Thursday, September 15, 2011

We the People

Every so often, it's amusing to re-examine the U.S. Constitution. From an engineer's point of view, the Constitution is like a design document. It describes the overall parts and organization of the machine, and leaves the details up to whoever has to make it work.

The first interesting part of the Constitution is the Preamble. This basically sets out the point of the exercise ... why did they bother to write the thing in the first place? The specific goals mentioned in the Preamble are:

  • form a more perfect Union

Before the Constitution, the U.S. was defined by the Articles of Confederation, which basically said the states were just in a "league of friendship". The states had almost ALL the power. The only things the Congress could do were declare war, set standard weights and measures, and act as a kind of final court. So almost any kind of union would be "more perfect" ... the bar was set pretty low.

  • establish Justice

Given that the Constitution only applied to white males of voting age, the idea of justice was a little weird. At the very least, it means having some kind of criminal justice system to punish wrong-doers, etc.

A more general view of justice is people getting what they deserve. This is a slippery slope. Our system rewards people who are wealthy. If you define "deserving" to mean "rich," everything works.

  • insure domestic Tranquility

No, this was not about preventing wife-beating. (Actually, the Founding Fathers probably would have been okay with wife-beating.) Domestic tranquility was about keeping peace within the U.S. ... preventing civil wars. Well, we know how well that worked out.

  • provide for the common defence[sic]

This is what led to the famed military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about. To defend the country, we need a big ass military, and that, of course, needs equipment and supplies from independent companies. That's why the best remedy for a depression is a war.

  • promote the general Welfare

This one's a biggie. What do they really mean by "general welfare?" Not Welfare in the sense of people on Welfare, though that's part of it. In simplest terms, it means things shouldn't suck too much. The Constitution should help make life good. Of course, that means people who already have it good think the government should do nothing, while people who are struggling could use some help. It's been over 200 years, and we're still trying to figure this one out.

  • secure the Blessings of Liberty (to ourselves and our Posterity)

Blah, blah, blah. Some people only remember this one. Liberty this and liberty that. They think government is the opposite of liberty. Well, sometimes.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was only supposed to be about adult white males, it's hanging in there.

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