Kadner: Pledging their lives, honor for dream of self-government
PHIL KADNER firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 July 3, 2012 9:58PM
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:24AM
Today we celebrate rebellion, anarchy and the revolutionary idea that all people are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Fourth of July was my father’s favorite holiday.
Not because of the fireworks or barbecues but because it celebrated what he believed made this country stand out from all others.
He had fought for the United States in World War II and believed he had learned hard lessons about what happens when governments control people instead of people controlling their government.
Yet, like many Americans, he had a blind patriotism that prevented him from seeing the pitfalls of Vietnam or imagining the megalomania of Richard Nixon.
Those sorts of things couldn’t happen here, he told me. And he refused to acknowledge them for a long time when they did.
Bad things, really bad things, can happen in any country anywhere, especially when the people in leadership are given too much power.
That is the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. They understood history. And they tried to create a country where power was divided equally between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Contrary to what you might have learned in grade school, they did not trust the people very much. Property owners could vote. But not poor people, blacks or women.
If you read the writings of Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin and to a lesser extent John Adams, you will see that they understood the masses could be swayed by propaganda, misinformation and appeals to bias.
What impresses me about these revolutionary leaders as I get older is not only their insight into human nature but their bravery. Not their physical courage in taking up arms, but their moral courage to speak their minds.
I often talk to people with grievances against their government (a mayor, school board or congressman) who live in fear.
“Don’t use my name or I’ll lose my job,” they will say.
Or “don’t use my name because I don’t want any trouble.”
The people who fought for your right to speak your mind were risking their property and their lives. In most cases, their families were at risk as well.
“Well, it was for a great cause,” you might say.
Not really. It was about taxes and profits. And it was about the right of a man to have a fair trial before being imprisoned. It was about representative government.
And most of all it was about the right to speak your mind.
Our Founding Fathers were not fearless. They feared a lot of things. But they knew that freedom came with a price.
They were also well-informed. It’s surprising to me how ill-informed people are today, despite the wealth of information available on the Internet, television, radio, news magazines, etc.
Jefferson believed that if all manner of ideas were allowed in the marketplace, the people would eventually be able to determine the difference between what is true and what is not.
Given the number of totally false, blast emails I receive each day, I’m not so sure about that.
I often respond to such emails by pointing out to the sender that the information is absolutely wrong and urging him to send out a correction.
Out of the hundreds of emails I’ve replied to in this way, I have received exactly one apology from a sender, who promised to never again spread gossip and lies without first checking the source.
The response from everyone else was either silence or something that equated to “so what?”
People will believe what they want to believe. I believe it’s called “cognitive dissonance” in psychology.
People get confused by conflicting messages, so they tune out those that trouble them and accept only the ideas that conform to their preconceived notions of the world.
Good citizenship is hard work. It’s easy to blame politicians for whatever problems arise, as if they were part of a foreign government elected by strange people no one understands. It’s much harder to accept some responsibility.
I can tell you this — as bad as things may seem today, they are not nearly as bad as they once were.
I have been reading the biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Clarence Darrow, both of whom helped spearhead separate third-party movements.
Among the crazy ideas they advocated were national medical care, the right for women to vote, Social Security for the elderly and rights for working people.
Back in those days, Americans blew up buildings and killed people because they felt industrialists controlled the government.
Discontent with our nation’s leaders is nothing new.
“We mutually pledge together our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” concludes the Declaration of Independence, signed by the representatives of the colonies.
How many of us today would say the same?