Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mark Twain didn't write the constitution

There is a lot of chatter about a version of Huckleberry Finn rewritten to avoid the word nigger, and Congress cutting out parts of the constitution when they read it. What surprises me is how much people seem to think these two cases have in common when one is absurd and the other quite reasonable.

Huckleberry Finn was the artistic work of one man. He expected it to be controversial wrote it to be that way. Altering that, particularly for as silly a reason as particular vibrations in the air and geometric patterns falling out of style, is denying history. To pretend to send children to history class while covering up the parts we don't approve of today will get us nowhere. The Americans are doing the best they ever have by almost any measure and we should be bragging about our progress, not covering up past mistakes.

The Constitution however is a document that lists the powers the different branches of government have. Unlike Huckleberry Finn it was written to be altered. It is completely reasonable for Congress to read the rules which it operates under, and silly for it to read rules that it operated under in 1826. Sure there are reasons for historians, or children in school, to read the original text. There is no good reason for the U.S. Congress to do so though. They don't operate under the 3/5ths clause and therefore should spend their time thinking about more pressing issues.

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