By Dr. Jim Ferguson
In the late 17th century the English philosopher John Locke wrote a treatise on what would become known as the “social contract.” In his paper Locke influenced many Enlightenment thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson who wrote our Declaration of Independence. Jefferson echoed Locke stating, “governments are instituted of men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Both men believed that humans “are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We are more familiar with Jefferson’s stirring words in the Declaration of Independence where he states that governments are to protect a citizen’s “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How challenging to realize that a hundred years before Jefferson, Locke argued that a government’s function is to protect a citizen’s “life, liberty, and his property.”
No, this column is not Civics 101, but for our civic health perhaps we citizens need to rethink why we have government, the notion of rights, and who is the arbiter of these rights.
I am not free to do whatever I please. I am not free to walk around naked – it would be especially problematic in the winter and I’ve observed that most my age look better with clothes than without! And I’m not free to use abusive language or drive 100 miles an hour down Kingston Pike. I surrender some of my rights so I can live harmoniously in community with others. But what if others did not obey the laws that we all collectively agree upon, and what if some are treated differently under the law?
It is obvious to most of us that black people were not treated fairly in the past, and that Jim Crow laws of the south were odious and racist. Fortunately, leaders such as Martin Luther King struggled to have those policies removed. We are more sensitive to the abuses of the past and hopefully stand up against injustice when we now encounter it. Racism usually stems from ignorance and multilevel impoverishment. Dr. King would be horrified to see how racism and outright class warfare are being used by our current leaders for political gain.
There is another form of bigotry that I want you to be sensitive to and you may not have considered. It’s called ageism – the inequitable treatment of someone solely because they are old. I emphasize physical age more than chronological age when I treat patients. I’ve had patients whose bodies are worn out at fifty years old and others who are going strong in their nineties. Look at the vigor rather than the number! Not too long ago this perspective was presented to the President, but his response was unenlightened. The sandlot black baseball player, Satchel Page, once quipped, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” I didn’t realize that Mr. Page was a sage!
We hear a lot these days about our Bill of Rights, particularly the first and second amendments to the Constitution. These fundamental rights were put into the operating agreement of our republic principally to protect every citizen against the tyranny of big government. Because our Founders had the foresight to guarantee my rights under law, I can write this column, own a shotgun, and worship where ever I choose – at least for a little while longer. A television host on CNN has recently observed that our Constitution is antiquated and irrelevant. Perhaps it is for him because he’s not an American. If we want to change our Constitution (the operating agreement between citizens and the government) there is a well defined mechanism for doing so. We have done it twenty-seven times over the two hundred and thirty-six years of our representative republic. I just object to contract changes done by judicial fiat or executive order.
Another freedom is that of conscience and it is a challenge to tyranny. This was true in Socrates’ day, during the Roman Empire, and in Tiananmen Square as the young man faced his government’s tanks. Even today free men are threatened and told to be silent. They are told to obey company policies or a President even if his directives violate the 1st amendment. I learned recently that state and local police officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution. Will these officers be in jeopardy if they refuse an order from an over reaching executive branch that is in their mind unconstitutional?
I’d like to think that people are just sorting out for themselves what is right. We all have our biases and promote our own positions. But I believe something else is operative in this current era. Citizens have become fearful of their government. Some plead ignorance of wrong, or make excuses and argue that they’re just following orders. However, those arguments didn’t work at the Nuremberg trials or with Lt. Calley after the My Lai massacre.
A lot of doctors have become resigned to the new order and shrug their shoulders in helpless resignation. I believe our profession is in danger of losing its moral high ground of caring for our patients. We cannot as a matter of conscience accept ageism or any unconstitutional dictate. Perhaps resignation and a lack of caring is the 21st century zeitgeist (mood) of America. A recent Gallop poll found that only 39% of Americans were optimistic about our country’s future. I admit that I am sometimes dispirited, but I refuse to accept what is wrong or bend a knee to Baal.