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The Dignity of “No.”


“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden

“When you take a person’s life, you take the most precious thing that person possesses”, according to Harry, Dexter’s father, in the television series “Dexter”, which is about a serial killer who solely targets serial killers. Murder, in this sense, is theft of the life of another or others.

Societies strongly sanction against the murder of their members, as a general rule, except for specific socially sanctioned cases.

It is important to not confuse being “alive” with having “a life.” We require the former to accomplish the latter, but existence, in and of itself, seems to be an inadequate foundation for providing a reason to exist.

Not long ago, others wiser than I offered the following account of our raison d’etre:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Accordingly, to have “a life” is to be free to pursue happiness. To foreshadow, if a person or group steals the freedom or means of others to pursue their happiness, is it a form of murder?

Being mortals of the type we are, on a finite planet, our potential lives are necessarily circumscribed by what is possible, naturally and culturally. Even those of us blessed by fate are born with a relatively small set of possibilities that becomes increasingly smaller as we choose from among different sets of mutually exclusive paths.

Our set of possibilities is relatively small because to successfully conceptualize and actualize our pursuits of happiness, our natural gifts must converge with our cultural circumstances in an environment endowed with the requisite natural resources and Fate must fall in our favour. Our possibilities are constrained to the degree that we lack the requisites in any of these four component areas.

As we are not deities and our access to resources is not limitless, these four factors are affected by how our pursuits align with the pursuits of all those who share in the basket of natural and cultural resources that is available. Our rights to the goods in the basket are limited by the amount of goods in the basket and our power to lay claim to those goods.

I coined the axiom “Rights realization costs resources” to capture this circumstance. It applies to all of our interrelations, from the micro-level of lovers, families, and friends to the macro-level of humanity as a group. Anytime we confront circumstances where we must choose between competing goods or bads, the axiom is being enacted. For example, what did it cost America to go into Iraq? What did America gain? What is America sacrificing and what is it privileging by choosing this bailout strategy over a Krugmanesque strategy? Should a senior forego her medication so that she can eat a healthier diet or visit her grandchildren more often? Should we save for our children’s education or try to enhance their home life? A wage and benefit cut or no job? In this regard, Human Geographers say that in human affairs there are no solutions. There are only trade-offs and compromises.

Our pot of natural and cultural resources is effectively our pot of choices for the pursuit of happiness. The number of available choices can increase or decrease as a direct and cumulative result of our earlier choices, intentional and otherwise.

To return to the Founders, how does one deliver “unalienable rights” when resources are not unlimited? One does not because one cannot. The point of the Founders was not to promise the undeliverable: their point was to focus attention on the legitimacy of the claims of each and every citizen, so that the people were not only apprised of their rights, they were also apprised of their responsibilities to each other. This notion becomes clear when one recognizes that the American system was displacing a system in which the divine rights of kings and aristocrats were writ large.

Within Jeffersonian Democracy, these responsibilities are manifest in civic virtue. Civic virtue, in a republic, is manifest in the desire of citizens to promote social harmony and group well-being; to aid the state, and to avoid and challenge corrupting influences that would lead to the establishment of privileged ruling classes.

Citizens that embody civic virtue temper their claims against each other by following The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Founders clearly state that it is the shared circumstance of the people that makes it proper that they should care about the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Accordingly, it is contrary to the spirit of America’s Constitution to initiate, support, and promote policies that uphold the axiom “Those who have the gold make the rules.”

 How does this relate to choice? Our role in forming our character, as individuals and as groups, is largely a feature of our choices. In an overly simple, but meaningful, sense, who we are and who we want to be is largely determined by our ability to act on our choices. We feel compromised when our circumstances cause us to act contrary to our sense of right. “And being mastered meant the modification of frank and fearless statement by cowardice masquerading as discretion” according to Samuel Clemens, in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Hard economic circumstances often present such tests of character. As we move through this Depression, we will be heartened by the noble and courageous actions we experience or carry out. We will also be disheartened.

I am disheartened now. I am disheartened because I know that the despair that is present and forthcoming is largely the product of the choices of a small group of citizens who believe they deserve a disproportionately large share of the pot of choices.  In acting upon this belief, they not only secure a larger share, they also make the pot smaller overall.

