The Declaration of Independence and . . . chickens?!

John Trumbulls Declaration of Independence

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776, American citizens made their Declaration of Independence known to the world.  Although the bulk of the document is a catalog of very specific grievances against George III, the document is remembered for its stirring beginning, describing “unalienable” rights inherent in all human beings, as well as describing a government’s role in ensuring those rights:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The enunciation of those core rights — “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — was an almost staggering statement in 1776, when most of the world labored under the rule of despots.

In the 21st century, however, we tend to be rather blase about those same rights.  We can no longer envision a world in which citizens had no say in the government, although their (heavy) taxes supported it; in which people were constrained to work in jobs by government diktat; and in which ultimate power rested in the government, not the people.  Our representative democracy, coupled with the enormous freedoms of our daily lives, seem so natural, as if preordained.  The result of this unthinking acceptance of these rights is that many of us are not even grateful for the blessings they confer, viewing the rights more as burdens, than benefits.

Why do I say this last?  Because more and more people resent the fact that one has to work for the basic freedoms the Founders risked their lives to institute.  Sometimes one has to fight and die for them.  In a life wrapped in comforts (heated and air conditioned homes and cars, endless supplies of food, gadgets for every purpose), we’ve come to the point where we resent even the necessity of working hard and, perhaps, suffering a little to ensure those blessings in our lives.

“But,” I hear you ask, “what about those chickens?  Where do chickens come into this?”

Before any feathers get ruffled, let me explain that the chickens I’m thinking of have nothing to do with cowardice.  Instead, I’m thinking of the way in which chickens are raised in this country — factory farming versus free range (or cage free).

Factory farmed chickens do not live a good chicken life, and this despite the fact (or, perhaps, because of the fact) that all their basic needs are fulfilled.  They are provided with all the food they need, which many might think is a good thing.  They are protected from all dangers during the short chicken lives which, again, many might think is a good thing.  They are doused with antibiotics to ensure their health.  They need not fear any chicken hawks or foxes.  Indeed, so protected are they that their beaks and claws are cut off to make sure they don’t injure either themselves or others.  They even have private housing, one home per bird, if you consider housing decent when it is a teeny cage in which they cannot move.  These chickens exist and are fully cared for, not to fulfill their own chicken destinies, but to enrich the farmer and feed the consumer.

If one were to apply a political-systems label to the factory farmed chickens, one would have to say that they live in a totalitarian state.  While their basic needs are fulfilled (food, shelter and even health care), they have no freedom.  Each of their liberties is constrained for the benefit of the state.  They live, but they live without chicken joy.

Cage free (or free range chickens) live under a very different philosophy.  Although they ultimately benefit the farmer and the consumer (with eggs and chicken flesh), the fact remains that, during their lives, they are allowed to fulfill their real destinies as chickens.  They wander around, they scratch the ground, they flap their wings.  They are fed, but they have to fight with the other chickens for access to the feed.  They have access to shelter but, when the hawk comes, it’s their decision (and ability) to seek it.  They are not stripped of their beaks and claws because they need those to live a chicken life.  The farmer is responsible for protecting them against predators but, given the chicken’s freedom, it’s not always possible.  Their lives are a bit riskier but, for chickens, infinitely more fulfilling.

Applying a political-systems label to the free range chickens is a bit more difficult, because they have freedom but (being chickens) no representation.  Nevertheless, I’d say that their lives are more akin to the type of democracy the Founders envisioned, because they are given the means to live their lives to the fullest extent but, beyond that, they are subject to minimal farmer control.  It is true that they are taxed (the farmer gets their eggs) and that their lives ultimately enrich the state (once they hit the chicken pot), but they are free in chicken terms.

What is so interesting to consider this July 4, half way through the first year of the first (and, one hopes, last) term of President Barack Obama, is what kind of chicken-farmer-in-chief he is turning out to be.  Given his propensity for arugula-eating and Whole Food shopping, one would think that he would want to give the American people at least the same benefits he extends to his free range chickens:  A fairly safe environment within which free range Americans can live their lives as they see fit.

All signs, though, are that President Obama is trying to turn the American people into caged birds.  He wants us neatly boxed up, with the government/farmer dictating every aspect of our lives, right down to ensuring that we are unable to feed, house and defend ourselves without full government/farmer control.  As with caged bird chickens, the American citizen lives to serve the American state not (as the Founders demanded) vice versa.

The whole foodies constantly remind us that this totalitarian regime is bad news for chickens.  I would argue that it’s also bad news for Americans.

So this year, as you go to your fairs, watch your parades, have your barbeques, and delight in fire works, think about what the Declaration of Independence really means, and ask yourself this question:  Do I want my government to give me more rights than the average chicken?  If your answer is yes, spend the next year working hard to effect a change in the 2010 elections, and an Obama ouster in the 2012 elections.