So many of the things we do on a daily basis occur without us ever taking a second to notice them. We are constantly thinking, feeling, acting, and reacting based on what we perceive of the world around us. Part of the reason we glance over things or don’t stop to analyze all we do is due to our bounded attention. We are surrounded by so many things and are constantly active, which would make self-examination get in the way of being able to do even the most mundane tasks. This level of analysis would be unnerving at best. Imagine as you walk to work you are constantly asking yourself: “Why did that person choose to go that way? Why did I cross the street against the light? What are the political ramifications of that construction project? The overpowering complexity of the world around us would reward this behavior with anxiety and stress. However, when channeled, this questioning attitude towards even the most seemingly insignificant act can produce a profound redefinition of something that once seemed so clear, which produces confusion about other things assumed to be true, and inspires further inquiry into the workings of the world around us. In line with our commitment to understanding the profound implications of our actions, I’d like to apply this inquisitive spirit to a rather simple question that seems somewhat silly to analyze, but that actually reveals quite a bit about the way we construct our vision of the world. The question being one we often ask shortly after meeting someone for the first time: What do you do?
It’s funny to think that the Bill of Rights, something held so dear by all, was not actually part of the original Constitution. It was instead a series of amendments drafted by James Madison that was added to the Constitution in 1791.
The focus of The Human Revolution for this week and possibly next is to float the idea of a new Bill of Rights. The idea is to come up with a list that adds to the existing framework by ensuring some of the rights that we know deep down that we have but that aren’t necessarily guaranteed by law, which cannot be true when the government claims to be “of the people, for the people and by the people.”
Here’s a quick background to get an idea why we’re doing this, but if you’re burning with ideas and don’t want to wait until the end of the article, leave them as a comment or send them in to: firstname.lastname@example.org. As ideas come in we will put together a draft to start laying out the framework for the change we hope to see.
Why is the Bill of Rights separate?
Without going into a long history lesson, basically there were two groups, the Federalists, who thought that the provision that any right not granted to the federal government would be granted to the states or the people was enough to secure the protection of individual liberties, and the anti-Federalists, who didn’t buy that argument and wanted some written guarantee. Eventually, the Anti-Federalist argument won out and the result was the 1791 Bill of Rights. So, the question to ask here is: why do we assume today that rights not guaranteed by law are automatically ours? Perhaps we should take up in the spirit of the Anti-Federalists and turn the implicit into the explicit.
The Bill of Rights is a critical component of American democracy. It guarantees freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion, and petitions against the government. It also guarantees that you will be protected against unfair treatment in the event that you are charged with a crime. Several amendments deal with this concept and a select few deal with specific concerns of the time, like the protection against soldiers entering your home and the right to bear arms. These individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution reflect what was most pressing for those living during the birth of the United States. The press and assemblies were essential in rallying support against the Crown in the name of liberty and the unfair treatment of those charged with crimes was just one of the many injustices felt by those living in the colonies. Even if they were written 225 years ago, they live on today and are the building blocks for personal freedom not only in the US, but around the world.
So, good job Madison and the Anti-Federalists; you have saved us from restrictions of liberty and we are forever free from worry that our rights as people will be damaged or taken away. Right?…Hold on one second, let’s think about this a little further.
It is not too much of a leap to say that this might not be the case. Women, homosexuals, minorities, Muslims, immigrants and a whole lot of other people have their rights restricted every day in very different ways. Maybe this type of limitation to freedom is not direct, but an indirect consequence can be equally painful and often harder to change, especially when it is a product of the way in which our society is built. If we are truly trying to stand up for what it means to be human, all human rights need to be protected in practice and in law, not just in theory.
What would the 21st Century Bill of Rights look like?
The current Bill of Rights isn’t going anywhere, and it shouldn’t, but there is certainly an argument to be made that our advanced society has an advanced understanding of what we should be afforded as people. The Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Do our actions go along with this?
We might think that “Freedom of Speech” covers a lot of ground and therefore doesn’t need to be expanded upon, but where do things like health and education fit in? Is access to quality, inclusive education not a right in our modern day society? What about healthcare?
It is only logical to think of rights within the context of the times. James Madison and the Anti-Federalists were doing it and when they came up with what was fair they pushed to have it guaranteed by law. This is something to think of as The Human Revolution takes root and needs to formulate plans for enacting productive change.
This week’s question:
What would the 21st Century Bill of Rights look like?
We are trying to start “The Human Revolution” and if success is ever to be obtained we must first have a plan. That plan can start with asking of ourselves and answering the following question: What are the basic rights that each person deserves simply for being a person?
The United Nations has tackled this idea already (see UN Declaration of Human Rights), but on a much larger and much grander scale. Let’s bring it down to our own lives and see if we can’t come up with a more specific list. Here are a few ideas to get started, but through your thoughts and contributions we should be able to come up with a comprehensive list so we can know what it is we are truly fighting to improve.
