An Argument for the Declaration
By Wade Lee Hudson
Activists undermine progress. Deep-seated tendencies reinforce fragmentation and drive away potential recruits. These divisive impulses, rooted in biological instincts inflamed by our hyper-competitive society, weaken our power.
Not everyone suffers from the same weaknesses, but most are burdened with many. “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” aims to help overcome these barriers to personal, social, and political growth.
These personal problems include:
assumptions of moral superiority
being mean, to friends as well as foes
the urge to dominate
not facing reality
failing to “connect the dots”
not appreciating everyone’s essential equality
lack of self-respect
not relating to others as equals
tribalism (which inflames emotions, distorts reality, and undercuts rationality)
dwelling in abstractions
lack of emotional intelligence
talking rather than listening
lack of empathy
not being present
too much short-term thinking
not enough long-term thinking
being unwilling to compromise
living in issue silos and echo chambers
reducing people and the environment to objects to be used
caring too much about winning
being too willing to pay any price to win
not caring enough about the good of the nation
not cooperating with like-minded organizations
neglecting or discounting spirituality.
With intentional effort and mutual support, we can control and change these emotional reactions -- and strengthen countervailing instincts such as love and trust.
A popular movement committed to addressing personal issues could bolster its power. Open-ended mutual support for self-improvement -- with individuals setting their own goals -- can help activists face reality, change reactions, control actions, heal social divisions, and increase effectiveness.
Without investing a great deal of time in the effort, existing organizations can help advance the Declaration. They can simply sign it and encourage their members to keep its values and principles in mind in their daily life. They might also encourage committees to ask their members to “check-in” briefly at the beginning of meetings with a report on their efforts to incorporate the Declaration into their lives and work. Or some groups could no more. Regardless, each group that commits to advance the Declaration could affiliate with others that also do so, exchange information about their efforts, and evaluate which methods work best.
Nevertheless, despite the minimal time commitment that would be required, in their written goals few activist organizations explicitly encourage open-ended mutual support for self-improvement. If more organizations did so, we activists could help develop new models for humanity -- and new structures for society -- that would nurture compassion.
So long as individuals, organizations, corporations, and nations are dedicated to domination, with little or no regard for consequences, the current global social system -- “the System” -- will persist, fueled by the drive to climb social ladders and look down on and dominate those below. All of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals (who reinforce the System) are woven together into this system.
The fear of being dominated provokes hostile, defensive actions. Fragmentation and hyper-competition pulls us down into a spiral that threatens the entire planet. Everyone is a victim and everyone is responsible.
Anger and frustration is intense. The temptation to blame someone is enormous. Venting those emotions can feel good. Self-righteous, symbolic actions can be rewarding. Mobilizing people by inflaming fear and anger can work in the short run, but it soon provokes blowback. Hatred boomerangs. Scapegoating particular individuals, groups of individuals, nations, or groups of nations is inaccurate -- and in the long run it doesn’t work.
Racism is the most intense example of how the System operates to divide and conquer. During the founding of this country, almost all white people believed they were genetically superior to people of color, especially those who were most visible: black slaves. After the emancipation of slaves, the System still spread racism, which weakened the ability of poor whites and poor blacks to fight together for improved living conditions. Recently, racist beliefs have faded somewhat, but most white people still suffer from racist tendencies and unconscious bias. Self-awareness and supportive communities can help them avoid letting those emotional reactions shape their behavior. Moreover, people can gradually change how they react emotionally. And they can pay special attention to how public policies and institutions hurt populations that hold less power, including people of color who are regularly subjected to injustice, disrespect, prejudice, and discrimination. Since society is far from colorblind, activists cannot justifiably try to be colorblind -- even if they could, which is impossible.
Learning to overcome these and our many other divisive tendencies would greatly enhance prospects for structural, systemic, holistic, global transformation. “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” is intended to help contribute to that goal. If our global society fully reflected the values and principles affirmed by that declaration, we would have transformed the System.
