When I was a sophomore in college, my philosophy professor picked up a classmate’s journal, emblazoned with the inspirational exhortation: “Know Yourself.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he declared. “How can anyone ever really know oneself? Anyone worth being will change too much and too often to warrant lasting definition.”
I remembered this comment as I was speaking to my mother the other day. We were bemoaning the sad state of our government. More indicatively, we were complaining about the yahoos throwing extremist roadblocks in the way of almighty progress. The Constitution and the Amendments, we decided, were living, breathing documents. America herself changes too much and too often to warrant a cemented interpretation of law.
Our forefathers knew this (see: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin). How is this vital facet of America’s personality so easily forgotten? It would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic, to count all the ways we seem to wish to limit ourselves, to carve our identities in stone. Some gun activists don’t site freedom as function but rather Second Amendment interpretations from 1791. They tend to forget the fine print from District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008: “The right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Because, clearly, the democratically-elected government is itching to steal your hunting rifle that you only use lawfully. Because, undoubtedly, everyone deserves an Uzi.
Think of how much has changed in the last 100 years. Ideologically, we’ve learned to accept women, blacks, gays, Jews, insert-victimized-minority-here, as human. Technologically, our laws now must encompass mobile phones, cars, and even the non-physical world of the internet. Intellectual property is a thing now. Prohibition happened, and then un-happened.
Because the world changes. America changes. Americans change. That means the interpretation of the laws, and the enforcement of them, has to change. The understanding of the purpose over the letter must prevail.
And in that pursuit, hypocrites on both sides of the aisle need to remember that the only way to move is forward. American law was never meant to take root, or be carved in stone, or to be static. If politicians keep balking at change and compromise, we’re all going to wake up in 20 years with outdated laws, inapplicable interpretations, and ungoverned people.