Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We the People

Draw a circle. Now draw another circle that intersects the first one. The result should be a figure that contains three spaces: the part which only belongs to the first circle, the part which only belongs to the second circle, and the part shared by both circles. You have just created a Venn diagram.


The Venn diagram is a great way of illustrating the concept of “me, you, and us”—or, if you will, “yours, mine, and ours.”

This is a central reality of human existence: as social creatures, there are parts of our experience that represent only our own interests, rights, and responsibilities. There are areas in which we have shared interests, rights, and responsibilities. And there are areas that belong to “you”—whoever “you” may be—and that are none of my business.

If we could all just get it straight which parts of life fall into which category, a great many of the world’s problems would be solved.

Concepts like compassion, morality, and responsibility can all be illustrated by use of a Venn diagram. We all decide what we believe to be “yours, mine, and ours” when—consciously or unconsciously—we answer questions like these:
  • To what extent is my life my own and nobody else’s?

  • How much should I care about other people’s feelings or well-being?

  • Am I responsible for trying to improve the lives of people I don’t know personally?

  • Should people protect the well-being of other living creatures—including the overall health of life on earth?

In a democracy, answers to questions like these motivate everything we do—including whether or not we choose to participate in government, and how. In America, that means deciding whether we are Democrat, Republican, L(l)ibertarian, or “other.”

The “other” category now includes those “tea-party conservatives” whose goals, if any, seem to be 1) to bring back the “Golden Years” of Bush-Cheney and 2) pay no taxes, no how, for nothin’, if possible.

Government represents the “us” part of the Venn diagram. It’s the way each family, community, or nation organizes itself for the good of the whole.

In the beginning, there was considerable debate among the nation’s founders about how “us” should be defined. Should it include only males? Only whites? Only the wealthy? If yes, what responsibility did these decision makers have toward others? We still struggle with the same questions:
  • Does a woman have a right to decide whether to bear a child?

  • Does a child who has lived here all her life but is not a citizen have a right to be educated?

  • Should public policies consider the needs of the poor and middle class as well as the rich?

The founders were not deluded—as many Americans seem to be today—into thinking that the documents they produced (The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) settled anything, once and for all. They knew that the principles of freedom and democracy they set forth in these documents would have to be studied, understood, adapted, and defended as long as the nation endures—that preserving them would require, to borrow a cliché, “eternal vigilance.”

In America, the government is “us.” To be anti-government in America is to be, in my opinion, anti-American. It puzzles me no end that the people most negative about the American government and its leaders are often those who go out of their way to call themselves “patriots.” By definition, patriots are those who love, support, and defend their country.

You can’t love your country without respecting its history and its government. You can’t support your country without supporting its leaders to the greatest extent possible. You can’t defend the country without actively participating.

Unfortunately, we all seem to remember all that only when the country is at war or under attack, as in the weeks after 9/11.

If only we could all be "patriots" during ordinary times--citizen-participants who choose our attitudes and actions for the good of the country and all its inhabitants.

In all of our millions and with all our wealth as a nation, just imagine what we could accomplish.

8 comments:

Idna said...

Jane you say: You can’t support your country without supporting its leaders to the greatest extent possible. Did you support Bush and Cheney to your greatest extent possible? I think I've read numerous derogatory things about them from you. So then when you wrote those things did you not support your country?

Just following your logic.

And once again you mock the Tea-party participants. “tea-party conservatives” whose goals, if any, seem to be 1) to bring back the “Golden Years” of Bush-Cheney and 2) pay no taxes, no how, for nothin’, if possible. I'm not sure if you are just toying with us or if you really believe these things you say. Where did you get the idea that the Tea-Parties were about not paying ANY taxes? I think you should seriously try to find out why the Tea-Parties actually came about. Could it have anything to do with the $14 trillion debt that we and our descendants will have to pay off? And Obama just signed ANOTHER $1.2 trillion bill today!

