bind down from mischief

“In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

– Thomas Jefferson

I found the above quote in the comments of a right-wing website’s article about the current administration’s proposed labor law updates.  While quoting notable chunks of the proposal to pull kids [under the ages of 16 or 18] out of dangerous agricultural and non-agricultural work environments, the article sensationalized the story: Obama’s Labor Department Looks To Take The ‘Family’ Out of Family Farms.  There is a black-and-white picture of a girl, straight out of Little House on the Prairie, pouring milk into a larger container among cows, but with a giant red “banned” stamp over it.  The article claims that DOL’s measures will compromise small family farms who eponymously employ the whole family, including children, in their work and may struggle to afford legal, adult labor.  The article, with a Republican agenda, is quick to blame the (Democrats’) Obama administration for any measures that in any way challenge the Holy American Icon of the Family Farm.

In the comments, people ask why attention is being turned to child labor laws, rather than more pressing issues.  Other commenters suspect pressure from labor unions who don’t want a kid stealing work from a “family provider/union member”, though that might just be a pat remark with no substantive evidence in this case.  My first thought is that this reform is in response to Newt Gingrich’s recently publicized opinion that poor, under-served youth need to be working jobs instead of being enabled (to be poor?) by welfare.

Personally, I am a fan of family farms and overall genuinely living—eating, working, playing, etc.—where I live, rather than outsourcing everything to large corporate enterprises that don’t give back to my community anywhere near what they take from it.  This is as much about sustaining the people in my local community as much as it is about the environment and people in my global community (a.k.a. the World).  I am not convinced by the article that the DOL’s proposed updates would actually cripple family farms.  I am also not sure that they aren’t perfectly reasonable in terms of protecting children.  If they aren’t, and if the DOL’s measures are actually “out to get” family farms, I have a hard time saying that it’s aligned with true leftist ideology.  [One commenter said that the Obama administration is an embodiment of “modern liberalism”—HA! If only!]  Instead, I’d say it stinks—nay reeks!—of corporate special interest.

The individual who posted the Jefferson quote thinks it is our government who is over-reaching, but not necessarily the money-mongers who have an unjust, incalculable sway in it and over us.

The government is what we make it, as is any other relationship or community [which are maintained with accountability and communication].  Unfortunately, because we’re a HUGE country, there leaves ever-so-much room for opportunism [greed] to distract from a goal of protecting and providing for all.  While the current modes aren’t working and we may struggle to envision new/better ones, I think we all agree that there needs to be some form of articulated commonwealth (e.g. roads, schools, postal services, etc.).  It seems that conservatives’ vision for our country relies on private religious organizations (read: churches and practicing Christians) to take on this role, you know, in the event that wealth and resources don’t magically distribute themselves fairly to the healthy, happy, hard-working citizens.

They’re sold on a sentimental vision of what America stands for and has been, and with good reason: it’s comforting, immaculate, protected from scrutiny by a thick shellac of nostalgia, and it contains a shred of patriotism, however small, that we all want to cling to.  Of course, I should say that this vision may diverge wildly from your or my vision, or from what actually comprises our country today.

In a conservative vision, people work hard; they build homes, families, and lives through their efforts.  They take pride in their work, live up to their ideals, and act with honor within their communities.  Incidentally, in this vision, Americans are mostly, if not all, white.  They are Christian—maybe Jewish.  They all speak English.  They are straight and cisgendered.  They are homeowners, or will be once they save money.  They date, get married, have children, pets, and family reunions.  They drive cars that they wash on Tuesdays.  They go to church, if only for cardinal holidays, and participate in “American” holidays: barbecue in July, wear costumes in October, carve turkeys in November, wrap and unwrap gifts in December.  They say the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction and pride.  They donate food, clothes, time, and money to charitable causes.  They respect our firefighters, police, and military.  I could go on, but if you’ve ever watched American TV, you prolly get the picture by now.

In this vision—contrary to today’s iridescent makeup of our country—Americans are not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, Wiccan, or atheist.  They are not refugees or immigrants of color.  They aren’t illiterate, even if only in English.  They are not “ethnic”.  They are not biracial.  They are not homeless.  They are not addicts or criminals.  They don’t smoke pot.  They are not HIV-positive.  They are not gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, transsexual, polygamous, or polyamorous.  They are not kinky or promiscuous.  They are not anarchist, communist, or anti-capitalist.  They’re not unemployed, at least not for long.  They are not draft-dodgers.  They don’t get divorced.  They don’t have or want abortions.  They aren’t lonely.  They aren’t injured or abused or angry or unhappy.  They are not blind, deaf, or disabled.  They don’t have learning disabilities, mental health issues, restrictive diets, or chronic physical health conditions.  They don’t make you talk about things that make you uncomfortable: politics, religion, climate change, themselves.  They are not any more more than civil—nevermind embracing—of others whose beliefs or practices scare them.

Thomas Jefferson was an agrarian-revolutionist American superhero (that is, if we set aside his racism and slave-keeping).  His vision, as I understand it, of what our country could be is one of highly-educated farmers, all actively shaping and adjusting our government together, while directly working (through farming) to support ourselves and our communities.  I think that in his vision our government was never meant to be the stagnant, impacted institution that it is today, so encumbered by corruption and short-sightedness that we cannot move forward.

I am heartened by the power of Jefferson’s words, and by the conservative commenter’s having quoted them, even if intended to bolster a different perspective than my own.  Hopefully if the quote gets spread around a bit, more and more people will see the meaning I see in it:  No one entity should have so much control over the people which, we would agree, includes the government elect.  In particular, however, I think that corporations have been given far too much power over the people and our collective resources.  Let us use our Constitution and other legislature to bind these corporate entities “down from mischief”.  Let us participate in shaping our government to protect and propagate the commonwealth.

Blogger’s Note:
I wrote this piece back in December 2011 and never posted it.  I don’t feel like it’s as polished as I’d like, or that I’ve delivered any substantial conclusion or insight.  As an informal opinion piece, however, I believe it’s fit for the public and decided to share anyway.

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