Americans are plagued with divides, so there is a need to find some common ground to keep the country together. This informal paper proposes the need for a Declaration of Dependence to show Americans a path forward despite the many divides that separate them.
A Declaration of Dependence is an essential step towards the creation of a social contract that binds a society together. The social contract shows how a people are bound together. The Declaration of Dependence shows why a people feel bound together.
This paper won’t actually produce a Declaration of Dependence, but will enumerate the areas that should probably be covered and the kinds of questions that should be addressed.
Ultimately, the quest for a Declaration of Dependence comes down to two efforts:
- Identify that which brings us together.
- Identify that which drives us apart and how it can be resolved or accommodated.
To be clear, this should be a strictly nonpartisan effort, not driven by any particular political party or ideology.
Finding common ground and mutual interests
The essence of drafting a Declaration of Dependence is finding and elaborating common ground and mutual interests.
Without common ground and mutual interests you have nothing, and especially no social contract.
Relation to social contract
A social contract details rights, expectations, and obligations by all parties in society, including government.
But a people can only have a valid social contract if they really all feel that they are all in the same boat and rowing in (approximately) the same direction.
That’s the purpose of the Declaration of Dependence, to confirm that we all really do want to be in the same boat and that we can all (roughly) agree what direction we want to row that boat.
This is the need that a Declaration of Dependence must fulfill.
For more on social contracts, see the companion papers:
Are we all in the same boat rowing in the same direction?
I like to use the metaphor of a bunch of people all in a boat, but are they all rowing in the same direction? If so, great. If not, not so good. If they aren’t all going in the same direction, they shouldn’t be in the same boat.
So, the American people are all in one big (happy or not so happy??) boat, but are they indeed all rowing in the same direction?
At least sometimes it doesn’t seem so. Something seems wrong. Or, maybe somebody has gotten confused and just needs to be straightened out.
Careening from side to side like a drunken driver?
The other metaphor I like to use is of a drunken driver weaving down the road, careening from side to side, hitting one guardrail and bouncing off heading towards the other side of the road, rinse and repeat. But, over time, his direction will be the average of his wild and lazy swings between the left and the right. Not so efficient, very risky, but eventually he gets to his destination.
Net direction as average of two distinct directions
Combining the drunken driver metaphor with the rowboat metaphor, one side of the boat seems determined to turn the boat in their favored direction and rows much harder, for awhile, until they run out of steam, and then the other side sees their chance and rows harder to turn the boat back in their own preferred direction, but eventually they run out of steam as well, rinse and repeat.
The result is the boat zigging and zagging from left to right (if this was a sailboat they’d call it tacking.) The net result is the boat heading in a direction which is roughly the average of the desired directions of each of the two sides.
Both metaphors provide a direction of sorts. But both metaphors are crazy ways to run a country.
Still, if it works, it works. If somebody has a better plan that can gain greater consensus, have at it.
I’m simply trying to describe life as it exists, not suggest that it is wonderful or optimal.
Society as a cruise ship
Another metaphor for society is that we’re all on a large cruise ship.
We all have widely varying ideas about what we want to get from the cruise, but at least we can all accept the itinerary of the ship, which ports will be visited.
We may all engage in different activities at each port of call and while on the ship, but that’s okay since cruise ships are designed to accommodate such varying interests.
All we have to agree to is to accept that we cannot change the path of the ship. Other than that, we have all the freedom, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we want.
And we have to pay the exorbitant cost of the cruise.
But sometimes people find it beneficial and even desirable to leave some bigger decisions to others.
We can indeed run a country or society as if it were a cruise ship, but not everybody sees things that way.
Part of the process of drafting a Declaration of Dependence is to decide what metaphor best describes our collective lives.
Essential need for a high threshold of approval
Absolute consensus over common ground and mutual interests is maybe too much to ask, but a slim majority is not enough to really bind a people together. A significant supermajority is needed to approve a proposed Declaration of Dependence.
There’s no magical, scientific calculation of the optimal threshold for common ground and mutual interest, but I’ll suggest that it needs to be at least 75% to 80%.
