Out here in Silicon Valley, we have a snarky rejoinder for people who are confused, muddled, or otherwise snarled by a particular situation: RTM. It stands for “read the manual” (sometimes an f is inserted before the m).
It’s shorthand for going back to how you were instructed to do things in the first place. But so many people are complacent or stupid or arrogant or just downright sure that they don’t need to follow the rules, or honor the process, or whatever.
Having a manual is logical. A manual lays down the steps you have to take to make decisions or to just make something work. I like the idea of manuals. With a manual, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when a new group of people encounter an old situation (I spent the better part of a year creating an operations manual for my former church, because new people came into old positions constantly; since I’ve gone, I often wonder if anyone actually either uses it or updates it).
Last week, we had a perfect example of why RTM is such a good idea. The Supreme Court had before it not one but two cases relating to same-sex marriage. When it comes to matters of the Supreme Court, the m is pretty simple: it’s the Constitution of the United States.
When I was in high school, in fact, there was a wonderful cartoon of elderly Uncle Sam. The caption, with a sly play on words, read, “My secret for living so long? It would have to be my constitution” – lower-case c constitution in that context being a synonym for body, a meaning that seems to have become archaic in the meantime.
The guys who wrote it – the Constitution, not the cartoon – may have been slaveholders and may have been plutocrats, but they really had some damn sound ideas about putting together some guidelines for when new people came into old positions. Not that I’m a constitutional scholar or anything, but for a long time, I’ve thought that this same-sex marriage brouhaha could be solved if someone had just sat down and carefully read Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It reads:
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” [boldface mine]
If the law says I can marry another consenting adult – a right I’ve taken advantage of some four times now, all to the same woman – why can’t two other consenting adults who happen to be of the same gender? If the law says that I can bequeath money to my spouse without her being taxed, why would someone else’s spouse be taxed differently? It’s right there in Section 1: equal protection under the law.
And by the way, that law is celebrating its 145th birthday next week: the 14th Amendment was ratified July 9, 1868. Last week, the Supreme Court finally declared (albeit by a close vote, the only kind it seems to make these days) that it’s time to stop bickering and RTM.