Tag Archives: Constitution

In Search of Meaningful

Gary and I went to the Vermont History Expo last Sunday and had the fortune of listening to University of Vermont’s Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield speak about The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont 1777-1810.

The root of the multi-faceted problem is that although Vermont did outlaw slavery in its constitution – the first state to ever do so – a significant amount of slavery persisted for several years thereafter; moreover, the ostensible freedom delivered by such a radical-for-the-times anti-slavery provision was not meaningful for even the Afro-Vermonters who subsequently acquired it.

That is, according to Dr. Whitfield, they did not have meaningful freedom.

One example he gave of this lack of meaningful is illustrated by the aforementioned law prohibiting slavery only for adults. African-American kids, who were thus not protected, were routinely kidnapped and sold into slavery without repercussions. So a free African-American parent would be forced to work closer to home regardless of whether better wages could be obtained elsewhere, just so they could offer defense against such common occurrence.

In some ways, meaningful here seems to cash out as real or true; as in, if a person is given two choices where one of the choices is not a decent option at all, then that person hasn’t been given a real – or true — choice; that person does not have real or true freedom.

So why use the term meaningful?

Good question and one I might ask the professor if I have a chance. Or one that I might find in his eponymous book published by the Vermont Historical Society. But for now I’ll offer my spin on it, which makes the nuanced phrasing meaningful to me:

Because meaningful carries more subjective weight and is what we use when we are evaluating our circumstances.

Real and True both give off a false air of objectivity, as if the existence of such things as personal freedom can be decided externally. The loaded terms seem to invoke chalkboards and checklists; some kind of tests; an unchanging algorithm of indifference. But meaningful is a human quality only observed through the eyes of personal circumstances, either yours or someone else’s.

If asked whether or not a parent with a child at risk of being kidnapped has true choice, true freedom, we might start weighing risks, sorting out different possibilities, and assigning values. However, when we are asked about it in terms of meaningful, our landscape — our point of view — immediately changes to a more sympathetic one. When it does, what might have been options under another view suddenly dissolve into absurdity.

Indeed, so much so, I want to take his nuanced phrasing – the addition of meaningful – and use it elsewhere, like in talks of decent wages, opportunities, and living conditions, where decent far too often becomes like real and true, subject to a false objectivity that smugly mistakes crumbs for nourishment, walls for doors, and cages for castles.

Or in talks of peace incorrectly viewed as absence of war; or in talks of ethics where good intentions bow to bureaucracy; or in talks of fighting poverty while those with the power to do so only add more rungs.

On and on it goes, with the meaning of our precious nouns meaning less and less. We need meaningful Life, meaningful Liberty, and meaningful Pursuit of Happiness.

Forget finding the meaning of life. What we need are more meaningful lives and an America that contributes to their development.

Drug Testing Dilemma

Next to my computer is my ePassport™ for a pre-employment drug screen at Hendricks Occupational Medicine II in Plainfield IN.

Such screens have become frighteningly routine. More times than not when you fill out an application for work, you must consent to such testing. In fact, I have yet to see a not. I have a huge problem with this. But unfortunately I have to weigh this moral reservation against the need to bring money into the household.

And it is a moral reservation, because there is definitely something unseemly and insidious here.

First and foremost of course is the invasiveness of it. They are taking bodily fluids from me. Am I the only one who finds that a little bit creepy? People should have the right to be “secure in their persons“. Such testing violates at the very least the fourth amendment.

Second, it is exploitation. Drug screening isn’t free. There may not be a cost to the employee, but people are getting paid; there is currency exchanged. Now this may sound all good from a capitalist model. But the source material that is being used is your very own bodily components. In the past I’ve given plasma and received a check. But here I am giving for someone else’s benefit — I already know my medical information, so I gain no knowledge from it — and am not being compensated for it.

Third, think about the big-picture implications. It probably sounds innocuous to many folks when you say it as “drug testing”. But let’s reword it for better accuracy: companies have the right to perform medical testing on their employees.

I’m sure some people will read that last line and say I’m just being extreme here for the sake of fun and argument. But one must bear in mind how much medical technology has advanced and is advancing. We can do all sorts of testing if we want to do so, all of which could have the same good-of-the-workforce argument made.

Brain scans, genetic testing, vaginal ultrasounds… and on and on and on. Think such a scenario is far-fetched?

There is an old joke about a man asking a woman if she will sleep with him for a million bucks. She says, “Yes.” So he then asks her if she will sleep with him for a dollar. She gets offended and says, “What kind of person do you think I am?” He replies, “We’ve already established that. Now we are quibbling about the price.”

We have allowed the establishment of medical testing as a “routine” occurrence.

Now we are just quibbling about the details.