This past week I saw the play What The Constitution Means To Me. In addition to the engaging performances, the play was thoughtful and provocative, posing the question, “Should the American constitution be abolished?”
For many Americans this question is terrifying. Yet the constitution was drafted by white men of privilege more than 200 years ago, which seems, on its face, to be a group with which the vast majority of us have very little in common. So why do we continue to follow its word?
The iron pot proposed a journey to the mud pot. The latter declined, saying it would be wise for him to keep to his corner of the fireplace. It took so little, really so little, the least thing, in fact, to render him debris. He’d surely come back in pieces.
For you, the mud pot said, whose skin is stronger than mine, I see nothing that keeps you.
I will protect you, the iron pot replied. If something hard threatens you by chance, I’ll put myself between you and that way I’ll save you.
This offer persuaded the mud pot. Iron pot, his comrade, placed himself right at his side. My two folk went off on three feet, cloppety-clop as they could, leaning against each other, so that the least hiccup in their path caused the mud pot to suffer. He hadn’t taken a hundred steps before his companion shattered him. Not that he could complain.
We should only associate with those who are our peers. Or else we must fear the destiny of one of the pots.
The iron-pot founders of the United States are leading its citizens on a journey they should not make. The people keep cloppety-clopping behind, trying to patch together amendments, which aim to repair what is outdated, confused and missing. Other than the political will, there’s no reason not to begin the process of drafting a whole new constitution.
As well as seeing the play this week, I am also reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari points out that the constitution (really all societal structure) is nothing more than codified mythology with no biologically imperative basis. There are no self-evident truths about equality in any scientific sense. There is no so-called creator endowing us with inalienable rights. Liberty is a chimera, as is happiness (as distinct from pleasure, which all animals are capable of feeling and seeking; hence the experiments with rats who starve themselves to death seeking their next cocaine fix).
None of this is to say that there isn’t a good reason to have a constitution and, importantly, a Bill of Rights, or that equality in some form is not a worthy and necessary goal in any current society. It just doesn’t have to be what’s there now. This gives us the freedom to dream more, to imagine better ways of living in community together. Since 1776, other countries and international organizations have given ongoing deep thought to the issues of humans’ rights, duties and privileges, if they are to live together peaceably. The South African constitution is new, to reflect the new reality in that country. Canada repatriated its constitution in 1982 and included a new constitutional Bill of Rights (without falling apart at the seams). Why shouldn’t the United States draw from this well of wisdom?
In the midst of the current scandal around the latest Supreme Court nominee’s questionable behavior in the 80s, many are quite comfortable forgiving him, because, well, it was so long ago and the norms were different. That’s only 30 years ago. Meanwhile, the majority of Supreme Court justices agonize over what the Founding Fathers meant, as they apply the constitution in 2018.
The vast majority of mud-pot citizens are in constant danger of breaking to pieces if they seek refuge in the constitution. The document itself is a series of patch jobs. Drafted to obfuscate, not illuminate.
If we truly believe in a just and harmonious society, which enables all humans to flourish, then we need to press reset. Start fresh. Our peers are our fellow citizens, living here and now, not some musty historical figures. Men who considered well more than half of the population their property. Let’s set out on the journey that’s right for us. Together. Today.
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