Or, maybe even 90%.
66%? If one out of every three people feel left out, that will not be a very cohesive society.
Essential questions and issues
The essential questions and issues to address as part of the process of drafting a Declaration of Dependence include:
- How are we alike?
- How are we different?
- What differences can we tolerate?
- What differences can we resolve?
- How can we accommodate our differences?
- What are our common interests?
- What interests divide us?
- What are our values?
- What are our shared values?
- What values conflict?
- What value conflicts can we tolerate?
- What value conflicts can we resolve?
- How can we accommodate our value difference conflicts?
- What distinct directions do we each wish to go?
- What common directions can we agree on?
- What is our shared vision of society?
- What is our shared sense of purpose in life?
- What brought us together?
- What keeps us together?
- What keeps us from going our separate ways?
- What do we find most appealing about being together?
- What do we find most difficult to accept about being together?
- What drives us apart?
- Is our gut inclination that being together is best?
- Is our gut inclination that we will be best apart?
- What fears and threats do most of us have in common?
- What fears and threats are shared only by less than a supermajority?
- What fears and threats are shared only by minority fractions of society?
Answer all of these questions and a people will be well on their way towards drafting a comprehensive and robust Declaration of Dependence that will form a solid foundation for uniting socially and politically and for drafting a comprehensive and robust social contract.
How do we divide? Let me count the ways!
Among the many divides in American society, the major ones are:
- Political, factions
- National origin
- Gender equality
- Gender identity (LGBTQI)
- Religious, denominations, sects
- The good vs. the perfect.
- Law and order vs. social justice.
- Strict rule of law vs. discretion and compassion.
- Representative vs. direct democracy.
- Short-term vs. long-term mindset.
- Rich vs. poor.
- Middle class vs. working class.
- Middle and working class vs. working poor.
- Middle, working class, and working poor vs. non-working poor.
- Union vs. non-union labor.
- Labor vs. management.
- Pro-Israel vs. pro-Palestinian (opposed to Israeli Palestinian policies.)
- Traditional family values vs. non-traditional modern family values.
- College educated vs. not college educated.
- Pro-immigrant vs. anti-immigrant.
- Open borders vs. tight border control.
- Open immigration vs. tight immigration control.
- Role of protests and street actions vs. strict representative democracy.
- Universal Basic Income (UBI) vs. inherent value or work.
- Expansive government vs. limited government.
- Federal government vs. state government.
- Religion vs. atheism.
- Progressive tax rates vs. flat tax.
- Value the status quo vs. desperate for change.
- Win-win approaches vs. win-lose (I/we win, you/they lose) approaches.
- Natural resources ripe for exploitation vs. we need to protect and preserve them.
- Media as neutral objective source vs. partisan and ideological point of view.
- How best to deal with climate change.
- Whether climate change is real or as real as its more ardent promoters insist.
- How best to deal with poverty.
- How much of poverty is a federal, state, or local problem.
- How to define poverty.
- How best to deal with income inequality.
- How to best define income inequality
- How much of income inequality is a federal, state, or local problem.
- How best to deal with wealth inequality.
- How to best define wealth inequality
- How much of wealth inequality is a federal, state, or local problem.
- Relationships between men and women. Second class citizens? Pay equality? Access to opportunity? Harassment? Discrimination?
- Priorities in energy policy. Coal? Nuclear? Renewables? Domestic production? Conservation? Efficiency?
- Priorities for foreign policy. Democracy promotion? Regime change? Challenging and deposing dictators everywhere? How aggressive with human rights?
- English vs. other languages in government and schools.
- Non-traditional gender identities in the military.
- Women in the military.
Do we have too many divides?
Do we have so many divides that bridging all or even most of them is an impossible feat?
I’ll leave that an open question for debate. Divides are only a problem to the extent that they cannot be bridged and cannot be tolerated or worked around.
The existence of one or more divides do not by themselves break a society. They are certainly negatives, but it is a question of net effects — do the negatives outweigh the positive benefits of society or not?
