Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rights and responsibilities

Happy Birthday and Semper Fi to my Brothers in Green. You've come a long way from Tun Tavern, baby. Click on the pictures for a larger image.
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Civilized behavior

“Conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Ring any bells?

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

That was a few years ago. We all know the time, the place, and the writer/speaker.
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Today Gettysburg is 152 years in the past and I’m watching my country fall apart. It really bothers me. Hurts my heart.

It’s not just the big things, either. Not the scandal of federal and state agencies run amok, or of the three branches of government ignoring the law and doing what they feel like because “fill in the blank.” Those things were bound to happen when America’s leadership turned selfishly inward and quit even pretending to be American.
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No, it’s the little things. A couple of examples:

A few months ago some people bought and moved onto a small acreage near the ranch. Nice folks and they’ve done a very good job of cleaning up the pigsty left behind by the former owners. Unfortunately, they have several dogs they allow to run free. The dogs are big, slobbery-goofy, good natured beasts. They’re not bad, they’re just dogs. But uncontrolled, they represent a real and serious threat to our livestock, and it’s not worth the risk -- to either the cattle or the dogs -- to let them roam freely on our ranch. The neighbors have stopped by several times, searching for their temporarily disappeared pets. On each occasion they’ve been gently and politely reminded about property rights, stray dogs and livestock, and neighborly respect.

Last night the dogs showed up, larking about and having a good time, just as the sun was setting. I ran them off by firing a single shot from my carry piece (S&W Shield 40) into the base of a tree a few feet from where they were cavorting. My purpose wasn’t to “scare” them. Dogs aren’t people, they don’t know what a gun is, and they’ll never worry about getting shot, never have an inkling of what that phrase means. They will, however, move away from situations which make them uncomfortable, and they will avoid places where they’ve been made uncomfortable. These dogs didn’t like the loud bang, or the whizzing sound of the bullet, or the loud smack as it impacted the tree. They’d been comfortable in their exploration, but those sounds made them uncomfortable. So they ran off, heading back toward home.

A while later the neighbors showed up looking, once again, for their misplaced dogs. I briefly and succinctly explained what I had done and why. They were shocked and dismayed and argued that one of the main reasons they had bought the acreage and moved to the country was so that their dogs could run free.

It’s pretty clear that from their perspective they have a right to do whatever they feel like. They’re obviously pretty big on their personal rights, and see them as vastly more important than the rights of anyone else.
Wikimedia Commons. Hayes, Sousley, Strank, Bradley. Where's Gagnon?
A few months before the dog people moved in, I stopped by a property I own in town. Located on the main drag, it’s a former filling station on a paved corner lot. When I arrived I noticed an automobile parked on the lot, displaying a for sale sign. I called the number and asked why the vehicle was parked on my lot. “It’s a great place,” said the person, “for people to see the vehicle.”

When I asked the person to move the vehicle, the response was, “Why? You’re not using it for anything.”
Wikimedia Commons. An image of Rosenthal's negative.
The point here isn’t about what these people did, it’s about the unquestioned assumption that they have a right to pretty much do whatever they feel like, period. This is deeply uncivilized behavior. And it’s become the norm in America.

The foundational principle of our nation is that all men are created equal. That is to say, that we are all fundamentally human, with none of us fundamentally greater or lesser than our fellows. Our rights as individuals are natural rights, bestowed upon us not by governments or by our peers, but by nature’s god. The corollary to these self-evident and unalienable rights is the responsibility to respect the rights of others as we would have others respect our rights. Whether you call this “the golden rule” or Kant’s categorical imperative, whether you get there via religion or reason or some other path, the responsibility is the same. Our unalienable rights are inextricably joined to the absolute responsibility to see and treat our fellows as equals, as fellow humans, as fellow sovereign citizens.
Wikimedia Commons. The irfanview positive of the negative. Ain't I clevah?
Responsible behavior

In both of the above situations it was abundantly clear that not only did the folks I was interacting with see nothing wrong with their behavior, they also clearly saw themselves as being victimized. They set out to do something they wanted to do, which was in their estimation completely justified and reasonable, based solely on their unilateral and egocentric evaluation. They believed absolutely that they had the right to do as they wished, and no responsibility to recognize the rights of others, let alone treat those rights with respect. That anyone who would say them nay was being a big, mean, poopy-head villain. And violating their rights.