Even given the complex nature of the factors and events that delivered this crash into the twin towers of the economy, it is clear that the acolytes of a cult of self-aggrandizement and intellectual faux couture were the pilots that attacked America’s productive capacity and standing assets. At the heart of things, these pilots are anti-American in spirit. They leverage their rights and they externalize their responsibilities. They are neo-aristocrats.

The bagel thieves, depicted in Stephen Leavitt’s “Freakonomics”, fit here. They are the group that were least likely to pay for their bagels, when the money was collected on the honor system, even when they knew the proprietor. Who are they? They are the senior executives of a large number of large corporations based in Washington. In “Freakonomics”, Leavitt asks a tantalizing question, was it their willingness to thieve and be dishonest that earned them their positions or did they learn to thieve and be dishonest by being in their positions (paraphrased)?

Unfortunately, they ate more than bagels. In effect, they’ve gotten fat on the moral choices of others. Their extravagances were paid for with other peoples’ ability to say no to indecent proposals or to say yes when asked for aid by loved ones. Before all is said and done, by creating this crash, these neo-aristocrats will have stolen the freedom of others to pursue their happiness. Have they murdered the pursuit of happiness of others? The answer to this question will be manifest when “We, the people” are denied the conditions that provide the dignity of saying “Yes” or “No.”

42 Responses

  1. The Bagel eaters are the non-producing parasites — they give nothing to the country only take.

    Now they have elected the ultimate parasite — and he doesn’t even fake “good works”. He does fake the eloquence — with his misuse and abuse of the teleprompter.

    • Nwr,

      I think some of the bagel-eaters are non-producing-parasites, but it must be acknowledged that the system has made a niche for them to do so. For example, money-traders who are able to skim off of transactions by playing the margins are parasitic. They feed on the efforts of others to produce.

      I think most of the bagel-eaters are involved in production, but that they take a disproportionate share of the reward. I’m not sure what counts as a fair share, but was the distribution of wealth in 1970 so unfair to the elite that it needed to be changed to the distribution that exists today?


      • Oops — it was the folks who DO NOT pay for the bagels — when they have the means to — they don’t operate on honesty — these are the non producing parasites. Lots of good honest people eat bagels — its the ones who won’t pay for the bagels on the honor system.

        But I think perhaps that the non-producing parasites who demand/want the luxury goods — and “stuff” — the super duper elites have co-existed since humans have been humans.

        The existence super elite and their demand of luxury goods — as is their “god given” right — is one of the ways Stephen H. Lekson in “The Chaco Meridian” — finds links to the three centers of power — Anasazi — Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) and then the Anasazi’s Aztec ruins (not related to the Aztec of Mexico — just a misnamed place in New Mexico near the Colorado border) and finally the Anasazi Paquime ruins directly south from Chaco Canyon in the Chihuahua Desert of Mexico. Where did the Anasazi go? They picked up, moved on, adapted and evolved with the times, and environment.

        I’m extending Lekson’s non producing parasites to the GW bush/Cheney/0zero fools that float to the top and then expect to be treated like the royalty of prehistory (and modern European royalty & the oil barons).

        I don’t think it is any coincidence that the first word that Obama learned as a child in Indonesia was “cheater” — and he frequently used that word against other children. He learned that word because HE is the ultimate cheater and he would be one to take the bagels and NOT pay for them. Even though the little guy makes less — the ONE feels that he is owed “something” — as is the Mrs ONE.

        This comment is probably too long for comrade Spammy.

      • My reply to your reply of my comment got stuck in Moderation — it was probably too long for comrade Spammy.

      • ALL of my comments are getting eaten by c o m r a d e Spam jerk.

  2. In effect, they’ve gotten fat on the moral choices of others.
    They are essentially vampires. They’re sucking our blood metaphorically. Or even our souls.

    I seem to remember some of the basis of the vampire myths were from aristocratic behaviors that started not unlike what we’re seeing now. And then when the rabble got poorer and started getting desperate, they got more extreme.

    Perhaps Biden shouldn’t have disclosed is safe hiding place after all.

