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Both political parties know that a unifying core value expressed in a pithy slogan translates into votes. FDR's Democrats had "The New Deal"; LBJ's party advanced "The Great Society." Republicans rally to "lower taxes," "smaller government," "strong defense," and "family values."

What core value, what slogan, could move us beyond the toxic standoff that paralyzes American politics today?

The answer lies in a single word--Dignity.

This core value takes wings on the inclusive slogan: "Dignity For All." The bumper sticker reads "Dignity4All," and it will soon begin appearing on cars across America.

The idea of a universal right to dignity may at first seem too simple to pull together the disparate elements of this divided nation, but it's not. Dignity is what people want, on the left, on the right, and most importantly, in the vast, non-ideological middle.

Dignity is not negotiable. People will stand up for their dignity, and once they're on their feet, it's usually not long before they're marching for justice.

Two hundred years of bloody world history have shown that there is no direct path from Liberty to Justice. But if we interpose a steppingstone, we can build a bridge to justice. The name of that stone is not "Equality," it's "Dignity." By establishing the right to dignity, and then enacting legislation that protects everyone's dignity equally, we can give concrete meaning to Thomas Jefferson's evocative claim that "All men are created equal."

A "dignitarian society" pulls together what's best from the three broad strands of civic culture dominating politics since the French Revolution--Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The polarizing stranglehold these ideals exert on the contemporary imagination, when any one is prioritized over the others, is a major source of the incivility that infects our politics today.

Conservatives see themselves as Liberty's defenders; progressives pride themselves as the champions of equality. Both parties promise Fraternity, but neither delivers it.

Dignity is more encompassing than Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity. It's the missing link that when restored will yield an electoral mandate to make good on America's founding promise of "liberty and justice for all."

The politics of dignity puts the "We" back in "We the People." It spans the conservative-liberal divide. It closes the ideological fissures that separate libertarian, egalitarian, and fraternitarian ideologies and breaks the stalemate that has stalled the advance of justice since the 1960s.

A dignitarian society does not tolerate indignity--towards anyone. When this principle is translated into policy, it rules out acceptance of a permanent underclass. It disallows prejudice and discrimination toward all the groups that have rallied around the various flags of identity politics. It transforms the stalemate over abortion and gay marriage into a civil discussion of whose rights to dignity are being abridged. It proclaims everyone's right to a sustainable environment.

Like liberty and justice, dignity is most easily defined in the negative. As a precursor to banishment or enslavement, we're all attuned to pick up on the slightest hint of indignity.

What causes people to experience indignity? The precise and universal cause of indignity is the abuse of power. Make a list of the most distressing issues of recent years: corporate corruption, the Katrina catastrophe, sexual abuse by clergy, Abu Ghraib, domestic spying, etc. Every one of them can be traced to an abuse of power by individuals of high rank. Often the abuses had the blessing of people of even higher rank.

To effectively oppose the full range of abuses of power vested in rank, we need a word that identifies them collectively. Abuse and discrimination based on color and gender are called "racism" and "sexism," respectively. By analogy, abuse and discrimination based on the power inherent in rank is "rankism." This coinage provides a vitalizing link between the methods of identity politics and the moral values of democratic governance. Having a generic name for abuses of power makes them much easier to target, and targeting them is precisely what's called for if democracy is to resume its evolution.

However principled the cause, no party can present itself as a champion of dignity so long as its members reserve the right either to indulge in rankism. This includes treating political opponents with indignity. Humiliation and condescension--toward domestic opponents or foreign enemies--are inherently rankist postures, and as such they have no place in a dignitarian society.

How would a society that makes dignity its linchpin differ from ones shaped by ideologies that accentuate liberty, equality, or fraternity? The difference is one of nuance, not opposition, for a dignitarian society combines the strengths of all three traditions.

A dignitarian society promotes individual freedom, while at the same time tempering the uninhibited free market with institutions of social responsibility that insure that economic power does not confer unwarranted educational or political advantages. For example, you shouldn't have to be rich to attend good schools, or command a fortune to stand for office.

A dignitarian society provides genuine equality of opportunity. In a dignitarian society, loss of social mobility, let alone division into master and servant classes, is unacceptable. There's a way out of poverty in a dignitarian society. Everyone earns a living wage and has access to quality health care.

The politics of dignity sees democracy as a work in progress. Democracy's next step--one that will enlarge liberty, deliver justice, and foster fraternity--is to overcome rankism and build a dignitarian society.

Dignity is an idea whose time has come. The party that takes dignity as its core value can mobilize the energy not merely to win at the polls, but to win with a mandate to fulfill our nation's implicit promise of "Dignity For All."

Originally posted to Robert Fuller on Thu Jun 15, 2006 at 05:40 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Whi (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    At first glance my post may appear non-partisan, and taken at face value it is. This is intentional. I do not want needlessly to alienate conservatives, and I have found that the inclusive dignitarian reframing of politics espoused in this post overcomes many of their objections to what are usually seen as progressive values. I've recently tested this "medicine" on large gatherings in Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, and Tennessee and it goes down almost as easily as it does in the coastal blue states.

