Human Sustainability V: A Question of Governance

Declaration of Independence (1819), by John Trumbull

8 April 2019

By Gary A. Puckrein, PhD

In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive right inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … .” In the final draft of the declaration, “the preservation of life” was shortened to “life,” but the founding principle that Jefferson articulated survived in that one word. Government is organized to conserve life, and the life of each individual is equal, inherent, and inalienable.

 When Jefferson authored those words, medical knowledge was still in its infancy and he could not imagine that a day would come when we would be literally editing our hereditary traits. Our political leaders continue to see in the Declaration of Independence the framework of the American experiment, recognizing that we have not yet finished the journey that our Founding Fathers started. Our union continues as a work in progress, but as we reread the text upon which our nation was founded, we are reminded to remain true to our fundamental principles. They have guided and held us together for more than two centuries, and they are more relevant today than they ever were.

Human sustainability is now a matter of good governance. Our political leaders should call us to a new and most urgent purpose. The Declaration of Independence designates securing life as government’s primary purpose. As I suggested in the previous blog post, the sustainability of high-quality, long lives is now a math problem—a complex math problem for sure, but one whose solution will be found in good governance. Our society creates measurable outputs (e.g., hospitalizations, emergency-room visits, mortality rates, economic indicators, crime patterns, environmental impacts). When we are completely woke, we will collect, analyze, and integrate those outputs into policies that will guide us toward an equilibrium of conditions that sustains and extends human lives beyond current expectations. This awakening will open new doors of meaning that our Founding Fathers left us in one word: life.

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