Lessons from past divides
The history of America is packed with ugly and not so pleasant examples of how we’ve struggled with divides, such as:
- Lessons from American Revolution. Regional interests. State sovereignty. Slavery. Federalism. Articles of Confederation. Bill of Rights. But seemed to work out, mostly, sort of.
- Treatment of Native Americans. Rather ugly.
- Civil War. Slavery, state sovereignty, and regional differences hadn’t been adequately resolved or even adequately accommodated.
- Jim Crow. Even the Emancipation Proclamation and victory in the Civil War were not so much of a final solution.
- Civil rights movement. Difficult, some progress, but still not as satisfying as desired or needed.
- Ongoing racial tension. Unresolved, lack of a truly satisfying accommodation.
- Great Society. Mixed results. Partially rolled back. Ongoing thorn.
- Police brutality allegations. Ongoing thorn.
- Implicit bias, sexism, anti-social phobias. Ongoing thorn.
- Treatment of women. Ongoing thorn.
- Legality or lack thereof for drugs. Ongoing thorn.
- Immigration. Mixed results. A lot of positives, but some ugliness as well. Ongoing thorn.
The greatest matter of dispute may be the simple fact that not everyone agrees whether we should be very proud of our past.
Role of compromise
Compromise is a very mixed bag.
Some see it as almost a magic elixir, able to cure all evils.
Others see it as pure evil, not a solution at all.
For now, it remains a valued tool in social and governmental affairs.
Common ground and mutual interests
Enough with all the negativity. What are some of the positives? Things we have in common. There are actually quite a few, including:
- Common threat, defense, and security interests.
- Need for public order.
- Need for resolution of disputes.
- Need for justice.
- Natural resources.
- Clean air.
- Clean water.
- Safe food.
- Healthy food.
- Waste disposal.
- Good jobs.
- Education. Schools. Colleges. Universities. Elementary, secondary, college, vocational/technical training, professional education, professional training.
- Career development.
- Entrepreneurial spirit and efforts.
- Insurance. Life. Health. Home. Banking and investment.
- Child rearing.
- Modern appliances.
- Modern technology.
- Personal travel.
- Cultural events.
- Community events.
- Common experiences.
- Shared experiences.
- The future.
- Spirituality and fellowship.
Seriously, that’s a lot of areas we all have in common, despite our many differences and divides.
Granted, people can have many differences and varied interests in any of the above areas, but they are all at least areas where there is at least some common ground.
Some questions to ponder while on our quest for a Declaration of Dependence:
- Why do we feel drawn together?
- Why don’t we feel drawn together?
- What pushes us apart?
- What pulls us apart?
- What attracts us to various groups in society?
- What appeals to us about each ideology?
- What offends us about each ideology?
- Who are our greatest heroes?
- Who are our lesser heroes?
- Who are the greatest villains?
- Who are lesser villains?
- Who is good?
- Who is not good?
- Who adds value to society?
- Who takes value from society?
- What are our priorities?
- Who shares our priorities?
- How patient are we for change?
- How impatient are we for change?
- Who do we want to be most like?
- Who do we want to be least like?
- What values do we feel are most important?
- What other values do we feel are important?
- What direction would we like to see the country go?
- What track should we be on?
- Who deserves our attention?
- Who doesn’t deserve our attention?
Questions across the divides
- Traditional vs. non-traditional values
- Do Democrats feel they need Republicans to run the country?
- Do Republicans feel they need Democrats to run the country?
- Do liberals feel they need conservatives to run the country?
- Do conservatives feel they need liberals to run the country?
- Do progressive liberals trust anybody else to be involved in running the country?
- Do conservatives trust progressive liberals to be involved in running the country?
- Do Christians trust non-Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do non-Christians trust Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do evangelical Christians trust non-evangelical Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do non-evangelical Christians trust evangelical Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do evangelical Christians trust non-Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do non-Christians trust evangelical Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do evangelical Christians trust individuals with non-traditional gender identities (LGBTQI) to be involved in running the country?
