A “Living Constitution” is Like an “Open Marriage” –and Just as Destructive.
My older brothers had a friend named “Doc”. Really: that was his given name.
Doc was one of those kids that floated in and out of my childhood. He was an archetype from the early 1970’s, a young man who was filled with equal parts rage, drugs, brilliant creativity and shyness. His family was also enormously wealthy. Doc spent time in some exclusive prep and boarding schools, but he also would wind up every once in a while at the high school in our hometown. Doc, as the trite and shopworn cliche goes, was a real character…
Doc was once discovered under the football bleachers by the gym teacher amorously entwined with a girl (from a different school district) quite early on in his high school career, and it became part of his Legend. When he was engaged in conversation, he looked very few people in the eye, but would watch the top of his boots when he spoke to you. He was a friend of my older brothers; one of several much older boys that scared me a bit–; they had brambles of long hair, and stank of body odor and cigarets, which, to a second grader, seemed foreign and confusing and mildly threatening. At the time, my older brothers hovered in their junior and senior years, along with Doc, while I went to elementary school.
I have a very sharp memory of Doc criticizing my brother because my Mom and Dad subscribed to Readers Digest. I liked Readers Digest because our teacher had shown us how to make cute little Christmas trees out of the old copies, by folding and spray-painting them a certain way. How could Doc not like Readers Digest? He evidently saw it as some sort of journal for the bourgeois middle class, or some such rot. I also remember that Doc loved Captain Beefheart, whose albums would be played when he was around, and which seemed very jangly and discordant to my ears, which, at the time, were more attuned to The Carpenters.
Doc was one of the first of my brother’s friends to get married. She was a sweet, rather mousey girl, who had amazing grades –she may have been salutatorian that year, but I don’t recall — and yet, incongruously, was one of the first in our hometown to run afoul of the new LSD laws. But, they seemed to fit together, Doc and his wife– and I remember my brother once commenting that Doc had an “open marriage”.
Open marriage, closed marriage. Whatever. To a young boy, ANY marriage involving girls inevitably wound up in a case of super-cooties. As we all grew older, Doc disappeared from my radar-screen– but the term “open marriage” stuck with me.
I found out recently that Doc had long ago moved to the Arizona desert, fathered a child with his wife, sunk even lower into the depths of drug abuse and alcoholism, and divorced his wife. I guess he’s on wife three of four by now. But, his son was found dead this August in Florida (I think), a victim of a drug deal gone bad. He wasn’t yet even 40 years old.
Open marriage, closed life. Chaos everywhere.
A marriage is a contract, a solemn oath. You are with your spouse through some of their most vulnerable times: For example, while retching, doubled over on the toilet, or giving birth, or having sex– this is part of the reason the oath is so precious, so inviolable. Human vulnerability is an amorphous goo that slithers around, and lands on very unpredictable places. There is a reason that all the old sages (those same old sages we want desperately to toss on the cultural ash-heap) say that the two become one. They do. In every way possible. Yeah, the sex is great, but someone has to stick around to launder the sheets.
When this oath is stricken, when it is violated, we violate not only God– in front of whom we swore the oath– but our family, our friends– and also, (most importantly), our future children. And our future self. An “open” marriage is really no marriage at all. It’s not even a trace of a concept. Its a delusion. And Doc’s son has paid the price.
I’ve thought a good deal more about Doc this past month than I have in decades. How is it that a fellow, whose life in the early stages only said “Yes, yes, yes” could only answer “no”? His parents (heck, probably as far back as he great-grandparents) had more money than everyone else in my hometown combined. He was a decent track runner, a fine guitar player, a poet. And yet, he eschewed it all, including a conventional, loving home, and swept it all away –including his only son– because he didn’t like what he perceived to be “the rules”.
Doc hated the Rules. He probably still hates the Rules, for all I know. And all around him are the charred ends of a life sputtering to its final cough, who knows how many days or years down the road. Doc’s marriage was so open that everything fell out.
As I say, Doc’s been spinning around my mind lately. I was musing about him not long ago when I heard a voice on my car radio mention the “living and breathing Constitution”. What is a “living and breathing Constitution”? Oh, I know what the liberals say: A constitution that lives and breathes is one that bends with the times, one that redresses the faults of its earlier incarnations. But, really, when you look at things through experiential eyes, a “living and breathing” Constitution is really no Constitution at all. In fact, we could call it an “open” Constitution– just like Doc’s “open marriage”.
And, like an Open Marriage, the results of an Open Constitution are just as predictable. What was designed to protect humans at their most vulnerable will end up destroying the very people it was intended to protect: those that can’t protect themselves from the arbitrary and capricious rustlings of an all powerful state. And, just as with an Open Marriage, ultimately, an Open Constitution will destroy the children.
Like a marriage, a constitution is a contract. Also like a marriage, a Constitution is a contract between only two people: you, and the government.
And like a marriage, our Constitution is the Rules. And there will always be Docs lying in wait to destroy it. Just like Doc, they’ll do it bit by bit, saying all the while that its out of real love for the institution that they are violating it here, trimming it a bit there, rewriting it for “the times”. The Docs of the world hate the rules; they rejects them as some sort of cultural straight jacket, and, as a lord unto himself, he’s now self-confined his life to a barren little kingdom, free of rules, but enslaved nonetheless: To a bit of the Arizona desert; Him, an interchangeable wife, and bottles of booze and pills. And he can’t even visit his son.
Doc cannot see the glories he gave up– his narrow view won’t let him. And so it goes with all the malcontents that drone wheezily on about the culture we can create, if we’ll only open up our Constitution. They’ll never talk about the glories we’ve discarded with each little whack we’ve taken at that magnificent document. They only look ahead, to the next hill, the next utopian vision, never seeing the chaos and death they’ve left in their wake.
Our contract, our Constitution, was signed, sealed and consecrated with the blood of a million patriots over the past two centuries. But yet, we’ve opened it up, like an open marriage. We’ve found rights in there that don’t exist, and ignore the ones that are. We’ve taken clauses meant to encourage commerce and twisted them to force people to engage in commerce. Somehow, we found a way in our Constitution that allows our executive department to sell firearms to foreign criminals so that we can find out who these criminals are. I can’t find the clause, but it must be in there somewhere.
A little bit of lying here, a bit of cheating over there. Who cares? After all, it was an “open” marriage. I’ll wager that if I could talk to Doc’s son, he’d say that an “open” marriage isn’t a marriage at all. And a living Constitution is really dead.