  3. Whoa, you figured out the insert media commands!!!

    • That’s BB’s work. I managed to do the link to your post.

      • It just takes a little practice.

      • I like this version … I can see you made some changes from when I first saw it !! And I like the comment that ties back to my post. It still amazes me that so many people think they are more deserving because of faults perceived in others rather than see the context of that most of them are better off by circumstances of birth more than anything.

        • dakinikat,

          But human excellence/ Grows like a vine tree

          Fed by the green dew/ Raised up, among wise men and just,

          To the liquid sky.

          We have all kinds of needs for those we love–

          Most of all in hardships, but joy, too,

          Strains to track down eyes that it can trust.

          (Pindar, Nemean Ode VIII 37-44)

          The archaic Helots and ancient Greeks were well aware of the role Fate plays in our lives. The strange among us think we are responsible for choosing our parents.


  4. Sorry unfamiliar with steven mathers but you write so eloquently I am glad to see youamong the blogrollers here at the confluence….

    • Fuzzy: we need start a diet and exercise support group going!! I’m swearing that I’m going to finish this paper and stop spending so much time sitting. Sitting in car, sitting at desk, sitting sitting sitting!

    • fbg,

      When I quit the first Ph.D. I started, I did the generic thing and formed a band. We named ourselves “Moving Bears” and I continue to have a large number of fuzzy bears that kind people gave to us.


  5. Steven,

    I love this post. It’s so true that Obama and the bankers have taken away our freedom to pursue happiness! The only way we will ever get Obama to do the right thing is convince him he’ll lose power if he doesn’t do what we want him to. All he cares about is power.

    • bb,

      Thank you. Do you think Obama is enough a creature desirous of praise to do the right thing and earn deserved adoration?


      • Not unless we threaten his hold on power.

        • Some things do not change.

        • You know – I’m not certain that he is after power. He is about position and adoration. He has already attained position. Adoration continues for fear of being called the big R.

          Power – indicates that he wants to DO something. I think he’s proven thus far that he has nothing he wants to DO. He is protecting his FUNDing sources , because they both care about funds more than they do anything else. They are celebrities and they I think they despise those who LOVE them. And why shouldn’t they – To expect so little from a black man, is to think them incapable of doing much.

  6. now if fuzzy could oly learn type with heis big ol’paws!

  7. Speaking of vampires, many of my fellow working stiffs and middling folks groan and moan and holler about the occasional down-and-outer who manages to chisel a little extra out of what’s left of the welfare system [welfare for the common citizen], while ignoring the massive subsidies and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals, and the frauds perpetrated by them [welfare for the rich].

    They gripe about the mosquito and ignore Dracula. :mrgreen:

    • Oh, word. I also remember over at the big blogs people in the lower rungs of the professional classes getting mad at grocery clerks instead of their employers over their wages and benefits because they deemed that grocery clerks should be making x amount less than them instead of only y amount less. Apparently, the feeling of superiority that would accrue from a decrease in the financial status of cashiers was worth more to them than an actual increase in their own wages and benefits.

      Great post, Steven.

      • S,

        TY. I like to say that they are so busy fighting for the crumbs on the floor that they forget to look up to the table to see who has the loaf.


    • the dogs always fight for scraps left by their masters under the table … they should go after the real meat

  8. I forgot to add that their anger over the mosquitoes leads them to vote for the Dracula Party [GOP and Vichy Dems] because the Draculans promise to swat the skeeters.

  9. IBW,

    Good point. Both the welfare cheat and Ken Lay are a thieving type of free rider. The difference between them is a only matter of scale.

    It’s kind of like too big to fail. Once your activities reach a certain scale, you are rewarded for bad behavior, rather than punished.


  10. hey Myiq2xu -ROFLMAO-

    Myiq it will later be found out to be a suicide-

  11. oh and how many people gouged out their ears?

  12. MO is doing a good Evita impression!

  13. Also I see you have used the “retouched” version of the above artwork….

    the chairmans of the moral order removed the nipples from Liberty Victorious’ Breasts……

  14. ((( . )( .))) LOL

  15. damn did it wrong Myiq2xu you are the expert here indulge me!

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