Friday, July 03, 2009

"deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"


IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
How radically different this is from most of the path of human history in which the consent of the governed was not even considered. For millennia we were conditioned to assume that the natural order of things was for certain superior personages to rule over the rest of us. What constituted these people as "superior" varied, but a system of dominance and submission was unquestioned.

Then some folks got uppity and questioned that.

Jesus got in trouble for questioning the system. He preached and demonstrated the reign of God, quite different from the rule of emperors and oligarchies - and, we must now add, corporatocracies. When his early followers declared "Jesus is Lord" they also meant that Caesar and Herod were delegitimized. Rome was not happy. Those who profited from the rule of Rome were not happy. Those who colluded with Rome were not happy.

So much in modern politics reflects these ancient struggles. The "American way of life," so highly touted when I was a boy growing up in the 50s along with "the American dream," involved many unasked questions. Now that I am a cranky old fart, I tend to ask the questions more and more. I ask them as one who feels deep patriotism for my native land but also knows himself to live in a larger context than a tribal one.

The American way of life, as we have known it in my lifetime, has been increasingly structured for the benefit of corporations and those who run them and for their stockholders. I happen to believe in the legitimate role of those who provide capital so that industry and commerce may happen. Those who invest are entitled to a reasonable return on that investment. In that sense I am a capitalist.

But I do not believe in an unbridled capitalism in which all the functional equations are arranged to favor the profits of the investors at the expense of other parties: laborers, customers, and the environment. This is rather like a casino. We all know the operation is designed to favor the house. Some may win, most will lose, the house will always rake in lots of money. So long as masses of people stay focused on the possibility that they might win, they continue to toss their money into that system and are generally happy. Basically it is a system for transferring money from the client's bank accounts into the bank accounts of the owners of the casino.

In other words, society is largely content to gamble with our natural resources, with our human energy and our health, with our common life, with our well being as a society, in the hope that some of us will benefit - and the "house" that the entire system is structured to benefit makes out quite nicely, unconcerned about all other factors and players

One part of the Calvinist heritage of my youth is a firm belief, now highly reinterpreted but still firm, in human frailty. In the process of questioning theology I came to realize that the phrase "total depravity" did not mean, for John Calvin, that we are all 100% depraved but that there is no part of us untouched by sin. A huge part of my theological journey involved completely rethinking the concept of sin in my undergraduate years on into seminary. I certainly understand our human dilemma nowadays in terms of being limited, broken, unaware, and bearing the burdens of our specific and general heritage as well as sheer, rebellious willfulness. Long ago I redefined sin, in my mind, as whatever damages right relationship: with God, with others, with ourselves, and with the world around us. I believe this is quite orthodox but it is much broader than what I grew up with. Having said all that, nothing in us appears untouched by such damage. I avoid the phrase total depravity, but I think you can see that I view us as, well, pretty fucked up.

That can actually be a compassionate view rather than a judgmental one. If we see ourselves and one another as works in progress, very incomplete and still struggling to grow into wholeness (and what believers consider holiness), damaged by life, "bleeding on the inside" each and every one of us, we begin to shift from labeling individuals as a******s, jerks, incompetents, idiots, etc. and can start to cut others - and ourselves - some slack. To see each of us flawed critters as objects of divine love - clearly a faith stance - or even as unique parts of some grand totality, is to move toward compassion.

The advantage of seeing and naming flaws without getting all torqued over them is that we can move from the sort of denial that distances us from reality, in our daily life and in our larger societal existence.

We have, as a nation, been living in collective denial about a system that is rigged to favor the house. Those who question the system are quickly branded as traitors, socialists, crazies, un-American, etc. They can then be dismissed and the system can go chugging along.

We live in a tyranny of corporations. The debates raging nowadays around topics like the economy, healthcare, and war all include the element of some folks declaring that the emperor has no clothes. In other words, calling into question the system.

Anyone involved with systems theory knows that systems want homeostasis. When you try to change them they resist. Now there's an understatement.

Healthcare, to take one of our hot-button topics of the moment, is - in this benighted, backward patch of the United States of America - rigged to enrich insurance companies. We all know it, and if we don't we are in denial of the most abysmal sort. The system is simply NOT about seeing that everyone in our society is given the care required for decent health.

It is, to bring this around to the Declaration of Independence, a tyranny.

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such [a healthcare system], and to provide new Guards for their future [health]."

This is where consent of the governed comes into play. We need to let our elected officials know that if they do not support decent healthcare in this nation then they will lose their legitimacy in our eyes. This will have consequences in donations (the one thing they really care about) and votes (the thing they should fear and never forget).

We need to withdraw our consent to tyranny.

Y'all may play with the ramifications of "consent of the governed." We certainly need to reclaim the concept on a daily basis.

The Revolution did not end when the United States became independent of Great Britain.

I commend to your attention a post titled "Compare and Contrast: A Woman With Pneumonia Goes to The Local Clinic" at Crooks and Liars.
I walked out of the clinic with a diagnosis and treatment within twenty-five minutes of entering, without paying a dime. There was no wait, no paperwork, and no questions about my ability to pay, my nationality, or whether, as a foreigner, I was entitled to free comprehensive health care. There was no monetary value connected with my physical well-being; the care I received was not contingent upon my ability to pay. I was treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, my illness was cured and I was able to continue with my journey in Venezuela.

This past year, a family friend was not so lucky. At the age of 56, she was going back to school and was uninsured. She came down with what she thought was a severe case of the flu, and as her condition worsened she decided not to see a doctor because of the cost. She died at home in bed, losing her life to a system that did not respect her basic human right to survive.

Hugo Chávez may well be a jerk but next time you wish to vilify him think about healthcare in Venezuela in comparison with the United States. Think about it real hard, my friends. (Read the whole article.


--the BB

2 comments:

The Cunning Runt said...

Spot On, Paul.

Thanks for your clarity on this matter. We do indeed need to fight for our rights on a daily basis.

Happy Interdependence Day, my friend!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Excellent post, Paul, eloquent and to the point. What we call a health care system is so shameful that I can hardly bear to think about it.

Happy Fourth!