The first State of the Union Address of Barack Obama's last term was a shopping list out of a fever dream about a bureaucratic utopia, in which rights and resources are balanced and aliquoted among the American citizenry. For some it was an inspiring call to action; to others, more fuel for the great gun grab of 2013. Rhetorically it was mostly successful, combining harsh facts with elegant imperatives about the country's splendid future. Mostly, until he neared the end.
"God-given rights"—rights are not doled out by a god. They are granted by one's fellow citizens. If a god made humans and wanted us to have innate rights we would be designed to show kindness to all, not just those who are kin or very familiar. But we are not formed like the curious lemurs, who exhibit interspecies play. We are warlike and rapine chimps. We are made, as Octavia Butler posited, to be intelligent and hierarchical. It is a savage combination. Rights are the gifts we give to each other when we take our baby steps beyond biology.
In the final moments, coopting the words of wounded police officer Brian Murphy, Obama spoke about "the way we're made" as a discriptor for citizenship, implying that our being made citizens makes us inclined and able to protect each other's rights and tend to current and future generations. That may be true for people who became citizens as adults, who consciously chose these responsibilities. But what of the majority of Americans who experience something more god given, who are granted citizenship by birth? What if they possess none of these qualities, and are selfish, shortsighted, and bigoted?
America must divorce itself from the notion that luck defines character—and where a person is born is nothing more than luck. Being born American does not make a person wise, kind, or respectful of another's rights. DNA, family, and education determine those. Above all, action defines character. In Aristotle's (translated) words, it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced. Attributing god-given personality traits to geographical happenstance is lunacy. People should be considered citizens of a nation only if they have actively demonstrated the qualities citizenship demands. If America is to succeed as a culture—philosophically and practically—every American should be a naturalized citizen.