Rachel's Democracy & Health News #879  [Printer-friendly version]
November 2, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: What are we doing and why are we doing it?
Are we succeeding?]

By Peter Montague

Occasionally a reader will ask, "What guides your selection of stories
for Rachel's News?" In this short series, we'll provide an answer.

Basically, the question is, What are we doing and why are we doing it?
Are we succeeding?

Here at Rachel's News we hold a fundamentally conservative view of our
role: this world came to us as gift from our forebears and we have an
obligation to pass it along undiminished and undamaged.

Simple ideas guide our work

Our work springs from a simple, universal ethic -- every culture and
every religion endorses the Golden Rule [1,2], which says, "Treat
others the way you want to be treated." This tells us, first, to
alleviate suffering. This, in turn, leads directly to human rights --
we all have a basic right to a life free of suffering, to the extent
possible. The elements of such a life were laid out in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. endorsed Dec. 10, 1948.


For us, the Golden Rule and the Universal Declaration together define
justice. Justice is that which tends to manifest the Golden Rule and
the Universal Declaration; injustice tends to manifest the opposite.
It is unjust -- unfair and therefore unacceptable -- to impose
suffering on others or to stand by and allow suffering to go unnoticed
or unchecked. It is unjust -- unfair and unacceptable -- to deprive
anyone of any human right as spelled out in 1948.

In recent years, science has confirmed what people have always known:
human community is essential for human well-being. We humans evolved
as social creatures[3,4] who cannot thrive when separated from our
circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and animal companions.
Social isolation makes us sick and leads to an early death. This
is one reason why racism[5] and white privilege are profoundly
wrong. At a minimum, they create social isolation, which leads to
illness and suffering, and so they are unjust and unacceptable.

Furthermore, when we damage nature we diminish our own -- and
everyone's -- possibilities for a life as free as possible of
suffering. When we create havoc via global warming or damage to the
Earth's protective ozone layer, or when we pave over fertile farmland,
or exterminate the fish of the sea or the birds of the air, we
diminish everyone's possibilities for securing life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness (to quote the Declaration of Independence of
1776). To us, this is unjust and unacceptable.

Our dependence of all creatures

Science now confirms the wisdom of indigenous peoples, that we are all
interdependent, all humans, all species. We humans are part of, and
are supported by, a biological platform of enormous complexity, which
we cannot understand, but which we know with absolute certainty
nourishes and sustains us. Even a child can see that, without it. we
are lost.

Because human rights and justice cannot be secured if our biological
platform is shredded, we all have a right to intact natural and social
environments -- environments that enable us to provide for ourselves
the essentials of air, water, food, shelter and community (the basic
prerequisites for "happiness"), which we all require to prevent

Furthermore, as Jeremy Bentham articulated in 1789, animals too have
a right to live a life free of suffering to the extent possible. As
Bentham said, the question is not whether they can reason, or whether
they can talk. Their right to live free from torment hinges on the
question, can they suffer? Their suffering stands on a moral plane
with ours.

Because the biological platform, upon which we all depend, cannot be
secured unless we are free to take action to protect it, human rights
and justice are essential requirements for human survival.

The earth is our home and we have to take care of it, for the reason
that we absolutely depend on it. To preserve our home without
understanding all its billions of inter-related parts, we can aim to
preserve every part of it. No part of creation can be presumed
dispensable. We can say we know what's dispensable, but what if we're
wrong? In recent years we came close to making the surface of the
earth uninhabitable for humans because we failed to understand how
DuPont's CFC chemicals were damaging the ozone layer. It was a close
call. Our ignorance is vast. As Albert Einstein reportedly said, "We
still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has
revealed to us."[6]

When flying blind, go cautiously

Whenever we set out to do anything that might harm any part of our
home, we can move slowly, move cautiously, as we would when flying
blind. Like any good pilot, we can constantly check for signs of
trouble, and when any such signs are observed, we can take action to
prevent further trouble. This is common sense and ancient wisdom. Look
before you leap. A stitch in time saves nine. Prevention is better
than cure, Erasmus told us.

We are all in this boat together and none of us has the right to
endanger the ship. To do so is a deep and intolerable injustice to

Purpose of Government

From these principles, we understand the purpose of government. For
example, the Declaration of Independence of 1776 tells us,

"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

The purpose of government, then, is to secure human rights, including
the right to enjoy intact natural and social environments without
which we cannot have life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Put
another way, the purpose of government is to protect and secure the
things that we all depend upon and share in common, the air, water,
soil, human language and accumulated knowledge, the genome, public
health, reciprocal relationships of trust, and much more.

And finally any government becomes illegitimate when it fails to gain
the consent of the governed. People have an inherent, unalienable
right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

These, then, are the basic, conservative ideas that guide our choice
of stories for Rachel's news. Now the plot thickens. More next time.


[3] As CrossRoadsMinistry.org says, racism is one group's individual
race prejudice enforced by the misuse of power via systems and

[5] A shorthand version of the Universal Declaration is Franklin
Roosevelt's "four freedoms," which he described this way: "In the
future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world
founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of
speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is
freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in
the world. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into
world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every
nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in
the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into
world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point
and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to
commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere
in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium, it is a
definite basis for a world attainable in our own time and generation.
That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so called 'new order'
of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a
bomb. To that new order we oppose the greater conception -- the moral
order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and
foreign revolutions alike without fear.... Freedom means the supremacy
of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to
gain those rights and keep them."

[6] Einstein quoted in The Sun (June 2006), pg. 48.