Capable Capable
Capable Capable

I sing of America

At the time of its inception, the Declaration of Independence was said to be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” (Written in a letter to his wife by John Adams, a signer of the Declaration and later the second American president.)

So it has come to pass. Kind of. We have the noise, games, sports and illuminations down pat. We love holidays. We buy symbols (flags and sparklers, for example) and host barbeques for our neighbors. But in general, holidays have been commercialized and are viewed merely as a “day off,” or “long weekend.” Sometimes, maybe often, what we’re actually commemorating is lost.

This country began as an unhappy ward of Great Britain. Indeed, declares the Declaration, "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.” While the Declaration also states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, . . .”  the signers’ immediate concern was their right to be equal to the king, no longer of lesser stature or lesser authority, and the belief of the people of the original 13 colonies that being taxed by a British Parliament to which they had no right to elect representatives was tyranny. The long struggle for inclusion was yet to begin, yet the seed of its fruition was planted.

In 1776, the rights of women, African Americans and Native Americans, for example, were not included by the signers. And now, almost two and a half centuries later, the American experiment in the sovereign individual’s right to and responsibility for a life of his or her own design is still a huge challenge for those at the effect of the politics of exclusion. 

Heedlessly or meanly, we still exclude others from this opportunity because of their race, or faith or ethnicity or sexual preferences, because we don’t want them to be equal to us and because the comfort of an oversized ego depends in large part on those we can judge inferior, shame and humiliate.

When we study autonomy and life, we adopt a philosophy of life intent on helping us with our executive capacity at enlightened self-rule. Note the word “enlightened.” On the one hand, we open our eyes to the historical struggle for inclusion. We overcome our blindness, complacency and indifference with respect to the fate of the excluded. On the other, we appreciate the efforts of those who have defended our nation’s political freedom, those who have done the hard work of building our institutions and those who have had the courage to speak up for those marginalized and treated unfairly.

In truth, America is a work in process. We all know it is not a paradise for everyone. Walt Whitman knew, just as we know, that the fate of each one of us is inextricably linked to the fate of all of us. Indeed, such is democracy. His poem, I Sing of America, also known as I Hear America Singing, was published in the 1880s.

As always I wish to express my appreciation for those intent upon forwarding America’s constitutional experiment in liberal democracy. Happy 4th of July! Let’s celebrate being an American together with the politics of inclusion. Do it your way. Fireworks, pomp, parades, baseball, beer and barbecues. Or quietly, in contemplation, with the fireworks in your heart and mind.

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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.