Happy 4th of July. There’s a lot of hype now for “the lazy days of summer.” For example, this themed message from Harper’s magazine: “Set off the fireworks in your head. This Independence Day, skip the Roman candles and set off the synapses in your brain with a subscription to Harper’s. It’s safe and legal.” And speaking of legal, more than 9 tons of illegal fireworks have already been confiscated.
Granted, the 4th of July is not as commercially utilized as other holidays. Yet, for many, it has little to do with its original intent. Then again, who of us doesn’t like a day off?
Indeed, what are we celebrating? Traditionally, the United States has honored its decision to declare independence from rule by Great Britain on July 4. This parting was not easily won. Preceded by years of unrest and violence, the Revolutionary War began in earnest—with the shot heard ‘round the world—on April 19, 1775, with the battles of Lexington and Concord.
(In addition to the American Revolution, the proverbial “shot heard ‘round the world” has become associated with other historical events such as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo said to have sparked World War I, and the game winning home run by New York Giants Bobby Thomson to win the National League Pennant in 1951.)
According to patriots, poets and historians, the Revolutionary War was a war unlike any other—one of ideas and ideals—and it catalyzed American independence and shaped the “course of human events.” In the period of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), approximately 6800 Americans were killed during the battles and another 17,000 died from disease. The majority of the latter died while prisoners of war of the British, mostly in the prison ships in New York Harbor.
With picnics, barbecues, parties and flags, we also traditionally mark the 4th to celebrate the birth of this country—its people free, no longer subjects of the Crown.
But freedom is never easy, is it? While we are no longer subject to monarchal or colonial rule, we are subjects. We are subject not only to the living system’s constant fight for survival and by its need to control at least emotional if not literal territory, but also to the transformative value system that frames America’s autonomy.
The authorship of autonomy we enjoy amounts to standing who we are on the conditions of our subjectivity, that is, standing on what we are. But the stability of this standpoint is not fixed. While vulnerable to our nature, this stability can be and is strengthened by our self-knowledge.
In sum, the transformative value system that frames America’s autonomy is the generic author of the individual author of our lives. We are challenged by the value-set of autonomy, that is the practices that regulate our participation. Engaging in its skill-set of responsibility—its regulative selfhood—accounts for the transcendentally positioned, authentically unified presence of ourselves in our consciousness.
I know you are well aware of where you come from naturally and philosophically, and I am confident that you know, too, of the both noble and exploitive history, and the bloody sacrifice that situated you, here, now, in America, today. I think of every moment as an historical one and a timely one. In each, we can demonstrate creative control of our verbal practices (think, listen, speak, act, feel, read and write) and author the author of our American citizenship. To author the author is to call on the value system which we refer to as the generic framework of autonomy and, in so doing, honorably create authority, and animate and grace the normative values we share.
Let me close with poignant words by mid-century Black writer and poet, Langston Hughes: Let America be America again. O, yes I say it plain/America never was America to me/and yet I swear this oath—America will be.