Individuality

As you may have gathered, I have become a devoté of the writer Barbara Kingsolver. It’s my friend Dana Yost’s fault: he got me started and now I want to read everything she wrote. She writes beautifully and has a great deal to say that is important and worth serious thought. That’s what I do: I find an author I like and I read everything they wrote. Kingsolver belongs among the first rank of American writers in my view and the novel I finished reading not long ago raises a most interesting question. It has to do with what it means to achieve true individuality while at the same time belonging to a group.

In the novel, Pigs In Heaven, we follow a young woman introduced in Kingsolver’s previous novel as she struggles to deal with the fact that a young Indian girl she has adopted illegally and she has grown to love is now claimed by the Cherokee tribe to which they insist she rightfully belongs. As it happens, the woman is herself part Cherokee, but that fact remains in the background as the tale unfolds. During the telling of that tale, the young woman’s mother, Alice, goes to the Cherokee Nation to visit with a cousin and intervene on behalf of her daughter; while there she gradually reclaims her own sense of belonging to a people that, while poor, are held together by age-old traditions, painful memories, and, most importantly, love and respect for one another.

The question that this novel raises is whether it is possible for a person to become true to themselves while at the same time pledging loyalty to a group that may make moral demands on them. In a word, can one remain free while at the same time doing what others demand of them? The Nation has traditions and ways of doing things that Alice and her daughter are unfamiliar with — being raised in Mississippi and Kentucky, far away from the Nation itself. Kingsolver paints a beautiful picture of how Alice gradually finds herself drawn into this strange group of people while attending a “stomp dance” in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere (where alcohol is not permitted, as it happens). As the night  gradually turns to dawn and she finds herself dancing along with the entire nation, “For the first time she can remember, Alice feels completely included.” And yet she remains the same person she was before.

Is it possible for someone to feel (and, indeed be) included in a group and at the same time achieve true individuality? Kingsolver suggests that belonging to something greater than oneself is the ONLY way to achieve true individuality. It is possible to love others and oneself at the same time: one finds oneself by losing oneself. Our culture’s view of the issue seems quite different. We seem to think that true individuality can only be achieved by rejecting the group we are born into and swearing allegiance to none other than ourselves. Think of the turbulent 60s when the “establishment” was rejected out of hand and love was reduced to free sex: it was all about “doing your own thing.” As the young Cherokee attorney who is pursuing the little girl in order to return her to her people says to a white man early in the novel:

“Your culture is one long advertisement for how to treat yourself to the life you think you really deserve. Whether you actually deserve it or not.”

What we have here is a profound difference between the sense of belonging that Huxley, for example, depicts in Brave New World, in which individuals lose their sense of self by becoming drawn into a group that captures not only their wills but also their minds. This does not happen in the Cherokee Nation, according to Kingsolver. Alice, and to a lesser extent her daughter, is drawn back to her Cherokee roots. It is a beautiful idea and Kingsolver is able to make a convincing case. The glue that holds the group together is nothing more, nor less, than then love and respect they have for one another. Alice, for the first time she can remember, “feels completely included.” But she is also the same woman who lately joined the group, though now she has a deeper sense of who she is and where she belongs. In achieving true individuality and a sense of freedom she has never before known she has the assurance that she is loved and accepted for who she is.

These people seem to have it right: one achieves true selfhood and true freedom not by rejecting others and seeking to stand apart, but by accepting and willingly belonging to something larger than oneself– subordinating one’s self willingly in order to discover one’s self. In a way it’s not unlike a good marriage.

 

NOTE: In an interview with Stephen L. Fisher of Emory & Henry College in 2011 Ms Kingsolver confirmed some of the ideas I have expounded here:

“. . .the most remarkable feature of human culture is its capacity to reach beyond the self to encompass the collective good; yet, here in the United States we are blazing a bold downhill path from the high ground of ‘human collective’ toward the tight little den of ‘self.'”

Well put, but as is the case with so many fine novelists, her books make the point more forcefully.

The Common Good

Some years ago I was teaching a course in 18th Century political philosophy and had an especially good class. One of my former students had become an attorney and was friends with our Congressman whom he brought to class one day. We had been discussing the Enlightenment notion of the “Common Good” which permeates the thinking of political philosophers at the time, including the founders of this  nation. One of my students asked the Congressman if our government was committed to the Common  Good and he was met with a smirk and a garbled response. I suspect the student was being a bit facetious, but the response of the professional politician was most interesting. I dare say he had never thought about the notion at all.