When will we get some grownups running things in D.C.?!! There's NO WAY I can support what the so called "leaders" of the country are doing. I fear for my country.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

As a matter of fact, depressing as it was, I did support the president and my government "to the greatest extent possible" during the Bush era.

I did, however, speak out about torture in secret prisons (for all the good it did any of us to speak out). Also, it now seems there were other secret programs that I could not have supported in good conscience. (For example, activities of the "black army" of contractors operating without the oversight in Iraq and Afghanastan.)

Regardless of what you might hear on FOX News, there is no comparable campaign of hate and disinformation in the mainstream media. Then as now, much of what you heard said from the extremists on the right was taken out of context and distorted beyond recognition.

Regarding the economy, it's amazing to me how the people who nearly drove us into another world-wide depression still have any credibility with anyone.

Sue said...

Citizen Jane, your blog promises thoughts "from a rational perspective" but it seems to me that when you consistently bash those groups you disagree with you are providing anything but a rational perspective. Going back to your venn diagram example: there is a lot of variation in the possible amount of overlap between the circles. It can vary from being almost nonexistent to being almost complete. Using it as an example for government, there is a lot of room for variation in how much government we think is proper. I'm a die-hard Independent (one of those "others") that you're putting down. As such, I believe in government -- not necessarily as much as the Democrats do, and not necessarily in the same way the Republicans do. I'm not a Libertarian because I think government programs and regulation are both necessary and desirable -- but in moderation. Like Idna, I'm horrified by the massive debt that is resulting from all the "bailout" options, especially since those options are benefitting not the ordinary taxpayers but those who know how to manipulate the system. On the other hand, I do believe it's part of the role and duty of government to moderate the economy so that we don't have massive inflation or recession. Balance, please.

I also happen to believe strongly that speaking against government programs and activities with which I disagree is being patriotic. That's a term that's been interpreted too often as meaning "I support everything the government does just because it's the government." I don't see it that way. Those who call for change are sometimes more patriotic than those who accept bad policy.

If everyone would learn the various sides of issues and think for themselves, we would be a much stronger nation.

Idna said...

Jane, when you say:"Regarding the economy, it's amazing to me how the people who nearly drove us into another world-wide depression still have any credibility with anyone." I'm really interested to see who YOU think these people are?

cillagirl84@msn.com said...

These "tea-baggers" do drive me crazy. Perhaps they should be able to opt out of such socialist tyrannies such as Medicare, FDIC, Social Security.

And as to adding to the deficit, where were these people when Bush/Cheney were completely destroying the surplus the Clintons built up?

I'm not a fan of rescuing the banks and car makers, but you only have to look back at history and see what happened when ho action was taken. Another reason we need social safety nets (like the so-called socialist Europeans) is historical: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco were able to take control because there were too many people that had no hope during the Depression.

We need universal health care. We are the only country in the civilized world that doesn't believe its citizens have a right to guaranteed medical care. The American Way? Then give me Europe.

cillagirl84@msn.com said...

These "tea-baggers" do drive me crazy. Perhaps they should be able to opt out of such socialist tyrannies such as Medicare, FDIC, Social Security.

And as to adding to the deficit, where were these people when Bush/Cheney were completely destroying the surplus the Clintons built up?

I'm not a fan of rescuing the banks and car makers, but you only have to look back at history and see what happened when ho action was taken. Another reason we need social safety nets (like the so-called socialist Europeans) is historical: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco were able to take control because there were too many people that had no hope during the Depression.

We need universal health care. We are the only country in the civilized world that doesn't believe its citizens have a right to guaranteed medical care. The American Way? Then give me Europe.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Six said...

Don't mistake being a skeptic of those who choose a life of political power (not service) as being 'anti-government'. I personally don't want government running anything because I don't think the guy down the street should be telling me how to run my business or live my life. Government should only exist to provide the very most basic functions. Beyond that it is just riddled with corruption and controlled by those with the deepest pockets serving their own interest.