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The Evil in the Hearts of Men

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What is being proposed by the "bad guys"--such as Hydra and the Asgardian God of Mischief and Evil, Loki--in these movies, is a surrender of our liberties. At the same time, we also give up our concomitant responsibilities to those in power, who say they know what is best for us. We still have responsibilities, mind you, to be obedient automatons, but they are nothing compared to the responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of a free human being.

The Origin of Liberty and the Concept of the Individual in Western Thought

Beginning around 500 B.C.E., two Mediterranean civilizations, the Greeks and the Jews, began the philosophical and theological discussions upon which Western civilization bases most of its ideas of liberty, community, and individualism today.

Plato, born an Athenian aristocrat, proposed--in his dialogue The Republic, and with the voice of his mentor Socrates--that the ideal type of government would take the form of a tightly structured hierarchy, led by a philosopher-king, whose wisdom and learning would prevent his making any error during his rule. Aristotle, a more practical and pragmatic individual, laid out all of the systems of government of which he was aware, in both their good (monarchy, aristocracy, polity) and their bad (tyranny, oligarchy, mob rule) forms in his book Politics, and concluded that the best form of government was a constitutionally-limited polity, dominated by the middle class (Politics, Book IV, Chapter 11). Both philosophers agreed that for society to function, humans had to accept a certain level of responsibility for themselves and their community as citizens of their polity. Even Epicurus, who believed that the "good life" was found through the avoidance of pain (an idea used by Carl Jung 23 centuries later when he stated that mental illness was the result of avoiding necessary pain), realized in his hedonistic philosophy that, within a human being's circle of family, friends, and neighbors, a degree of obligation to others existed if one were to avoid a greater, and more discomfiting pain. But with these obligations--or more properly duties--to your fellow citizens: generally an intrinsic part of your nation-state's political system, and more specifically by your membership in your tribe, your clan, and your family, of which the nation-state is theoretically the highest expression; came rights as free citizens of the polity, in a symbiosis between citizen and state.

At roughly the same time, among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, the authors of the books of the late prophets of the Old Testament began to examine concepts of relationships of individuals within their community (Micah, Hosea), and without (Jonah). These ideas--including Justice, Forgiveness, Honor, Responsibility, Mercy, and Brotherhood--found their expression first in the later prophets, then in the authors and interpreters of the Talmud, and finally, in a young man from Galilee: Jesus, the son of Mary.

The empires of first Alexander of Macedonia, and then of Rome, placed the idea of individual rights on hold in Western thought for more than a millennia. Rights were something enjoyed by the king or emperor, and handed out as privileges to those he ruled. It was not until King John of England was forced to grant his barons and freemen rights under the Magna Carta in 1215 that consideration of the rights of the individual were once again seriously considered by Western civilization.

What I consider to be the single best expression of the rights of human beings with respect to political power, as well as the culmination of more than 2000 years of human thought on the subject of rights and liberty, is Thomas Jefferson's statement in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, with two small changes to include women in the historic pronouncement [changes and amplifications in brackets]:

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [Human Beings] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among [Humankind], deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)
 

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