From grade to graduate school in most nations students are taught that their system of laws – the one they are obligated under the threat of violence to follow – derives its legitimacy from historic constitutions, or agreements, in which god-like founders created a fundamental set of rules. And while teachers usually acknowledge that there are ways for people alive today to amend those rules, even young students will sense that this is a near impossible task given the number, and differences, of the people that would have to be involved.
If we really think about it the story gets even worse. We live in nations that are so crowded, and where the power is so centralized in a few people, that it is actually irrational to vote. In this story – much like a religion – the average person does not really matter, and recent legislation shows that many in power are intent on making the situation worse. In some ways this story of why we must follow the law is simply insane: How can we be bound by rules that derive from something over which we have such little control?
New peer-reviewed research by Having Kids is challenging this story, and aims to put the solution – the human right to a socially and ecologically Fair Star in life – at the center of social justice movements.
How does it do that? If we pay closer attention to the traditional story of why systems are legitimate, we will find that the process described actually begins with the consensual coming together of the people doing the founding or “constituting,” and that the real source of authority and legitimacy in that story is the group of people themselves – not any set of particular rules. As the research shows, if reorient our perspective to see people more dynamically, or intergenerationally, the traditional story begins to make more sense. If we see the story in this new way, we can begin to see clear policy pathways so that everyday people can eventually – in generations to come – be part of the system of laws that control their lives.
Changing our view in this way requires a few other changes: It requires changing the way we see political borders, from lines on a globe to seeing them more in terms of actual groups of people. It also requires investing more, and doing it equitably, in children, and – consistent with this investment – encouraging a universal ethic of smaller families. And it requires rethinking federalism, or the decentralization of power, so that “the people” are truly empowered and not lost in the crowd. In other words, it requires creating new democratic communities in the future where people matter.
Having Kids is helping move along this change in how we see systems of laws – but it will take a long time, as well as overcoming both a lot of regressive thinking and the people intent on using the traditional story of legitimacy, the one that ignores future generations, to hold onto the power they have over us.