HUman RIghts and Democracy
Human rights and democracy are meant to empower individuals, and thereby free them. But today’s world is very far from ensuring human rights. Why? Human rights and democracy are based on the fundamental condition that individuals are acting as free and equal persons in public affairs.
That fact implies something very specific, an inversion between growth and self-determination, that is missing from our political systems today.
Fact: Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises each person a meaningful role in their own government.
Because of the way we plan our families, people today do not act as free and equal persons. Totally inequitable and unsustainable family planning fueled massive population growth and a massive and growing gulf between rich and poor that disenfranchised the average voice and diluted democracy to something very far from self-rule. Abysmal levels of child development, which enabled unsustainable population growth and massive inequality across the globe, has degraded our democracies, drowning out each person’s voice and effective role in their own governance. Maybe the best long-run indicator of whether we are achieving democracy is compliance with children’s rights – and worldwide we have been and continue to fail in this regard.
The same poor family planning modeling that ensured mass child abuse and neglect, an endless gap between rich and poor, and the ecological crises we face today also diluted each citizen’s role in their political system. Over time that modeling replaced empowered citizens with disempowered consumers. This influential primer spells out how each of our voices matters less as overcrowding worsens.
Current and near universal systems of family planning make no connection between the creation of persons, and their democratic empowerment. This is not necessarily about population, in the traditional sense.
Fact: If the legitimacy of governance derives from the people governed, then consensual governance requires family reforms that would allow the intergenerational and constructive consent of those born, account for how growth reduces the ability of each person to consent to governance by others, and protect an ecological baseline premised on the absence of human power – thereby enabling consent.
At this point, in many democracies, the average individual voice and vote have been diluted to meaningless by growth. In many democracies, like the United States, it is so crowded that it’s actually irrational to vote.
Here is a recent study on the issue. Imagine trying to assemble a constitutional convention in the United States today. Our size alone would preclude a functional system, and yet the legitimacy of our political system is premised on that capacity. One of the best attempts to refute the rule that democracy is inverse to population size proved the rule because the authors had to define democracy so narrowly (as the reduced chance of a faction taking power) to the point of undercutting its fundamental value to try to even make the argument.
That population growth, enabled by the failure to require equitable and personal development and education, has also degraded our ecosystems, compounding the threats to human rights, democracy, and freedom by making the conditions for social cooperation more challenging. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, saw population growth as a core threat to human freedom.
Fact: Each member’s role in a democracy is, cetus paribus, inverse to the size of that democracy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract 50-51 (Donald A. Cress ed. & trans., Hackett 1987) (1762);
Our current family planning policies, which encourage economic growth irrespective of individual levels of child welfare, fair starts in life, and environmental consequences, have made things worse. The United States is a largely unrepresentative democracy where family planning policies are designed to create large future populations of consumers, workers, and taxpayers, rather than a sustainable number citizens capable of collective self rule. They create people for shopping malls, not town halls.
Fact: To bring the United States representative ratio in line with that which existed at the country’s founding, the House of Representatives would need to balloon to a whopping 5,697 members, or nearly double that of the largest national legislature in the world: China’s National People’s Congress, with 2,980 members. DeSilver, D. (2018).
Is there a solution?
Functional democracies require highly developed citizens, which requires improving birth conditions and seriously investing time, love, and resources into every child born.
There is no way around this. The Children’s Rights Convention was designed to protect human rights that are specific to children, and ensure children’s development. But there have been no serious efforts to link the Convention to better family planning, and actually ensure the Convention’s intended outcomes. We do not apply the Convention upstream, to ensure children are born in sufficient conditions. Because we never never accounted for the role poor family planning plays in creating massive inequality and differences in opportunities in life, we failed to ensure human rights and minimum standards of welfare and equality for children. And as a result, we never ensured that adults become sufficiently developed to engage in the self-rule of true democracy. Without the requisite safeguard of ensuring serious childhood development, world population has exploded and created a negative feedback loop making it harder and harder to create systems of human rights and democracy. Today the average individual has little or no power over the government, their voices are lost in the crowd, and wealthy persons and corporations have significant control over our lives.
