Tag Archives: us vs them

A brief observation on the rule of law, courtesy of CS Lewis

It is disheartening, to say the least, to have our President have to constantly reassure the citizens who elected him that he is not an emperor. It’s more disheartening to realize why the questions keep coming up. Obama is wont to order around the Congress, browbeat the lapdog press when they remember their bark, scold people who insist on their rights of free speech and self-defense, and demagogue the most successful members of the society for their incomes.

This last holds a particular sticking point. Obama either ignores or scoffs at any suggestion that his own lavish vacations and 1% perks are a problem. Normally, you’d notice if the guy calling you to the ramparts of the class struggle was well back of the front lines… all the way back at a luxury resort, golfing, and then issuing a denunciation of “millionaire and billionaire corporate jet owners” from the steps of his own private jumbo jet. It should be even more glaring that, unlike the big wigs, the President does all of this on the public’s nickel.

And now we have the latest, that the President-who-is-not-an-emperor nevertheless holds himself to have the authority to order the deaths of American citizens on American soil via drone strikes, without due process or even probable cause. The Constitutional prohibitions on this sort of thing are numerous and stringent. The thing that really gobsmacks me on this is the lack of reaction among the same folks who, ten years ago, saw the hobnailed boot of fascism in every step of the prior President. There was a long and protracted argument about this at the time, I recall… and the debate centered on whether the measures taken then were actual violations, and why. But now we don’t even get the courtesy of that debate, because dissent is no longer the highest (or any) form of patriotism.

How is this even possible? People are not so foolish to hold such wildly different standards based just on the letter behind the politician’s name, are they? And honestly, I don’t think they are. In fact, I don’t think  that thinking has much to do with it. The standard isn’t reasonable, in the sense that it doesn’t involve reason at all. The standard is emotional. One group is the Other, and the first group is all that stands against them and all their foul works. So the same exact action (jet-setting to lavish vacations, questioning the motives and actions of the Government) is simultaneously the most shameless of deeds and not a big deal. The standard is not Right vs. Wrong, or Lawful vs. Illegal, but US vs. THEM.

It’s no way to run things. And I don’t think that this is a controversial position. Rule of Law isn’t always popular, but most of the time, most of us from both sides of the political divide agree to it, because the alternative is disastrous. And yet, there’s that us vs. them thing that kicks in when it’s “our guy” getting dinged for acting like a komissar. There’s a list of excuses like “Your side did it first” and “It’s necessary for progress” and “But there’s a crisis.”

And some people just dispense altogether with excuses and do it because They Know Better. And that gets us to CS Lewis, and The Magician’s Nephew. The Magician in question explains to said Nephew that “Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

Digory saw through Uncle Andrew, of course. Quoting the entire exchange would not fall under Fair Use, I’m afraid, but it’s the second chapter, and much of it will sound all too familiar to the reader.

A season for all men

Margaret: Father, have him arrested!

More: On what charge?

Margaret: He’s a bad man.

More: There’s no law against that.

Margaret: Yes there is – God’s law!

More: Then God can arrest him.  … He shall go free, were he the Devil himself, unless he broke the law.

Roper: So now you would give the Devil the shelter of the law?

More: And what would you do, Roper? Cut a great road through the law to reach him? … And when he turned on you, Roper, where would you hide, now that the law’s flat?  The country’s planted thick with laws, Roper – man’s laws, not God’s.  If you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, could you stand upright in the winds that would then blow?  I give the Devil the safety of the law, for my own safety’s sake.

That is from the magnificent movie (and play before that) A Man for All Seasons.  You’ll forgive the paraphrase, I hope, as my copy of neither source is nearby.  It’s somewhat a long lead into the topic, too, and I’ll hope you find it worth it, because this is a very big topic.    It’s been building for a long time, too.

You’ll have noticed that one of the most popular TV shows today is “Person of Interest,” J.J. Abrams’ general apology to the world for the Star Trek reboot and “Lost” finale.  It’s really a great show, too, almost in spite of itself: the premise of an all-seeing surveillance network quietly ferreting out terrorist plots and other impending crimes is enormously troublesome, and under poor stewardship, could easily devolve into a too-blunt critique of society, both badly-aimed and badly-executed.

As it is, they ask some fantastic questions, and all from the perspective of the characters, arising naturally from their interactions.  It’s masterful work, actually, and any aspiring storyteller would be well-advised to observe and emulate the approach.  That’s reason enough for it to become a popular program, but I think there’s more.  Plenty of well-crafted shows die on the vine because they can’t find an audience.  “Person of Interest” got through, because in its way it deals with exactly what Sir Thomas More was talking about 450 years ago.  The more things change…

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We’re only ordinary men

I cheated this time: I wrote this as a comment, and decided to steal it from myself for a post.

It began as it usually does: the simplest question, WHY?  When I read a description such as this, I immediately wonder why someone gets trapped into thinking in such terms.  Something has gone out of whack, clearly.

Think of it as a balance of impulses and desires, all sitting heavier or lighter on a large platter, and a fulcrum upon which they pivot.  That fulcrum is the will of each person.  I have a desire to be bold and daring, and a desire to keep from being hurt.  Given an event – think of it like a pebble dropped on the surface – I tilt towards reacting boldly or cautiously.  And since we’re all “weighted” differently, and face different tugs and forces upon us, and seek a different balancing point for all of this, we all wind up quite different people, and thank goodness for it.

Now, what I’m looking at in Morgan’s description is not balance, however, but failure of balance.  Something’s gone wrong and the platter has tipped way over.  No matter what drops onto that person’s plate, it’s going to roll and tumble its way down to the low end, and get the exact same reaction, no matter where it initially came in.  The normal metaphor is that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Everything that hits an unbalanced mind becomes a confirmation (or a victim) of this bias in one direction, exacerbates it, and sooner or later the platter tips into the dirt and everything tumbles right off.

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