Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: Thomas Paine

The Rise of the Lowest Common Denominator

Today, scientists will introduce a new vaccine through the World Health Organization to three African countries in a pilot program designed to prevent malaria. Three hundred sixty thousand children each year will receive the vaccine, which has a 40% success rate in preventing the disease. 40% may not sound impressive, however, when you consider 435,000 people die of malaria each year (a child dies every two minutes from the disease, 250,000 children alone in Africa) this “complementary malaria control tool” is better than nothing at all. This is a victory for humanity and a proud moment for science.

This news comes on the same day (April 24, 2019) when, in the United States, a record 681 cases of the once eradicated measles disease have been reported. Twenty-two states report instances. The previous record for an entire year was 667 in 2014. Again, it’s only April 24th. This is a loss for humanity and an embarrassing moment for rational thinkers.

Science, I believe, is in its infancy. We pose far more questions each year than we answer. But as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Knowing there are unknowns (both known and unknown!) keeps science humble and curious. Each step forward reveals new questions, new problems, but more knowns (even if they are known unknowns).

Research into the demographics of “anti-vaxxers” always identified them as living on the outskirts of both political parties, but recent analysis has identified a distinct skewing toward the far right. The same conspiracy believing, science ignoring (climate change, pollution, flat earth), demographic who consider education to be an elitist, global cabal and who embraced the plain-spoken crudeness of a New York billionaire as their savior, believing he tells the truth, is a victim of the deep state and the mainstream media and was fully exonerated by the Mueller report. The echo chamber from which they obtain their news meets their confirmation bias, and anyone disagreeing is ignored and scorned as unpatriotic.

Fortunately, some African children will benefit from scientific advancement, children not of privilege or means, but beneficiaries of scientific progress. At the same time, some children in the United States will suffer from an entirely preventable disease because first world freedoms afford even the ignorant the right to put them in jeopardy.

As Harlan Ellison wrote, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” Unfortunately, specific demographics of our society have all of the answers when the rest of us are convinced of less and less each year, embrace that limitation, and continue to seek wisdom.

Thomas Paine wrote, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” In a country where education should be celebrated, instead, we seem to elevate the lowest common denominator — shame on us.

Rights of the Living

Thomas PaineIn 1789, Thomas Paine wrote Rights of Man as a rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. One of Burke’s arguments, and one he spends over 100 pages writing about, is how the English Parliament of 1688 granted certain rights “for themselves, and for all their posterity, for ever.” Paine takes exception with this and in the first few pages of Rights of Man refutes Burke’s assumptions brilliantly.

I would like to use these same arguments as a foundation for repealing the second amendment, which to my mind, is the only way we will genuinely affect the daily bloodbath that is guns in America.

In the preface to the English edition, Paine speaks of those who make their living by war. I will use this as a metaphor for the NRA, as they are but a mouthpiece for gun manufacturers whose products flood battlefields and street corners, both. About this, Paine writes:

That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord, and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.

Consider for a moment if we substitute Races for Nations in the previous passage. Now, how often have we heard those in government go on and on about how critical it is for “law-abiding citizens” to defend themselves against “thugs.” First of all, everyone is a law-abiding citizen until they are not, until they commit a crime. Second, “thugs” has become the code for our African American youth requiring neither an enigma machine nor anything more than a wink and a nod for conservatives to understand.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA misses no opportunity to speak before his epistemically closed audiences of Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh listeners when he frames paranoid image upon fearmongering image as reasons why “law-abiding citizens” need to arm themselves against “thugs.” He never misses an opportunity. As Paine wrote when slapping Burke for the same verbal diarrhea,

When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy of passion, it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes exhausted.

Indeed, later in the book, Paine smacks Burke again for misplacing his compassion. Likewise, as LaPierre is ordained to defend the firearm and not the victim of the firearm every time he blurts that nauseating phrase, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or the equally noxious “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I’ll quote two Paine lines:

He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.

And,

Prudent men readily recollect that mischief is more easily begun than ended.

LaPierre, ever the sower of tyrannical fantasies is subject to Paine’s logical argument when discussing what rights the founding fathers are owed. He makes a distinction of ruling by delegation, which he feels is appropriate, and ruling by assumption, which he does not. He writes:

The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.

Furthermore, he writes of the rights of the living superseding the edicts of the dead:

Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated.

