Monday, July 04, 2011

Green Tea Party policy on national holidays

The Green Tea Party of the United States of The Milky Way recommends that all national holidays be abolished on the grounds that patriotism is unseemly, undignified and irrational, and because the celebration of nationhood serves to divide the human race into artificial and unnatural divisions that too often lead to warfare, closed borders and other forms of inhumanity. 
It seems fitting for the Green Tea Party to add this plank to its platform on July 4. For some reason, Americans have gotten into the habit of celebrating July 4, 1776 as the date when America was born. It is celebrated by those who don't know any better as the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, nothing important concerning the Declaration of Independence happened on July 4, 1776. The document was approved on July 2 by the Second Continental Congress, which John Adams predicted would be the date on which the birth of the new nation would be celebrated. It was not signed by anyone until August, and people dribbled in to add their signatures until November. So the document that Americans worship—the one with all the signatures—did not yet exist on July 4, 1776. (For more on common misconceptions and erroneous beliefs about the declaration of independence see the National Geographic website.)

Surely it makes no difference whether anything important happened on July 4, 1776. Patriotic sentimentality has little to do with historical accuracy. July 4 came to be the date for celebrating Independence Day in the United States, and to insist on any other date would be as pointless as insisting that Jesus of Nazareth was probably born in the spring rather than in December (if one is a Western European) or January (if one is an Eastern European). What's in a date? It's really the content of the Declaration of Independence that matters, not the date when it was voted on, or the date on which the first signature was affixed, or the date on which the final signature was affixed.

It is really with the contents of the Declaration of Independence that we of the Green Tea Party of the Milky Way have the strongest misgivings. The Declaration gets off to a very bad start in the opening paragraph.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

An axiom of the Green Tea Party it that it is never necessary for one people to dissolve its political ties with another. It is not only never necessary, it is rarely even advisable. While it is generally speaking a rash and foolish move for one people to dissolve its political association with another, it was certainly an unnecessary and imprudent move for the Second Continental Congress to make. That it was foolish is evidenced by the fact that it led to a war that was financially ruinous and that resulted in pointless deaths and injuries and loss of agricultural and industrial productivity. So while political separation from England was frivolous, the resultant war was a calamity from which it took the new nation decades to recover. Moreover, the entire sordid affair set a dangerous precedent of hot-headed recklessness rather than cool reflection and careful deliberation. The sooner the whole sorry mistake of the American revolution is forgotten, the better the United States, and indeed the entire world, will be.

After getting off to a most questionable and rocky start, the Declaration of Independence then ventures into unwarranted theological speculation with the following dubious claim:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This statement is so riddled with unsupportable assumptions that no rational man or woman could affirm it. First of all, no truths anywhere are self-evident. The very idea of truth is highly controversial. At best one can say that people concoct narratives to support their irrational desires, and the more improbable the narrative, the greater the temptation to call it self-evident or to attribute its authorship to a superhuman agency such as God. There is no evidence of any kind that men were created, so in the absence of such evidence, the authors declared it self-evident that men were created.

Not only were all men created, says the Declaration, but all men were created equal. That claim sounds appealing, but it can hardly be called a truth. It is at best a pious wish, a pathetic whimpering articulation of a desire that social realities could be other than they are. Nowhere in any society have all human beings had equal access to the resources of nature and human civilization. This sentence in the Declaration of Independence was penned by males, many of them slave-owners, hardly any of whom had any intention of including women in the political process, most of whom believed that only property owners should be allowed to vote. These were men who knew that not all human beings are in fact created equal, and most of whom would have staunchly resisted a society in which all members of the human race would be given equal access to nature's and human society's resources. The line was utter hypocrisy when it was written and remains so now by most people who recite it. It is a mantra falsely supposed to have magical powers.

