We hold no truths self-evident. There are in fact no Truths, in the same way that there is no Creator. There is a social contract, which is based on utilitarian principles. The rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few.
Not that there’s such a thing as Rights either. Nothing is unalienable; hence the need for a social contract. Which is what I’m starting to explore here.
It’s 2017. We live at the height of the neo-liberal nightmare. It’s probable that it will change dramatically in our lifetimes, but unfortunately it’s more likely to get worse than better. And with the twin specters of nuclear war and climate change, there are chances it can get much worse.
While many Americans see the rise of Trump as indication of end times, I suspect they missed their diagnosis by at least fifty years. (It’s been a nightmare at least since Nixon, and probably since the end of the Second World War. And honestly thinking about the presidents of the 18 and 19th century, it’s not like that was a golden age either.) The elites have been running things for a long time, getting their way for a long time. Number 45 isn’t a sudden sign of a sickness, he’s an inevitable point in the decay of a decadent society. I wonder if future generations, should there be any, will look back on now as the time that the sickness of greed overran all else.
Back to building a better society. The Jefferson quote got me to thinking. Obviously the Bill of Rights is outdated. Of course it is. Written in 1789, it predates The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by years and Last of the Mohicans by decades, for instance. And it shows its age. The Right to Bear Arms, for one, was meant for people to own muskets in order to defend against British. It was not meant for citizens to arm themselves with automatic weapons or wear pistols to Walmart. It sort of amuses/alarms me to think what Thomas Jefferson and friends would think of the NRA and its ilk.
Likewise the third amendment is an anachronistic snapshot. But what’s striking about the Bill of Rights, kind of like the 10 Commandments, is what is missing.
Compared with the 33 other member states of the OECD , the US ranks consistently at the bottom on health indicators and has the second highest child poverty rate. Of all these OECD countries, the life expectancy in only three countries -Hungary, Mexico and Turkey – is lower than that in the US, and only Mexico has a higher homicide rate.
In related news, compared with these countries, the US has the greatest concentration of wealth, as measured by the share of the wealth held by the top 1%. The US has been found wanting in many key areas and recommendations from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights:
• Ratify international human rights treaties;
• Implement safeguards against torture;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Continue progress implementing rights of LGBTI people;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Ensure surveillance is consistent with international human rights law;
• Ensure due process for migrants;
• Provide for safe abortion;
• Reduce poverty;
• Ensure women are paid equally as men for the same work;
• End child labor on farms;
• End various forms of inequality;
• Abolish the death penalty; and
• Implement measures against excessive use of force by police.
Just that? Okay that seems pretty monumental. Let’s start with something easier. More basically, most constitutions around the world guarantee some very basic things, including:
“the right to shelter”;
the “right to safe work environment”;
“equal pay for equal work”;
“the right to a free education”;
a “right to health care”;
“the right to work”;
“the right to dignity”;
the “right to join trade unions.”
Even that low bar is highly controversial and would be fought tooth-and-nail both high and low by many Americans. I suspect the American people are too controlled, the masses have too many opiates for any kind of major change.
So what do you think? How would you rebuild the Bill of Rights, if you were starting a new country? Because the ethical underpinnings of the Western World comes from a 3000 year old mythology, it might be advisable to incorporate some ethics into our legal document too. From a mishmash of “New Commandments” here are some that I think could be useful.
1. Respect Life. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
2. Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
3. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
4. Every person has the right to have control over their body.
5. Treat others not as you would want them to treat you but how they want to be treated. Don’t assume that what you and others have the same expectations. There is no one right way to live. Think about their perspective.
7. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
8. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
9. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
10. Always seek to be learning something new.
11. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
12. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.
13. Do not ever even think of using people as private property.
14. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
Learn to obey before you command.
15. Make reason your supreme commander.
16. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
17. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
18. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
19. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
20. Treat the earth and all that dwell there on with respect.
It’s not the concise ten, but on the other hand neither are half of them about which sky spirit to worship. And there is a bit of overlap. When we’re making our country, we’ll try to be more precise.
So that’s the start of my new country. A blend of new age ethics underscored by basic rights as defined by what most other countries do. What do you think?