[ExI] age of mockery

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Fri Oct 19 03:51:51 UTC 2012

On 18/10/2012 15:56, spike wrote:
> There is a fundamental disconnect between the Brits and the Yanks. We 
> do not beg Her Majesty, our Parliament, our congress, or anyone else, 
> for anything found in the Bill of Rights. We made it clear up front, 
> in the constitution that we have certain fundamental rights, listed in 
> our first ten amendments, appropriately called the Bill of Rights, not 
> granted by the government but rather inalienable rights.

While I am a fan of good, clear liberal democratic constitutions like 
the US one, there are plenty of devils hiding in the practical details. 
As any lawyer can tell you, the nature and interpretation of the 
constitution is pretty dynamic. Hence how "interstate commerce" can 
excuse nearly any bizarre federal regulation. People love to claim 
something is unconstitutional, but how often are such claims actually 
upheld by the courts?

> The government does not have the right to infringe upon those rights, 
> not now, not later, case closed.

This is a moral claim, not a legal one. Yes, if the government infringes 
on the rights it is acting morally wrong (even if someone does not buy 
the view that the constitution is morally True, if a government has 
agreed to being bound by the constitution it would be breaking its 
promise if it broke the constitution). But the moral weight of the 
constitution does not necessarily lead to laws or behavior that respect 
the rights: that is up to courts, politicians and the dirty Realpolitik 
of society to achieve.

The Brits only have the later part, they can not claim the constitution 
is any moral guideline. But then again, it might be more honest to admit 
that a lot of politicking is just politicking rather than a profound 
moral process.

(If we Europeans really want to have the moral grandeur, we can of 
course drag stuff to the European Court... but it is more like gambling. 
The fact that human dignity got "defined" on the EU level thanks to a 
case involving banning laser tag in Germany is pretty bizarre.)

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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