A Universal Right to Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness

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“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.” — The United States Declaration of Independence

On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted. That’s 237 years ago as of this year, 2013. In retrospect, that doesn’t even sound like that long ago, and yet look at how incredibly our country and our lives have changed. The famous quote above, penned by Thomas Jefferson, is perhaps the most well known from the Declaration of Independence; and though at the time, their concept of “all men” may have been limited by racism and sexism, today we are more evolved and can attribute this ideal truly, to all people, in all reaches of the world.

All people are created equal. All people have a right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In accepting these as self-evident truths, we accept that women and men all across the world have a right to these unalienable rights and we should ask ourselves—are we respecting this ideal?

What does it mean to have a right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

What is Life?

Life (noun): The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

What do we know about life? What do we know about the conditions that must be present in order for life to exist? We know that as humans we need nutrient-rich food, clean water, clean air and shelter from the elements. These are the conditions which must exist in order for us to avoid death—which, for good measure, let’s define:

Death (noun): The action or fact of dying or being killed; the end of the life of a person or organism.

Without food and nutrients, we die. Without clean water to hydrate, we die. Without clean air to breathe, we die. Without protection from extreme elements, we die. Should we all agree then, that based on the ideal laid down by the founders of the United States 237 years ago, that all people have a right to food, water, air and shelter? If we are to agree we all have a right to life, then we must.

Today we live in a world where farmers are scarce and food can be monopolized, thanks to the patenting of genes. Wealthy and powerful CEOs are openly declaring they believe water is not a human right and should be privatized. Countries such as Bolivia have privatized their water supply, leading to citizens facing imprisonment and penalties for collecting rainwater. Our forests are devastated even as CO2 levels hit record highs and an estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It is easy to say that perhaps we are falling short in allowing people the right to Life.

"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." — The United States Declaration of Independence

“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.” — The United States Declaration of Independence

If one does not have land to grow their own food, they become dependent on the system in order to eat. If one does not have access to clean water, they become dependent on the system in order to drink. If one has little singular say in stopping deforestation, pollution of air, and the rise of CO2 levels, then they become dependent on the system to maintain their quality of breath.

If one is faced with a housing crisis, a crippling educational system, and an unstable economy, they become dependent on the system for shelter. Dependence, dependence, dependence—but wasn’t Jefferson writing the declaration of Independence?

If a person has to depend on outside sources such as a stable economy, an affordable education system, and the availability of ample jobs in order to afford food, water and shelter — necessities to survive — are they being denied their basic right to Life? How about Liberty?

Liberty (noun): The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.

Liberty is an ideal, one which many men and women have fought and died for—the American Revolution is just one such example of war at the hands of acquiring freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, despite the battles fought in the past, there are many wars still being waged on liberty today.

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” — Thomas Jefferson

This is an important quote, one which we must examine closely. Unobstructed action according to our will—as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. It sounds simple, yet if we look around we can see that “rightful liberty” is not being honored in our society. Instead, we are often playing within the “limits of the law” rather than the limits of all persons’ rights. This is a recipe for tyranny, not liberty.

“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” — Thomas Jefferson

How much fear, pain, casualties, depression, ruin and injustice has the War on Drugs wrought on the American people since it first began 42 years ago, this July 17th?

The War on Drugs has cost over half a million people their freedom. It has sustained gang activity, putting innocent people in harm’s way and in situations and environments they would never otherwise find themselves in. It has cost our government billions of dollars, much of which comes from our own pockets, the taxpayers. It has cost the medical marijuana patients who so desperately need their medicine to improve their quality of life, or even save it. Most tragically, it has cost people their lives—even when they were doing nothing to infringe upon the rights of others. Does a consenting adult not have a right to decide their own way of life and behavior under the definition of liberty? Does this not include the right to decide what you put into your body—be it alcohol, tobacco, psilocybin, marijuana or any other substance? If dictating a person’s way of life and behavior in this way is certainly not liberty, we have to ask ourselves—is this tyranny?

Tyranny (noun): (1) Cruel and oppressive government or rule (2) Cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control

Photo credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Independence Day, 1947.

Photo credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Independence Day, 1947.