This has become the way of our society. All rights, no responsibilities. Such irresponsible and uncivilized behavior has become the norm, rather than the exception. And the country continues to fall apart.

Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It’s an official holiday, set aside to honor those who have served in the U.S. Military.

I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Veterans Day over the last decade or so. My discomfort has nothing to do with honoring veterans. There’s nothing wrong with the idea and it’s a fine sentiment. By and large, however, I don’t see many examples of veterans actually being honored or appreciated on Veterans Day. There’s no shortage of hoopla, but most of it is either commercialized or politicized, or both. And on an individual level it’s quite often more about how people feel about themselves rather than how they feel about veterans and their service.

On the one hand, this is okay. There’s no federal law saying how people must feel and how they must behave on Veterans Day. Nor should there be.

Back when I was serving, Veterans Day was very low key. Those who genuinely wished to honor veterans did so, and did so very well. Those who didn’t wish to, didn’t. Which is perfectly fine and normal. And from this veteran’s perspective, better. I don’t know anyone who served in order to be appreciated, or to get a discount, or to get a free meal on November 11. We served for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost, because we owed our service to something far bigger and far more important than ourselves.

So on the other hand, and unfortunately in my opinion, what we have today is a case of a great many people saying they are doing one thing while doing, in fact, something quite different. And that’s a problem. In my opinion.

In my mind, the problem is twofold.

First of all, most people don’t really understand what the military does, or why the military does what it does. The first part is fine and understandable; most folks haven’t served and can therefore not really grasp the reality of military service. That’s okay, of course. I can appreciate and honor a rocket surgeon without understanding all the nuts and bolts of rocket surgery. There is, however, an easily understandable reason why the military does what it does, and for Americans, it’s really not okay to fail to understand this. It's not rocket surgery. The reason is spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, and more succinctly, in the Oath of Enlistment.

Here’s the Oath of Enlistment:

  • I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The military does what it does not “to keep us free,” but to support and defend the Constitution. The Constitution is the bedrock foundation of our nation and our society. It is the true “Contract with America,” a contract which sets in stone and spells out our fundamental equality and our unalienable rights as sovereign citizens, including our liberty, or if you prefer, our freedom. It is therefore a contract between each and every one of us, not between a lofty government and its lowly peasants. As it says in the Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men to secure their unalienable rights, and therefore the government derives its just powers from the consent of the sovereign citizens.

The military does what it does to martially support and defend the Constitution. This is a fine thing, and veterans of the military should be commended and honored for their service to the Constitution. But martial support and defense is only a small part of supporting and defending the Constitution. The greater part devolves to the sovereign citizen -- to you and to me. It is our responsibility to behave in a civilized fashion, to find the best balance between our individual liberty and the good of the country, to support and defend the Constitution in order to create a more perfect union. Stepping back from our innate egocentrism to acknowledge and consider our fellows and the greater good of our society and our nation is the first vital step of E Pluribus Unum.

Many (perhaps most) people don’t seem to get this. Or if they do get it, it seems that many (perhaps most) dismiss the notion of shared responsibility as grade school stuff.

“Yeah-yeah-yeah,” I hear a lot of people say, “I get all that, but what about this and that special exception? What about social justice? What about my rights?!?”

Secondly, it seems to me that there are a great many folks out there (perhaps even most folks) who are far more interested in how they feel about what the military is and what the military does than about what the military actually is and does. They seem to like to feel good about feeling good about veterans. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good or with emotions, but if those emotions are the end of it, as I suspect is far too often the case, then that’s actually a pretty big disservice to the veterans, and to the nation as a whole.

Here’s another example.

