alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)
[personal profile] alexandra_thorn
This morning one of my highschool classmates linked to the video of a Penn and Teller sketch about patriotism and flag burning. I watched the video, noted a passing remark on the Second Amendment which got me curious, and did some poking around. It turns out that Penn and Teller are adamantly in favor of “The Right to Bear Arms.” I hadn't known this.

I don't actually have a strong opinion on regulation of firearms, but watching another Penn and Teller video I was troubled to note that while the comedy duo have a lot to say about the views of the 18th century Revolutionary government on potential tyranny by the state, they – like other “gun rights” advocates – tend to emphasize the contemporary use of guns for self-defense. I find the disconnect troubling.

Is there a way that we can meaningfully talk about the Bill of Rights as a safeguard against tyranny without seeming unpatriotic?

I'd like to think so, but it has to be hard: to actually use a gun (not to mention Freedom of Speech, the Press, or Assembly) against the government would certainly constitute (well) acting against the government. It can be tricky to get our heads around how that type of behavior, even just as a threat, could be seen as patriotic.

Using guns in this way carries particular weight because what we're really talking about is ending human lives. Stop and think about that. Think also about whose lives we're talking about. Do you have any friends or family in the United States military? How about in the police force? I know I do.

Having faced the reality of Revolution himself, Thomas Jefferson must have known what he was talking about when he said,
“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. …And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? ... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

This is Jefferson's vision of true patriotism. It's a terrifying quote when you get right down to it.

Twenty years? Let's see... It's 2011 now. Twenty years ago was 1991. Twenty years before that was 1971. Twenty years before that was 1951. According to Jefferson, the United States should have seen four bloody Revolutions since the end of World War II.

Ordinarily I'm a fan of Jefferson, but I think I prefer the world I live in to the one he seems to envision in that quote.

So Jefferson's way doesn't look so good, at least to me, here and now, in the 21st century Boston. But that still leaves the question open: how do we keep the tyrants in check? How do we “warn” “the rulers” of our “spirit of resistance”?

It turns out that the years since World War II have not been completely quiet. Blood has been shed – though not, I think, at the scale envisioned by Jefferson. We've found other ways.

So I think it's worth stopping to think about the more recent Revolutionaries to whom we owe our lives today. I'll be thinking about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Rachel Carson. I'll be thinking about the protesters of the Vietnam War. And I give my thanks to the institutions that are working to defend the Bill of Rights today: thank you to the American Civil Liberties Union; thank you to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Thanks to those who are working to redefine marriage. Thank you to those who promote regulation of firearms, and those who fight against it. Thank you to Wikileaks (which if nothing else is certainly a “warning”). Let's not forget that warnings don't always come from those with whom we agree. So: a thought for the Sagebrush rebellion, a thought for the pro-life protesters outside of abortion clinics, and a thought for - somewhere, deep down - the populist heart of the Tea Party.

This ongoing struggle is what I see as the true spirit of patriotism.

Happy Fourth of July, folks.


alexandra_thorn: 2009, taken by Underwatercolor (Default)

February 2015

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