The Power of We the People

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, yadda yadda yadda, Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven, yadda yadda yadda.” Constitution!!!

Or something like that…

It’s a beautifully written document, which in its very first proclamation establishes the power of we. We the people. In a constitutional republic such as ours, we are supposed to be in control of our collective destiny. Those “yaddas” —which make up the core of our founding documents and still serve as our social and economic rudder—are obviously rooted in their contextual history.  On the other hand, we the people are timeless and irrefutable. We are beautiful and unique and completely indefinable by a piece of parchment. We are powerful beyond measure. So why does it seem as if we’ve begun acting against our self-interest? Why are we so willing to cede our right to unite, to create a more broadly inclusive civilization?

Given the choice, I’d assume most of us would like a more civilized life over a less civilized one. As Seth Godin masterfully point out, the higher choice of a more enlightened life requires a focus on the whole system rather than on the individual. He confronts the difficulties associated with harnessing the power of we:

There are always shortcuts available. Sometimes it seems like we should spend less money taking care of others, less time producing beauty, less effort doing the right thing–so we can have more stuff. Sometimes we’re encouraged that every man should look out for himself, and that selfishness is at the heart of a productive culture. In the short run, it’s tempting indeed to trade in a part of civilized humanity to get a little more for ourselves at the end of the day. And it doesn’t work.

This focus on the individual, which is so widely celebrated in the cult of celebrity, is deeply troubling since none of us actually exist in a vacuum. We live on this Earth together. We breathe the same air and drink the same water. I don’t know about you, but this election cycle is killing me. It has taken the narrative of “Blue vs. Red” and “my ideas vs. your ideas” to a whole new level. We are locked in a polarity where one set of ideas must be validated and the other rejected, even though the details largely overlap and the ostensible macro-goal is exactly the same: a more perfect union for we the people and a better society for our children and grandchildren.

Our beautiful democracy has recoiled into gridlock, unable to systemically cope with a situation where nobody will consider others’ opinions as unique, possible, and valid from their perspective. We’re more polarized than ever at a time when we should be leaning into our collective strength in order to effectively confront the challenges of our generation.

Perhaps worst of all, our polarized infighting about mostly rhetorical differences of opinion is completely distracting us from the uncivilized inequality seeping from the pores of our stressed society. We’ve become unable to dispense the level of compassion and care that is required to heal enormous social injustices perpetrated by the real beneficiaries of our individually focused culture.  Some of our laws incentivize gluttonous behavior, while other laws effectively institutionalize self-interested squabbling.

Let’s not get lost in context and miss the big picture. Those yaddas are important, but we must never forget whom they are designed to serve. If the finer points of our current operating manual no longer equip us pursue a more civilized world, it’s time for some new yaddas. We the people must never underestimate our own power to evolve.

One comment

  1. Ben Nyquist

    Your post reminded me of something I remember learning back in civics class. The constitution is supposed to be a living constantly adapting document. Our founding fathers basically created the option of us as we the people to allow the constitution to adapt to better reflect us. This brings me to a fun thought experiment.

    What if there was a constitution wiki, an online living and changing constitution? One could copy the original with all new amendments, create a process for it to undergo constant reviews and edits from a certain community. You could give each edit a yes or no poll feature and it it ever drops below 2/3 or 50 percent it is removed from the wiki and part into pending until you change it so that enough people are on board to reenact it. Call it the constitution for Web 2.0?

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