The Happy Slave

This is my surrender to the Powers that Be, who wish we all were just happy little slaves, tooling along without a care in the world, doing what our better-educated masters tell us to do, not daring to step out of line. I'm so bad at surrender...

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Location: Indianapolis, United States

I'm an old-fashioned Get-out-of-my-face-atarian. So long as the gubmint left me alone, I had no problems with it. Gubmint wants to run my life, so I'm doing something about it. (Not just blogging, either.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Laws you don't like.

South Dakota has just banned pretty much all abortions. Some people will be tickled pink and some will be just a teeny bit cross. A similar bill was recently proposed in my own state's General Assembly, and we Hoosiers weren't exactly unanimously behind it.

I have no doubt that the opponents of the new South Dakota law and many who oppose the Indiana bill will say that they should never have been permitted to be mentioned in legislatures in the first place. Attitudes like that only prove how much hatred there is for democracy there is in this country. People in America only favor any sort of representative or democratic process when it guarantees the outcomes they want. When they aren't so sure of the outcome, they try to circumvent our democratic and representative mechanisms.

These enemies of democracy love to claim that, once an issue has been ruled on by a specific supreme court, the matter is "settled" for all time. This attitude is completely at opposition to any sort of representative democratic republic. Yes, it is the duty of the US Supreme Court to reconcile our overly complicated body of laws. However, history has shown that even the supreme court does not consider itself to be infallible. Were that not the case, then Plessy v. Ferguson would have remained the final statement on educational segregation. Brown v. Board of Education of Maryland never could have happened. Likewise, the Supreme Court actually upheld slavery, most famously in Dredd Scott v. Sandford, until such time as the Constitution was amended via the Congress and several state legislatures to abolish the practice.

My point in going through such a summary is that the US Supreme Court is not a divinely-ordained body, instituted to infallibly and permanently determine all matters of dispute in the USA. At most, it ought to be a body to determine whether or not a given law is in accord with the general body of law in our country, resting ultimately upon the US Constitution. Unfortunately, my parents' generation has managed to convince itself into believing that the court actually is supposed to have divine powers, and many in my own generation share the unfortunate delusion.

The impulse is easy to understand. Real democratic processes are messy and scary. You actually have to deal with peopl who don't agree with you, and this is something that a tiny-minded dogmatic cannot tolerate. It is much safer and more reassuring to leave the matter up to a small board of "experts" and keep silly things like state legislatures out of the picture.

Unfortunately, these attitudes only play into the hands of anyone and everyone who would deny us all our fundamental liberties, whether they are on the "right" or on the "left". Use of courts to "permanently" decide all matters of dispute by one side of the political spectrum lulls the entire population into accepting this method as the first recourse. It inevitably leads to the exact same process being adopted by the "other side". At that point, the actual acts of a legislature become irrelevant. Instead, all efforts are expended on "packing" the courts. The current outraged of the "left" over our "right-wing" Supreme Court is a direct result of the "right" merely embracing the judicial hijinks of the "left". Indeed, this very attitude has been embraced by those people who used to be most opposed to "judicial activism". The pro-life faction of our country is now looking for a "big test case" to "settle" the matter in exactly the way they used to denounce Roe v. Wade.

While the function of the courts in reconciling law is indispensible, it should not become a replacement for the proper acts of the legislature. Legislative action, for all its dirt and flaws, is good for our country for two reasons. First, it requires us to actually hear what the "other side" has to say. This is a very painful experience for those people who adhere to a political religion. It is the breath of life for those of us who truly accept the fundamental premise of representative democratic governments.

The moment that any issue is prohibited from consideration in the legislative bodies is the moment that we lose a fundamental portion of our political liberty. At times, this liberty may mean that a legislature makes a mistake. This is a risk inherent in the democratic process, but the consensus had been that this is a risk worth taking. If asked whether or not it is better to risk stupid or bad laws or surrender all of my freedom to a board of lifetime-appointed "experts", I will take the risk. What is enacted by a legislature is far more easily reversed by a legislature than the pseudoholy writs issued from a now-overly revered judiciary.

Finally, prohibiting access to the legislatures to even the most pernicious of issues is a threat to the fabric of society. Like it or not, abortion does not seem to be all that popular in South Dakota, given that the entire state only has one abortion clinic. Whether or not abortion ought to be legal, this does mean that the issue ought to be at very least aired in that particular state's legislature. Crushing all political debate--and political debate must extend into the legislatures--only forces the issue into other means of expression. When any group feels that it cannot be heard in the legislatures, it is far more likely to resort to violence.

So, what is my take-home message? Am I going to say the South Dakota legislature was right or wrong in what it did? Am I going to use this law to stump for pro-life or pro-choice? Which side was I spending all this time just winding you up for? I'm not going to make it so easy on anyone who reads this. The abortion issue is so emotionally laden that it would be far too easy for someone to simply ignore fundamental issues of law, liberty, and separation of powers in the quest to get a particular "side" enforced upon the rest of the country. A civilized individual will put aside the most cherished emotional convictions for the sake of civil society in general. If that means submitting heated issues to the flawed processes of legislative deliberation, then that is what is required.