America: A Nation Founded on ‘You Think You’re Better than Me?’

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“…all men are created equal…”

Do you know why there is a queen in England?

Because she claims to be directly descended from Adam.

Seriously. That’s the claim giving royalty the authority to claim itself royalty: there is a direct line of succession back to the first man, who lived in the vicinity of the Garden of Eden – a place no one can find.

Now, for rational people and philosophers (the two are not synonymous), this is a bit much. Hell, I could claim to be from Adam. Assume I have divine providence and do my bidding! No? Fine.

It came to pass, some 240 years ago or so, that a lot of folks became suspicious of these claims that monarchies ruled because God wanted them to, and it dawned on folks that monarchies got to do whatever they wanted because, well, we let them.

So they got to tax whatever they wanted to tax, send soldiers wherever they wanted, live in palaces while their people lived in hovels, yadda yadda yadda.

But, there are no kings. None of us are superior. Though we possess certain skills may be sharper than others, this does not give us any special sense of authority. I can write you a multi-page essay on almost any given topic in under an hour, sure, but I can’t fix the stairs on my own fucking porch. It’s pitiful. I’m scared of doing more damage than good. I tried to replace the head gasket on my ’97 Cutlass Supreme one time. The car was never the same after that. Am I any better than a carpenter or mechanic? No. I tried to work retail one time. Sold books and DVDs and CDs. Well, tried to, anyway. I have no idea how to sell a battery-powered booklight to someone who already owns a lamp. Does that mean that the fine folks at Kmart are better than me? No.

But just because I’m smart, witty and charming (seriously, everyone says so), that doesn’t make me any better than them, either. For all I know, they may also be smart, witty and charming. Just not toward me.

Americans agree on less and less these days. The gulf between liberals and conservatives, political groups – even television audiences – has grown so wide that it’s become ever more impossible to see the rationale on the opposite shore.

Still, there are some things that I think we can still agree are rather self-evident. We’re all created equal, for instance. And we’re endowed by our Creator – whomever or whatever we fancy He or She to be – with some inalienable rights, like life, liberty and the ownership of property.

What, you say? Ownership of property? Where’d that come from?

John Stewart Mill, actually. Oh, yeah, that whole first part of the Declaration of Independence? T.J. totally ripped that off from Mill. And everyone there knew he didn’t come up with that on his own, too, because they’d read Mill’s Second Treatise on Government themselves and were well aware of the philosophical underpinnings of the document, which itself was viewed by the Continental Congress as a somewhat trivial bit of accounting. Even that date at the top that we celebrate – July 4th, 1776 – is a bit misleading, since the document wasn’t formally approved until the next day, July 5th.

Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s some really good shit in there. I mean, besides the whole “all men are created equal” stuff. For instance, there’s a long, long list of all the reasons the American colonies sought not simply to gain some semi-autonomy, vis-a-vis Canada, but a clear and absolute separation from the English crown: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

What’d King George do? Well (with commentary), I submit…

  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. (So judges no longer could decide cases that might be arbitrary to the interests of the king.)
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. (Imagine if, all of a sudden, you had a dozen or so tax collectors knocking on your door and taking not only all your cash, but all your food, too.)
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. (Even now, we hate living in a police state.)
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. (Soldiers run amuck, basically.)
  • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: (This is actually addressed eventually in the Bill of Rights – imagine if you had to house and feed a whole patrol of troops, letting them eat your food and ogle your wife and daughters. You’d be pissed, too.)
  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: (Soldiers run amuck, again.)
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: (The king blockaded the port at Boston, damn near starving the whole city because he was mad at them.)
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: (That’s a big one. Ask the residents of the District of Columbia about that today.)
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: (Once again, the judiciary essentially served at the pleasure of the king.)
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. (Once your king starts making war against you instead of protecting him, his last argument for why he should be your king is pretty much voided.)
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. (The king really did this. A lot.)
  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. (He brought in paid professional soldiers to terrorize people. That’s just not cricket.)

Now, there’s some pretty serious shit on that list. And it went on for a while before the colonists decided to ditch this whole monarchy thing and start something akin to an elected government. They put up with this shit for a while. Severing ties with the most powerful nation on the planet is a pretty serious undertaking, and it took some serious infractions to get a majority of colonists on the same page, convinced that going through hell to have their own nation would be worth it.

Even then, it was an imperfect union, and the differences have seldom been settles in a polite and civil manner. A civil nation does not, for instance, within a century undertake an internal feud that pits states against states and results in well in excess of half a million casualties. And then we fight on about our races, genders, sexual preferences, etc., etc.

But there’s some things we still have in common. Mostly, for instance, we agree that we’re essentially a nation of mongrels and mutts. Heraldry and title don’t really matter – we’re not “Sir” or “Lady” or “Duke.” We’re mostly the product of castoffs from other countries, places that didn’t want our kind. Also, if you piss us all off at once, God help you. Ask Japan, Germany and even Afghanistan how that’s worked out. If there’s one thing we’ve always done pretty well, it’s pick a fight. And even if it’s not going well, that’s not going to stop us (see: Vietnam War; War of 1812; etc.).

After a great many years of social evolution and starts and stops, we’re nearing a truer sense of equality for our citizens. Less and less are we concerned with the tangibles that make us difference — race, sex, sexual preference — and more with economic injustice, ideological differences and other intangible matters. Because black or white, gay or straight, man or woman, we strive still to realize that we’re all created equal — or at least more or less so.

And while we watch in awe as the royals “over there” wed and make babies and divorce and are scandalized for nude romps in Vegas resorts, by and large we’re pretty much OK with not having a monarchy ourselves, or even allowing any one person enough power to get much done.

Because any claim that Prince Harry is a distant grandson of Adam is bunk, and we know it. And while we don’t agree which course our nation should take, we do agree that’s a question only we should decide. So we lumber on under our great – perhaps misbegotten – experiment, voting and begrudgingly living with the decisions made by the idiots and charlatans we voted for (or didn’t).

So happy Independence Day, you nation of mutts, of the debris from other nation’s teeming shores. Happy July 4th, you citizens of experiment, you princes of no one and nowhere.

And just because you can probably fix my porch doesn’t mean you’re better than me! Though I am taking estimates…

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