Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.

The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.

The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.


  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
  • Harvard geneticist George Church makes a list of genes that could be modified to enhance human abilities.
  • The list tracks both positive and negative effects.
  • Redesigning humans can lead to posthumans or transhumans.


Would you improve humanity if you could? Many of us have opinions about how we can boost up society and government. But what about just re-engineering the people themselves, to make them more advanced physically and intellectually? Would better bodies lead to better people? One person who can turn such musings into reality is George Church, the Harvard genetics professor famous for trying to resurrect holly mammoths, among many other accomplishments. Church also made a list of genes that could be targeted through genetic manipulation for the purpose of designing a new version of humans.

In an interview with Futurism, the professor explained that one purpose of assembling such a list is in giving correct information to the people. It has been his long-term mission to drive down the costs of genetics resources. To that end, the list includes both protective and negative consequences of hacking a particular gene.

"I felt that both ends of the phenotype spectrum should be useful," Church elaborated. "And the protective end might yield more powerful medicines useful for more people and hence less expensive."

Here are some selections from the so-called Transhumanist Wishlist, drawing upon the philosophical movement of transhumanism that calls for using technology to enhance human physiology and intellect, leading to a transformation of what it means to be human:

  • LRP5 - hacking this gene could give people extra-strong bones, as research has shown a mutation of LRP5 can lead to bones that don't break. The tweak might make it hard to swim, however, as denser bones also mean lower buoyancy.
  • MSTN - messing with the myostatin protein could result in larger, leaner muscles, and cure such diseases as muscular dystrophy.
  • FAAH-OUT - the amusingly-named FAAH-OUT gene mutation was linked to insensitivity to pain. Wouldn't you like to have such a super ability?
  • ABCC11 - modifying this gene could really pay off socially, as it's been linked to low odor production. Currently, only 2% of the people in the world carry the mutated version, which helps their armpits not produce any unpleasant smells.
  • PCSK9 - people who lack this gene have very low levels of cholesterol. Tweaking it could lead to fighting off coronary disease. On the other hand, the negatives could include a rise in diabetes and even reduced cognition.
  • GRIN2B - playing with this gene can lead to enhancing memory and learning abilities.
  • BDKRB2 - figuring out how to affect this gene can lead to people who can hold their breath under water for much longer. It figures prominently in the abilities of the indigenous Bajau people ("Sea Nomads") of Southeast Asia, who are known for amazing feats of deep diving.

Photo by Rick Friedman/rickfriedman.com/Corbis via Getty Images

George Church, a professor of Genetics at Harvard University, with the MAGE Device Multiplex automated Genome Engineering on November 30, 2012.

"I've made the argument that we're already transhumanist, that is to say, if it's defined as being almost unrecognizable to our ancestors," said Church in a radio interview. "I think if you brought some of our ancestors or even people from un-industrialized tribes they would not understand what we're doing."

You can check out the full transhumanist "wish list" here, along with additional resources that include studies of specific genes and their effects. While some of these hacks are already being attempted, more discussion and development is necessary. Church sees that future doctors would be able to receive transplants with hacked genetic modifications.

How long till that future? Scientists around the world are racing to make genetic advancements, generally before their governments catch up. Gene-edited human babies are already being born. Chinese scientists were able to edit the gene CCR5 to make two baby girls more resistant to HIV. On the flip side, they made the girls more susceptible to the West Nile Virus. Finding the right balance will be crucial if we're to become superhuman.

To hear Church discuss the future of human biology, check out this video:

  • What kind of work does a mentor do? Many expect that mentors can only help others that have been in the same situation as their mentees, but this is not the case.
  • What matters is that mentors can see their mentees' potential so that they can help them move away from the situation that they are in and towards the person that they actually are.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
  • For the survey, YouGov — a British polling firm — interviewed more than 42,000 people across 41 countries.
  • The results showed that the Obamas ranked higher than the Trumps on both the U.S. and international lists of admired public figures.
  • Unlike some former first ladies, Mrs. Obama has led a remarkably public life after leaving the White House.


Former First Lady Michelle Obama has dethroned Angelina Jolie as the world's most admired woman, according to a new YouGov survey. The results suggest that the Obamas are the world's most admired couple, considering that former President Barack Obama was voted the second-most admired man in the world, behind Bill Gates.

In the U.S., the Obamas topped both lists for 2019. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump came in second and third, respectively. These results echoed a 2018 Gallup survey, in which Mr. and Mrs. Obama were voted America's most admired man and woman.

The new survey suggests that the Trumps aren't as admired internationally as they are in the U.S.: Internationally, the president ranked 14th and the first lady 19th.

YouGov noted some differences between the men's and women's lists.

"Entertainers dominate the female list, with 12 of the most admired women being actresses, singers or TV presenters (although some, like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie, are also notable for their humanitarian work)," YouGov wrote in a blog post. "By contrast, the list of most admired men contains more people from political, business and sporting backgrounds."

Interestingly, the Obamas and Trumps weren't the only political figures on the U.S. lists this year.

"Three of the Democratic presidential contenders also make it onto America's Most Admired list: Joe Biden is the 6th most admired man in the U.S., followed by Bernie Sanders in the 7th spot," YouGov wrote. "Elizabeth Warren also made the list, as the 13th most admired woman in the country. . . Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton are the 7th and 8th most admired women in the country, followed immediately by former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Ivanka Trump also makes the list as the 11th most admired woman in the United States."

The Obama's post-White House life

Unlike some first ladies before her, Michelle Obama has done anything but back away from the spotlight since leaving the White House. The 55-year-old former attorney has recently appeared on talk shows and awards ceremonies, and her bestselling autobiography Becoming has sold more than 10 million copies since 2018.

"She's a rock star at this point," Lissa Muscatine, a former speechwriter for Hillary Clinton, told The Guardian. "She's now a political celebrity."

In April, the Obamas unveiled a handful of documentary and film projects that they're developing with their production company Higher Ground Productions and Netflix. Some of those projects include a feature-length film about Frederick Douglas, a post-WWII drama series and a children's show about food.

"We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That's why we couldn't be more excited about these projects," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won't just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all."

Mrs. Obama added in a statement: "We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it's all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives. We think there's something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can't wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they'll generate."

One reason the former first lady's star seems to keep rising might be because some Americans miss the Obamas, Muscatine told The Guardian.

"People living through Trump have shown a yearning, a nostalgia for the Obamas even though it's only been a few years," she said. "They miss a husband and wife in the White House who took the jobs seriously. So when there's anything Obama, people want more of it."