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Should Americans Apologize to Britons for 1776?

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Recently I post my texts on Medium as well. Recognizing the popularity of this emerging forum, I wrote a polemic with the text posted there.

Mike Meyer presents an apocalyptic vision of the United States collapsing. He blames the unnamed oligarchs “driven by greed,” generic “incompetent management and unbound greed in deformed capitalism,” undefined “neoliberal economy,” and “incompetence and insanity” without telling us who is incompetent and insane, and why. Remarkably, he sees the reasons for this collapse outside of his powers and responsibilities. This spirit is exactly the opposite of what the revolution of 1776 was all about.

In 1776 Americans concluded that “all Men are created equal.” Today, when this sounds banal and obvious, we do not realize the gravity of this statement. It went against the established consensus that social structures had been given by superior powers and that people should live their lives in whatever social class they had been born into. The same Americans who dared to challenge the world by saying that “all Men are created equal” needed about 100 years to live fully by this idea themselves – until 1865, when they abolished slavery. They needed an additional 100 years to give people of all races and religions the same right to immigrate to America. The racial restrictions to our immigration laws were removed in 1965.

Hence, when we see the problems of today, as Mr. Meyer is pointing out, the most important thing is not that we have problems; the most important is what we do about them. Often, when reading texts criticizing the problems of American society, I get an impression that critics yearn for a society that is living in a blissful harmony, where everything is almost perfect. I have bad news to all looking for a social equilibrium – perfection is in heaven; one needs to die first before getting there. On our earthly plane, suffering and sweaty work are our destiny.

The hopelessness of the fatalist transpiring from the text of Mike Meyer is simply immoral. The moral imperative is to conduct our lives in a way that we make the world around us slightly better the day we die than it was the day we were born. Mike Meyer does not see our problems as challenges inspiring him to do something to better the world around him. He sees them as “the massive March 11 tsunamis in Japan.” For him, the world around him is run by magically superior forces that we, humble humans, cannot do anything about. He ends his text with some sort of generic revolutionary invocation, asking people for unspecified action but warning that “Compromise is surrender to these people.” He means those unnamed oligarchs. It sounds like a veiled call for an unspecified revolution.

Sadly, in his irrationality of a catastrophist, Mr. Meyer writes about real problems. Something went wrong in our lovely United States of America. In 1776 Americans were given the liberty to pursue their happiness any way they pleased. They did, and in the process, they built the greatest nation in human history. What happened, and why today do we have a “deformed capitalism” as Mike Meyer calls it? Capitalism as we know it did not exist in 1776; the term was coined about 80 years later. But the ideas of personal liberties, freedom to conduct economic activities, had been crucial to the success of capitalism in the United States. In this sense, capitalism in the United States was the best realization of the ideas of free men pursuing their way to happiness.

Technicians dealing with complicated devices have a saying that when everything seems to fail, read the manual. When the problems around us seem to be overwhelming us, looking back at the Declaration of Independence, at the Constitution and at the writings of the Federalists should be the first step. Each generation needs to do that, in order to understand how the very ideas that define the nation apply to us here and now.

We still celebrate the Fourth of July, but many, Mike Meyer among them, do not look at the ideas of 1776 in order to understand what went wrong, and whether these ideas are still valid for us today. It did not occur to him to seek a solution to our problems by learning and understanding the basic concepts that are the foundation of our nation. I doubt that he is in favor of sending a letter to Queen Elizabeth II with apologies for what our ancestors did to King George III, but his condemnation of the United States and his refusal to reach to the ideas of 1776 mean that the logical step is to apologize to Britons for 1776, and all of these capitalistic problems originating from there.

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