A Bill of Obligations. Western democracies are based on the assumption, and requirement, that the electorate is educated; that means an electorate that is educated enough to make sensible and informed decisions when they cast their votes. It also assumes that the electorate should be educated enough to determine whether information they receive, from whatever source, is valid. Basically, it assumes that the electorate have critical thinking skills and the conceptual knowledge to go with them.
Not always easy, I agree, but blind acceptance, for whatever reason, of incoming data is dangerous, and a basic threat to the democratic process. Education, therefore, is a fundamental requirement for any democracy anywhere.
Admittedly, education, in this sense, can mean different things to different people. Fanatics will interpret an educational requirement as meaning indoctrination in their narrow philosophy; all religions are an excellent example of this type of controlled education.
In this discussion, I want to draw the distinction between an education that tells you what to think, and an education that teaches you how to use your innate powers of thinking/intelligence to determine, for yourself, how and what to think.
In terms of democracy, that means being able to balance the individual’s right to think for you, yourself, and the ability to think in a community environment: individual rights balanced against community responsibility.
I recently read a book by Richard Haass entitled, The Bill of Obligations, in which he explores the obligations of a responsible citizen in a democracy. In essence, he says that balancing a Bill of Rights and a Bill of Obligations is a fundamental requirement for the survival and growth of any democracy.
In my humble opinion, we, in the United States in particular, have slowly lost the concept of citizen obligations, as we have come to emphasize citizen rights. It used to exist, maybe fifty or sixty years ago, but the balance has eroded. I totally agree with Haass that this path will lead to the annihilation of democracy and, very possibly, the demise of the United States. The way forward, and the solution, has to lie in education and a re-emphasis of a bill of obligations for citizens.
Let me focus, for the moment, on the United States, but the principle here, applies to any democracy. Education, in a modern/supposedly-advanced culture, must include education related to ethics, community responsibility, and the ability to work together for the common good. In today’s world that means the common good of not only your family, your community, your country, but also the world community; climate change is a good example. But back to the U.S. for a moment.
I have a suggestion that is, perhaps, radical, but might help bring attention to the danger of our present democratic decline, while taking concrete steps to correct the balance between individual rights and community responsibility. That is, the re-introduction of ethics and civics into all schools, from elementary to 4-year college – no exceptions. This has nothing to do with politics, and certainly nothing to do with partisan politics. It is a national lifeline.
I can hear the screams already, which almost certainly will focus on individual freedom. I’m sorry, but the individual freedom to decide to be an uneducated, irresponsible moron is not acceptable in any civilized society.
More sensible people will say, “That will cost a fortune, and we can’t afford it”. I have a solution and, by the way, we can’t afford not to afford it.
In the 2020 U.S. elections, campaign contributions reached the amazing value of $14.4 billion. Why not establish a federal law that all campaign contributions, of any sort and at any level, are subject to a 10% tax that will be unequivocally assigned to support ethics and civics courses in all schools. It will take a while for this course correction in citizen responsibility to take effect but, at least, we will be taking a step forward, and not letting our democracy slide backwards into oblivion.
I am only touching the surface of this problem here, and there will be more in future blogs.