The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Three clauses that, to a reasonable person seem obvious but which have each been turned inside out and deprived of meaning.
The first deals with religion but its two component have been turned against each other with the “antiestablishment portion of the clause” deemed to negate the portion of the clause guaranteeing “free exercise”, and in each case, disregarding the fact that each applies only to Congressional action. When carefully analyzed their internal incoherence, exacerbated by the broad reading of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment, makes it clear that incoherence rather than religious freedom and freedom from religion was to be the most likely result. It has been and it has divided us into warring classes, each apparently destined for perdition, the only question being whether perdition will be here on earth or eternally thereafter. Today, perdition here on earth seems more and more likely as hatred in the name of love has become the norm and the social values that gave most religion and philosophy its raison d’être have ceased to function, replaced by mere ritual devoid of practical meaning.
Freedom of Speech and Of the Press:
The clause dealing with freedom of speech and of the press is at least as incoherent as applied today. Again, the prohibitions applied only to Congressional action but were materially impacted by the broad reading of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment, an amendment which sought to improve it but is at least partially responsible for the apparent right to lie, insult, brainwash and be brainwashed from which we suffer today.
The first problem is that there is no agreement on what the “press” is (to paraphrase former president William Jefferson Clinton). The “press” appears to have morphed into nothing more than an instrument that seeks to “fool all of the People all of the time” (paraphrasing a phrase used in a very different manner by former president, not all that honest Abe Lincoln) rather than one designed to facilitate the free flow of accurate and complete information through sharing of opposing viewpoints that was deemed essential for “electoral” governance to function (forget “democracy”, democracy was anathema at the time the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was adopted). How sad that the United States Supreme Court in the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), in seeking to assure the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press, instead permitted its destruction by making journalistic impunity and irresponsibility the law of the land.
The second and related problem with the second clause to the First Amendment involves the reality that the censorship which the right to “freedom of speech” was designed to avoid is instead today effectively and ruthlessly implemented through private monopolies rather than through government action, monopolies that control all our means of mass communication and that are being used to distort access to communication rather than to facilitate it; which engage in censorship significantly more efficient and effective than that which the governments we have chosen to cast as history’s villains (e.g., the Nazis, Stalinists, etc.) but also Puritans, Inquisition era Catholics, etc., ever managed to attain. As it became obvious to many of us during the past half century that journalism was being replaced by propaganda and as the purported “press” consolidated into a monopolized entertainment industry subsidiary, the emerging interpersonal communication seemingly possible through the Internet seemed to provide hope of freedom from the intellectual straightjacket into which we were being herded but that has proved delusional. “Algorithms”, designed to filter our capacity to freely communicate, designed by and for the (once again) “monopolistic” forces that quickly gained control of the Internet’s infrastructure, quickly made clear that such aspirations were only illusions, and short lived illusions at that. Thus we are now subjected on a 24/7 basis to a constant stream of distortive information at best but usually outright lies, molding us through behaviorist techniques into blocks of antagonistic protagonists unable to communicate with one another, each believing that others are either idiots, obstinate fools or liars, a strategy much more effective than the mere confusion of languages Yahweh imposed as punishment on our purported ancestors for daring to attempt to build that infamous precursor to the Internet, the Tower of Babel. A strategy that makes us easy to control, distracting us from those we really need to fear and fight. Our puppet masters.
Right to Peaceful Assembly and Petition for Redress of Grievances:
Sooo, speaking of “puppet masters”, as has finally become obvious, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” has morphed into what the Old Confederacy dystopically interpreted that phrase to mean: the right to violence, rebellion and secession. Interestingly, that same interpretation is now being used to justify destruction of any historic memorials to those earlier proponents of such right. In our incoherent era, racism in order to fight racism is an evolving norm, as is intolerance in the name of tolerance and violence in the name of peace.
The quest for power, not only political but obviously economic and even social and cultural, is becoming unhinged from any social restraint. Apparently, there is a strongly held belief by those used as tools by those others really responsible for the current incoherence that, once their poorly thought out perceived goals are attained, they will “restore a semblance of order” keeping those with opposing views in check, that their own tactics will not establish a precedent for governance through mob violence disguised as peaceful protest which, from time to time, innocently gets out of hand.
It may be that those really responsible for the current situation (the ubiquitous but surreptitious “they” and “them”) are naïve as well, naïve in feeling that once the usefulness of their manipulated tools is no longer necessary, the violent mobs can be shoved back into Pandora’s box and “they” will be free to legally loot (after all, that is what this is all really about) on the massive scale that has become traditional for those who comprise what has become colloquially knows as the “Deep State”, the billionaire class armed with behaviorist tools that has bought and paid for what was once journalism and what once aspired to be democracy.
Well, we are fighting each other instead of the Deep State and the billionaire elites that own it, who are our real enemies, at least if we aspire to freedom and equity and justice and real opportunity for our progeny. Perhaps as it should be.
What a pain it must be for the Deep State and the billionaire elites that own it, now virtually entrenched in power, to be forced to constantly manipulate the public into accepting involuntary servitude, a more pleasant term for the de facto slavery, through which economic wealth and political power is already channeled. It would be so much easier if everyone just assumed their proper role, the vast majority accepting mere subsistence as their due and the “elect” (to borrow an incongruous concept from John Calvin) permitted to wallow in wealth. Then we could finally eliminate the need for constant wars, for polarizing Identity Politics, for meaningless political elections. For voting for “lesser evils” in elections that are always transcendentally existential. For different religions and different political philosophies, for wedge issues. For so many of the problems we face today.
Wouldn’t we all be better off that way?
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.
 Amendment XIV: Section 1. …. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.