Foolish inconsistency

"A Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Consistency in thought and debate is not just good, it is great. But consistency that does not allow for exceptions is foolish, because sometimes exceptions must be made. So an exception cannot be routine or accepted without resistance, otherwise you would lose your consistency.

Let's say you believe in individual liberty and freedom, and this is one of your highest ideals. That is one philosophy, mostly believed and practiced by Conservatives. On the other side is the Socialist belief in the power of the state and the benefits that state control gives society. This is a basic belief in a large safety net, the "you didn't build that" philosophy of Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren, and the trust in government to protect and provide for its citizens with benevolence.

As a fiscal conservative who leans libertarian, I am "pro-choice." To me, allowing an adult the right to control their own medical decisions is a given. But for many Republicans and those with religious backgrounds, abortion is a greater evil because you are essentially killing babies. While many Democrats call this inconsistent, I think believing that abortion is murder but still accepting individual rights (in this case, the right for a mother to control her own body) would be a foolish consistency. While I don't agree with the conclusion, I respect the argument and why it is being made.

With a loving and supportive and trustworthy government, why would people need to own guns? Socialists, being consistent, see no benefit to it. If our country has an army and police force, citizens shouldn't need guns to defend themselves. The thought that it could be defense against the government (or personal defense because the government won't perform its police functions) is unlikely if not impossible. And since we no longer need citizen "militias," there is no reason to keep the Second Amendment.

Some Socialists refuse to admit that their ultimate goal is to repeal it. They argue that the Second Amendment is the law, but they just want to tweak it a little here and there. "Don't worry, nobody is going to take away your guns," they say. But many really don't mean it.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens just let the cat out of the bag when he called for a repeal of the Second Amendment. That is an opinion consistent with Socialism when one doesn't believe people have an inherent right to own a gun. Underlying that belief must be a rejection of the supremacy of individual liberty.

Stevens' call for the repeal came in a NYT Op-Ed. (See His argument seems to be based on three concepts. First, our rights come from the Constitution; second, we no longer need to have a militia; and third, there is no individual right to bear arms. So once we repeal the Second Amendment, we can reduce school shootings because fewer people will own or have access to guns.

By saying that the Second Amendment should be repealed, Justice Stevens is arguing against individual liberty, unless he can make the case that despite all the other liberties in the Constitution that he supports, this one deserves to be singled out and not followed. An inconsistency is fine if it is not "foolish." So what makes Stevens' singling out the Second Amendment acceptable?

Do citizens have a right to burn the flag in the public square? To be consistent, Stevens could argue no. An act, setting fire to something, is not speech. It is highly offensive to many Americans and I'm sure if people were burning flags every week, we would have protests and marches against the activity. Maybe some people would die when protesters clashed, so Stevens could then argue that a ban on the activity would also "save lives." Well, all we need to do is repeal the First Amendment and we could then legally outlaw flag burning.

Do people have the right to assemble without government interference? Well, sometimes those assemblies are by members of the KKK, or criminal gangs, or people who are part of a terrorist cell. All of those assemblies lead to repulsive acts which offends most members of society, so let's stop these secret meetings of bad people because secret meetings could be harmful to society.

We could go through each individual right and imagine a scenario where society might decide that these rights are no longer convenient and should be repealed. And in Liberals' minds, individual rights, if they exist, are secondary to society's rights.

Repealing the second amendment would not change the fundamental right people have to "own guns" (i.e., to defend themselves using lethal force, if necessary). If the country were to repeal the Second Amendment, and then prosecute people for illegally owning a gun, the government would be violating what the Founding Fathers considered a basic human right, which we all possess regardless of whether it is listed in the Constitution. Without a Second Amendment, these prosecutions would be legally permitted.

But of more relevance to Stevens' piece is his underlying belief in the rights of society to trample on the rights of individuals. In order to protect one school against one future shooter, he is willing to take away all guns from law-abiding citizens. So if the individual right to defend oneself is not to be protected, then all of our individual rights are at risk if society can claim some benefit to the repeal, whether real or imagined.

Speeding can and does kill innocent people and cause severe damage. So let's use the car's computer to limit the speed for all vehicles to 65 mph on the highway and 40 on a back road. If the computer senses you are distracted, it can turn the power to your car off and force you to pull over. How about installing video cameras to monitor drivers to make sure they aren't eating their lunch or texting while they drive? All of those actions would definitely "save lives" and with computers and AI, the government could easily use technology to accomplish this goal. I'd bet many times more people die in car accidents than school shootings.

If privacy laws would prevent us from savings millions of lives, then we just need to repeal those privacy laws.

In a way, this is like a "prior restraint" issue. Rather than dealing with actual wrongdoing directly, we can try to prevent future wrongdoing, even if it means infringing on people's rights who haven't done anything wrong in the first place. And it could start with the right to privacy. After all, they could argue, nobody has a "right" to speed, therefore controlling speeding is in the public's interest, and therefore we should use technology to save lives. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Somewhere, deep down in Stevens' psyche, there is a little voice that is telling him that it is okay for the majority to vote to restrict the rights of the minority if there is some common good that will likely be achieved. If only "society" (government) could be trusted to make all those decisions for us. Unfortunately, we know it can't. And for just one example, look how the government used the anti-terrorist laws to spy on American citizens "legally."

The troubling part of Stevens' call for the repeal of the Second Amendment is that, to be consistent, you might as well repeal all the amendments. They are all cut from the same cloth and are all there for the same reason. If you repeal one using Stevens' logic and argument, all are at the same risk.

Stevens just doesn't accept that individuals have certain fundamental rights. He believes that public pressure shown by students marching and demanding gun control is how we as society should decide such issues--majority (or perceived majority, in this case) rule. And if there is a law that prevents us from implementing majority rule, just repeal it. Simple.

But in our country, we protect minority opinions and rights. Not everything is decided by the majority. And one's individual rights are not subject to majority rule, not if you want to live in a free society governed by our Constitution.

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