Let’s take one final look at this world of ours dominated by a code of obedience. It’s a world of inequality, a world in which the biggest and the strongest rules the rest of us through nothing but the principle of might is right. It’s the law of the jungle from our pre-human past. It’s the divine right of kings, still being practiced in parts of the world. Here’s the question: do we want to continue being ruled by such practices? Is it worth it? Is there another way?
The law of the jungle was passed on from generation to generation and challenging it meant taking a beating. But as we evolved into beings of thought and reason, we began to express our upset about being beaten with sentiments that evolved into our moral codes. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, honour thy father and thy mother, live and let live. We were developing a system of respect for each other, a system of human equality. The divine right of kings or equality? Something had to give.
Just over two hundred years ago, this clash between divine rights and equal rights furthered their evolving expression with these words from the American Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —
A Step in the Right Direction
The American Founding Fathers were calling for the creation of a paradigm shift in socio-political thinking with their declaration of unalienable rights. There was no way yet to conceive of what a society based upon the notion of a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness might look like. They knew they must sever all allegiance to the British crown but then what?
Imagining a new society founded on these principles, how would they “secure these rights”? I offer that we look at the next part, “Governments are instituted among Men”. Clearly governments existed already and were not instituted to secure human rights for all. Governments existed for the pleasure of the governors, the king and his court. To secure these wonderful new rights an equally wonderful new creation was needed. This was too big a leap for the founding fathers. What was called for was an investigation of these evolving moral concepts, ones consistent with equal human beings with unalienable rights. They were so close, but they didn’t succeed.
Instead they replaced King George with someone who wasn’t a king, but rather someone “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Perhaps they saw the contradiction looming, the contradiction between equal human beings with rights and “just powers”. What if there are no just powers?. In April 1887 British Lord John Acton penned his famous quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What is power in this sense of the word except the power of one human being to demand the obedience of another? No human being with a sense of having a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would consent to being dominated by someone else. President Washington replaced King George. How different might it have been if instead we had Custodian Washington, someone to oversee the governance of these new and equal states rather than someone with power over people. What’s the difference between power and governance?
What I am proposing to secure these unalienable rights is a new way of governing. Rather than continue with a corrupt system of government in which one of us sits at the top demanding obedience from the rest of us, we instead live under a system of self-government in which each of us governs the only person that any human being has a right to govern: herself or himself. Rather than “consent” to be governed by Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Morrison or President Biden refuse to be governed by anyone but thy self. Declare our independence with the same conviction of the American Founding Fathers. Declare ourself the ruler and governor of our life! Now we are free and equal. So what does your overseer of governance do? Maybe we don’t even need Custodian Washington. Or perhaps he evolves into a figurehead, a reminder of how things once were.
Did we do that, did you and I declare ourselves free and equal? If you did, then we have at least two human beings that are free and equal by declaration on this Earth – you and me. So now what, now how do we secure these rights? We could look again to the American Founding Fathers. They ended their declaration with “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” We do something similar, something that I am calling A Code of Honour.
I claim no credit for its sentiments which have been handed down to us from ages past. I’m proposing that this code has three statements, the three guiding principles that each of us must pledge unilaterally to each other:
- Do no harm
- Everything by agreement
- Be your word
Hardly original, hardly profound yet I assert will be the biggest challenge each of will face to live up to and uphold.
Do no harm
Often associated with the Hippocratic Oath that many doctors take when beginning their profession, it can and should apply to each of us in living with each other. We intend never to intentionally do harm to another or to another’s values and possessions. We begin there. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not play thy television at top volume at 2 a.m. If we know it’s harming another human being, we don’t do it. If we figure it out too late, we make amends!
Everything by agreement
When undertaking a venture that involves others, we must explicitly agree to each other what we are undertaking. Whether it’s getting married, being employed by someone for paid work, or playing a game of cricket with friends, know what we are getting involved with. We set up the rules, we know the conditions we are agreeing to. If it’s complex, we get a lawyer or someone good with logic to draw up a contract. Then take the conditions on whole-heartedly.
Be your word
What one has agreed to undertake, what has pledged to take on is now one’s word. Honour it. If one pledged to be married “until death do you part”, then honour and be that pledge. If the promise is to work as a bank teller Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. then honour and do that. Over and over without exception.
Sounds easy? I know it’s not. Undertaking such a pledge will take every bit of courage and integrity we possess, and then ten times that much again. This is not a code for weaklings. This is a code for adult human beings trying to build a civilized society. It is a code for equals, a code reflecting and upholding human rights. It is a code demanding self-responsibility of each of us. It is a pledge we make to ourselves and a declaration that we make to all humanity.
Mother begins her relationship with each child with this code. Our earliest moments were lived by this code. Let’s explore this further together.