Imagine: A massive, united grassroots movement pushes for a winnable, compassionate change in national public policy that’s supported by a super-majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents -- and sticks with the campaign until it’s resolved. Participating organizations continue their traditional work -- and they also work together for a few hours each month to mobilize millions to persuade Washington to respect the will of the people. With each victory, the movement builds momentum for the next campaign. By nurturing self-improvement, the movement diminishes divisive competition, strengthens unity, and attracts new members with positive energy.
A strong sense of ourselves as members of the human family, along with a healthy patriotism, could counter fragmentation, cultivate self-development, and help Americans unite to push Washington to implement positive changes in public policy.
Believe it or not, most Americans agree on issues such as abortion, taxes, health insurance, Social Security, immigration, climate change, and federal jobs programs. But there’s no united movement to push those policies. To build unity, activists need to change their thinking, their emotional reactions, and their behavior.
The Democratic and Republican parties have become super-tribes. Policy opinions are less important than loyalty to the tribe. The next election is the priority. Unconscious bias and knee-jerk reactions guide behavior. Anger and enthusiasm distort reality and rational thinking. Winning becomes more important than what is good for the country. Though Republican leaders have been more flagrant in this regard, Democratic leaders have engaged in similar behavior. And the rank-and-file in each party is becoming increasingly tribal as well.
Partisan conflict can be beneficial. Angry movements that demand rapid change are essential. But if battles are based on deep nonviolence, they can seek and be open to reconciliation. In the long run, struggles can be more effective if they do not severely inflame divisions. Out-of-control passions undermine the ability to eventually compromise, which is at the heart of democracy.
Cultivating deep nonviolence requires constant vigilance and mutual support. But most activists are reluctant to pause, step back, engage in honest self-evaluation, reconsider how they see reality, and resolve to avoid repeating mistakes. And most activist organizations don’t encourage and assist their members to support one another with those efforts. They’re too busy trying to have an impact. That’s understandable, but short-sighted.
The aim of “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” is to connect like-minded people, facilitate the exchange of information about projects that help advance those beliefs, and encourage the growth of movements dedicated to fundamental personal, social, cultural, and political transformation.
Following are arguments for each element of the Declaration.
“Americans for Humanity”
Most countries identify themselves and their residents with one word. The United States of America, however, has four words. So people throughout the world refer to us as “Americans.” The use of that word in the Declaration intends no disrespect toward those who live in other North and South American countries.
We can respect identities based on characteristics such as race, class, and gender (if they aren’t based on the domination of others) -- while at the same time strengthening our identity as American and human. By strengthening this identity, we can help overcome divisions that undermine unity.
“I/we support the growth of a popular movement that:”
“We” is included so organizations can endorse the declaration. “Support the growth” indicates that signers encourage the development of activist organizations of the sort proposed, and suggests they might actively support one or more such organizations if and when they emerge. “Popular” means grassroots or populist. A “movement” includes many organizations that may or may not work together closely, but are moving in the same direction.
“serves humanity, the environment, and life itself”
This phrase summarizes the declaration’s mission. Developing harmonious rather than exploitative relationships with one another and the environment is critical. “Life itself” affirms non-material, or spiritual, reality, often referred as God, the Creator, Allah, or the life force.
“respects the essential equality of all human beings”
Everyone is equal “in the eyes of God,” though not equal in every way. Aiming for total, uniform equality is neither possible nor desirable. But everyone should be affirmed as individuals of equal worth and granted equal rights under the law.
“encourages everyone to identify as a member of the human family”
All of us have in common our humanity, our most important identity.
“affirms individuals’ multiple identities”
We also respect identities based on characteristics such as race, gender, sexual preference, class, political party, nation, geographical location, age, and religion.
“opposes efforts to dominate others due to one of their identities”
However, we do not affirm identities based on the oppression of others.
“relies on love and trust rather than hate and fear”
With conscious effort, we can cultivate positive motivations, and decline to inflame negative ones.