- Voting and elections
- Corporate power
- Internet access.
Again, these are just a few suggestions to get started. The rest will come from the conversation. Feel free to comment on this post or send your ideas in to:
Let the conversation begin. The time has come.
One of the things I find most frustrating about modern life is the sensation of hopelessness that sometimes it produces. The other day I went to a local shopping center to purchase a pair of shoes. A totally normal event in which I didn’t really expect much to occur. It’s a simple, every-day process: enter the store, find something I like and then purchase it. However, when I was perusing the selection I realized that really, one of the most important factors in making this decision was going to be price. In other words, I would be making a decsion that was very much a balance between what I might want and how much it was going to cost me. We can disagree on it being the most important part, but we rarely buy the cheapest or the most expensive option. How much it costs is vital to our decision.
Whether you are rich or poor, working or unemployed, or somewhere in between, we tend to live by a common ideal, which is to try to live within our means. Most of the time I do this successfully and I am comfortable enough with myself to be able to make the necessary sacrifices to do so in a pleasurable and meaningful way. I permit spoiling myself, but I also know there is a limit and this affects the choice that I make. However, I can’t help but look at the paradox that exists when I go to buy a simple pair of athletic shoes. The price differences are drastic. One can buy a pair of shoes for $200 and it will include all the latest technological advances a shoe can have and will be equipped with fancy cushioning and new-age laces that don’t dirty. One can also buy a remarkably similar shoe for $30. This shoe maybe doesn’t have the fancy gizmos as the other shoe and maybe the material is a bit cheaper and the design a bit outdated, all of which could cause it to break down sooner than the other shoe, but for all intents and purposes these two products are exactly the same thing.
Part of the issue that I take with this simple, commercial activity is that I know who makes my shoes. The underdeveloped world is exploited and paid almost nothing for the shoes that I wear, and then, somehow, it reaches me and is sold for an exorbitant price that I can barely afford. As I sit there and compare the two shoes I think to myself that maybe the more expensive shoe is the way that it is because the company pays those who make it more money, but I am not naïve enough to really think this is the case. So, then, why does it cost so much more money? Where does it go?
I’m told that if you make more than $50,000 a year, you are within the top 1 percent of the world’s income bracket. But, if you make $50,000 a year in the US with a family and normal expenses, one would probably not feel the effects of being in this exclusive wealth category. This person would probably go to the shoe store and purchase the $30 shoe instead of the $200 one because that is what their budget dictates. This is one of the most frustrating things to me about modern, developed life. We feel as though we don’t have enough. Compared to the rest of the world we are cloaked in money. What seems like a run-down, lower class home would be a thing of august luxury to a large percentage of the world’s population, yet we complain of difficult lives and of not having enough because the reality of the situation is that we do not.
So, despite all this money, it is no wonder that when people ask for donations for a local charity or when someone approaches you on the street needing $.50 you almost always turn a blind eye and excuse yourself from any guilt because your current situation really does not allow you to be able to make this sacrifice. But, herein lies the crux of the issue. What constitutes a sacrifice? We won’t make a donation to a local charity because we can’t spare the $25 or $50 that we need to spare, but then we spend that money on a nice dinner with friends or we put it into our savings account for a house or a vacation and we consider that money better spent. But why? Why is that money better spent?
Because we see what happens to it.
If I asked you for $20 to help feed a child, you gave me the $20 and then you saw me go to the supermarket, purchase food and then hand it to the child, would you deny me those $20? Would you watch the child go hungry? Of course not, or at least any decent human worth dealing with would not.
These examples are dramatic. Saying “the starving children in Africa would eat that” whilst tossing your food scraps into the garbage has been overused to the point where it has become a joke, or a token thing to say to try and make light of the needless waste you are generating. However, I do think this represents a larger, deeper problem with modern human society that will be very difficult to overcome.
The topic of social programs and “access to all” are becoming more and more popular in today’s discussions, especially as elections sweep the country and force people to take ideological sides against one another. But I don’t think people really understand what it would take to build a society with true equality. To have true equality, we must first decide what it is that we want everyone to have. Is it food? a family? an education? a job? Some of these things can be guaranteed, and some of them cannot. And if we agree that we want everyone to have food, shelter and access to health care, what about the countless people that have long since dismissed these needs as foregone conclusions that need not be worried about.
We like to tie the words equality and opportunity and try to imagine a world where the playing field is level and the differences only occur because of direct consequences of your actions. Having children make our shoes doesn’t matter because the money they make is “good money for their situation” and it will lead to future wealth and future opportunity that will eventually help the whole world. This thought process is so flawed I feel like a charlatan simply typing it onto this page
While I demand that shoes be sold at a price that I can afford, and that I have the chance to buy whatever my money can buy, this child’s situation will not change.