If there is no evidence that all men were created, then there is surely no evidence that they had a Creator, let alone a Creator who endowed them with inalienable rights. There is no such thing as an inalienable right. Rights are dispensed by powerful human beings to those whom the powerful favor, and since the favor of the powerful is subject to change without notice, every right can be revoked with a simple act of pernicious will. The very idea of absolute rights is a farce, for all rights are contingent on the will of those who deign to tolerate some of the behavior of their fellow human beings. Rights are dispensed to those who pay tribute to those human beings who wield power over them. There is no justification for bringing the Creator into the picture, and nothing but unrealizable expectations can come from the mischievous claim that the Creator has endowed his creatures with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Earlier drafts of the Declaration had spoken of the pursuit of property, but fortunately a more felicitous piety was inserted in the final draft, even though it is probable that most of the men present really did believe that God had given them the right to take whatever property they could from the Indians.)

Life is clearly not inalienable. Every being that is born eventually dies, and death is alienation from life. Even if it could be granted that there was a Creator, and that She granted rights to her creatures, surely it would have to be conceded that the only inalienable right of anyone who is born is Death. So the claim that the Creator endowed every creature with the inalienable right to life is plainly false. It is another example of a wish that reality could be other than it is.

Liberty is also quite obviously not inalienable. Every human society has some mechanisms available for depriving those who do not act to commonly accepted norms of proper conduct of their liberty to continue acting. Human beings are being alienated from their liberty all the time through incarceration, banishment, exile, shunning, and ostracism. Some alienation from liberty is rationalized by an appeal to questionable claims of justice, but nearly all such claims are barely disguised exercises of the capricious use of power. Liberty is always alienable, and it can be seen as a right only when availing to it does not disturb the selfish pursuits of human beings who are in power.

This brings us to the pursuit of happiness. That phrase is, at the very best, a platitude. Of course anyone can try to be happy. Nothing exists to prevent a person from trying to be happy. But the obstacles that stand in the way of anyone actually attaining happiness in anything but short and infrequent bursts are, for the vast majority of human and other kinds of sentient beings, insurmountable. Given the sheer misery of most of human existence throughout all of recorded history, it would be a cruel joke to say that people have an inalienable right to happiness, and it is a meaningless verbal flourish to say that people have the right to pursue that which they have almost no chance of attaining.

The first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence are based entirely on either unverifiable assertions or demonstrably false claims. After saying that the Creator endowed all people with inalienable rights, the Declaration goes on to declare that it is the purpose of government to secure these rights. (But surely, if the rights were truly inalienable, there would be no need to devise human governments to secure them. Wasn't the Creator supposed to take care of that? Didn't the authors see that the call for human government was an obvious contradiction to what they had just said about inalienable rights?)

Next the claim is made that whenever any government is destructive of the allegedly inalienable rights, then people have a right to overthrow that government. This is a very Confucian idea, of course. The early Confucians claimed that when the Son of Heaven fails to carry out the will of Heaven, then the people have not only the right but the obligation to overthrow the failed Son and replace him with a Son who is more reverential toward the will of Heaven. But whether such an idea is articulated by a Confucian or a Deist like Thomas Jefferson, it is little more than a rationalization on the part of those whose anger has boiled over to such an extent that they have taken it upon themselves to seize power from those who have it and to wield it over a different set of unwilling victims.

The Declaration of Independence was a triumph of rhetoric over reason that led eventually to a rupture in the bonds of love that ideally bind all human beings together and that bind human beings to all other forms of life and to all non-living forms in the universe. It was a bad document when it was written. It was voted on and passed precipitantly, and it led to a disastrous war. Why anyone would want to celebrate such a series of failures is beyond all comprehension.

For this reason, the Green Tea Party of America, on this July 4, 2011, hereby declares the celebration of July 4 an act of folly that serves no useful purpose. And with the abolition of this national holiday, the Green Tea Party also abolishes Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. If people wish to take the day off to barbecue dead animals, drink insipid American beer and start wildfires with fireworks, then let them do so in the name of the pursuit of mindless and transient pleasures, but not on the pretense of honoring noble principles.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is a bit misleading to state "nothing important concerning the Declaration of Independence happened on July 4, 1776." That is, in fact, the day on which Congress voted to approve the document.

The larger point, that July 2 is more significant, is nonetheless well taken.