An Immodest Proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)


swift Modest proposalIn 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal  (for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.)” His answer to the “Irish’ problem was to advise the poor to sell their children as ‘food for rich gentlemen and ladies’, and came complete with techniques for slaughter and mouth-watering recipes.

His satirical essay was meant to mock society’s lack of empathy towards the unfortunate, and in particular, to make clear the contemptuous attitude the British aristocracy held of the Irish people.

As outrageous as Swift’s essay may seem, his point must be taken; when people are overwhelmingly seen as commodities – be they the poor, the disabled, the elderly, migrants or refugees – it’s only a small step to conceiving of humans as being little more than meat, which then, logically,  becomes only worth what the market will bear, per pound.

While the idea of cannibalizing the poor may seem shocking, in truth, we’re little different now, three centuries later. Our media is filled with assaults, deaths, and murders being committed every day, all around the globe, most of which rarely elicit more than a few seconds of our disapproval, before our thoughts move on to something less disturbing.

Hence, my proposal, which I hope will interest those questioning how society should deal with the physical assault or murder of its citizens.

In the last several years we’ve seen Justice using a sliding scale for the punishment of apparent and actual wrongdoers. A young black child alone in a snowy playground, for instance, apparently poses an enormous threat to armed officers in police cars, and is therefore executed before their fears can be realized. On the other hand, a young, armed white man who opens fire in an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina during a prayer meeting, can kill nine people, and still be arrested in an orderly fashion, and indeed, be treated to a Burger King meal by police officers as they chauffeur him from the church to the jail.

Or we can look to the case of the young, white male Stanford student, who, despite being caught in the act of assaulting an unconscious fellow student, received a six month sentence (now somehow dropped to three months) to be served in prison – not jail – rather than the six years the prosecutors had requested,  and despite white rape v black rapethe twelve pages of the victim’s statement, which outlined in searingly heartbreaking detail what she has gone through, during and since the rape.

Contrast that with the case histories of hundreds of young, black males serving much longer prison sentences for the same or similar offences, as in the case of Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey.

Murder and sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender, sexuality, or other factors. Inserting prejudice and bias into the process of sentencing renders the law farcical.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, on the grounds that race is life or deathracism is no longer an issue, I am very aware that racism, sexism, and bigotry are enormous problems, and that pretending they do not exist is as foolish as denying gravity. This is our reality, and wishing it away demonstrates the naiveté of a child.

(And according to polls, the majority of Republicans in America believe that ‘reverse racism’ is a worse problem than racism.)

Therefore, I tender my proposal. People are citizens of their countries. Although they cannot be enslaved, they are nevertheless in many ways the ‘property’ of their country, in that they are expected, by birth or through acquired citizenship, to obey the laws, while receiving the rights and protection available. They are simultaneously a country’s asset AND liability.

bst051

So I propose that citizens of all countries be defined as what they really are – property of their governments.

There is a provision in most countries’ military agreements that outlines what constitutes abuse of government property. In the United States, that provision is Article  108 – Destruction of Government Property – which describes as criminal, “Any person subject to this chapter who, without proper authority (1) sells or otherwise disposes of; (2) wilfully or through neglect damages, destroys, or loses; or (3) willfully or through neglect suffers to be lost, damaged, destroyed, sold, or wrongfully disposed of, any military property of the United States, shall be punished as a courtarticle 108 US-martial may direct.”

And some overzealous NCOs have been known to threaten the rank and file for wilful personal damage, even going as far as issuing a letter of reprimand for the sin of getting a sunburn that prevents a soldier from going on a mission.

In Canada, Department of National Defence employees and Canadian Armed Forces members are “Crown servants.” They too are, in a sense, property of their country. Strictly speaking, any assault of a member of the armed forces is an assault of government property.

But if citizens of all countries are defined as the  property of their governments, then assault, rape, and murder can be immediately reclassified as physical damage or destruction of a country’s property. Rescind the gray areas subject to bias, and assign a punishment that fits the crime.

Strongly held beliefs of a physical or moral superiority of one race or sex over another cannot be eradicated in a generation. Indeed, the popularity of  those who consider Donald Trump merely ‘an honest guy that says what the rest of us are thinking ’ proves that there are millions in the United States alone that see themselves as superior beings , and that they see those that are not like themselves as inferior.

