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Custodial Duty

As a general concept, we should recognize the custodial duties and for specific types of custody the law should ultimately regulate them.

A custodian is a person or an organization that holds persons or non-human animals in its care for they are unable to care for themselves. That inability can be legal (in case of incarceration, for example) or practical (infirmity or by being too young or a non-human animal). Custodial duty often arises in thinking about law and politics, as failures often result in many of the problems we see in our news feeds and lives.

There are pretty universal concepts that, unfortunately, are not enforced upon all kinds of custodians. They include things like ascertaining the identity of the ward, and providing safety, security, room, and board. Custodians should also provide reasonable sanitary facilities, access to some kind of meaningful interaction or stimulation.

There is a whole host of these duties, which are thrust upon the custodian by the fact that being in their custody deprives the ward the opportunity to provide the things for themselves (or in case of practical custody, the ward is actually unable to do so).

The circumstances and types of custody differ a lot. In some respects, military service puts the enlistee in a ward position to the military’s custodial one. It is a less pure form of custodial relationship, but still represents enough of one (the military having at least gross control over where the enlistee will live) that some duties do fall on the military. That is, the duties depend on the context of the custody.

Jail and prison are purer, as is the custodial duty of a pet owner to the pet. As is the duty of a parent or guardian to a child. But the legal recognition of duties is often very circumstantial, even when constitutional and treaty recognition of duties exist (in the case of the incarcerated both domestic and prisoners of war).

At some point, humanity will likely establish a direct set of obligations on custodians, linking particular types of custody to particular obligations. But for now it must be recognized that if you take a life into your custody, you have a duty to it.

Other forms of custodial duty may extend beyond organisms. For example, we might examine the custodial duty the various judges and justices have toward the law and Constitution, and doing so might help to separate areas where they act as owners rather than custodians. Those decisions and practices should be eliminated by practice and by regulation. The law, living in some respects, should be treated properly by its custodians and not be subject to the ongoing abuses we see.

Corporations, including nonprofits and religious organs, are owed some amount of care by their officers, to protect their assets and reputations and qualities. The organization has a right not to be used to cause harm to civilians or employees, to not become polluters, and so on.

Or where major sports leagues represent the canonical form of a game, do they have any moral obligations toward fans and amateurs alike, to properly steward that game’s development?

The other side of that kind of obligation is that of artists and art. While often artists are treated as owners of their art, the reality is quite different. Once a piece of art gains a life of its own, the artist ceases to be its custodian, even as we afford legal protection to the artist to continue to profit. The art has become enmeshed in our common culture, and as such the artist has lost some amount of control no matter what the law recognizes.

In whatever activities you find yourself a custodian of sorts, do take care to be a good one. Whether it’s to your computers or pets or children or students or art, we should all try to be good custodians.

American Values

The biggest culture shock in decades is the partial abandonment of American values by the Republican party and its voters. America used to stand for something, but increasingly to hear the conservatives tell it, the dictionary needs to say “undefined” or even “meaningless.”

They claim that kneeling insults troops while they apparently abandon the long-held belief that American foreign policy was to spread, support, extend, and generally bolster democracy around the globe. Why do we remain in Afghanistan? Why did we go to Korea and Vietnam? What was the Berlin Air Lift for?

The long-standing, shared value was that democracy works and that it is a gift to the world. Some of that was a guise for spreading American capitalism, sure. Some of it was the idea that a democratic world would be safer for America. But at least some of it was about liberty and truth and justice.

And the Republicans have yet to explain how you get truth or justice, much less liberty, without a leader that believes in those things. How you get them without a free press. Indeed, we hear often the suggestion that people don’t care about tax returns or undue political pressure placed on subordinates.

People are supposed to care. That’s an American value. To boldly and blindly strike at American values is, by definition, unamerican. To attempt to subvert the institutions of the USA, be it the FBI, the IRS, or any other vital organ, is unamerican. Americans can criticize freely, and we expect our institutions to undergo changes to address corruption and lesser dysfunctions, but we do not and should not hack away carelessly at our own governmental body.

We were proud of our leaders. They spoke to the best in us, lifted us up. They reminded us of our commitments to those with less developed countries. They believed in progress. They weren’t perfect, but we carved their images into the rockface and built monuments to them not out of worship, but of recognition of what they stood for and as reminders that we aspire to continue their legacy.

I do not understand these Republicans that would sell away the values of America so quickly, for a tax cut and a seat on the court. It does not seem like a conservative thing to do. I can only hope that the real Republicans, the ones who spent a decades including an anti-lynching plank in their platform, the ones that believed in limiting the debt and aren’t afraid to raise taxes if needed, that see the need for regulations, I can only hope they will come back home to America and help defeat the farce that has replaced them.