    My goal with this op-ed length piece is to introduce a political framework that will unify the many factions of the democratic party, pull 20 % of conservative voters into the progressive tent, and win not by a few points but with a mandate sufficient to overhaul the system. That will require upwards of 60 % and that means not just electoral victory but political realignment like the ones FDR and LBJ presided over. No left-right analysis can do that, but an up-down (Somebodies-Nobodies) one can. This post is little more than a quick introduction to what is in fact a fundamental reanalysis of democracy. As such it includes the mandatory political slogan and bumper sticker. These are the tip of an iceberg of a full analysis which can be found in my two books: "Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank" (2003) and, as of this week, "All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, the Politics of Dignity."

    To be clear, I am not about promoting a book. I'm interested in getting the Dignity Movement onto its feet and running.

    •  Seattle and Dignity (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, breakingranks

      Tonight while attending the Wellstone grass roots training here in Seattle, I peeked at my computer and saw this diary rescue. The content sounded strangly familiar and I was just about to accuse the author of plagarism but I couldn't remember where I had just read it..

      Then while looking up an event tomorrow night in Seattle for some out-of-town people, called "What is a Progressive" I discovered the following July 11th. Ah Ha I knew I had seen something familiar recentnly! oh wait a minute. Could it be the same Fuller of this diary?

      Wow, We have some amazing talent on this blog but people who are actively involved in spreading the message. Tomorrow at our training I will be taking this value back to our work groups.

      In his best-selling Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, Robert Fuller identified a form of domination that everybody has experienced but few dare to protest – rankism. In his new book, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, Fuller lays the groundwork for a “dignitarian” movement where all are equal in dignity. He offers hope and practical solutions for fashioning a world where human relationships are governed by respect and every person’s right to dignity is affirmed.

      Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding." -- 1958 MLK

      by Cascadia on Sat Jun 17, 2006 at 12:49:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You are right (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    And it is so hard.

    On a day to day life, I can do this. When I write here, I have problems.

    I have friends from about every spectrum under the sun. One in particular: He has 14 kids. Half are troubled foster children. The only way he can afford to feed this hord is to grow his own food, make his own bread, etc. The left lumps him into the psycho-Christian right because he is a Baptist against abortion. He is far closer to a anti-capitalist, anti-polluting, taking care of oneself leftist than most on the left.

    He knows my position on abortion, and respects it. He doesn't call me a baby-killer because of it. He would rather I was honest about it than say one thing to make him happy, and another to make others happy.

    That is dignity. That is having the courage to know that I don't know all the answers. I respect his position, which he lives with the consequences of every day, versus someone that says one thing in a fund-raising letter and another in a major political speech.

    People tend to forget that honest Christians exists. They don't believe with everything I believe in. I don't agree with 410K liberals. Hell, I don't agree with many people.

    But the whole concept of democracy isn't to make everyone like me. Democracy is about having institutions in place that everyone has faith in. And with this current bunch of clowns in place, that is not even a conversation point.

    This is why I like Dean and Feingold. I don't know their views an anything. I don't care. Both are the kind of people that have shown they will use every resource to make sure everyone is heard, and the decision will be respected as much as possible. That is what I want.

    Pride in our ourselves. Dignity for all.

    Love the diary.

    •  My father was a minister (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mickT, awakentech

      And he was thoroughly progressive. I agree it's become easy to stereotype Christians. It's not just an urban/rural split. In urban areas it's a rich/poor split. Progressives have to be careful not to make Christians the "Other".

    •  lovely distinctions, moving comment (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mickT, awakentech, breakingranks

      I got one of those rare chills reading this nuanced comment. I was reminded of something unusual that happened to me recently after giving a talk on dignity and rankism at the Univ. of Tennessee in Chattanooga. the next day, I received an email from a woman who had been at the talk and it went like this: "Thank you Dr. Fuller for not insulting our Lord Jesus Christ." I had barely mentioned Jesus in the talk, except to credit him some very prescient moral insight, nothing religious per se. This showed me that it is not necessary to insult people's beliefs, and that by eschewing this course, one can reach more peoople.

      All in all, I have found the people in so-called red states just as hospitable to the dignitarian framing of politics as people in blue states.

  •  Dignitomics (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    OK, the name needs work, but you hit on one of those great, overarching themes that translates well into lots of different disciplines.  

    Your diary cites some good egs of the way the current power alignment leads to blocked opportunities and the absence of dignified outcomes.

    I've been thinking about tax policy lately and trying to figure out why the "dog isn't barking" when we the Congress passes measures that push us in precisely the opposite direction you stress.

    Perhaps this framing can lead us toward the light.

  •  coinages (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    "Freakonomics" earned each of its authors a million bucks, and growing every week it remains a best-seller. "Dignitomics" ought to be good for at least 1/2 million -- all you have to do is write the book! The subtitle is easy: "The Economics of Dignity." If anyone can come up with the right title surely it's the guy who came up with describing conservative economic policy with the acronym "YOYO" as in "You're On Your Own"!

  •  Dignity Is A Universal Right ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    and need. One that cuts across demographics of race, age, religion and gender. Fuller's efforts to promote a dignitarian culture is really an indispensable guide for the next stage of humanity's evolution.

