It's been a long time since I did a point-by-point rebuttal of anything--largely because doing so tends to devolve so far down into pedantry that it doesn't make the rebutter look any wiser than the original author--but having Glenn Beck's "9 Principles / 12 Values" lists shoved at me as the epitome of what being an American is after skimming through all of the rest of that glurge (at best) gave me an itch to stretch those old Usenet muscles that I decided I to needed scratch. (Also, some of this I've been trying to find a way to write down for a while, and this turned out to be the inspiration that let it flow out of my fingers.)
The 9/12 Project
The Nine Principles
1. America is good.
#1 sure sounds fine for a starting point, but when this is stated as a principle, what does it really mean? That everyone should always operate on the assumption America is always, inherently "good", in all things? That America as a whole cannot do wrong?
Is America "good" when its leaders start a war on false pretenses; when it provides material support to dictatorial regimes; when its representatives commit acts of torture, terrorism, murder, etc.; and when the general populace does not rise up en masse to put a stop to such actions being done in their name and punish those both immediately and ultimately responsible?
Since most Americans aren't going to build their self-image on the fundamental principle of "America is evil" or "America is sometimes good", even taken at face value this one doesn't have all that much real meaning; it seems like more of a jingoistic warm fuzzy to make one feel better about oneself and/or superior to those countries that aren't "good". (That said, I must admit that it is also true that, especially where fundamental principles are concerned, sometimes the plainly obvious should still be stated, just for the record.)
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
#2 could be great in theory if everyone were Christians, but, while many religious conservatives are fond of pointing out that the United States was founded by Christians and Christian principles were part of the foundation for the Constitution, this country was also founded on the concept of individual liberty and the right to not have the majority force the rest of its citizens to practice any particular religion or denomination thereof. As a Christian, I hope that atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and all others who do not believe in any one "god" come to believe in God. (Jews, Muslims, and other monotheistic religions not mentioned because most or all of those who insist on this as a "principle" lump those religions together with Christianity under either the argument that "God" means "whichever God is the center of your monotheistic religion" or "Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the same God.", so merely pointing out that not all Americans are Christian is an insufficient argument.) As an American, I will--nay, I must--defend their absolute right & freedom to remain atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. and still be equal citizens of the U.S. of A. To believe otherwise is to insist that America is no better than those countries who still support institutionalized persecution of Christians because they do not follow the religion of the majority--the only significant difference being which religion the majority purports to practice.
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
#3 is an admirable goal. One I wish more people practiced. (Particularly the political pundits and most especially the one who came up with this list.) However, it shouldn't be limited just to honesty. Every one of the Twelve Values enumerated at the end could and should be in there: "I must always try to be a more honest, reverent, hopeful, thrifty, humble, charitable, sincere, moderate, hard-working, courageous, responsible, and gracious person than I was yesterday."
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
...Therefore the government has no right to do anything about domestic abuse, child abuse, and so forth without first getting permission of both your spouse and you? (And of course, there's that also little detail that many of the very same people who insist on this as a "principle" are also trying their hardest to use that very same government to draw a line around a definition of "family"--and "spouse"--that leaves out significant sections of the population.) As with several of these "principles", it starts out sounding reasonable, but then goes too far.
And for most Christians, this principle technically contradicts #2, but I guess inexact simplicity is better than wordy precision when writing something intended to be sound-bite-worthy.
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
That's nice by itself, but fails utterly when combined with several other "principles" on this list. Who's going enact laws & enforce penalties if the "ultimate authority" is oneself (#4), and no one answers to the government (#9)--lynch mobs? I'm sorry, but no; just no. One of the reasons individuals band together into civilization and then form a government is to establish justice--creating rules for all to follow, and enforcing them. (It'd also be nice if most of the people who insist on this as a "principle" were to apply it equally to themselves, those who support them, and those they support, rather than only their opponents. See #1.)
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
This one is a paraphrase of a famous quote attributed (probably erroneously) to Benjamin Franklin, and it's one more people would do well to remember. However, the flip side of this one is remembering that everyone else around you also has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even when their method of pursuing happiness is different from your own.
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
Ahem. (Those who remember Schoolhouse Rock can feel free to sing along.) "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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."
Raising operating funds via taxing the population and then spending it to promote the general welfare does not constitute forcing you to be charitable. Also, if "your tax money" spent to promote the general welfare does not happen to directly benefit you, that does not automatically mean that it does not promote the general welfare. (Aside: As the United States quickly discovered during its time under the Articles of Confederation, a central government that does not have the power to levy taxes is completely untenable and will not surivive for very long.)
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
A good sentiment, well in line with the rights enumerated in the First Amendment, but one would do well to remember that the same holds true for those who disagree with you. And to remember that principle #5 also applies when disagreeing with authority or sharing your personal opinion involves breaking the law.
Also, note that just because you have and share an opinion, that does not make you correct. It may be your opinion that two plus two equals five (in a standard base-ten mathematical system), but the consequence of loudly insisting so will still be an F in math.
9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.
Civilization happens when individuals band together in bonds of mutual support. Government happens when civilization grows to large to support simple, direct action on every possible topic. Governments are formed by individuals choosing someone to act on behalf of and in the best interests of the whole. (I've had a brief essay centered around those points rattling around my brain for a while, but so far that's all I've gotten down in writing.) The basic concept of a democracy is, as E.B. White put it, that "Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time" (to insist otherwise is to insist that democracy is inherently impossible), and that disagreeing with the majority does not automatically mean you have no responsibility to follow the laws that the majority enacts.
In a quasi-representative democracy such as that practiced by the United States, the government answers to you every two, four, or six years, when you go to the polls and vote. The rest of the time, yes, you do answer to the government. The collective group of individuals to which you, as an American, belong selected them to act on your behalf and in your best interests</i> in making laws, and gave them the power to decide what qualifies as being "in your best interests". You may vocally and vociferously disagree with who was selected and what actions they take, but that doesn't change the fundamental fact that, since they are duly appointed representatives of the whole, they, the laws they enact, and the people they appoint/hire to enforce those laws are the ultimate authority of the land, and thus you most certainly do answer to them. Likewise, if you take a minority position, they most certainly are not obligated to answer to you.
Civil disobedience against a law you disagree with is always possible, of course, but do please remember that principle #5 outlines the most likely immediate result of following that course of action, so don't act surprised when that happens.
That is a good list, but it's limited to twelve items because of the too-cute association with the date. Are these really the absolute best twelve? One could easily add in any of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control", or "trustworthiness, loyalty, friendliness, courteousness, obedience, cleanliness, cheerfulness", or positive adjectives from any number of other long lists, too.
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