there quietly enjoying his paper and his lunch. But he was asked to move in order to protect the aesthetics of the property I would guess. Meanwhile, in that very same city, there are homeless people, without food and in life threatening conditions (life is supposed to be protected by the Constitution, along with liberty and pursuit of happiness) and there is no law that protects them. In fact, they are often made to move, not because being homeless is a crime, but because they are an eye sore to the comfortable and the privileged.
Laws of privilege do not benefit all and do not contribute to the general welfare; in fact they are more often than not a danger to it. They are laws that have been bought and paid for by the corporate and financial elite and passed by self-serving, immoral and weak-willed lawmakers who forgot who they serve, if they ever knew at all. Meanwhile, the rights and freedoms of the people are held hostage. And, as I said there appears to be no recourse because how to you disobey a law of privilege? If the law makes it so that you can’t get good healthcare, do you break the law and get it anyway? No, because that wouldn’t be breaking any laws, it would just be an option that most of us can’t afford. Maybe you could try to steal a healthcare policy, but that seems impossible to do. So, it’s not that laws of privilege take away rights in the strict sense; they just make it very difficult for the vast majority to exercise those rights. As you no doubt noticed, I am writing this from the perspective that health care is a right. To me it makes perfect sense because if life is a right, then health care which is the protection and nurturing of that life so that it can be lived to the fullest, is a concomitant right by default.
Having rights that are impossible to exercise is no different than not having the rights at all.
People say this is the freest country on earth and that nobody is denying you the opportunity to live the American Dream. All you have to do is work hard and you’ll attain it. Well, it may be true that no law physically restrains one from doing these things, but the financial constrains inherent in the system make achieving what one has every right under the law to achieve, virtually impossible for most of us. And even if achieved, keeping it is a risky endeavor as well. How many have through their hard work, achieved the American Dream, only to lose it because of a health crisis, job loss or other unforeseen circumstance. While there is no law that prevents one from living a good life, and achieving the American Dream, if economic circumstances make it impossible, what is the difference? Having rights that are impossible to exercise is no different than not having the rights at all. In fact, in some sense it is worse because you don’t have a tangible enemy to fight to make changes. If a person robs you of your rights, you can fight against that person. But when it is an amorphous system like what we have, the recourse is often either despair or violence. Perhaps there is an even more sinister reason why it is worse not to have a tangible enemy is that it serves the status quo better that way. A well-defined enemy with a clear stated plan to steal people’s rights would eventually lead to a full scale rebellion by the people against that person or entity, but an elusive system like ours keeps people hoping for a better way if they just work harder and sacrifice more. It keeps the cycle of wage slavery and consumption going. We are rats in a maze doing exactly what our observers/masters want and we think we are free and making slow progress toward a desired goal. We will never rebel as long as we don’t realize we are being used and are in chains. As long as we believe that we have rights, even if they aren’t completely attainable right now, we will be compliant and quiet.
What we must realize is that the economic system in place never had the interest of the people at heart, and the politicians, if they ever did, have long since sold out to the corporate and financial elite. If you are fortunate enough to have a job, you are a wage slave, because your work will likely not earn you the American Dream, but subsistence at best. Unless you work for yourself or a small business, you are working to support the very system that exploits you and when you consume, you are doing the same. You are not a human being with loves, hopes, desires and rights; you are a commodity to be exploited. You are exploited when you work, you are exploited when you shop, and you are exploited when you tune into any media.
So returning to the U.S. Constitution: whatever the motivation of the founders happened to be, they chose to give us a negative constitution. In their wisdom they made it clear that our rights are inherent and not granted by the State, but not as fabulously they created the Constitution as a restraining document deterring the government from taking away our rights, but not empowering it to ensure that all have equal access to enjoy their inherent rights. And as I said above, having rights is meaningless if you cannot freely exercise them.
In closing, I am very heartened by the burgeoning Occupy Movement that is sweeping across the nation. I have been pessimistic for years that any real change would ever occur in this country. I had grudgingly resigned myself that the current system was impervious to positive change. I am now guardedly optimistic. I believe that the Occupy Movement is our best and only chance to overthrow this repugnant, immoral economic system and restore accountability to the people in the halls of government. If you care about freedom and justice more than law and order, if you want a real viable, functioning democracy instead of the sham we currently have, please support the Occupy Movement in any way you possibly can.
Author - Steve Long
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