  •  Thanks to diary rescue (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, BeninSC, Kathie McCrimmon

    ... I found this diary. And thanks to Dr Fuller for writing it.

    The opposite of dignity is humiliation. As Dr Fuller points out, humiliation is a function of a social ranking system in which inordinate power accrues to  those of higher rank. This hierarchy is the essence of the right wing belief system. The preservation, extension, and exercise of this system is at the core of right wing motivations.

    The right wing has developed a trick of getting ordinary people to feel that they are not respected by progressives.  They persuade people to reject good policies by associating them with a negative image of the advocates of those policies.  Phrases such as Hollywood elite, limousine liberals, latte liberals, Boston Brahmins, or ivory tower intellectuals are trumpeted over and over.  Millions vote against their own self interest in large part because the right wing has been effective in characterizing liberals, Democrats, and progressives as snobby intellectuals who look down on ordinary people.  Unfortunately, they are not entirely wrong about that: many educated, well informed progressives do sometimes speak and act as though they have contempt for the ordinary people who are so regularly duped by the right wing. Some progressives really do need to improve their manners!

    It is significant that while humiliation is contrary to progressive values, it is integral to the right wing Strict Father family model (tip of the hat to George Lakoff) and moral order.  The right wing believes in corporal punishment as a primary child rearing technique; besides being painful, this is humiliating to children.  The right wing believes those higher in rank can give orders to those in lower positions, who must obey or face punishment.  This is humiliating.  The right wing believes that the rich should get richer, while the poor sink deeper into poverty no matter how hard they work.  This is humiliating.  Ordinary people suffer constant humiliation in a social order organized around right wing principles.  This humiliation is so ubiquitous that it becomes unremarkable, but it is there all the time.  

    It is more than ironic that the right wing is able to trick ordinary people into projecting their understandable resentment over this constant humiliation onto progressives, when it is the right wing that causes their humiliation as function of their value system.

  •  Most timely in light of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, goodasgold, breakingranks

    All of the hoopla about the attempts to use the US Constitution as a weapon to beat down gays. The contrast in terms of dignity could not be more stark.

    "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's CREATION." _ Jonathan Larson, RENT

    by BeninSC on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 09:59:37 PM PDT

  •  Robert- (4+ / 0-)

    I was musing today that our nation needs the next president to have a great appreciation for diplomacy, desenting viewpoints and debate.  Later in the day, a caller on the Air America Radio/Randy Rhodes Show, said he had " distressed citizen's syndrome", and tonight I read your diary on dignity.  

    We are all expressing the same needs.  Our country is not very healthy and we really need a cure.

  •  Good idea n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Be good to each other. It matters.

    by AllisonInSeattle on Sat Jun 17, 2006 at 12:06:46 AM PDT

  •  Wole Soyinka (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    breakingranks

    Nobel Laureate from Nigeria, points out that terrorism consists in and springs from depriving people of dignity.

    •  bookmarked! (0+ / 0-)

      Thanks, this is great!

    •  Soyinka sees deeply (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, just as the high recidivism rate in our prisons is due in part to the indignities of prison life, so too terrorism derives much of its support from people living in conditions of chronic indignity and suffering intentional humiliation. World War II itself is believed by many to have arisen out of the humiliating Versaille Treaty imposed on the Germans by the victors.

      An important part of a good defense is to avoid giving offense in the first place. An important part, not the whole defense. A credible threat of retaliation is also required.

  •  20 Ways to Combat Rankism (0+ / 0-)

    From Robert Fuller's website, Manifest Dignity:

      1. Break the taboo on rank. Make it a safe subject for discussion in the workplace.
      2. Acknowledge the roles of others and support equitable compensation.
      3. Keep your promises to Somebodies and Nobodies alike.
      4. Teach your children their rights. Respect children so they will be respectful.
      5. Honor your Inner Nobody and your Inner Somebody alike.
      6. Be aware rankism begets rankism. If you’re feeling frustrated, don’t pick on someone of lower rank; and don’t kick the dog!
      7. Encourage respect for the other side in sports, debate, and daily life.
      8. Think about what you want to pass on. And do it.
      9. Health care providers can enlist patients as partners.
     10. Show the world dignity through your profession.
     11. Recognize that servers are people, too.
     12. Try to see outside your position and build a model that synthesizes your outlook with the views of others.
     13. Give recognition to someone who deserves it.
     14. Bring dignity to law enforcement and conflict resolution.
     15. Choose not to participate in disrespectful jokes or conversations.
     16. Give your attention to someone you might normally avoid interacting with. Someone with a disability. Someone of another culture. Someone of a different faith.
     17. Assist or advocate for immigrants, homeless individuals, the disabled, the elderly, anyone who is especially vulnerable to assaults on their dignity.
     18. Offer assistance to someone who may not be getting the help or recognition he or she needs - an elderly neighbor, a new mother, a caregiver.
     19. Ask questions about people in authority. Do they use their power to help others, or to keep them down? Have they earned their authority or are they just assuming it?
     20. Exemplify rather than exhort.

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