We must ask ourselves what it is that we want to give up, and then actually give it up, if we hope to ever see a world with true equality.
– Matthew Jones
One of the key focuses of this movement is to foster responsible consumption habits in an effort to assert the type of social change we hope to see in this world. This seems like a bit of a reach to many and has been one of the major concerns expressed about this movement. So let’s unpack this connection a little and see if the connection does not become clearer.
It is an old adage that money = power. We can agree on this. Anyone who has been through any generic history class has surely come across the connection between these two aspects of our lives. In a world where there is so much money- we talk about debt levels in the trillions, corporate profits in the billions and athlete and CEO salaries in the millions, it would make sense for us to have an idea as to where this money is so we could see the type of power it has over our lives.
What do we know?
Let’s take a look at a little data from the US and from other countries to see if we can’t get an idea as to where the money is.
This first graph is showing consumer spending (consumption) as a percent of income in the US. This is an average, so some are lower and some are higher, but it is meant to be a representation of the norm.
This graph might be a bit misleading, it appears to show a massive increase, but really since 1970 there has been an increase in consumer spending from around 60 percent to about 68 percent. Okay, what does this mean? We’re not sure, right? After all, consumer spending includes spending money on things we need such as food, water, clothes, etc. Maybe this is just how much life costs and that’s it. Well, let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can unpack this a little more.
Where’s the rest?
Tracking tax rates can be somewhat difficult, especially in the US, because they are not applied evenly across society. In most countries, the richer you are, the more you pay and the poorer you are, the less you pay. This might seem a good argument for the idea of wealth distribution, which is supposedly one of the main features of the modern state. But we all know that this doesn’t seem to work out this way. The rich pay less taxes through loopholes and then the poor and middle classes end up shouldering much of the load. Let’s step away from this argument for a moment, though, and take a look at how tax rates and consumption rates link together. For example, let’s look at the most recent data available, 2013. In 2013, as the graph above indicated, consumer spending was around 68 percent of our income. The tax rates in 2013 according to the Tax Foundation were:
So let’s break this down. Imagine you are a single person working a decent job making $60,000 a year. According to the data we have looked at, you would consume 68 percent of your income and then pay 25 percent of your income to taxes. This leaves you with:
100%-68%-25%=7% of your income.
To translate, that 7 percent of your original $60,000 is $4,200. This corresponds somewhat to the savings rate, which has hovered around 5 percent in the past 10 or 15 years but is way down from 10 percent before the 1980s.
So what does this mean?
It means that in 2013, 93% of your income, what you worked so hard to acquire, was already accounted for. Between your basic needs, leisure, school, life in general and your taxes, you are left with very little money.
Since we mentioned earlier the old adage, money=power, we could easily say that after all of this we are left with very little power.
Our system is set up so that we consume. Everything we do, from our social interactions, our meals, our education systems and our identities, is based on the things we buy and how we buy them. We have all experienced this. We decorate and set up our homes in such a way so that when people enter they will have an idea of who we are. This is done by the things we buy. We identify with certain products, purchase them and then allow others to perceive us based on the identities that come with these products. The same thing could be said for clothes. We all know that we have others’ thoughts and perceptions in mind when we buy a new shirt, pants or a hat. It is not just a shirt we are buying, but an identity.
When the economy was bad in 2008 and onward, people got scared and the savings rate shot up to 10%, meaning people were consuming less, but the government did everything it could to make sure consumption returned to normal levels. It used tax dollars on bank bailouts, it started drilling for more oil in places we know damages the environment and it continued a trend of tax policies favoring the rich and corporations so that they could do all that was necessary to boost consumption.
Someone reading this could easily say that that 68% spent on consumption is done through personal choice. They could say that that money is spent on things that bring joy and pleasure to your life. Think, dinners with friends, Christmas gifts, clothes, etc. These things are supposed to allow us to express ourselves and to show to the world who we are. The first question to ask are: Is this successful? Do you feel as though your identity is properly reflected through these things that you buy? And another important question is: Is it fair to ask people to spend 68 percent of their lives (after all we know our jobs play a huge role in defining who we are) attempting to define themselves with things that we know do not do so sufficiently?
What about countries that consume less?
One could make the argument that much of this that is being said is about the United States, a country known for its over-the-top consumption. This is true, but if we look at the data from other countries we see similar patterns. For example, consumption in Denmark is around 55 percent (World Bank), but tax rates in Denmark reach almost 50 percent. Again, all of the money, all of the power, is accounted for. Poorer countries in South Asia, Latin America and Africa have seen consumption go down. This is much harder to account for. The obvious answer is exploitation. As our lives in the Western, developed world are designed for us to constantly consume more at a lower price, exploitation is at an all-time high. Why are there still 700 million people living in this world with less than $1.90 per day? (also a World Bank figure that can be found here.) So consumption is low in these societies and is dropping because at this moment in history they are not the consumers, they are the producers. The idea behind modern day economic development is to eventually turn these cultures into consumers who will then be asked to place the same constraints on freedom and the human spirit that those of us in the Western world already have. Is this the vision of the world that we have? Is that what we want the world to turn into?
