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The Politics of Dignity

By       Message Robert Fuller     Permalink
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In a dignitarian culture, where the burden of proof is on alleged perpetrators instead of alleged victims, successes like this one shouldn't be hard to come by.

Seeking Common Ground

Imagine that a dignitarian approach to politics has taken hold. Parties of the left and the right continue to vie with each other for votes, but candidates who demonize their opponents are themselves discredited. Rather than being diverted by such sideshows, voters focus on whether their representatives are providing solutions that respect and protect their dignity.

In broad terms, what ideas and programs would we expect a legislature charged with overcoming rankism to come up with? Before giving an answer to this question, I want to acknowledge that this is only my answer--the kind of legislation I personally would wish my congressional representatives to enact to safeguard my dignity and that of my family. While it's tempting to guess at what others would want, that would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the dignitarian process. (Many of the following issues have been discussed in greater depth in earlier chapters.)

  • Dignity security, not job security. This would provide a fair chance to compete for any job for which I have the specified qualifications, and transitional support if I should need to find a new one.
  • Compensation for my labor that enables me and my dependents to live with dignity.
  • Access to quality education for my family members regardless of our financial circumstances.
  • Affordable basic and specialized health care for me and my dependents.
  • A system for funding campaigns that enjoins lawmakers to put the public's interests above special interests. Incumbents should be barred from using the power inherent in their position to gain an unfair advantage over challengers.
  • Protection of my privacy and autonomy against unwarranted intrusion from my fellow citizens or the government.
  • An equitable tax policy. Obviously, everything depends on the interpretation of equitable. The word acquires a functional meaning through a national dignitarian dialogue.What we agree to be fair is fair, until we change our minds. Periodic renegotiation occurs in the form of a democratic political process that gives electoralweight to the interests of every citizen, with no exceptions.
  • A national defense that deters would-be aggressors and defeats them if they mount an attack, along with international policies that avoid giving the kind of offense to others that incites their revenge.
  • Participation in global agreements that foster international security and environmental sustainability.

More important than any of these particulars is to elect candidates who are committed in general to searching for models that protect the dignity of all.

How will all this be attained? Unfortunately, there is no quick way--any more than there was a way during the era of racial segregation to vote enough enlightened legislators into office to pass civil rights legislation. The process will take time.

And we shouldn't expect our political representatives to be more dignitarian than we are. If we ourselves presume ideological or moral superiority, our politicians will simply mirror one or another brand of it back to us in an ongoing attempt to find favor with a majority of voters. The result will be more of the same--unending, uncivil stalemate and stagnation.

To elect politicians who will build a dignitarian society requires the creation of a dignitarian culture. As this culture takes hold, our politicians will find it increasingly difficult, and ultimately impossible, to deny us dignitarian governance. Such a society will not come to us as a gift. It will come as we earn it--by personifying its values and demanding the same from our leaders.

The following chapter begins to examine how we can establish a dignitarian perspective and sketches out what the emerging dignitarian cultural consensus will look like.

For further background on the connection between rankism and indignity, listen to Rob Kall's interview with me here.

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Robert W. Fuller is a physicist, a former president of Oberlin College, and author of The Rowan Tree: A Novel. He has consulted with Indira Gandhi, met with Jimmy Carter regarding the president's Commission on World Hunger, worked in the (more...)

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