This infringement on people’s liberties does not stop with the senseless War on Drugs. Marriage equality is another hotly debated topic in modern day America—and yet needlessly so. Under the definition of liberty, it should become very clear to any who would oppose marriage for all people, to see that what they are doing by denying people their right to marry, is supporting tyranny. A person’s right to choose who they marry is a right to choose their way of life and their behavior. To deny any single person of this right, is to deny them liberty. These are just two examples of liberties being denied to American citizens currently, and surely there are others, as well as countless more examples in other countries around the world.

So for good measure let’s go back to our definition of tyranny and define the word “cruel”, to make sure we are not being subjective.

Cruel (adjective): Causing pain or suffering

Looking at the ramifications of the War on Drugs, as well as the pain and sorrow caused by those who have been denied the right to marry who they love, we can see these senseless policies have caused much pain, and enormous amounts of suffering to people who otherwise, may live very peaceful and happy lives. And doesn’t everyone deserve the right to pursue happiness?

Happiness (noun): The state of being happy.

All people have a right to the pursuit of the state of being happy… sounds simple, so what is “happy”?

Happy (adjective): (1) Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment (2) Having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation) (3) Satisfied with the quality or standard of

It’s important to meditate on these definitions, and then ask ourselves—does our standard of life meet these definitions? If we could do anything we wanted to (that did not infringe on other’s rights), how would we pursue happiness? Does our quality of life allow us the liberty to pursue happiness?

In America, with a floundering economy, struggling job market, and incredible state of debt—many people work their lives away for mere survival. Now of course, hard work is not to be belittled—it is essential to pursuing our dreams and turning them into reality; and no one is suggesting a free ride where life is wasted as a couch potato. But one might wonder what our world would be like if an individual could spend less time working hard at being, say, a cashier—and more time working hard at a talent or craft which they genuinely love and have a passion for.

How many Americans have spent years of their life working away at an unfulfilling job, 40-plus hours a week, creating nothing except a paycheck which swiftly is depleted by bills for loans, payments and simple necessities for life such as food, water, and shelter? How many people dream big of all the things they would really like to be doing, to pursue happiness, but can never find the time, the money and means to pursue anything but another week of work? How many people can actually say that what they do for a living makes them happy, gives them pleasure, contentment, or a sense of satisfaction?


Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

How different could our lives be if as a society we placed more value on jobs of production, like food? Or jobs of innovation, such as replacing old harmful practices like logging our forests, with new sustainable practices like hemp farming? What if when we went to work, we did it knowing we were doing something good and meaningful, rather than superfluous and pointless, as many retail positions seem to be (and which makes up a whopping 15.3% of our job market in America, the second largest market after government jobs.)

Also worthy of our consideration, is those who must sacrifice their morals and beliefs to work the job they have. Currently, jobs are scarce, so we know that when one comes along, it is wise to accept it. But what if it conflicts with the very essence of our morals and thus forces us to change our behavior?

Some examples: The health conscious environmentalist, turned gas attendant—now contributing to the petroleum problem and inhaling noxious fumes. The minimalist who believes in living simply and being conscious of what we consume, turned salesman—now having to convince people to purchase superfluous things they really don’t need, feeding the consumerist engine. The environmentalist and organic gardener, turned landscaper—now laying chemicals such as pesticides in the ground and cutting down plants for mere ascetics. The woman who doesn’t personally believe in wearing makeup or using hair products, turned salon worker—now forced by her employers to maintain a certain look. These are only a handful of examples, and in this economy, can we say no to an available job, even when it conflicts with our behavior and sense of satisfaction (liberty and happiness, respectively)?

What does it do to ones’ soul to have to choose between pursuing happiness or pursuing basic survival? What happens when we sacrifice the pursuit of happiness for the pursuit of life? Are we also sacrificing liberty?

Surely, there are many ways in which we can all be grateful for the life, liberty and happiness that we do have in our lives—and it’s important not to lose sight of gratitude and the positive. However, we must ask ourselves from time to time, is it enough? Is this the pinnacle of our existence? Is this the best it could be? One might wonder, could we spend less on war and more on people? Are we really done evolving, or could we do more for ourselves, our children, and for all the people of the world?

What we can say for certain, is that all women, all men, in fact all beings on our Earth, have an unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This Independence Day, let us reflect on the meanings of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and decide in our own hearts and minds, what these words mean to us, not just as Americans, but as Earthlings.