Pondering Happy Independence · 5 July 2007
Since starting this blog, I tend to view holidays as opportunities to try out new and exciting food on unsuspecting crowds. So, I was really looking forward to doing something fun for the 4th of July. Imagine my chagrin when I learned I had been assigned to bring . . . the watermelon.
In retrospect, it was a good assignment. I barely managed to get to the store to purchase said watermelon, and managed to forget all sorts of other important things (like towels, sun block, and shoes) in the packing process.
While I haven’t had much time to do any recreational reading or cooking, I have driven 700 miles in the past week (ugh), so I’ve had plenty of time to think. On the various car trips leading up to the celebration, NPR spent a bit of time covering the 4th of July holiday. As our national holiday, it deserved a bit of attention.
One of the questions I usually ask myself about holidays is what we’re really celebrating. You can read the archives and see that my feelings about the observance of things is that many holidays have evolved into days where we appreciate our current life, rather than the original intent of the holidays. The 4th of July is no exception. After 231 years, we’re not so much celebrating independence from the King of England, as we’re celebrating the continuation of the American way of life. This, of course, begs the question, “Just what is the American way of life these days?”
Obviously, the answer will be different depending on the person you’re asking. But, two themes that I found prevalent in listening to the celebratory speeches and coverage of the holiday were “freedom” and “independence.” It struck me this year that people are bandying those terms around as unarguable truths and virtues of the country. They have become magic words, words that cannot be questioned, lest you be seen as un-American.
Yet the Declaration of Independence never mentioned freedom (it included liberty which was more narrowly defined), and mentioned independence only in the context of independence from an inattentive political ruling body. On the other hand, other documents of the time mentioned American virtues such as a well informed and active voting populace. With voter turnout currently averaging 54% and continuing to drop, that expectation is no longer part of our national identity. On the upside, it’s no longer culturally acceptable to own slaves. American ideals have changed over the years and the modern rhetoric of freedom of personal choice and independence has gradually evolved with these ideals.
What has drawn my attention lately is the constant clamoring for freedom and the equally stringent political rhetoric against freedom. Freedom means having choices. Inherent in having choices is the infamous ability not to make a choice, and the freedom to make bad choices. Freedom also means taking the responsibility to deal with those choices. Without responsibility, freedom becomes meaningless, and results in stagnation and apathy.
When I was originally envisioning this blog article, I was intending to talk about economic freedom, to show that a type of freedom is in making choices that make us independent from those we don’t wish to support, and to illustrate my own slight steps towards independence by continuing to grow my herbs (Hey, at $1.69 a pop, not having to buy herbs is quite a feat of economic freedom for me). I was intending to tie this into the increased clamoring for government provided services, such as national health care. But, as I was driving to work this morning, I was reminded of a recent story that I felt needed to be discussed in the light of freedom and independence, but not in the traditional manner.
On April 18, 2007 the Supreme Court upheld a state’s right to ban “partial birth abortion”. As part of the court’s opinion, narrative accounts of women who regretted having an abortion were cited. I know that the abortion debate is one which people have very strong opinions about. I’m not going to discuss the merits of being pro-life or pro-choice here. What I do want to discuss is the fact that the Supreme Court has just used the fact that women might make a choice they’ll regret, and inferred that women should be “protected” from that choice as part of a legal argument.
Welcome to the real world everyone. Freedom requires choice. Choices have two sides. We’re human and we don’t always make the right choices. We regret; we grieve; we have bad days. We go on with life, hopefully learning something in the experience.
I know that there are some things I regret. Do I for a second wish that the state had “protected” me from making the “wrong” choice by legislating my ability to do so away from me? No way.
No matter what your viewpoint on the abortion issue, if this part of the rationale for the decision doesn’t scare you silly, you should think about the wider repercussions. How long will it be until other choices are taken away from us? How long before the definition of freedom, that unalienable right of today’s American society goes the way of the definition of the white male landowner as the only person able to vote? How long until the generation being raised doesn’t even realize that what we consider freedom has been taken from them?
I ate my watermelon yesterday afternoon and I enjoyed it. I hope that twenty years from now, I’ll enjoy the sweet taste of freedom on a 4th of July just as much as I did this year.
On a lighter note, the photographs are of my budding herbs (the original subject matter of this post).