Thursday, May 1, 2014

How American Neighbors May Stop That Alien Feeling



                “The people” is subjected to unintended consequences in necessary, multi-level civic governance. Awareness of the uncertainties in governance empowers individuals, whether citizen or not, to pursue the happiness they perceive even though chaos may persist around them. The first level of governance is global, which the people strains to influence. However, because America is relatively safe, happiness as you see it is more practicable here than in many other places in the world. But that condition will not hold, if “the people” is just another idea destined for failure. Widespread appreciation of the people’s advantage, republican governance influenced by democracy, could reduce the mutual polarization and alienation that citizens of 2014 feel. Political regimes, always vying for power, have produced domestic dysfunction. If the people will ever govern its governance, as Abraham Lincoln imagined—governance of, by, and for the people-- citizens must agree to specific goals, and the preamble to the US Constitution, perhaps serendipitously offers sufficient, common purpose. If not sufficient, seven shared goals are enough to start learning how to be neighbors, and the people may add common goals as it recognizes them.
                I doubt any lawyer would claim the preamble has legal power, and the Federalist Papers claim that public virtue or personal sacrifice by people with the nation’s best talents is required to control the people’s conduct. But there are many evidences that the people provide the abiding American civic virtue.[1] For example, the people, without the best leadership or political regimes, ended slavery and is attacking racial discrimination, despite abiding racial leadership, such as the discriminatory Black Legislative Caucus. The preamble literally states, “We the People of the United States” govern us, our states, and the country. Civic self-governance is claimed by the seven listed goals, in my one-word reminders:  integrity, justice, civility, defense, perseverance, liberty, and continuity. These are civic goals, designed to foster domestic safety and domestic justice yet provide for cooperative autonomy and mutual accommodation, the two primary civic virtues. With fulfillment of the preamble, every citizen would pursue happiness as they perceive it, neither in social conformance (beyond commitment to the preamble) nor in subjugation to tyranny. In other words, the majority of citizens would live in civic compromise but personal pursuits, like safe drivers at traffic lights during power outages.
            Religious opinion offers a prime example of how cooperative autonomy and civic accommodation works. This statement would be difficult to disprove: notwithstanding judicial defense of “freedom of religion,” practical governance in America began with theism in general according to Protestantism in particular and has morphed into a theism that is despotically defended by the Supreme Court. Practically, America remains “Christian.” Theistic and non-theistic citizens are divided and often act as aliens if not enemies instead of neighbors. If citizens try to address despotism by the Christian majority (about 244 million citizens) toward the non-theist minority (about 73 million citizens), alienation occurs: one neighbor “dusts off” the other, following “scripture.” The religious one labels the neighbor’s arguments “secular,” which, being an antonym to “religious,” is circular and avoids the civic basis for compromise. Communications stop. Yet, it seems self-evident that theism does not prove “god” and non-theism does not disprove “god.” Thus, both parties to the issue, admitted or not, seek the objective truth; perhaps each hopes that their beliefs will prove to be in conformance with reality. Religion’s civic despotism is maintained by power seekers: both religious institutions and political regimes that favor theism instead of attention to the objective truth. The Supreme Court holds that the growing minority just has to accept being in a majority environment. Citizens can effect the needed compromise. They have the opportunity to live in peace by appreciating each other as a civic majority who transcend personal beliefs and hopes by acting to civically fulfill the preamble, maintaining their personal interests such as religious associations in private. As civic majority, theists and non-theists would not adopt each other’s faith and reason, but would both appreciate each other’s informed commitment to the preamble. Such neighbors may cheerfully debate religious opinion as well as political opinion. The civic majority would enjoy cooperative autonomy and mutual accommodation--those two civic virtues, and that requires the hard work of blunt, civil exchange of ideas that can lead to mutual understanding and compromise. Fulfilling the preamble is not an easy task.
            The objective truth is the mediator regarding all opinion, and it is the basis for compromise. Much of the objective truth is not known. For example, statistical reasoning suggests that extraterrestrial life exists. However, none has been discovered. Yet the objective truth regarding extraterrestrial life exists. On the other hand, mankind has proven that the earth is not flat: it is like a globe. In general, the objective truth exists but often its discovery has not been accomplished. Mankind’s understanding approaches the objective truth, but mankind observes a changing universe and may never accumulate full understanding. What is known by humankind is staggering and ranges from facts, fiction and art, to falsehoods. Few individuals can grasp even a fraction of what has been discovered or invented: understanding can be a rewarding, lifetime pursuit. No one should every stop learning.
            The fact that some of the objective truth is yet to be discovered or understood is the reason people form opinions. Once a part of the objective truth is understood, there is no need for opinion on that issue. Yet, often, an opinion is essential to a person. For example, long before the deadly effects of smoking cigarettes were proven, many smokers perceived the ruin they were inviting. They coughed and spit up nasty looking phlegm, felt shortness of breath and sometimes chest pains, yet had to have a cigarette with any cup of coffee and the first thing in the morning and during any relaxation. They put up with smelly clothing and furniture and home and car. Some formed the opinion that cigarette smoking must not be good and therefore did not smoke. Their consequence was better life and longer life. The cigarette debate seems over for most, but a debate about marijuana-smoking rages. In either case, forming a personal opinion and acting on it may be a matter of life and death: opinion is essential.