A particularly striking passage in Santayana’s brilliant The Life of Reason gives us a perspective on this topic that will help us understand better why the notion of the Common Good is almost certainly not being considered in the hallowed halls of our Congress:

“Where parties and governments are bad, as they are in most ages and countries. . . . the private citizen continues to pay a maximum of taxes and to suffer, in all his private interests, a maximum of vexation and neglect. Nevertheless, because he has some son at the front, some cousin in the government, or some historical sentiment for the flag and the nominal essence of his country, the oppressed subject will glow like the rest with patriotic ardour, and will decry as dead to duty and honor anyone who points out how perverse is this helpless allegiance to a government representing no public interest.”

Now, Santayana is using the phrase “public interest,” but the concept is the same. He is speaking about an interest that is common to all, a good that governments that are not “bad” strive to realize. Needless to say, our present government has long since lost sight of such a concept — as evidenced by the reaction of the Congressman in response to my student’s question. But Santayana also points out the “patriotic ardor” of the “oppressed subject” who shouts “foul” whenever he hears any criticism of the country he “loves” — in the form of the flag and the national anthem sung at sporting events by a pretty child, the simple sort of patriotism that so many mistake for the real thing. As Santayana also notes,

“To love one’s country, unless that love is quite blind and lazy, must involve a distinction between the country’s actual condition and its inherent ideal; and this distinction in turn involves a demand for changes and for effort.”

Thus, what he points out in these brief passages is the failure of bad governments to focus on what is most important and the small-mindedness of citizens who are ignorant of what their country truly is and are therefore perfectly willing to go along with the actions of their government — and are critical of those who would point out the shortcomings of their government when it fails to realize the “inherent ideal.”

No man is an island, as the saying goes, and we are all in this together. It therefore behooves us to know what is going on, speak out against violations of the public trust, vote out those who couldn’t care less what the common good happens to be, and acknowledge that ours is a “bad” government to the extent that it fails to respond to the real needs of the majority of its citizens. The notion of the Common Good may have been central concept in the thinking of the founders of this nation, but it assuredly is no more — though it should be. Some concepts are timeless and this one is central to the ideal of good government.

Three Favorites

My blogging buddy Keith suggested that his readers list the three most popular posts each of us has written since we started writing them and I thought it might be fun. I note, however, that mine are not as uplifting and positive as are Keith’s. But I will list them and comment anyway.

I will start with my personal favorite, as far as I can recall, and that is “Lincoln’s Hope,” which had a number of “hits” but not as many as the top three.

The top of the list, by far is a post I wrote about Freud and Violence which I wrote in February of 2013 and which continues to get 20-30 hits a week. It has had 1,990 in all and that amazes me. The only thing I can figure is that a great many college students are copying the post and submitting it to their psychology professors for class credit! I hope they received the grade they deserved! On a more serious note, I expect there are a great many folks who, like me, seek to understand a phenomenon that has become all-too-common of late. I hope the post helped. I know that, like my posts generally, it helped me sort out some stray ideas and make some sense of a topic that I seek to understand better.

The next one is “The Big Bang, Science and Ethics” which I wrote after a particularly interesting and funny eposiode of my favorite “sit-com.” It addresses the question of just what science is at a time when so many people reject the findings of science when it shakes their favorite convictions and when so many confuse science with technology — which it is not.

The final one, also written in 2013,  is “Road Rage” which I wrote after a particularly nasty confrontation with a driver of a red pickup on a county road nearby when my wife and I were stopped admiring the wild turkeys in a field nearby. It made me think of all the rage there is on the roads and, indeed, in the world at large. This is a particularly disturbing fact at this time of the year when we like to think that we all hope for peace on earth and good will among all human beings. In any event, that’s what I wish to my readers, rage or no rage.

 

Happy Christmas!

What with a circus going on in the political arena and so much agony around the world, it seemed to me that at this time of year we should focus for a moment, at least, on some good news. And there is good news, at least on the environmental front — which may be the most vital front of all — starting with the Paris Accords. . I quote here from this month’s Sierra magazine skipping, for obvious reasons, the bleak news they also tend to fill their magazine with.

