One year removed from the events of January 6, 2021, and we still kind of have… nothing happening. Not really anyway (just my opinion). Well, rather than get into the events of that day (as you’re going to see EVERY news outlet do), I wanted to share a relevant conversation I had with a friend who regularly reads my blog.
This conversation is recent (taking place in the last days of 2021), and the subject matter felt SUPER appropriate for today. I mean – I’m sure you’d rather see this than hear me:
No, friends – on days like today, I want to give you something that touches you on a different wavelength and potentially alters your perspective to something a little more nuanced.
So, here’s the conversation in full (with images added from my end, you know… since this IS a blog post). If you start in on this, commit to reading it in its entirety during your day if you don’t finish it in one go. I’m curious where this lands with people given the context of the day I’ve chosen to publish this.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that I’m hiding my friend’s identity here. I’ll call him Phil Hogan here in this post, but that’s not his name.
(Email 1 of 4) Subject: “The Provocative Johnnie”
Merry Christmas Johnnie,
I like reading your blog, and as I mentioned, I particularly like it when you feel empowered to call out hypocrisies in your own genuine tone — as you did in your post on people using religion to justify hate.
Not sure how political you might consider going, or whether you want to avoid a partisan tone, if in so doing, you shut down part of your potential readership. If you want to take a step that way, one strategy might be to use the arguments of the opposite side, and then use the ideas in a different way that shows another perspective. Two themes, for instance, that the other side embraces. . . but does so in ways that are often hypocritical. . . are “The Constitution” and “Freedom.” FEEL FREE TO IGNORE THESE IDEAS. JUST PUTTING THEM OUT THERE IN CASE YOU WANT TO BUILD ON THEM
I wonder what be mined for the provocative Johnnie from the 50 or so words in the Preamble of the constitution. For instance,
“Establish Justice” comes BEFORE “Insure Domestic Tranquility”. . . and BOTH come from “Provide for the Common Defense”
Were these listed in order of importance? If so, one theme that emerges from the first part of this is “No Justice. No Peace.” If we want people to act peacefully, we should first strive to make our justice system work for all. Establish Justice FIRST.
A second theme might be that we focus more of our resources on helping people within our borders before hurting people outside them.
Provide for the common DEFENSE.
We routinely put the lives of brave service men and women at risk, and we spend large amounts of money on weaponry doing so. More so than just about anything else. . . and more so than the next X countries combined.
DEFENSE is extremely important to our country or any country. But note they use the DEFENSE and not OFFENSE. “Offense” doesn’t appear anywhere in the constitution (let alone the preamble).
Why then do we start wars in places like IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN? Would that money and those lives not better be spent establishing justice, promoting the general welfare, or securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our kids?
“Promote” the “General” welfare. There is some tension in this aspiration.
On the one hand, the writers used the word PROMOTE and not PROVIDE, suggesting that it is not the job of government to give people a livelihood.. .but to help them get the skills and help build an environment where they can make a livelihood. Are we helping people get the job skills and education to support themselves?
On the other hand, they use “GENERAL welfare” and NOT the “welfare of SPECIFIC groups.” Are we speaking in rhetoric that builds the general welfare. . .or that pits the welfare of one group against another?
People talk about how a vital part of the DNA of America is freedom.. . but we never really talk about what freedom means. There is a lot of “Government can’t tell me what to do” out there right now.. . but the same people saying this are also saying things that take freedom from others. I am not a great poet, but here is one way to show hypocrisy in the way words like “Freedom” get misused.
All the best (and again, no expectations here). Just sharing ideas.
(Email 2 of 4) My First Response to Phil…
Hey, Phil –
Just getting to give this a read today (I was excited when I saw it) & I think I could potentially touch on 2 of these — and that’s the last two about the general welfare and freedom — and stay within the scopes of what I’m aiming for with this site.
I can’t argue about the first one with anyone because I don’t know enough. My lens into our justice system stops with the big nationalized cases that we all see, and even in those – I’m confident I’m getting a skewed perspective from all sides. I also don’t know how much I can separate my Blackness from that issue. There are definitely feelings that I have about that issue, but I know there’s also a HUGE bias there on my part.
And the second one somewhat follows suit. I’m familiar enough with that topic to be dangerous, but unfamiliar enough to just come off as ignorant.
You are more than welcome to put something together about both of those topics and post them out there, though – but I will say, with what you’re trying to do with your books and writing, you might want to use a pseudonym.
As for the last 2, I definitely think I can touch on the welfare one because I have addressed the resource issue at one point on the blog – but I did it for the “My Black Perspective” series last year, and that was about it. I’ll be volunteering and helping the homeless at some points in 2022, so that may be a good insertion point for things like that & expressing that ideology as you’ve presented it because it makes sense.
And as far as the last point goes about Freedom – that one is just in the holster for whatever the outcome is pertaining to Roe v. Wade. I think your poem sums it up beautifully, and I think posting it just as you have it would speak volumes.
I say all of that to say that I can totally use half of the above – LOL!
Thanks for sending this along, and again – if you ever feel like putting your thoughts together on the first two and you want them out in the world – let me know.
(Email 3 of 4) Phil Responds Once More…
JW, just keeping the conversation going.
I think of the US Constitution the same way I think of science. Both are far from perfect, but both include mechanisms through which they can get it right more often in the future than the past — science through experimentation and peer-review, and the constitution via amendment, judicial review, the wisdom of time, and healthy debate.
