Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Why My Family isn't Celebrating Independence Day This Year

This has been a tough couple of years for having serious talks with your kids, if you haven’t noticed. And I don’t know about you, but my patriotism is not unconditional; the country has to make me proud before I can be proud of it. I feel it necessary not to indoctrinate my four daughters into a system of belief, but to try and make the condition of the world more visible to them and invite them to develop their own thoughts, or at least feel what developing your own beliefs might be like so they can get used to it. But I also like traditions: Santa at Christmas, the Tooth Fairy way too many times a year, and fireworks on The Fourth of July. But this year, I can’t get into the spirit. I think our country deserves to be celebrated only when it is making progress towards the words of Thomas Jefferson, and distancing itself from the ways in which Thomas Jefferson lived his life.

The fact is, I do believe in this country, but I don’t think we’ve been living there lately. Since its inception, the Unites States has been a country in need of constant reinvention. The guiding principles that founded this county were not practiced by even the enlightened minds who wrote them. I am generally forgiving of the fact that Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, assigning it progress that had yet been made. And I admire all the great things that Teddy Roosevelt did for progress, while putting aside his mostly despicable attitudes towards Native Americans. I do this because I understand that through social construction, we are often unable to see the ways in which our own unenlightened minds are able to overcome the age in which we live; who of us has not owned clothing made in a sweatshop or eaten chocolate picked by child slave labor? Our times own us, and it is our job to make progress, constantly liberating ourselves so that future generations can look back at us with the same disdain that we have when we learn that the man who wrote “All men are created equal” own hundreds of human beings and thought he was doing them a favor in doing so.

I do not forgive Jefferson for owning slaves; I forgive our country for progressing beyond the condition of slavery, beyond Jim Crow, and hopefully into an age when we no longer have to sloganize the value of Black Lives. Garbriel Garcia Marquez wrote that life obliges us to, over and over, give birth to ourselves. Washington called our country a great experiment for promoting human happiness, and like any good experiment, we have to get it wrong 10,000 times before we can get it right. The ideals that our founding fathers set forth were not realized in their lifetimes, nor in ours, but they have been the groundwork of positive social change, a guidebook for who we wish to be. That is the nature of this experiment.

But the call to Make America Great Again has, at the very least, reversed this experiment. We have stopped making progress. Yes, this July Fourth, I would go so far as to say that our country has not aged, it has regressed.

You don’t go back. If you’ve ever been in a relationship that works, you understand this principle. You never move backwards, but strive to build on the ground that is under you. Looking back and thinking that it is the direction we should head is the very definition of backwards. My decision to break tradition and not celebrate America this year isn’t about me being a Liberal; it’s about recognizing that our country has not progressed towards our stated goals. Our country has gone off track.

I work in Education. It is my firm belief that the reason to get an education doesn’t have to do with getting a job, but in self-betterment. Clearly, you don’t need an education to better yourself, and you can get an education without bettering yourself, but let’s stick to ideals. Ideally, becoming educated shows you this: You cannot trust “common sense.” Your common sense tells you that you are standing still on a flat surface, not traveling at nearly 1,000 miles an hour on a globe. Your common sense tells you that the chair you are sitting on is a solid object, not a collection of swirling particles and mostly empty space. Education tells you to put your common sense aside and look at things from a more elevated perspective, taking in not just what you see, but what you know. Common sense tells us that things used to be better, mostly because we look back and see the top 5% of our past. Then we create something that never existed, something perfect that seems attainable.

Our country, since 2017, has been asked to operate on common sense. Through this idea, we have embraced ignorance. We have been asked to put away what we know about the past and embrace an idea of what the past was that our culture and our nostalgia embraces. This has blossomed into a world where progress and the process of rebirthing ourselves has stalled out. As someone who has an idea of what the past was really like, I can only accept it if I think we are heading away from it, heading towards something new and closer to the ideals we were founded on.

That is why we are not celebrating our country this year. We are not marching away from the shady state of our past and towards its ideals. Instead, we have been bamboozled into marching backwards using idealized language. I will not embrace our past without leaving it there. I urge you to do the same.

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