To begin with, there is this nice tid-bit titled “The Clean Energy Boom”:

“Renewable energy in the United States has taken off faster than a smartphone-app-start-up. In the decade between 2005 and 2014, we increased our wind power by a factor of 10 and generated 33 times more solar electricity. Wind energy — which provides about 10 times more electricity in America than solar thermal and solar photovoltaic sources combined — has been surging steadily since 2010, while growth in solar power has spiked in the last two years. And the best news, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is that the renewable boom is expected to continue at least through this year and next.”

And that’s not all, though I would add that a plan is in the works to build the state’s largest solar collector farm about six miles South of my home in Cottonwood, Minnesota. Good news indeed.  But, wait!

“Shell Oil has abandoned plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters.”

“The Interior Department has cancelled two oil-drilling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.”

“China has announced a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2017.”

In addition, there is this exciting news item:

San Diego wants to be clean — 100 percent clean energy, to be exact — in just 20 years, under an ambitious plan unanimously passed last week by the city council. This is big news. San Diego is America’s eighth largest city, with a population of more than 1.5 million. It also has a Republican mayor, who, unlike his compatriots railing against climate action at presidential debates across the country, is making a bold plan that puts his city at the forefront of America’s clean energy future.

The plan — which got unanimous, bi-partisan support from the city council — could become a model for other cities around the country to also move to 100 percent renewables.

Already, we’ve seen that cities around the world are far ahead of national governments in taking actions toward sustainability. Whether it is banning plastic bags, setting up municipal composting systems, or shifting away from dirty coals, it is cities that paved the path for countries to make a climate accord in Paris just last week.

San Diego’s plan is ambitious but realistic. It relies on expanding the city’s vehicle fleet to 90 percent electric cars by 2035, expanding bicycles and public transit, creating more walkable neighborhoods, and better managing waste.

Let’s hope the new year brings even more good news. In the meantime, Happy Christmas to all my blogging friends!!

 

Madison’s Amendment

In an interesting article about the original 20 items on James Madison’s Bill of Rights — reduced to 12 after considerable debate in the Continental Congress and later to 10 during the ratification process —  it is made fairly clear what the man was thinking when he wrote those amendments.

We know that the major concern of those who were debating the Constitution was the issue of ratification. How to write the Constitution in such a way that the required number of states would agree to it? Originally it mentioned the abolition of slavery, but that had to be cut to assure that the Southern states would climb on board. A number of those items also had to be cut from Madison’s 20 “Rights,” though they were eventually reworked into later amendments — such things, for example, as restricting Federal judicial powers. Another was added as late as 1992. Compromise was necessary in a new nation where individual rights, and the rights of the states themselves, must be guaranteed. The original Second Amendment reads as follows:

 James Madison

James Madison


 

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person,” said Madison.

The final clause was dropped, sad to say. But, like that clause, the remaining part of the statement makes it abundantly clear that the major concern in this amendment is the right of the militia to bear arms, since the right of “the people” is predicated on the claim that “a well armed and well regulated militia” is necessary to guarantee that the country remain free. And the reference to “military service” in the omitted clause also makes it clear that the militia was of major concern — for reasons of self-defense.

It is a wonder in these days of heated debate over the need for some sort of gun control to limit the sales of automatic weapons to possible terrorists in this country that few bother to recall what the founders were most concerned about when they agreed to the Second Amendment. Much is said about our “Constitutional Right” to bear arms, but nothing whatever is said about this so-called right being predicated on the maintenance of a militia. With the disappearance of the militia the right to bear arms also disappears. At best, one could argue that the National Guard has such a right. But not every Tom, Dick, and Sally — and certainly not those who are not of sound mind.

Note: After writing this post I was pleased to read an article quoting various Constitutional lawyers on this topic that support what I have said here:

For almost 200 years after it was adopted, the Second Amendment was interpreted to protect the right for militias to bear arms, but not individuals. In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Miller that restricting access to shotguns or machine guns by citizens outside the military was permissible. . .  .

[Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe added that] the Second Amendment does not stand in the way of gun legislation to make the country safer.

“The largest misconception is that the Second Amendment justifies — or ever has justified — our nation’s abysmal record in protecting innocent people from avoidable gun violence, . . . The Second Amendment and the Constitution as a whole are abused by those who treat them as a sick suicide pact.”