A person recently told me how very, very proud they were of “those boys who give their lives for me.” Tears were rolling down the face of this person as they spoke. They went on to explain how proud they were to live in a country where there was a military to provide people to die for them. “I know it’s my civil right,” this person added, “it’s right there in the Pledge of Allegiance, and I expect them to die for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of them.”


This person is an elected official, and one who has been re-elected many times. Which means that they have been chosen by a majority the voters, to represent those voters in an official capacity. It seems very likely that this elected official reflects the sentiments of a majority of the electorate.

If you love your freedom…

A long, long time ago, some Greek dude named Socks 'n Trees, or something like that, opined that the unexamined life is not worth living. I can dig it. I think Socrates would agree that the concepts and questions I’ve raised are worth thinking about. Worth thinking about a lot.

You’ve no doubt seen the bumper sticker that says, “If you love your freedom, thank a VET!” It’s a nice sentiment, and if you understand the Constitution and why the military does what it does, you can kind of understand the message.

But at the end of the day the catchy phrase is a shortcut to nowheresville. What veterans do is important, yes, but no more and no less important than what every other sovereign citizen does. It's not someone else's job to guard and protect your freedom. It's your job. Just as it's your job to protect the freedom of others. And vice versa. Really, dudes, that’s what America is all about. Out Of Many, One. We The People.

In the spirit of that Socks 'n Trees guy, give this one a try:

If you love your freedom, thank the Constitution. And keep (or start) being a responsible, civilized, Sovereign Citizen.
At the Kimball Flight Center, Old Glory waves in the gentle autumn breeze against the backdrop of the setting sun on November 10, 2015, the 240th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps.
That is all.


  1. Good post.

    Every year I used to spend a few hours on Veteran's Day up at Fort Rosecrans. I would usually alternate sides of the road each year and walk around and read the markers and memorials. It's an interesting place and its always open on Memorial and Veteran's Days.

    1. Thanks.

      Ft Rosecrans is an astonishingly beautiful place. I visit shipmates there every time I'm in San Diego.

  2. I , myself, have noticed a phenominal increase in self centered swine in the last 20 years, and particularly the last 10. It's the final victory of the if it feels good, do it crowd. This is distressing, as a goodly part of the concrete in the foundation of the Civil Society is respect for the rights and property of others.
    Since my retirement from LE, and my becoming the night auditor at a resort, I spend a great deal of my time annoyed. Every weekend, Security and I have to explain to people that, no, you can't have a swim in the outdoor hot tub at 0330, no, you can't sit around the fire pits, drinking playing loud music and being obnoxious ater Midnight, we are a family resort, and there are 4 floors of people who are trying to sleep, next to the fire pits, ( fire pits attract drunks like you wouldn't believe, so we chase out the wel behaved, as well, just the sight of the fire will draw drunks like moths ), No, you can't have a batchelor/batchlorette party with music turned up all they way at 0400, nor do we appreciate it when you urinate out of the windows, onto the patio below. About a month ago, I checked the securiity over the outdoor hot tub, to find a man and a oman having sex in the pool. They told Security that it was none of our business if they had sex in the hot tub.

    There is even a decline in simple civilty.
    people wonder why my hair is so gray.

    1. It's amazing what some people do, how some people behave. You begin to understand what people are capable of.

  3. Once again Shaun you've gone right to the heart of the matter. You've touched upon something that I think most people just pay no attention to, which are their rights AND responsibilities as American citizens. It's not that hard, really. Act in a civilized manner, respect others, go to work, pay your taxes, vote and damn it remember that while you do have rights, so do others.

    Superb post.

    1. Thanks Sarge, that's very kind.

      It's ironic that so many folks madly barking up the wrong tree in a desperate search for self esteem, never imagining that the path has never varied from the one their Kindergarten teacher tried to set them on.

  4. Well said Shaun.
    I wonder if we haven't gotten so far away from the principals that made this nation under God so great that we have lost our sense of direction, responsibility, honor. Thank you for this post.

  5. Thanks Brighid, and you're welcome. I think you're right.