Finding Common Ground in the Declaration of Independence
I can think of no better way to end my Common Ground series than on the 4th of July with a Declaration of “Interdependence” with each other and with the other things of the earth. On July 4, 1776, representatives of the 13 then British American colonies declared:
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.
With the list of grievances supporting this justification, representatives of the 13 new United States of America made the unanimous declaration: “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved…— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Today, we are again confronted with a government that seems incapable of ensuring the unalienable rights of the people or of effecting their “safety or happiness.” It has lost the consent of the governed and thus has lost its just power to govern. The Declaration of Independence from Great Britain has degenerated into a declaration of independence of each other. Americans may be individually committed to their nation but there is no mutual commitment to the common good of the people of the nation. We pledge our individual allegiance to the flag but there is no “mutual pledge to each other.” The future safety and happiness of the people of the United States will require a new declaration of our mutual interdependence with each other and with the other things of earth upon which we ultimately must depend.
In June 1998, I had the privilege of meeting with a small, diverse group of individuals at the Looking Glass Inn near Kooskie, Idaho to explore ideas for a new economics of sustainability. We did not reach a consensus on a new economics at that meeting, but our discussions did lead to a “declaration of interdependence” to which we all symbolically swore “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” I believe the future of our nation and the sustainability of human life of earth depends on our recognition of and respect for our interdependence with each other and with the other living and nonliving things of the earth.
At the Looking Glass Inn, we wrote:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all things are interconnected, that all things of creation have inherent worth apart from their current or anticipated market value, and that the worth of all things is enhanced and enriched through the abundance of love, community, and trust that arises from honoring our interdependence.
That in accordance with universal and inviolate laws of Nature and humanity, the quality and sustainability of life on Earth depends on harmonious relationships among all peoples and nations, and between humans and our natural environment, both now and into the distant future.
That humanity's pursuit of unlimited self-interest has created great inequities and disharmony among people and between humans and Nature; it has depleted and degraded natural resources; and it has denied vast numbers of people fair access to resources and opportunities required to sustain present and future generations.
That the dream of justice for all has grown dim, and that Earth and its people are imperiled. The blessings of liberty and prosperity for the privileged few cannot be sustained unless meaningful opportunities for Life, Liberty, and Happiness become accessible to all.
Therefore, we declare our interdependence with all people and with the Earth, of which we are an integral part. We acknowledge and embrace our responsibilities for ourselves, for each other, and for the Earth. We accept the responsibility for wise decisions in view of this interdependence. We dedicate our lives to sustaining the Earth, and to sustaining the well-being and harmony among all peoples, not just for ourselves, but for all generations.
This declaration was drafted by Patrick Madden—much as Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence—but was co-authored by the entire group. I included a discussion of this declaration, with the full list of its authors, in my Kindle book, A Return to Common Sense.
Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, whenever any government becomes destructive of the ends of ensuring the basic human rights of its people, including the rights of future generations, it is the right and the responsibility of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to ensure their safety and happiness.
We need not abolish our democratic form of government; we simply need to alter it —a proposition I have consistently defended. Through a process of consensus and with a new understanding of ecological and social reality, we can amend our Constitution to address the critical challenges to its sustainability. We can amend it to recognize and respect our inherent interdependence with each other and with the other living and nonliving things of the earth. Upon this common ground, we can restore the integrity of this still great nation.
PS: For those interested in reading more about using our common sense to find common ground, I address many of these and other issues in my Kindle book, A Revolution of the Middle and the Pursuit of Happiness — also available as an audiobook.