So what can we do?
Unfortunately, we cannot stop paying taxes. Millions depend on this money and if you do not, you will end up in jail. (another shocking concept that is best left for another day). So the only thing we can do is take control of the other aspect of our lives that has so much control over us: our consumption. This starts with one thing: take control of where our food comes from. We depend so much on what already exists because at the end of the day we need to eat, but we are not strangers to the idea that we have no idea where our food comes from. The first step is to begin reducing our consumption needs down to only what we need and then taking control over where that comes from. To do this we can:
- Buy local products produced by PEOPLE, not corporations. We all know there are farmers markets, local food stores, agricultural cooperatives, etc. USE THEM. Don’t know how? A quick Google search of these types of initiatives in your area will surely help us find out how to make this change in our lives.
- Share food. Why must each person get their own entrée at a restaurant when the portions are already huge? Why not get two or three between a group of four and share? Use your meal times to converse and enjoy the company. You will eat slower and then get fuller faster and require less. This is not a made up idea, it is a key aspect of many diets that we use to try and lose or control our weight.
- Grow your food whenever possible. If you have land or a place where you can have a garden, use it! Not everyone can do this, but those who can should and if they produce more than they can consume: share!
- Pay attention to the seasons. When was the last time you saw a banana growing in Massachusetts or London? The access to these goods, which are above all else luxury goods, has been part of this idea of non-stop growth and consumption that is limiting us in so many ways. If you buy local, you will only be able to buy what can be produced in the season. This transition will take time, some climates do not permit big yields in the winter, and will require some personal sacrifices, but with planning, we can eventually make this happen, but it can start now.
- Avoid things like organic, bio, all-natural. This may seem counterproductive, but there has been much work done on how effective these labels are. If the product was produced outside of where you are living, the increase in price from these labels is not reflected on those who produce it, but rather on the certification and subsequent labeling of these products.
The list could go on. What are some suggestions that you have? What else can we do?
This seems like a tall task
As we discuss this, we might be thinking about the added expense of buying these types of products and the things we might have to sacrifice in order to do so. Maybe buying local will mean less money for the bars on the weekend, or less money for Christmas presents, or less money for cell phones, televisions, movies, etc. But when we stop for a moment, we know that these things are not necessary. We always complain about the consumerist nature of Christmas, but we also know that the best part of the holiday is being with friends and family. We can say to our families that instead of presents, we want their time. We can say to our friends that instead of going out every weekend for beers, we can meet at our house and talk, laugh, play games, etc. Part of what stops us is fear. We are afraid of what might happen if we start to remove some of the things that we have considered so important. Well, we cannot know until we try. Let’s start by making these sacrifices and seeing what our lives look like. When we see the improvement, we will start to believe it, and those around us will start to as well.
We also need to engage the people around us, especially the people we love. We are not alone, although sometimes it seems that way. The questions we ask ourselves and the thoughts we have are shared by other people. This is why we can connect with what is said in books, movies, art, etc. We identify with these shared concepts of what it means to be human. In other words, we are communicating. As we start to make these changes in our lives, we must explain them to the people in our lives so they understand us and will support us. We need to work together.
We also need to stop staying quiet. When you tell someone that you are only buying local, reducing your consumption or trying to pay more attention to what you eat and consume, it is not unlikely that someone will react to you negatively, as if you were better than them. Think about how our society views vegans and vegetarians. Think about what might happen when you go to a burger bar and order a salad. This commercial epitomizes this attitude:
These types of social interactions would be erased if we understood each other better—if others knew our motivations. So, as people start to question us as we make these changes, explain to them why you are doing so and it is not such a grand leap to say that they will come around to understand and accept your choices.
It may seem like a tall task that we are setting out to accomplish, but the difficult things are the best things. We are working for a better world, and if we are willing to accept that that is not worth it because it is too hard, that presents a rather disappointing view of the future that we cannot accept.
The first step in this movement is to raise awareness. We must adapt these changes and then work to share our experiences with others. This is one of the main goals of this website. To share our experiences so that we can realize we are not alone. To do this we must:
- Examine where we can adjust our consumption habits
- Adjust them
- Stick to them
- Explain to others why we are doing it
- Help each other deal with the difficulties that might arise and with the carrying out of these changes.
Please spread the word, contribute to the blog, and talk to your friends and family. The movement begins now and it begins with us.