"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Consipratorial Thoughts: A Riddle for Bill Cronon and Other Friends of Legislative Transparency

Question: Where do the inalienable rights of "all men" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" become instead "individual citizens' inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the fruits of their own labor"?

If I provided a link to that quote, I'd give away too much. But if you haven't been to Bill Cronon's blog yet, as I encouraged you to do in my previous post, go there now and perhaps find a clue -- but then again, maybe you have better things to do.

The real question is what happens when you make that ever-so-slight change in this famous and founding phrase? What is the difference between the "pursuit of happiness" and "the fruits of their own labor"? Certainly, "pursuit of happiness" is more rhetorically compelling, but is there any direct correlation between "pursuit of happiness" and "fruits of their own labor"? The original suggests the right to action and agency, to "pursue" what makes you happy, whatever that might be. It might be money and property, but it might also be beauty and truth, or knowledge and power, or love, wisdom, justice, sanity, or any number of other intangibles. The revision suggests the right to property and possessions, a narrow interpretation of the original. The revision suggests that happiness can be reduced to an economic relationship between work and the "fruits" of your work -- between production and consumption.

Whereas the original permits, the interpretation limits, and whereas it's a legitimate interpretation for an individual to hold and abide by in his or her own life, it's a restrictive interpretation to use as a basis for public policy.

Don't citizens have the right to know where those who influence their legislators stand? Shouldn't these influences be transparent? And what's at stake in keeping them secret?

(The substitution of "individual citizens" for "all men" will have to wait for another day.)

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