Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obamacare Through the Looking-Glass


There's glory for you!

“I don't know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant ‘there's a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,”Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”
-- From Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

We have laws so people can be safe from arbitrary government. We have laws so people can know what is permitted and what is not permitted in a society. When you read the text of a federal law, you will see an entire section devoted to definitions. This is not just to keep lawyers employed; it is to allow people to understand exactly what the law means, so that they don’t unwittingly run afoul of the law. Government is bound by those definitions; you cannot be convicted of a crime if the applicable law does not define what you did as a crime in the first place. Without such provision, laws would be meaningless, and government could prosecute you based on whatever it decided the law meant today, without any regard to what it meant yesterday. The speed limit on a public highway can’t be simultaneously 35 mph and 65 mph.
...an object can not have two identities. A tree cannot be a telephone, and a dog cannot be a cat. Each entity exists as something specific, its identity is particular, and it cannot exist as something else. An entity can have more than one characteristic, but any characteristic it has is a part of its identity. A car can be both blue and red, but not at the same time or not in the same respect. Whatever portion is blue cannot be red at the same time, in the same way. Half the car can be red, and the other half blue. But the whole car can't be both red and blue. These two traits, blue and red, each have single, particular identities.

The concept of identity is important because it makes explicit that reality has a definite nature. Since reality has an identity, it is knowable. Since it exists in a particular way, it has no contradictions.


Verrilli had to be careful, though. While he insisted that the penalty is not a tax for Anti-Injunction Act purposes, he is expected to argue as the case proceeds that Congress is within its authority to pass the health-care law in part because of its ability to tax.

“Today you are arguing that the penalty is not a tax,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “Tomorrow you will be back and arguing that the penalty is a tax.”

Do you see that? The Obama administration is arguing that, Aristotle to the contrary, reality does not have a definite nature, and that it can be self-contradictory. And that, consequently, laws can be literally without any objective meaning. Words mean not what the law says, but what the government chooses them to mean at any particular moment. You (and Alice) might ask whether the government can make words mean so many different things. The Solicitor General of the United States would quote Humpty Dumpty and reply that the question is which is to be master — that's all.

This way lies madness – and worse. When government can say that the payment that you must make if you refuse to get health insurance can be defined as two mutually exclusive things, that both A and Not-A can be simultaneously true, it is saying that government has the power to enact laws which you have no way of knowing whether or not you are obeying, because the government can make the law mean whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and select whatever meaning suits its purpose in prosecuting you, solely at its own discretion, whenever it sees fit. It is an attempt to impose tyranny, and, to the extent that it invites contempt for the law (and for the lawmakers as well) it is an invitation to anarchy.

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