So while there is a legitimate political debate to be had about the merits of gun control, Tribe says, conservatives are wrong to make it a constitutional issue.

This, of course, does not imply that the debate over gun control will end, though it should quiet those who argue that carrying automatic weapons is a “right” guaranteed by the Second Amendment. However, it most assuredly will not.

 

Hard To Believe

A recent story from the newswires of CNN raises some deep and disturbing issues:

Administrators shut down 24 schools in Augusta County, Virginia, on Friday after a homework assignment on Islam drew fury from parents, CNN reported.

Cheryl LaPorte, a world geography teacher at Riverheads High School, assigned her students homework using a standard workbook on world religions that asked students to copy religious calligraphy.
The assignment read: “Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”
The calligraphy translated to, “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah,” according to CNN.
The assignment immediately drew ire from some parents who called for LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” reported The News Leader, a local newspaper. The Virginia Department of Education reviewed the the assignment and found that it did not violate student rights.
The cancellation of school on Friday essentially started the district’s winter break early.
School administrators released a statement to parents saying that while there was no specific threat to students, schools were closed on Friday.
They cited a risk of harm to officials as the reason for the closure. “Some communications posed a risk of harm to school officials,” the school’s statement read, according to WHSV-TV, a local news station. “Others threatened significant protests on or near school property. Those communications are in the hands of the sheriff.”

The threats to teachers and administrators raises the greatest concern. We have truly become a nation of bigots and haters who see no reason not to threaten those who disagree with us. And, of course, there are those running for the highest office in this land who not only encourage this attitude, but give it strong impetus. One might feel these things, but it takes assurance from those around us to actually make those feelings public. And when those around us are led by a few who are regarded as smarter  (and more “successful”) than the rest of us, it becomes all too tempting to give vent to the most hateful feeling that are deep within us. And if this seems a bit of a stretch, please consider that Donald the Trumpet, for one, recently spoke with an interviewer about his relationship with Vladimir Putin whom he admires as a “strong leader” and responded to the question of whether he would approve the killing of journalists with the following dismissal: “He’s running his country and he’s a leader,” . . . Unlike what we have in this country.”

In any event, at a time when we need increased understanding of those who differ from us, the parents who shouted loudly at this class assignment were guaranteeing that they and their children would have little or nothing to do with the religion of Islam. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.” This sort of attitude tells us many things, but above all else it shows what a difficult, if not impossible, job our teachers have in opening closed minds when the parents of their students resist strongly and threaten grievous bodily harm. It was wise to close the schools until tempers cool off. But the deeper problems will persist.

All In The Timing

In an interesting story on CNN recently, we are told about President Obama’s preparations for issuing an executive order that would address the issue of gun control:

Washington (CNN)As his administration prepares an executive order tightening access to guns, President Barack Obama met Wednesday with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of new gun laws who has become the chief enemy of the National Rifle Association.

Obama has met with a series of gun control advocates in recent weeks as his aides complete work on a potential order expected to expand background checks on gun sales by closing the so-called “gun show loophole.”

A timeline on the order — which has been tangled in legal and administrative questions — is still unknown. The President met with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on December 4 to discuss gun control.

But even as he works to tighten access to firearms, a new survey shows dwindling support for an outright ban on assault weapons, which both Obama and Bloomberg have advocated as a means to prevent gun deaths.

Obama is meeting with Bloomberg because New York has fairly tough gun control laws, though, apparently, they have not yet been overly successful. In any event, the comment at the end of the above quote is of most interest. To be sure, there is the question of whether an executive order at this time that is not supported by a Republican Congress could have any effect whatever. But in addition to that issue, there is the question of timing.

Since the recent mass killings in San Bernardino there has been minor hysteria in this country about possible terrorist attacks here at home, hysteria encouraged by some of the loudest and most unconscionable of the Republican candidates for presidential office. The mood has shifted from the 90% of the people who supported some sort of gun controls after Sandy Hook to considerably less at this time. It would appear that many of those who would have supported Obama then are now having second thoughts. Perhaps they think that by buying an automatic weapon themselves they will be safer from terrorism.

