Rights and Privileges
There seems to be much confusion these days over what is a right, and what is a privilege. A lot of people in this country think owning a gun is a right, but having access to health care is some kind of privilege, reserved for those who can afford it. I’ll start with the fact that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution which gives anyone the right to own a gun, unless they belong to a well-regulated militia. Read the 2nd Amendment again. Just a note: a bunch of potbellied rednecks in camo running around the woods does not fit the definition of “well-regulated.” Still, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can own a gun for self-protection (Heller v District of Columbia). Of course this is the same court that ruled that corporations are people and money is speech, so their opinions don’t carry much weight with me. Still, the law is the law, even if, as Mark Twain said, sometimes “the law is an ass.”
Alright, so everyone can own a gun, or guns, I can accept that. What any sane society should find unacceptable, though, is military weaponry in the hands of citizens. That’s crazy. You can’t own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a tank, or a fighter jet. Neither should you have the privilege to own an assault rifle unless you also have the privilege of serving in the military. These weapons have one purpose; to kill lots of people quickly. They don’t have a place in civilian life, and police shouldn’t have them, either. These aren’t the weapons to use on your citizens, unless you’re in Syria. And if you think you need an AR-15 to go hunting, your hunting privilege should be rescinded; you’re really bad at it.
Yes, I think owning a gun should be a privilege you have to earn, like driving a car. Before you can pilot a four or five thousand pound guided missle, you must pass both a written and driving test. And then you have to get liability insurance in case your car does damage. Why shouldn’t it be that way with guns?
There are other kinds of privilege, mostly unearned. White privilege is something everyone knows about, except white people. We just think we can walk, or jog, down a street, without even worrying about some cop stopping you and asking us what we’re doing there. And we can do that, without fear of harassment. We take it for granted, and many of us never consider that others are less fortunate. How many white parents make damned sure to tell their son “Never talk back to a police officer, and never, ever run from one.” It never occurs to us to think that way, because we’ve never had to. How many white parents worry if their child will come home safe from work or school every day? Well, these days, everyone, I guess.
Then there’s rich privilege, often inherited (white privilege goes a long way here). F. Scott Fitzgerald said the rich are different than you and me, and it’s true. They live in a whole different universe. Do you remember when George H. W. Bush was President? There was a news clip of him in a supermarket, marveling over the checkout scanners. He’d never seen one before. Do you think Mitt Romney, or any of these other multi-millionaires, knows what it’s like to have to earn an honest living? They don’t have to go shopping or anywhere else you might have to mix with the hoi polloi. They have people to take care of those things.
If you’re wealthy, you don’t have to live by the rules; there are no rules. You can lie, cheat, steal, or even kill, and you’ll never spend a day in jail. But if a poor man steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, you can bet Inspector Javert will hunt him down to the end of his days. The banksters and Wall Street boys can bring the economy to the brink of collapse, and there isn’t a single indictment. What about Bernie Madoff? He went to prison because he cheated the rich, and that’s not allowed. Psychopaths run multi-national corporations that are destroying the earth, and the only accountability they may have is paying a fine so small it amounts to a rounding error. The tax code has been completely re-written for them, so they can sit on their asses by the pool while they wait for their dividend check, and then pay capital gains tax, about half of what many hard-working middle class families pay.
Where do our rights come from? Are they God-given? I’d be careful about that. If some fancy pants scientist finally proves God doesn’t exist, there go your rights. I’m not sure about the government, either. It took until 1920 for women to get the right to vote. At least we have the Bill of Rights, even if few of them are given much respect by the administration (I haven’t seen a Bill of Privileges). I think rights are inherent, and based on common sense and simple humanity. Every one of the so-called developed nations provide basic health care for its citizens, except the U.S. It’s just what civilized governments do, who aren’t filthy with corruption. Not us, though. We’re the only one of those countries whose primary health care system is for-profit. This is absurd and shameful. Are we a civilized society or not? How can we call ourselves the greatest country in the world when 45,000 people die each year, due to lack of health care which they can’t afford? We have a pay or die system, because there’s more money in it.
Women have the right to their own bodies, just like men. To suggest anything else is ridiculous. They also have the right to be paid the same as men, for doing the same job. We’ve never needed the Equal Rights Amendment, or the Lily Ledbetter Act signed by President Obama. It’s all there in the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. I said earlier that rights are inherent, but we are bound to follow the law, or change it.
Someone has the right to build a business and acquire wealth, but not if it means skimping on safety or fair pay for their employees. If you can’t, or think you can’t, pay your employees a decent living wage and give them a voice in the workplace, then I don’t think you deserve to be in business.
We have the right to the religion of our choice, and we also have the right to be free of religion. We should have the right to post whatever we want on Facebook without fear of being fired. Workers have the right to organize and collectively bargain, to form a union. A union is simply democracy in the workplace. We still believe in democracy, don’t we?
I think I have the right to go to a movie, a school, a Sikh temple, or anywhere else without getting shot to hell, and I think that trumps your right to be able to carry an assault rifle with extended clip to any of those places. That’s just common sense, isn’t it? I realize that one person’s common sense is another’s “What, are you inSANE?” But that’s how I see it. Your comments would be welcome.