- Do individuals with non-traditional gender identities (LGBTQI) trust evangelical Christians to be involved in running the country?
- Do capitalists trust socialists to be involved in running the country?
- Do capitalists trust communists to be involved in running the country?
- Do socialists trust capitalists to be involved in running the country?
Are we stronger together than we are apart?
That’s the essential, key question confronting those contemplating a Declaration of Dependence:
- Are we stronger together than we are apart?
Granted, there may be a wide variety of ways in which we each need to go our own way, but the question is whether we can do so within the confines of a larger social contract which permits a wide latitude of freedom, liberty, and personalized pursuit of happiness.
Issues with American values:
- No great clarity as to what they really are.
- Depends on which social group, political group, religious group, or social strata you belong to or identify with.
See papers on my American Values project:
- In Search of American Values.
- Values of Significant Groups, Organizations, and Figures in America.
- Master List of Values in America — Updated.
My project is ongoing. I have yet to identify and distill down a relatively small set of shared values that also encompasses most of the most important values that the vast majority of Americans possess.
I will be continuing my search for shared American values.
- There is no single, clear, easy to read document that lays out in detail American Values.
- There are lots of conflicting views about American values.
Least common denominator?
The elephant standing in the middle of the room question is whether we can identify enough common ground to amount to a sufficiently robust basis for a strong, vibrant, healthy, and sustainable society.
Even if we can identify a relatively large area of common ground, the next question is whether the vast majority of Americans feel that enough of their needs, interests, and values are really covered, or whether the common ground is too minimal to get anybody excited about pursuing and holding it with any vigor, enthusiasm, and passion.
Where to now?
What process should be used to get to a final Declaration of Dependence?
What’s the roadmap?
Sorry, but there is no clear, single, magic answer.
Nobody has done it before!
We have to start from scratch and wing it.
Actually, in truth, it has been done before, many times, but always very informally and with no formal process.
That said, here are some of the issues or steps that will be needed:
- Where to start.
- Who to start with.
- Who should be involved. Everybody. Or at least everybody who feels like making a contribution.
- Sequencing of stages.
- Review process.
- Commenting process.
- Resolution of disputes.
- Feedback process.
- Soliciting suggestions. Crowdsourcing to the rescue. Maybe the Internet is good for something after all.
- Piecing together the actual declaration from the many suggestions.
- Some sort of weird consensus process to gradually and incrementally work towards an overwhelming consensus.
- How to approve of the final declaration. A popular vote? A supermajority of states or communities?
- Should the declaration be pursued first on a state by state basis, then seeking to merge or blend the various state efforts?
- Gut check: Are the vast majority of the people really behind this effort and its results, or do they simply turn up their noses at it and walk away?
- Gut check #2: Is the end result dramatically more palatable than the status quo?
And once a Declaration of Independence is widely accept, work can begin on a fresh, new social contract.
And if none of this works?
Worst case, we always have the status quo to fall back on.
That and incremental change. Sometimes one foot forward. And sometimes two steps back. Rinse and repeat. It’s worked for us in the past. Sometimes. Sort of. To mixed results.
Beyond that I have written up two more extreme proposals.
If the two main parties cannot resolve their internal differences and neither of their two disparate visions appeals to an overwhelming vast majority of Americans, consider my proposal for splitting the two main political parties:
And maybe, down the road, it may really turn out that our existing collection of 50 states is simply not as united as we used to imagine they were. Dissolving the union is a drastic step, which is why all of the foregoing is necessary, but it may be necessary further down the road:
But that would be getting too far ahead of ourselves at this stage.
Attempting to work towards a Declaration of Dependence is still my my preferred and best proposal for seeking a path forward.
There is no conclusion here. The point is just to start the ball rolling.
Alternatively, the real point is that if it is too difficult to draft and enact a popular Declaration of Dependence, then we’re in deep, deep trouble.
And maybe it really is true that we are in such deep trouble, but I see the reflection needed to draft a Declaration of Dependence as a reasonable next step in attempting to resolve our angst and anxiety over how we feel about this country.