That’s a lot of allusion to fit in one title, but it’s all necessary to be included. “The disappeared,” of course, refers directly to the practice in some parts of the Americas to simply take inconvenient people out of circulation by spiriting them away without an explanation to anyone–public officials, friends, colleagues or family members. But, while some people have been concerned that the provisions for long-term detention in the Patriot Act might be a harbinger of people being similarly disappeared in the U.S., what I want to focus on is the long-term and on-going effort to downgrade and dilute the singular entity our constitutional government is designed to protect, the person.
“American” is, primarily, a geographic designation. It does not differentiate between citizen, native, resident or temporary visitor. Indeed, the Constitution obligates the United States’ agents of government to serve all persons within its jurisdiction–i.e. where the law applies–equally. Indeed, whether that means that the Constitution follows the flag when our agents of government are active in foreign lands is a matter of current judicial dispute. In this context, the central and southern continents may not have the explicit reference in their laws and traditions to the singular importance of the person. But, that public officials have perceived themselves challenged by apparently inoffensive individuals and “disappeared” them, is evidence of the significance of the person.
Of course, it’s possible that the culling of some percentage of the population (e.g. the incarceration of young African American males) is simply designed as a reminder to the rest of the population that caution is the order of the day and any sign of independence is likely to be punished. If social stagnation is the result, that’s fine. Stagnation, after all, is what conservativism is about.
Technically speaking, the population incarcerated in the United States, all-American according to the Constitution’s jurisdiction (alien convicts being deported), hasn’t been disappeared because there are records and lots of people know where they are. On the other hand, it has been widely documented that it is their status as naked persons–i.e. individuals bereft of the material assets (property) by which the significance of the natural person has traditionally been certified–which large accounts for them being sent to prison.
The naked American natural person has always been and continues to be in a precarious social position. Even now, a fetus encased in its mother’s womb has more social support than a neonate, or even the mother, if she’s indigent–i.e. bereft of the shield of money. And, though the Constitution is predicated on the proposition that humans are endowed by their Creator or Mother Nature with inalienable rights (entitlements) material assets or property have historically served as a challenge to that assumption. Not only did the designation of a person AS property in the original document justify a re-categorization of an owned individual to 3/5 of a person, ownership of anything, natural or man-made, continues to enhance individual significance, whether it be, like Joseph’s coat of many colors, raiment to cloak actual nakedness (“clothes make the man”) or, more recently, a mobile containment vehicle.
Significance is, of course, a matter of appearances and many things are not what they seem. There’s little question, for example, that owning and driving an automotive vehicle makes a person feel more important and more secure. However, given that the privilege of driving a vehicle along clearly defined and specified routes (really a significant limitation on personal mobility) actually implies the voluntary relinquishment of the right to privacy, as well as unimpeded mobility and there’s no question that the activity has a high probability of being deadly, the protection being provided to the person is largely illusory. Which raises the question whether that wasn’t the intention–to render the natural naked person less independent and less secure. After all, putting the current “system” of transportation in place involved discarding the rudiments of a perfectly good public system, available to (almost) all–no questions asked.
If the naked natural person–naked in the sense of not being protected by layers of property–has been rendered less important, it seems worth asking, less important than what? Just asking the question suggests the answer. If property enhances the importance of the natural person, then it becomes easy to understand why the artificial person, a man-made entity that’s all about accumulating and protecting private property, is preferred. You could say that the designation of the corporation as a super artificial person, with all the rights of the natural person and none of the social obligations, has evolved out of an historical preference for things over persons. Perhaps it’s just a matter of things being easier to manipulate than persons.
There are, obviously, many ways to disappear a person. Physical relocation isn’t necessary. Because humans are essentially gregarious, social beings, an ignored person might as well not exist. It’s not even necessary to engage in the active deprivation of a person’s rights. Indeed, deprivation, whether of a person’s inherent functions (sustenance, mobility, association and communication) or life itself, is to recognize the person. Which is why the effort to dilute the concept of person and human rights by extending it to cover the artifacts of man (corporations), as the Supreme Court has recently affirmed in the Citizens United decision, or by expanding the definition of a function (speech) to include all sorts of expression, even dancing and the transfer of money, not to mention assigning “rights” to other forms of organic life, should be more concerning as evidence that the natural person is under attack.
However central the natural person is to the Constitution, perhaps because the importance of the person has yet to be fully realized in practice, there’s an element of American society which continues to be committed to the proposition that the person should be an object of control. To their way of thinking, if the person can’t be controlled, can’t be eradicated and can’t be ignored, then perhaps the problem can be solved by simply expanding the concept until its significance is lost in the ether. If dogs and cats and corporations have human rights, then human rights are worth less. Right?
Oddly enough, there’s yet one more strategy, the one most favored by the enforcers of our laws, which serves to vitiate the importance of a person’s human rights. This is accomplished by both emphasizing and limiting the recognition of rights as adhering to the select population of persons suspected of malfeasance–i.e. a special “protected” population. Instead of reading the so-called Bill of Rights as an affirmation that under no circumstance, not even when a person is suspected of having perpetrated a crime, is the deprivation of rights to be justified, the agents of justice prefer to assume that a person interacting with the enforcers of the law is what turns the rights on. In other words, instead of being endowed with rights at birth, we only get to see them when we run afoul of the law–a view that accords nicely with the preferred perception, long supported by the concept of “sovereign immunity,” that agents of government are secular rulers, deriving unlimited powers from the Constitution, rather than servants whose powers are strictly limited to what they may and must do.
That the notion, that the ordinary person is more important than any public official, is not readily accepted is not surprising. That we permit office holders to act superior or fail to carry out the duties they voluntarily assumed is our fault. We the people rule. But, like the free market, the rule of law can’t be set on automatic.
If you’ve read this far and are still disappointed that the word “naked” wasn’t used in the title to mean what you thought it implied, let me suggest that the apparent American fixation on nakedness as an offensive condition may actually be an off-shoot of the denigration of the whole person. How else are we to explain the continuing kerfuffle, six years later, over the exposure of an entertainer’s apparently naked breast to a world full of people who can’t have missed that women have them? Never mind referring to the incident as a “wardrobe malfunction,” as if the subject were an artifact made to store an article of clothing, rather than an integral part of a female person. Is this not an example of elevating the importance of an artifact of man and denigrating the natural person?
Moreover, is it not similarly obvious that the effort to generate controversy in the political arena over the image of a naked Scott Brown in print has less to do with gender and much to do with a persistent attempt to intimidate by making the naked natural person a source of public embarrassment? Is it not more evidence that, instead of society respecting and protecting the privacy of the person, the naked natural person is presumed vulnerable without the protection of some material prop? Which, when you come right down to it, is a rather primitive perspective. Just ask yourself, “how does a stage costume, augmented by paint and glitter, differ from a burka?” Don’t they both serve to protect the naked natural person by distracting people who can’t restrain their lascivious impulses on their own?