“… all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
—The Declaration of Independence
This weekend, as you are enjoying bratwurst number three, watching the kids play obliviously in the sprinkler, and commenting knowingly on the recent ascension of T-Will and Earl Clark to their rightful places in the NBA, I’d like for you to multitask a little.
When you pull that Samuel Adams from the depths of the requisite red, white or blue cooler in your yard, I’d like you to imagine and superimpose on your surroundings the sounds of cannon fire, panic and frenzy. Try to conjure a double vision, that of your vacation day overlaid with the terrible losses incurred in the desperate, partisan battles that hastened the signing of our Declaration of Independence 233 years ago.
It is a simple exercise in imprecise and totally impractical civics that, I promise, is not designed to ruin your weekend or interrupt digestion of your Boston Baked Beans. It is meant to momentarily highlight the easy glory of our current comforts in direct relation and proportion to the historical events surrounding the fourth day in July. It is not too much to ask, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have a paid day off.
I find it useful, especially on holidays that commemorate such a precise occurrence, to bend expectations a little and apply the prescribed lessons of the day to other, less orthodox tasks.
We are a nation no longer loyal to the crown. I get that. The parents of our country were a mélange of merchants, philosophers, opportunists, dissenters and agitprop gurus who, when push came to shove, knew how to say with the grandest eloquence, “Fuck you, we’re not going to take it anymore.” I get that, too. We recall these ideas, events and people specifically on Independence Day, and for good reason. I think the rote ideas of the Fourth should serve as a springboard to an expanded degree of national introspection.
To that end I’ve laid out a few questions for your consideration. They are intended as a supplement to our annual consideration of our disobedient heritage, that history may provide us with a mirror by which we might assess our current appearance. And so, into the fray:
Do any of these words describe my participation in my culture/community/civic govt.: compliance, defiance, dissent, complicity, independence, conformity, awareness, obliviousness?
Have I consented to what my government does on my behalf, either by my action or non-action?
What, if anything, am I as an individual or a member of a community ready to fight to the death for?
Do I wish that my culture/community would demand separation from any part of the greater whole?
Do I believe that violent revolution is an acceptable means by which people re-organize the way they are governed?
If so, am I able to judge any of the myriad global confrontations that exist currently as justified or righteous? Which ones?
Did colonialism ever really end?
To whom should I send my answers to this stupid quiz?
The folks who wrote, ratified and signed the Declaration of Independence likely asked themselves questions like these. The men and their responses have been canonized, erroneously or not, by our culture. They are considered saints of righteous indignity, and in no small sense their legacy beckons us to be constantly aware of who is oppressing whom.
Independence Day is, in a sense, a smoke-and-mirrors holiday. It is the gypsy at the circus who feeds your questions back to you as answers, telling you only what you already know but may not wish to hear.
We are welcomed to pat ourselves on the back and celebrate the upstarts and underdogs that rallied against the oppressive Redcoats on behalf of Natural Law and future generations of Americans. Here here. An honest toast to what we aspire to be: brave and free. It could be that the disobedience of the Founders should be viewed not as a gift bestowed on an infant nation, but as a contract that binds that nation at every turn to scrutiny, sacrifice, participation and even disloyalty.
Happy Birthday, America.
Listening to: “Fourth of July,” X; “Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen
Reading: “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine; my college civics textbook