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Changing Norms…

June 24, 2008 | NeW Staff

      Yesterday, a big news story was that the first woman in history was nominated to the rank of a four-star general. Of course, this brings up the subject of ‘glass ceilings’ again and this time by the lucky lady herself, Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody: “I grew up in a family that didn’t know what glass ceilings were” (as quoted by CNN). Now usually, people who receive this rank have experienced combat, something Dunwoody has not done, as women are legally excluded from combat. 

         Whether or not it is essential for some at this rank to have seen combat is I’m sure debatable. I am not going to question this woman’s hard work and dedication to the Military, as I know nearly nothing about the situation. In addition, yesterday, my best friend Marjorie, left for a month long boot camp for the Army.  If what Marjorie has gone through merely (dare I even use this adverb?) as an Army nurse is a fraction of what a general such as Lt. Gen. Dunwoody has gone through in her Military career, it is nothing to be taken lightly.

      I do however wonder, in a broader sense, about how as society changes, institutions change as well. Fifty years ago, a woman who hadn’t seen combat would never had been nominated to the position of a four-star general. We see the malleability of laws and standards not only in historical advancements such as the overturning of court cases like Dred Scott, but also from culture to culture. As societal norms are different each country, so are laws. I guess I always tend to look at these seemingly contemporary questions of society in the larger picture, so I wonder: what laws or standards, if any, are immune to change. If laws come from people, and people are forever changing, either for good or ill, are there any conceptions of justice that will forever be constant? 

         We may initially think that perhaps the “Golden Rule” represents some sort of  natural law, consistent in all men. Yet we see “just wars” and the death penalty and realize that “providing for the common defense” may be more complicated to define than it would seem. If this law comes from something external to humans, yet applies to changing perceptions and conditions of a human society, is it subject to change and different interpretations as well?

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