“channels anger productively”
Anger is often justified and can be used to correct injustice, without allowing it to turn into hate.
“attracts people with face-to-face community and caring friendships”
Rather than reducing people to tools and using them until they’re used up, or relying primarily on Internet-based campaigns, movements can nurture contagious happiness and encourage members to relate to one another face-to-face as full human beings.
“honors our nation’s gains, criticizes its failures, and helps build a more perfect union”
Healthy patriotism can strengthen nation-states and help their populations protect themselves from global corporations and financial institutions that disregard the public interest.
“fully represents and gives voice to the American people”
Overcoming single-issue fragmentation and building multi-issue coalitions that stay united over time is an urgent need.
“helps transform the United States into a compassionate community that:”
To “transform” involves changing structures, outward appearance, and character.
“supports the rule of law, individual rights, and the freedom to engage in activities that do not deny freedom to others”
Liberal democracies avoid the tyranny of the majority and empower their people.
“encourages people to relate to others as individuals of equal worth”
Equality is merely an abstraction unless people practice what they preach.
“promotes partnerships that empower people”
At times, some one person needs to be in charge, but whenever feasible we can nurture teams that offer everyone the opportunity to exercise leadership.
“nurtures democracy throughout society”
All of our institutions, both formal and informal, such as corporations and families, can steadily do more to establish structures that empower, often including elected leadership.
“meets basic human needs”
A compassionate society must see to it that everyone can meet their basic human needs for housing, food, health care, and healthy social interaction.
“assures good living-wage job opportunities”
One way or the other, society can make certain that everyone can find a good job.
“protects free speech”
A free press, the ability to speak freely, and the right to organize political pressure are cornerstones of a liberal democracy.
“makes it easy to vote”
Many steps can be taken to encourage and facilitate voting.
“enables everyone to participate in society fully and productively”
The ability to be a full and equal member of society is essential for a compassionate nation.
“encourages supportive relationships with other countries, backs their right to self-determination, promotes human rights, and advocates peaceful resolution of conflicts with mediation and negotiation”
A compassionate community will decline to dominate other countries.
“pressures Washington to implement policies supported by strong majorities of the American people”
By focusing on measures that already have supermajority support, movements can win victories and build momentum, while other forces build support for measures that don’t yet have supermajority support.
“engages in nonviolent civil disobedience and consumer boycotts when needed”
The movement can use peaceful direct action when needed to gain support.
“encourages members of the movement to:”
By explicitly affirming in their written policies goals such as the following, the movement can advance its values and principles.
“improve their emotional reactions”
By paying attention to our automatic feelings, we can nurture alternative reactions.
“engage in honest self-examination”
Being honest with ourselves is essential, however difficult it may be.
“support each other with their personal and spiritual growth”
By talking with trusted allies, perhaps confidentially, we gain greater clarity, receive support, and better understand each other.
“avoid oppressive or disrespectful behavior”
We cannot always control our immediate emotional reactions, but we can control how we act.
“supports members who want to form small teams that share meals, strengthen connections, provide mutual support, and plan other activities”
Regular gatherings with the same people over time can cultivate deeper connections and greater trust, which facilitates personal growth.
“cooperates with movements in other countries that also serve humanity, the environment, and life itself.”
By sharing with one another information about their efforts and occasionally gathering for face-to-face communication, like-minded projects can enhance their work.
This declaration affirms those values and principles as top-level goals. It does not propose specific policies as means to achieve them. It’s based on the belief that if people first discuss their basic values and principles and clarify where they agree, they can more fruitfully discuss possible methods to realize their objectives, without demonizing each other. Those conversations can more easily avoid irrational arguments and find points of agreement with regard to how to proceed.
We must confront those who try to cling onto excessive wealth and power. If they refuse to see the win-win potential offered by new methods, we must defeat them. But if we transform the System into a compassionate community, they too will benefit -- as will everyone.
To read or sign the Declaration, click here
Originally posted 2/25/19