Friday, August 1, 2014

Fourth of July, 2014

I'm almost a month late getting this up. Since I started this blog with a Fourth of July essay, seems I should observe the Fourth this year. So. Here's the Fourth of July editorial I published in the Free Fredonia Times #27 (with a little editorial touch-up for the occasion).  I want to add just one point, a point I dared not make in the Times. If you want to look for a "message" in the film I'm recommending, The Lone Ranger, listen to Tonto: "Comes a time good man must wear mask."Thinking about this point got me looking back at my first Fourth of July post; still and again relevant.

Editorial – Reflections on the 4th of July

Happy? Birthday USA

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. –Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.

Happiness a right? No, we have only the right to pursue happiness. But there is a catch here, if you care at all about “original intent.” For Jefferson, “true happiness” lay not in the mere satisfaction of personal desires or in simply enjoying a pleasurable life. The pursuit of happiness was the exercise of an innate “moral sense” recognizing that personal safety and well-being depend on just and equitable social and civic relationships. In a late letter listing his philosophic principles, Jefferson wrote: Happiness the aim of life.Virtue the foundation of happiness.

Some scoff at such high-minded rhetoric coming from someone (and the rest of the Signers) who owned slaves and who chose to count only white property-owning male persons as being equally deserving of such rights. I say at least let’s give them credit for establishing an ideal our country has been in the process of fully realizing for yea these many years. However, it seems to me proper on the Fourth to consider how much or how far our country has actually progressed in achieving the ideals of the Declaration. Is our country, as a whole or as a population of individuals, pursuing “true happi-ness?” Does it count for or against, for example, that we have now reached the point where we consider not just all human persons as deserving rights, but corporations as well?

I confess that while I would like to whole-heartedly wish Happy Birthday! USA, my country seems to me to be less and less pursuing true happiness. But I do always try to look on the bright side. So just let me recommend the The Lone Ranger, the 2013 film starring Johnny Depp. Jefferson likely got the phrase “pursuit of happiness” from one of his chief intellectual heroes, John Locke (in the Essay on Human Understanding, 1690). So seeing the to-be Lone Ranger at the beginning of this film carrying as his "scripture" instead of a Bible John Locke’s Treatise on Civil Government tips you off to the seriousness of this funny fable, based on a true history of the making of America.

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