Saturday, September 28, 2013

Constitutional Pot-Sitting

The most basic human needs do not change.  Since the beginning, we have found it necessary to defecate--and we have frequently, therefore, assigned the name "necessaries" to the various devices we have invented to "facilitate"--with a modicum of efficiency and modesty--the accomplishment of this task (hence another euphemism--"facilities").

However, as this picture of an 18th century night stool illustrates, the devices we employ change and evolve over time (in response to social and scientific advances), even though the fundamental need remains constant. Hence, I doubt that anyone, in 21st century America, would consider this chaise percée--despite its mahogany elegance--to be a particularly efficient or desirable substitute for a nice Kohler flush toilet.  But by the same token, few would choose to forego entirely the aid of a "necessary" in accomplishing this most fundamental act of human liberation.

What always strikes me as odd, though, is how many modern folks--who in their choice of plumbing cherish their sanitary, lavender-scented bathrooms--remain inexplicably and adamantly attached to political ideas and systems that are the smelly equivalent of 18th century night stools. For shitting, they want a sleek 21st century crapper. For governing, they cling to a messy 18th century constitution.

Oh, I am not being unpatriotic or seditious here.  Our Dear Old Constitution (DOC), like the night stool pictured, was undoubtedly state-of-the-art--in 1789.  Back then, as today, people had to "do their business," and the night stool/constitution conceived by Madison et. al. was at the time perhaps the most efficient and elegant invention yet devised to help do the job. For its yeoman service over many years, it has earned our respect and veneration.

But the world has changed since 1789.  Yes, people still have to defecate, of course.  However, circumstances surrounding this act no longer resemble the 18th century context for which the night stool was designed.  These days, overflowing chamber pots cannot simply be dumped in streets. And anyway there are no servants to dump them.  Septic night soil cannot be collected and used to fertilize vegetable gardens.  And besides there are no vegetable gardens to fertilize.  In short, a night stool--in the 21st century--would simply not receive a very high rating from Consumer Reports (even though its woodwork might be stunning).  

Were there a Consumer Reports for governmental charters, I fear that a similar bad review would be accorded to the Constitution that we so reflexively and unquestioningly revere.  Because isn’t it evident that, despite its elegant concern for symmetry and "balance," this beloved but outmoded contraption is just no longer doing a very good job of handling our daily "business"?  Nice woodwork, but--as Washington paralysis demonstrates every day—distressingly smelly and inefficient within our modern context.  

And alas, though the Founders themselves realized that their political “convenience” might someday need to be amended and updated, our constitutional remodeling has so far amounted to little more than slapdash tinkering—so ramshackle that we’re actually beginning to lack the political plumbing to keep ourselves free of our own accumulating waste. 

I wonder, therefore: isn’t it about time to convene another Constitutional Convention and charge it with engineering a system designed for 21st century realities?  Or, lacking that, at least with legislating some substantial streamlining via, well, a "sh*tload" of amendments to our now decidedly incommodious DOC ? Clearly, we very desperately need some updated constitutional facilities. 

I do wish (though, in truth, I entertain little real hope) that our leaders would just get off the pot and do it!

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