Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

A More Perfect Union

Posted by hyperpat on September 8, 2006

Just what is a government supposed to do? Why do we need to have one at all? The framers of the Constitution certainly had an idea of what functions and services a government should provide:

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, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Justice, peace, defense, general welfare all sound like things most people want. But what about the very first item listed: a ‘more perfect Union’? Union implies a group, and here is where many people have problems. Humans do not exist very well as isolated individuals, they are very definitely a social species, in some aspects just like bees and ants. Societies have structures that allow for:

1. Specialization. All the members of the group don’t have to do or know everything, some members can dedicate their efforts to particular types of work that benefit all while receiving the same types of benefits from others of the group that specialize in other types of activities. Soldiers, policemen, scientists, doctors, plumbers, even cable tv repairmen – each can contribute to the overall benefit of the group.

2. Control: Rogue members of the group can be restrained or removed from the group by the actions of many against a few. Criminals, ‘undesirables’, someone ‘different’ from the majority – control can be both a gain to the society and an inequitable injustice to a minority.

3. Protection: a large group can more easily defend itself from both the ravages of nature and of other men than can individuals.

4. Continuity: The group lives on even though its individual members die off. Knowledge can be communicated and passed down.

In other words, one of the functions of government is to allow a group of individuals to band together to achieve the benefits described above. But as also alluded to above, these benefits come at a price: the individual must conform to the rules of the society. And here is where most of the conflict that plagues the human race comes from, as where the dividing line is drawn between what the individual wants and is allowed to do and what the group mandates for him.

The socialistic and capitalistic models of government are merely two points along this spectrum of division between individual and group. As such, probably neither is perfect, and elements of one philosophy may be able to co-exist with the other.

Right now there is a certain amount of political discussion about two items that would affect almost everyone in America: Universal health care coverage and Social Security. Both of these programs have as their basis a socialistic ideal that people should not have weather all of life’s vagaries on their own, but that all should contribute to a general pool of funds that members can access when needed. Both these programs have merit; properly implemented they would, on average, improve the health and welfare of the entire group. Ayn Rand, in several of her books (Atlas Shrugged, The Virtue of Selfishness), railed against this type of thing, considering them the actions of ‘moochers’, people who don’t contribute anything of their own to society, taking from those who do produce, merely because they can. Or, in its more extreme form, “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need”, the communistic ideal. But I think she underestimated the benefit that all can derive from carefully selected taxes on everyone, along with dismissing the true compassion humans, as social animals, can feel for another member of their group.

Social Security needs a more reliable funding method, and universal health care has yet to be implemented. Neither will happen unless a goodly number of Americans make it clear to their elected representatives that these are things they think should happen. Think about this. Think what type of government the Constitution’s framers were trying to create. Then tell your representative what your decisions are, and perhaps we will end up with ‘a more perfect Union’.

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