Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Social Compact

One of the famous documents cited in every Civics class is the Mayflower Compact. That was the agreement drawn up to which every passenger gave consent as to how the new colony on the shores of Massachusetts would organize and govern itself.

While the wording is rather general, this is what these colonists said about their effort: “ combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

I have given much thought to this over the past few years, but with the corrosive presidential campaign of 2016, in which we will vote for the candidate who disgusts us the least, the idea of the social compact weighs upon my mind more heavier than ever:

What draws us together, what unites us as Americans, in our society?

What do we agree upon? What do we agree should be the fundamental experience of every American who lives within our borders? (For this essay, let us throw aside the argument over who is and is not an ‘American’. I am after something more basic.)

What should every human have a right to expect? What do we agree upon?

I am an observer. I have watched, listened, and pondered. As a society, I believe we share universally the following values:

1.    No one should go hungry.
2.    No one should be thirsty, which means a clean source of potable water should be available.
3.    No one should lack adequate protection of shelter, clothing, and other means necessary to survival because of the vagaries of weather and climate.
4.    No one should be unhealthy due to a lack of adequate medical care. (Catch the nuance: there is still much we do not know and cannot prevent or heal. But of what we do know—no one should be denied the benefit of that knowledge and care.)
5.    No child should languish because of the circumstances of its birth and/or home in which it had no choice.
6.    Everyone should have the opportunity to choose for themselves the life they will have: career, economic level, educational achievement, etc. No one should be denied the opportunity to fulfill their dream because others would not have it so.

Notice I have not mentioned how this would happen or who would pay for it. I am after something more fundamental: what do we agree is the expectation and right of every human who lives within our borders? Only after we have agreed upon that can we dive into the details of how to make it possible and who will bear the cost.

Now it is your turn. What would you add? What would you change? What is your understanding of our social compact—the rights, benefits, and responsibilities we extend and demand of all who live among us?