            However, some unknowns do not require an opinion. Often, understanding the debate and accepting that you do not know is sufficient, if not preferred. For example, admitting that you do not know whether extraterrestrial life exists or not positions you to discover an alien if you encounter one, instead of simply disbelieving. Similarly, admitting you do not know whether “god” exists or not prepares you to accept the discovery, whatever it may be. This is not to say it is wrong to either believe or disbelieve what has not been discovered, but rather to point out that it is alright if someone does the noble work to understand and admits they do not know what they do not know. People who have practiced being “We the People of the United States” as defined by the preamble can discuss these kinds of issues with appreciation for each other’s views, not expecting to change each other’s mind: appreciating the fact that personal opinion is essential to each individual when the objective truth has not been discovered. For example, I can discuss “god” with my spouse and she kindly responds with her opinions about God, each of us understanding that we are discussing two different entities.
            Like never before, the Internet empowers each individual to explore different institutional opinions, such as forms of government and religious dogma, and many people are rebelling when discovered objective truth renders religious doctrine obsolete. Often, affected institutions modify dogma to accommodate discovery. For example, some religious institutions mollify creation in seven days four thousand years ago with extended time and with evolution as the method of creation (“evolution” being Darwin’s adaptation to changing environment, not Spencer’s survival of the fittest). Believers value their religious practices but are placed in psychological tension when doctrine contradicts the objective truth. The people could require their institutions to maintain the practices, but quickly eliminate dogma that does not respect the objective truth. For example, many people follow the human tendency to take responsibility for everything, including afterdeath; some hope for eternal life in heaven. Eternal life does not conflict with discovered truth, and the hope should not be discouraged by people who disbelieve. It’s like a fan of soccer claiming American football fans are stupid. The institutional believer’s posture could become, “We don’t know, but these are our beliefs and hopes.” They could require their institutions to serve them according to the objective truth, just as in civic governance the people require elected and appointed officials to serve them, the 67% majority—not the ever cycling 50% plus one vote.
            Opinion about discrimination offers another prime example of how cooperative autonomy and civic accommodation works. In the information explosion we enjoy, most people understand that humans in fact have a common, evolutionary origin dating from millions of years ago on the species level and billions of years ago on the biological level. However, we have a common origin, referenced Online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin_color .
 All modern humans share a common ancestor who lived around 200,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa.  Comparisons between known skin pigmentation genes in chimpanzees and modern Africans show that dark skin evolved along with the loss of body hair about 1.2 million years ago and is the ancestral state of all humans. (Emphasis mine.)
More than ever before, American citizens may regard each other as neighbors. American citizens who insist on racial discrimination are rejecting our common origin and the opportunity to be of “We the People of the United States” as defined in the preamble.
Further, at a much faster pace than biological evolution, humankind, in most cultures, evolves—in millennia, centuries, even decades. For example, divine human sacrifice was practiced around the world a millennium ago and in particular cultures as late as the nineteenth century. Divine sacrifice is nearly extinct, but enslavement of people, both by force and by voluntary subjugation persists. Thanks to the people, in just 400 years, this country was subjected to slavery, won independence from the oppressor, abolished slavery, acted against discrimination, and is in the process of abolishing discrimination. Every citizen is a beneficiary of these accomplishments, but few appreciate the importance of understanding what has happened; people are busy living. However, a super majority continually communicating to fulfill the preamble would create the needed awareness. The slaves and their ancestors until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were not part of “We the People of the United States” as defined in the preamble. But neither were women, until 1920. Citizens of all skin colors may ask themselves what it takes to become of “We the People of the United States” as defined in the preamble and make it happen if they want it. I think all it takes is the decision to join.
In the first half of that four-hundred years, patriots saw the evil of slavery and the despotism of civic religion, but unaware of some of the facts now understood, could not rid the country of those plagues. Additionally, the early patriots could not overcome their own Calvinistic impression that humans cannot learn civic virtue and therefore organized a contradiction in federal government:  a citizen’s republic with centralized force. Federalists and anti-federalists inacted a politic divided on states’ rights, distracting focus from the people. Regimes have vied for power in every age, pitting the majority of 50% plus-one-vote against the minority of 50% less-one-vote. A 67% majority of the people that is compromising to give every citizen the opportunity to live in peace according to their view of happiness would end the cycle of oppression of the 50% minority.
No generation has ever been led by a political regime to organize existing citizens for a 67% majority from every legal interest group--people dedicated to fulfilling the seven civic goals stated in the preamble, each person conducting life according their personal opinion as to what happiness is, during each decade of their lives. Such living requires compromise. The purpose of Ratification Day Celebration 2014 is for interested citizens to imagine how that super majority, “We the People of the United States” as defined by the preamble, can be established. The present agenda came from the cave of my mind and is not important: it needs the light of your opinion. Please offer better ideas.
If you have not reviewed the registration form, please click on the “Conference” folder and notice the changes. Most important is that the venue is the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, Main Branch, 1700 Goodwood Blvd, Conference Room B. There are twenty-three seats available today, May 1.
Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included.


[1] Both “public virtue” and “civic virtue” are concepts I learned from Mark Douglas McGarvie’s book, One Nation Under Law, Northern Illinois University Press, 2004.