We can fix these mistakes.
We can apply serious child welfare requirements, like the Convention, to family planning systems by making those systems more cooperative, with parents working with their communities to bring children into the best conditions possible. That sort of working together embodies a real social contract, one that brings reasonable people on the left and right together, and ensures every child gets a fair start in life and a chance to become an empowered and accountable citizen. This is a social contract that eliminates unearned benefits and undemocratic influence, which reasonable people on both sides should oppose.
By starting at the source, and using Fair Start family planning to decentralize concentrations of power, including governments, large corporations, and wealthy families and individuals, we can shift resources to empower and free future children.
Children’s right to a fair start in life is the genesis of the social contract, consent, and political freedom. And as such we can obtain that right by all means effective. Fair Start Movement is helping push this process of improving family planning forward, through things like child-first Fair Start order legislation and rights to nature litigation that work together to temporalize and reorient our understanding of things like human rights and democracy, and will build a free future for all.
A Litmus Test for Real Democracy?
Our being free and equal persons involves whether we first treat the capacity for each person’s self-determination as directly inverse to population growth to the addition of other equally empowered people, relative to a neutral baseline such as the nonhuman world. In other words, while many would reasonably trade off the relative self-determination of living alone in the wilds and accept societies with growing populations because of the benefits they bring, they would only do so up to point, rather than losing one’s role in the democratic control of their society. Free people will always act to preserve their equal role, their mattering politically, in the process. In such a dynamic, each person is politically empowered, and empowered equally, such that all groups are arcing down towards optimal and ecocentric population sizes. If people are empowered equally and thus matter politically this direct inversion, relative to neutral position that makes the concept of self-determination coherent, is inevitable. This inversion is crucial, and consistent with the need to invest equitably in each child so that they are empowered parts of functional democracies.
The first reason persons would be obligated to follow laws is if the legal system intentionally includes, and reflects the will, of its constituents. This test determines whether systems are doing that.
Does such a test seem like something most persons would pass today, or is it perhaps too abstract to apply? If we study media and political discourse around population and constant messaging around threat of the “baby bust” to economic growth, including statements by popular thought leaders regarding the crisis of underpopulation, we might infer that many people would fail this test. They would fail to act in the way the test requires. Many may not care about growth because they know the average person does not matter politically, in terms of having an influential voice. This apathy would be justified given the debilitating impact of growth on each person’s political influence – making it irrational to even vote in many societies.
Wealthy and powerful thought leaders support growth because they also know their power is not going to be offset by the addition of new empowered citizens who matter equally. If anything, the average person born today is likely to simply become a consumer, worker, taxpayer, soldier, etc. in systems over which they have no democratic control, and which mostly benefit others. These top-down economic systems are backed by the coercive power of the state, the threat of violence, that defends state-created property rights. Under our test above such people are not living freely and equally, because they are not politically empowered.
Democracy in Decline
- Democracy is undergoing an “alarming” decline across the world as a growing number of countries move towards authoritarian rule, according to the Freedom House think tank.
- Attacks on media are increasing, and that is a threat to democracy. President Trump regularly launches public attacks on the news media, including by characterizing “a large percentage of the media” as “the enemy of the people.” Numerous media outlets recently expressed serious concern over the Justice Department’s indictment of Julian Assange, as a threat to a free and independent media. And internationally, freedom of the press is under fire as violence and prosecution of journalists increases.
Human Rights Concerns Affecting Kids
- Nearly 71 million people are now displaced by war, violence at home, according to the U.N.
- Europe is currently witnessing the highest number of crises and conflicts since World War II and children bear a disproportionate burden of these conflicts.
According to the World Report 2019:
- The United States continued to withhold or reprogram humanitarian aid and funding to international bodies, eliminating all contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that aids Palestinian refugees, and significantly cutting US financial contributions to the UN Population Fund.
- More than 2,500 families were forcibly separated at the US border as the Trump administration targeted parents traveling with children for criminal prosecution.
Take a deeper look at the role of family planning in human rights and democracy.