Rather than argue with stubborn mindsets, it seems far more sensible to deem citizens as property of their country. With this as a guideline, it then becomes a simple matter of assigning value. value of a human lifeWhat is a life worth? Should men, women, and children have separate values, or can we agree that the assault or murder of any person is grievous? Since  racism is supposedly a non-issue, do we then assign the same value to people of all colours? In a court of law, can we agree to an equality of all members of society, independent of their circumstances of birth?

Rather than the lip service of equality granted by charters and constitutions, lay out the terms of the perceived worth of citizens. What is the lifetime value of your citizen, after taking into account both the costs and benefits? If that is pro-rated over an estimated lifetime, should the potential of a child’s life, nipped in the bud, be a factor in higher penalties?  Where then does that leave legalized abortion?

If a mother can be forced to give birth, is she not then entitled to ongoing support for the child? And if we now hold that all citizens are of equal value, can we then withhold the necessities of life to those who are caught in cycles of poverty or addiction? Can we, in good conscience, subscribe to cuts to benefits to the hungry, the homeless, disabled or elderly? Property must be maintained!

What of the wounded veterans, who served their country in good faith, but have returned from combat, damaged physically or mentally? Should their rehabilitation – the cost of repairing damaged property –  not be considered a vital part of the calculation of the cost of continuing conflicts or new acts of aggression?

justice is conscienceIn order to purge real or perceived prejudices in the courts, each and every citizen must be first and foremost recognized as a unique and valuable entity in his or her own right. If the law, lawyers, and judges are unable to see people as such, perhaps the only solution is to tack a label upon the people, signifying ownership, with the attendant penalties enforced upon those who damage governmental property.

My immodest proposal only seeks to level the judicial playing field, and avoid judgments that strain our belief and fervent hope that “Justice is Blind. “

Martin Luther King Day


what are you doing for othersInjustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.”   (Martin Luther King Jr. ) 

Today, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a federal holiday, so many people will enjoy a long weekend, with schools, banks, courts and all federal offices closed.

King was the inspiration of millions, being integral to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. During the 1963 March on Washington, he gave hope to all who felt less than free in America with his uplifting “I Have a Dream,” speech which earned him a reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

rosa parks quoteIn 1964, then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. That same year, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (MLKjr)

After his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Soon after, labour unions in contract negotiations began to campaign for a holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day , in his honour. In 1971, the day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states

reagan signs MLK dayPresident Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday in January to honour King in 1983, but it was not observed until three years later. It is a floating holiday, in that it is celebrated around the time of King’s birthday, January 15. In 1986, the day became a U.S. federal holiday.

Interestingly, Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns.

jesse_helmsSenators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Helms criticized King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing “action-oriented Marxism” Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a “packet of filth”, threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it “ Wikipedia.com)

In 1994, Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of service. But some states resisted observing the holiday, an action that would seem directly opposed to King’s ‘dream.” It was not until 2000 that the day was officially observed in all 50 states.

Many politicians still active in government today voted against the holiday. In October 1983, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, former GOP presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona, and Richard Shelby of Alabama, were amongst the 22 opposing votes against 78 Senators in favour, along with the current House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, and current top Republican advocate in defense of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

steve scaliseMajority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, voted twice against a state version of the holiday. Which is not surprising, considering that it has recently become known that Scalise delivered a previously unreported speech at a 2002 conference sponsored by a white-supremacist group. He was one of three Louisiana statehouse members who voted against the proposal in 1999, and then one of three nay-sayers in 2004.

supreme court“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2013 that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act designed to prevent racial discrimination in certain voting laws was no longer necessary. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, stated that “things have changed dramatically” in the South and that the “country has changed” since the Voting Rights Act was passed. The court argued the law had successfully defended against discrimination, but was no longer needed. Racism, the court majority appeared to suggest, was over, and laws created during a time when such hatred was in its heyday served now to place unjust “burdens” on certain states and jurisdictions that wished to pass new voting laws — laws, of course, that had nothing to do with trying to suppress minority votes. “ (Huffington Post)

“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.” (MLKjr)

And so today, Americans celebrate a holiday honouring a man instrumental in the creation of the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, while SCOTUS – which consists of a non-elected Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for life tenure “unless they resign, retire, take senior status, or are removed after impeachment (though no justice has ever been removed)” (Wikipedia.org) – dismantle that act to protect the very states that impelled it’s necessity.

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” (MLKjr)

martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-silenceKing’s words ring as true today as they did in this 1967 speech he gave at Stanford University. The “Other America” still exists, and will continue to do so until more people, universally, demand social equality and human rights for all.