He expounds upon this a bit further into the text when he writes:

Those who have quitted the world, and those who are not yet arrived at it, are as remote from each other, as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can conceive: What possible obligation, then, can exist between them; what rule or principle can be laid down, that of two nonentities, the one out of existence, and the other not in, and who never can meet in this world, the one should control the other to the end of time?

So, if there is no obligation of current generations to accept the laws of previous generations, except through their continued adherence to them, they are then subject to repeal. Paine writes of this tyranny:

It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive, that although laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding generations, yet that they continue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent.

That the second amendment was written during the time of the musket and could never address a hand-held machine gun or any of the other wondrous killing machines we have invented to slaughter our neighbor is all the more reason why we need to repeal it and, if appropriate, write a new version consistent with the times in which we live. As Paine wrote it:

The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living, or the dead?

Paine even quotes M. de Lafayette who, in appealing to the living said:

Call to mind the sentiments which Nature has engraved in the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when they are solemnly recognized by all: – For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.

Laws are for the living, not the dead, says Paine. Might I add that they should be for the living to prevent the dead, as well? Paine was a bit of a smartass in his writing
and if I may repurpose one of his greatest upbraidings, I consider the NRA and its fearmongering, paranoid, disingenuous leadership to be “darkness attempting to illuminate light.”

I consider this as the framework and justification for repealing the second amendment, using the words of one of the most logical witnesses to two revolutions. Common sense may not be all that common anymore, but logic is universally appreciated.

House (and Senate) Calls

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 The NRA is frothing at the mouth again, this time over the President’s nominee for Surgeon General. The reason? The President’s nominee, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA and a member of Doctors for America, had the audacity to say in a January 9, 2013 letter to Vice President Biden that guns are a public health care issue. In response to the nomination, the NRA sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to reject his nominee.

“Who is this 37 year old foreigner and political hack King Obama has nominated? And why should we listen to a physician regarding firearms?”

I’m glad you asked.

First, this “foreigner” is a US citizen who was born in the UK and moved with his parents to Florida when he was three years old. He graduated as valedictorian from his high school in Miami. He then graduated magna cum laude (in 3 years) from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemical Sciences. He then received an MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA in Health Care Management from Yale School of Management, where he was a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine in at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is currently a physician at Brigham & Women’s and an instructor at Harvard University.

Now, as to your second question, firearms cause injury to human flesh. It is the emergency departments of local hospitals that see the carnage and devastation guns cause. It is the physician’s duty to save lives. A physician does not receive a dossier on the patient in front of them bleeding from a gunshot wound. They do not pause to determine the legality/justification of the gun’s discharge. They only see the damage. Following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, 52 medical organizations joined forces to send letters to the leaderships of the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives and directly to the President of the United States. The audacity, indeed.

Of course, it is not the 52 medical organizations calling for change or Dr. Murthy’s CV the NRA really has a problem with, although even the thought of any gun control leads the NRA to a version of reduction ad absurdum apparently leading to tyranny, confiscation, black helicopters, concentration camps and a socialistic New World Order. Rather, it is the position of the organization Dr. Murthy founded, Doctors for America, whose mission statement reads:

“Doctors for America is a national movement of physicians and medical students working together to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care.”

And whose core values and culture are listed as:

    1. We are bold and fearless.
    2. We are creative and flexible.
    3. We value everyone.  Every voice matters.
    4. We cultivate strong relationships and a family spirit with partners and colleagues.
    5. We are accountable to one another in our individual and collective work.
    6. We are open and honest.
    7. We are passionate and determined.
    8. We grow and learn and help others do the same.
    9. We have fun and celebrate!
    10. 10. We ensure every action meets our highest standard: will it help create a healthier America for everyone?

End times, indeed. But it is the group’s position on gun violence prevention that has the NRA exorcised. Once again, facts be damned, Obama’s coming for our guns! And once again, our feckless Congress is caving to the NRA’s demands. Yesterday, in an editorial piece in the New York Times, the editorial board wrote that, “There are now reports that the White House and Senate Democratic leaders might delay a vote on the nomination until after the midterm elections or urge the nominee to withdraw.” Unconscionable.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, writing to General William Howe, wrote:

arguing with the dead

Shame on the NRA, but more shame on Congress, should they not vigorously defend this nominee. Gun violence is a public health crisis. To ignore it is an abdication of responsibility, against the wishes of Americans and placating the lowest common denominator of society.