Apparently they have not heard about probabilities. The likelihood of another attack like the one in California is extremely low and the likelihood that a family of four, say, would be safer by providing themselves with automatic weapons is even lower: the likelihood that there would be an accident with that weapon and that someone in the family might be shot dead is greater than the probability that there would be any danger from terrorists in the first place. This is not to say that there won’t be any more mass killings. In this country with hysteria the order of the day — encouraged by political candidates like the Trumpet and his ilk — there is every reason to believe there will be more such attacks. My point is that the purchase of weapons will not reduce that likelihood or make us any safer.

But more to the point, Obama missed the boat. He should have gone before the TV cameras with his considerable rhetorical skills and obvious charisma and asked the citizens of this country to flood their Congressmen with requests for stronger gun laws immediately after Sandy Hook — when there was such strong support for such a move. To be sure, with the NRA and its millions of dollars hanging about in the background in Washington any sort of gun laws are extremely unlikely. But at that time, the chances would have been much better than they are now with the thought of terrorism clouding the judgment of so many of our citizens. It’s really a question of timing, isn’t it?

Is Trump A Fascist?

In a very interesting and well researched online article by Dylan Matthews that asks the above question, the short answer is “no,” but the longer answer is that in his unique way he may be more of a concern to us than if he were. In a couple of brief paragraphs, the author insists that while Trump is not a Fascist, he is

. . .  still illiberal. To be very, very clear: Donald Trump is a bigot. He is a racist. He is an Islamophobe and a xenophobe. He profits off the hatred and stigmatization of traditionally oppressed groups in American society. That makes him, and his European peers, and racists in other eras in American history, a threat to crucial values of equality and fair treatment, and a threat to the actual human beings he’s targeting and demonizing. And he’s in particular mainstreaming Islamophobia, which is on the rise in recent months, as seen in a recent incident in which a Muslim engineer was harassed at a Fredericksburg, Virginia, civic meeting. “I’m really not sure those views in Fredricksburg would be aired were it not for Trump’s ‘mainstreaming’ of these prejudices,” [the UK’s Matthew] Feldman says.

Kevin Passmore, a historian at the University of Cardiff and author of Fascism: a Very Short Introduction, puts it well: “For me, the point about Trump’s proposals is not whether or not they are ‘fascist,’ but whether or not they are moral.” And they very clearly are not.

[See also my earlier post “Smoke Before Fire.”]

I must confess I have thought of the Trumpet as a Fascist, as I have many of the knee-jerk conservatives on the far right who spread hatred, seek to close off the country to immigrants, expand policing, invade privacy, and generally play the role of ugly Big Brother. But while these are qualities that are found in those whom history knows as thoroughgoing Fascists, we are told that this is a rather loose use of the term. For one thing, Fascists always advocate the violent overthrow of the status quo, something that none of those on the far right advocate — so far as we know. Although I would point out in passing that the Trumpet may well be guilty of inciting riots given the fact that the incidence of Mosque burnings in this country have risen alarmingly since his hateful comments about the Muslims.

But the author’s comment in the above quote takes us to the key point: while Donald Trump may not be a Fascist, strictly speaking, he may indeed be even more frightening in his total immersion in himself, his blind ambition, and apparent lack of any moral fiber whatever. The really troubling question remaining after all this is: Why on earth he is so popular in this country with so many people? Is it possible that the lunatic fringe has moved to the political center in this country and that people are so sick of politics as usual they will settle for someone, anyone, who promises simple solutions to immensely complex problems? I suspect this is so. For those who find it too difficult to think — and those numbers are growing — a person’s ability to make gray issues appear black and white with simple answers ready at hand is easily mistaken for genuine wisdom. And this man also knows how to play on America’s fears and deep-seated prejudices.

The Founders insisted that this democracy could only survive if the citizens were educated at least to the point where they could recognize fraud when they saw it. But this hope seems to have disappeared in the dense smoke of political rhetoric, an anemic educational system, and an entertainment industry that appeals to the lowest urges in us all. After all, if Dirty Harry can eliminate crime with his .44 Magnum, why can’t we all? Make My Day!

Smoke Before Fire

When he first threw his baseball cap into the presidential race I figured that no one would take the Trumpet seriously and that, like a bad odor, he would eventually fade away. But such is not the case. By now one would think the American people would have become aware that the man is a mere wind-egg who is more concerned about staying in the limelight than winning a presidential race. But, not only is he still around making absurd and hateful claims, his popularity seems to be on the rise. And that’s what worries me.

