Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth

There's nothing easier than confusing the symbol with the thing itself--with thinking that the paper money in your pocket is somehow more important and valuable than, say, the food in your shopping cart; or believing that you are fighting for a flag, and not for the people and the ideals behind it.

It's July 4. Here is the thing itself:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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.
It's easy to miss the fact that "all men are created equal" and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" contain terrible contradictions when put together--and that our entire American life is built on the tensions between these contradictions. How do we keep the dynamic tension between equality and pursuit of happiness, when that pursuit will often put us at odds with each other, competing for the same things? We may be equal in rights, but we are not the same in talents or drive. No matter how much equality of opportunity we legislate, there will never be equality of outcomes. Nor should there be. And yet, how do you keep that inequality of results from becoming so permanent that the next generation has no equality of opportunity?

It's also easy to forget how confrontational this document was--not only with King George, but also with any government that was going to follow it. It plainly and clearly states that government has no power or authority other than that which we give it--and that we can remove it any time we like.

What I find so fascinating is that this government has not fallen--has not been attacked and replaced--while so many others, in so many other countries, have. Perhaps there is nothing healthier for a government than to be constantly reminded how vulnerable and conditional it is.

It's something we've seemed to forget during the reign of King George IV, these past eight years.

And will we remember it again? Will our children understand it? Well...let me ask you this: how many teenagers can actually read the damned thing? If we had scrapped every high school graduation reading test in the country and replaced it with the Declration of Independence and few questions asking students to analyze it and demonstrate comprehension (and I have no problem stating that no one should be able to graduate from American high school without demonstrating comprehension of this document) how many students would have passed, this year?

We the people have some serious work to do.

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