Gnomicon 201

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  201
Thursday 29 November 2012
Read gnomica 1-200 here!

 People tend to forget their duties but remember their rights.
Indira Gandhi  (19 Nov 1917 – 31 Oct 1934)

Right on, Ms. P.M.!

This daughter (not related to Mahatma Gandhi) of modern India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the mother of another Indian prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi [1944-1991, from 1984 to 1989]), and herself its former prime minister (1966-1977, 1980-1984), says it all sooo well!  Too often today it seems that everybody has elephantine memories of all the rights they have and all the rights they think they have, and all of these crowd the mind to such an extent that there just isn’t much room left for the very few duties they scarcely believe they owe (see Aeneas!) to society, family and – most important – themselves. Not that hers was an administration without its goodly share of corruptions (as we still read about India … and so many other countries, our own not excluded from this expanding club), but she was, apparently, something of the iron fist covered in the velvet glove.

Her Sikh (she herself was Hindu) bodyguards assassinated her in 1984.

I am a profound believer in the central importance to a modern society of human rights and civil rights, and I am most grateful that we do more than pay formulaic attention to both in this country – so many others do not: think – horror of horrors – of today’s Congo, to take just one appallingly egregious example.

Currently in America there is (thankfully!) much talk – both legal and lay – about rights:  about individuals’ rights to marry a homo-sexual partner, about life in prison for juveniles and the death penalty for the mentally retarded, about the extent to which police can rely on hidden tracking devices to warrant stopping possible suspects, about the very un-American and repellent practice hiding behind the grotesque euphemism known as extraordinary rendition, about Arizona’s immigration laws, about a user’s expectation to freedom from warrantless data-mining of her cell phone by authorities, about potential violations of the Voting Rights Act, about the legal obscenity begun by Bush and now for over four years openly abetted by Obama that is Guantánamo Prison, and so forth and so on ad nauseam.

In all these cases I for one believe people should and (on the basis of our constitution  and legal system) do have certain rights and are fully entitled to exercise them – even if they “tend to forget their duties”:  these rights are not contingent.

But what about the duties – few, if any, explicitly prescribed in the Constitution —  people have to pay (to use that hateful protean phrase) “their fair share” of taxes, about the duty to care for the children they’ve brought into the world, about the duty to obey not only the letter of the law but also its spirit (if you have trouble with that one, go back and re-read Plato’s Crito!), about the duty to care for the weakest and most helpless of your fellows, about the duty to live a useful and valuable life, and so on and so forth?

Where is all the talk about all of those – and other — duties amid all the ugly cacophony of what I deserve, what I am owed, what I am entitled to, what I have a right to?

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