I am aware that experts claim the Trumpet’s racist comments about Muslims have actually fueled the fires in the Middle East and increased the numbers of people who hate and distrust this country. And I was somewhat aware that he was having the same sort of effect in this country, increasing fear and hatred of those who follow the religion of Islam, no matter what sorts of people they happen to be. What bothers him, and increasing numbers of his countrymen apparently, is not the religion that the Muslims follow (I daresay neither he nor his followers have ever turned a single page the Quran). What bothers the Trumpet and others of his ilk is the skin color of those who may or may not follow the religion of Islam who are, ipso facto, terrorists. The point was driven home to me recently when a friend handed me a copy of an open letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune written by Deepinder Mayell, an American citizen who was born  in New York, attended Boston University where he played J.V. football, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. Thinking he might at some future date bring his family, the man decided to attend a Vikings game recently where he was confronted by an angry bully who

“pushed aside other people and pointed his finger in my face, demanding to know if I were a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.”

Of considerable interest in this awful confrontation is the fact that this confrontation was met with silence. No one stepped forth to confront the man and accuse him of racism or simply to tell him to sit down and shut up. Now, granted this was a football crowd, but if we can make the somewhat safe inference that he is not all that different from others around us, we can surely conclude that this man gained the courage to confront a stranger at a football game because he was confident that those around him agreed with him. Such is the climate of present-day America. Whatever he might have meant by using the word “refugee,” it is clear that he was talking about another human being whose skin color and, presumably, religious affiliation, is different from his own. This is what is deeply disturbing about this incident and about the fear and hatred that one of the major players in this presidential race is now inciting in the population at large, not only in the United States but elsewhere as well.

In any event, Mr. Mayell, who is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program in Minneapolis, sought a security guard and confronted the bigot who had, by his own admission, scared him. He was able to get an apology “uttered in an adolescent way” that indicated the man felt “entitled to hurl hatred.” He was hoping to have the man ejected from the stadium, but that didn’t happen. So he returned to his seat and watched the game with one eye on the bully who had confronted him and frightened that the situation might repeat itself, or worse. He reflected on his experience in his open letter to the newspaper:

“I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning to us all. It is like smoke . . . [which may] become an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world and [driven them] to commit horrible crimes.”

Indeed so. We all need to reflect on the words of this man and the fact that we are all, at one time or another, descended from “refugees” many of whom fled their countries out of fear of religious or political persecution. Somehow the smoke needs to be smothered before it becomes the fire that will surely consume us all.

Small Victory

A recent Supreme Court decision seems to give those of us heart who want some sort of control on the sale of guns in this country, some restoration of sanity in what has become sheer madness. A Yahoo News story suggests that the Court realizes that the sale of such things as assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons was never any part of what the Founders had in mind:

Washington (AFP) – The US Supreme Court appeared on Monday to back lawmakers who want to restrict the type of guns such as semi-automatic assault weapons used in recent mass shootings.
In a 7-2 vote, the high court’s justices refused to take up a challenge to a Chicago suburb’s ban on the sale or possession of semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The court’s move is a small victory for activists against the spread of such guns, which can potentially kill many people in a short period of time.

Predictably, the two Justices who voted in opposition to the majority were conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. What is interesting to me is that Thomas claims to be a “strict constructionist,” one who  thinks the country needs to stick close to the intentions of the Founders. But, as I have said on these blogs repeatedly, a close reading of the second amendment to our Constitution states clearly that the “right” to bear arms is designed to guarantee the ability of a militia to defend the country against possible insurrection. The amendment doesn’t guarantee all of us the right to bear arms, only the militia. And since we no longer have a militia it would follow that the so-called right is no longer applicable. Further, the Court in years past has ruled out such things as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns on the grounds that these are not protected by the Second Amendment. So there is precedent.

One would expect that the Supreme Court is not subject to the threats and pressures the N.R.A. can bring against elected officials — by guaranteeing that those who are “uncooperative” have brief political lives. The justices are appointed for life and the original idea was that as such they would be above political infighting and cajolery. And in the past, the Court has shown that it can rise above political infighting; even the present Court has done so on occasion. Such is the case here, one would think. It is a small step. But when most of the steps we have been taking recently seem to be backwards, it is a sign of hope that there is a way forward.