Monday, July 07, 2008

A paradigm is more than two bits

By Carl

When considering the state of the American political and governing system, it is probably a good idea to think about the flip side of the coin: the governed.

I've always believed that it is important to stress to Americans that there is no free lunch. For too long, politicians on both sides of the fence have strived hard to come up with painless solutions to thorny problems, not trusting the American people to be a rational, intelligent and reasonable community of people.

That's probably an accurate impulse. I can't really blame Republicans for offering tax cuts to ignore or Democrats for offering grandiose schemes to solve intractable problems. The sense I get is that Americans of all stripes would prefer someone else handle the problem.

We're spoiled, in other words. This sense of "it's somebody else's responsibility" plays out in so many facets of life, it's not even funny.

You get hit by a car. You sue the other driver. He hires a lawyer and sues you back to try to prove that, indeed, it was your fault for stepping in front of his car.

Voter turnout in elections has been abysmal, even in 2004 when people took up voting arms against a sea of trouble and likely again this year, despite Barack Obama's encouraging and energizing candidacy.

You see a woman in an emergency room collapse.
She lays there for 24 hours and dies. No one does a thing. Why? Because someone else should have handled it.

You walk down a street and a piece of newspaper blows across and wraps around your ankle. You stand next to a garbage can, yet rather than reach down, pluck the paper and toss it in the bin, you shake your foot and off it flies to litter again. Serial litter, I like to call this.

We fight a war in a far-off land, and the only sacrifice we're asked to make is to load up on debt and shop some more. Arguably, given what has happened, this might turn into the ultimate sacrifice for many of us, but that's a different story.

We ask so much of our country. We give so little in return. Perhaps in addition to a Bill of Rights, we should look into establishing a Bill of Responsibilities.

A Google search turns up roughly 300,000 hits on that term. Some of these "bills" are simply outrageously idiotic: really, the best someone could come up with was "you have the responsibility to be a loyal citizen of the United States of America"?

Memo to the Roses: WE ARE! (I won't embarrass them with a link)

I did find a
rather intriguing Bill, and I wanted to share it with you:

Freedom and responsibility are mutual and inseparable; we can ensure enjoyment of the one only by exercising the other. Freedom for all of us depends on responsibility by each of us.

To secure and expand our liberties, therefore, we accept these responsibilities as individual members of a free society:

1. To be fully responsible for our own actions and for the consequences of those actions. Freedom to choose carries with it the responsibility for our choices.

2. To respect the rights and beliefs of others. In a free society, diversity flourishes. Courtesy and consideration toward others are measures of a civilized society.

3. To give sympathy, understanding and help to others. As we hope others will help us when we are in need, we should help others when they are in need.

4. To do our best to meet our own and our families' needs. There is no personal freedom without economic freedom. By helping ourselves and those closest to us to become productive members of society, we contribute to the strength of the nation.

5. To respect and obey the laws. Laws are mutually accepted rules by which, together, we maintain a free society. Liberty itself is built on a foundation of law. That foundation provides an orderly process for changing laws. It also depends on our obeying laws once they have been freely adopted.

6. To respect the property of others, both private and public. No one has a right to what is not his or hers. The right to enjoy what is ours depends on our respecting the right of others to enjoy what is theirs.

7. To share with others our appreciation of the benefits and obligations of freedom. Freedom shared is freedom strengthened.

8. To participate constructively in the nation's political life. Democracy depends on an active citizenry. It depends equally on an informed citizenry.

9. To help freedom survive by assuming personal responsibility for its defense. Our nation cannot survive unless we defend it. Its security rests on the individual determination of each of us to help preserve it.

10. To respect the rights and to meet the responsibilities on which our liberty rests and our democracy depends. This is the essence of freedom. Maintaining it requires our common effort, all together and each individually.

Freedom is a balance of rights and responsibilities. If one only assumes the rights of freedom without taking responsibility to see those rights are secured and maintained, one loses the rights.

If one only secures the rights of freedom for oneself, without ensuring those rights for everyone, one loses freedoms.

If one abuses, distorts, or otherwise diminishes the rights of freedom, abrogating one's responsibilities for that freedom, then one loses one's freedom anyway. Karma's a bitch.

If only enjoys the freedom to enjoy one's property, one's life, one's liberty, one's pursuit of happiness while even one other person is unjustly deprived of his or hers, then one loses his freedom too.

We've seen that. We've seen that in this administration and in administrations throughout at least my lifetime. And one could make the argument, indeed, that because Americans have never had the responsibilities inherent in freedom, Americans were never truly free.

Oh, we could fake it, to be sure. When this land was wilderness and a man or woman could ride an entire day without seeing another person, you have the illusion of freedom.

Oddly enough, those same people took it upon themselves to ensure their own freedom by standing up for themselves when that freedom was threatened.

A community, you see, is a balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of the population. We are the most important unit in our own lives, but we are not the most important individual in anyone else's life. We can't be. As I like to say, I don't care what anyone else thinks because no one else is going to climb into my coffin with me when I die.

That statement, however, implies that I can live with myself well enough that even
I get into my coffin when I die!

Vigilance, involvement, activism: community.

I would quibble with some of these statements from the Freedoms Foundation. I'm drawn to article 9 as one that could use some fleshing out and tuning up, because it allows for all sorts of bizarre interpretations ("Why, I own this Abrams tank because you never can tell when Osama and his minions will come strolling down Cherry Lane, bent on taking out the Gas-N-Gulp!")

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

Right there in the Preamble to the Constitution is our mandate: to create community. A nation. A secure foundation to build our hopes and dreams on. To prevent tyranny and injustice, in whatever form it may take. To raise our families. To be free, all of us, not only those of us with money who can buy a home in a gated community (an oxymoron, that... "gated community"), but you, me, your children, my children, her children, his children.

As we ponder how to fix the things that are broken in America, we might want to pause a moment and see if as we point fingers, we aren't pointing many more back at ourselves.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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