That said, I don’t believe in looking at “originalist intent” in either science or the constitution. In the case of science, for example, I can reject the “originalist intent” of scientists who posited an earth-centric universe. It’s premised in ideas that have since been thrown to the trash heaps of history. In the case of the constitution for example, I can reject the “originalist intent” of founders whose intentions (demonstrated in the different articles of the constitution) included protecting slavery, making wives the property of husbands, giving voting rights only to landowners, etc. Those also should be thrown to the trash heaps.
Both science and the constitution must be interpreted in the context of today (and people today), or they are irrelevant. The only “originalist intent” I care about in the Constitution is the originalist intent EXPRESSLY STATED as originalist intent in the document itself. The only place originalist intent is clearly specified is THE PREAMBLE — which to me, still seems pretty pure and worthy. Its 52 words can inspire thousands of chapters of debate still. But the debate should not be on the meaning to the forefathers, but the meaning of the people here and now. What do those words mean now? What can those words mean now? The constitution no longer exists for the forefathers. It exists for us. And if it doesn’t serve us, then we should not serve it. The preamble gives me hope — because it is simple, it still inspires, and because it still covers — at least the categories — I think most of what we need it to do. I would love to debate it in the context of what it does mean and can mean today — not in the context of “originalist intent.”
THE WORDS TO THE PREAMBLE
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution
HOW I READ IT:
WHO: “We the people of the United States”
Not just men. Not just adults. Not just white people. Not just English-speakers. And (maybe) not just citizens. We the people are creating this country to act collectively to the end of the purpose we will describe here and now. . . and within the scope of things enumerated here and now.
NOTE: We did not say “We the companies of the United States”. . . or “We the government of the United States,” or “We the political parties of the United States”. . .or “We the special interests of the United States.” We exist for the people, damn it. All of our people! Each of the people.
PURPOSE: “In order to form a more perfect union”
We want to be on the same side, so we can accomplish things. As a union, we want to act in the common interest — ideally, where all parties win. At the very least, a more perfect union occurs when a benefit for one does not come at the detriment to another. We don’t claim the union is perfect yet (or maybe ever will be). It’s a work-in-progress, but we want to make it more perfect, and we want to give it a chance such that it can become more perfect over time as we build wisdom and experience.
NOTE: We did not say “to make a more wealthy populace.” or “to include in it some of the world’s richest individuals.” We exist for common causes and shared benefits of people, damn it.
“Establish justice” We want people treated fairly – through institutions and processes we set up where those who do wrong pay a price, and where those who are wronged are compensated to the degree possible. NOTE: We are not savages. We don’t believe in vigilante justice. And we are not about partisan justice, where you get justice only if you support the party in charge.
“Insure domestic tranquility” We want to do what is necessary to keep the peace within our borders – ideally with laws and peaceful dialogue, and (only if necessary) with aid of state-sponsored police forces. NOTE: Domestic tranquility comes second — AFTER justice. If we aren’t about giving people fair and equal treatment, we have no right to expect people to be peaceful. But note also, that Domestic Tranquility comes BEFORE common defense. We need to keep peace at home before we take war on the road.
“Provide for the common defense” Collectively, we pay for and organize militaries and equip them with weapons to defend us from attack by persons and forces outside our borders. NOTE: We are about COMMON defense. That doesn’t mean putting forces into the Middle East to protect a narrow set of oil interests. We are NOT about common OFFENSE. We shouldn’t attack Iraq because people in Afghanistan bombed our trade towers. We were not attacked by Iraq.
“Promote the general welfare” We foster the development of institutions (e.g. schools, trade unions, non-profits, etc.) through which people can develop skills and knowhow to provide for themselves, and we speak in ways to uplift and empower all people to grow in knowledge, wealth, opportunity, and happiness. NOTE: We promote it. We don’t provide it. But we promote the GENERAL welfare — not the specific welfare of political donors, or of specific ethnic groups, or political parties, or wealth class.
“Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” We want people to be able to act with as much freedom as is possible, without being told by the state what they must and mustn’t do. We want to protect freedom for future generations. To the extent that one person’s freedom in one area comes in conflict with another person’s freedom, it is the job of the country to act to the end of preserving the most freedom for the most people. NOTE: Liberty is important,but it is listed last in this list of five. Protecting one’s freedom to not wear a mask should not come at the expense of the general welfare. Protecting one’s right to have guns does not mean they can use it to deliver vigilante justice.
Anyway, not sure what I am after here, or whether this ties to your blog. Perhaps there could be a “Pre-amblin’ Man” component to the Provocative Johnnie that gives you a way to elevate [the] debate on things you think are important — whether as a person, a man, a black man, an American, a wisdom-seeker, a son, a friend, a coworker, etc.
52 words are pretty simple and pretty foundational at least to what I think a lot of people aspire to. They could give you cover to take stands on things important to you.
All the best,
(Email 4 of 4) My Final Word…
This is an amazing email and already its own blog post, Phil!! I’m very tempted to just lift this conversation and post it as it is on the blog (with images and changing your name, of course).
Spoiling the ending: He consented 😉
If you have thoughts that you’d like to send to me or Phil, respond in the comment section below or kick an email to me at email@example.com. There were subtle things in this conversation that I’m wondering if others caught or not.