Monday, July 04, 2011

The Declaration of Independence and the Golden Rule

It is self-interest and cooperation reconciled by the Golden Rule that assure Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; not unalienable rights endowed by a super-natural creator.

This July 4th holiday marks the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and relied on “the Laws of Nature” to make the now famous and familiar philosophical assertion for the founding of our nation:

...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...

Jefferson was strongly influenced by the Age of Enlightenment and critical thinking is a byproduct of that time frame. Questioning assumptions serves as a lantern in the confusing darkness. Our ancestors may have accurately navigated by the moving stars in the night sky, but their safe arrival at a destination did not make the assumption of the geocentric model of the Universe correct.

History is full of examples of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The Declaration of Independence’s assertion “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” is a philosophy that advocates the right thing, but for the wrong reason as scientific critical thinking is now revealing.

A declaration and philosophy that appeals to “the Laws of Nature” must be bound to what is learned about those laws when reasoning is applied. One can’t have it both ways; i.e., make the argument on natural and supernatural reasoning.

The Big Bang Theory explanation of the Universe was derived through naturalistic reasoning. Foundational to the theory is that ever-so-slight differences (anisotropy) in the early Universe resulted, through both cosmological and biological Evolution, in the variety we now experience in our lives. Biological Evolution resulted in both self-interest and cooperative survival strategies which in turn gave us the differences between and within species. The Evolutionary process of differentiation is so fundamental that it even manifests itself at the simple molecular level.

Contrary to Jefferson's assertion, individual humans are not equal. Our use of the adjective 'individual' supports this in our language. Moreover, from a biological persepective, they are unique; their genes molded by the billions of years of interplay with their environment utilizing both self-interest and cooperative strategies; at the multi-cellular and multi-organism levels. Even identical twins are different when one looks at them through the lens of epigenetics.

Complex, multi-human organizations (tribes, religion, government, friendships, clubs, gangs, coalitions, Democrats, Republicans, Code Pink, Tea party,…) have at their foundation the reconciling of self-interest strategies with cooperative strategies. Nature has an organizational principle that maximizes the self-interest and cooperative in all of us. It’s the Golden Rule; a principle that can be analyzed and verified using the mathematics provided by Game Theory.

It is this simple natural dynamic, treat others as you want to be treated, that offers “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. As our forefathers knew, and is captured in the image of Lady Justice with her sword at the ready to assure fairness, it is sometimes not enough to assert life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It must ultimately be defended by force from those that would deny it.


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