I have a friend who believes that reality is a set of mutually agreed upon illusions. That’s a deep thought, and maybe deeper than necessary, but it does bring up a basic fact of society, namely that we tend to associate with people who agree with us on important issues; sports teams, politics, religion … you get my drift.
This association goes a long way toward establishing a social structure, a network of friendship, indeed, a community of shared values. If there is any downside at all it is that everybody is thinking alike and no one is questioning the status quo.
Since everyone is in basic agreement on their beliefs the conversation just solidifies what everyone already believes. In political circles it has been described as “inside the Beltway thinking,” the Beltway being a set of freeways that encircles Washington, D.C.
Change—for better or worse—does not come without dissent from conventional thought, and of course, neither does banditry or rebellion. But there is a difference in just challenging conventional thought and completely rewriting it. Protestantism originated by challenging certain concepts of the Catholic Church, whereas Mormonism has its origins in in what its founder said was divine revelation.
When it comes to the law, we generally accept the convention that law in America is what it is: based on the Constitution as interpreted by Supreme Court decisions and case law. There are certain standards that are required of those who do the interpreting, which usually include a law degree, possession of which implies that the bearer has had years of supervised education on the subject.
In the case of Ammon Bundy, who is leading the armed occupation of a bird sanctuary (of all things to occupy!), his interpretation of the constitutional authority of the federal government has to be based on some revelation that few of us know about and even fewer understand.
That he believes it, there is no doubt, and although his fellow believers are not legion they are willing to sacrifice for it.
I once had a neighbor who got a bank loan on his house and then decided, or discovered, or invented the notion that since the paper money was not backed by gold, he didn’t have to repay it.
The legal process that most of us understand ran its course and his house was repossessed (with a SWAT team standing by) and he spent a couple of weeks in the county slammer before he came to the realization this wasn’t getting him anywhere, so he agreed to cough up the gold-less cash.
I did, at the invitation of a friend, sit still for a couple of hours while he explained how documents that he showed me interpreted the Constitution much the way that Ammon Bundy seems to interpret it, but I confess I had a hard time seeing any connection with history or reality.
My mother used to say “even the devil can quote scripture to his own purpose,” but neither scripture nor the Constitution can be interpreted by selective reading. It appears to me that there is an idea here—deeply held, I must admit—that is in search of historical documentation where none exists.
What is real is that there are a number of people in America who are willing to see blood flow because of it. While Oregon grows angry at the inaction of the federal government, perhaps the feds did take a wise, but unrealistic, course of action that Bundy could be presented with a face-saving way of leaving the nature preserve, but it looks like Bundy will have none of it.
Well, people believe what they believe. I remember years ago when the pesticide DDT was banned because it was harmful to just about every living thing, a farm couple in some rural state vowed to eat a teaspoon of it a day just to disprove the experts. I never did know what happened to them, but if they survived they didn’t make a big noise about it.
Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.