It’s the Fourth of July, an excuse for me to remember my ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence: Francis Hopkinson. Their fireworks meant something completely different. Flashes in the night sky followed by window-rattling booms were signs that the British were coming. They fought for freedom, and while I prefer the “pursuit of happiness” part, I also know that they had business in mind. I wonder what they would do in our situation and what we would do in theirs. I wonder what we will do with ours. Do we return to social safety nets and rational markets, or do we revolutionize the world again? If anyone in 1776 correctly predicted where the US would be in 2012 it was probably by luck or clairvoyance.
Their call to action came from white men, most of whom were in their thirties and forties, and who were positioned to have attained a position as Delegates to Congress. They weren’t all rich, but I suspect that if they were poor it was from the debts faced by all farmers and merchants. They fought tyranny to attain freedom. Citizens didn’t abolish monarchs; especially, monarchs that commanded the world’s pre-eminent army and navy. It was unheard of (but the Magna Carta should’ve been a good hint.) What Congress did was radical, and continues to be the role model for regime changes. Their courage was personal. If they failed they’d be executed. Well, maybe that part hasn’t changed.
The total population of the thirteen colonies was 2,400,000. Metropolitan Seattle encompasses over 3,000,000. Spread that out over the entire east coast. In 1776, simply showing up was a major event. It was easier to stand out because there were fewer who were available to attend anything besides their crops or businesses. The commute to Congress took weeks for some delegates. Dropping by or Skyping in wasn’t going to happen. Considering the small population, it is amazing how many of them were well-educated, wise, and like I said above, courageous.
Today’s call to action is more diverse and our situation is more complex. If nothing else, more people are involved.
Prepare for a list of somes.
- Some people probably think that nothing needs to be done, that if everything will recover back to normal if we just give it time. Plenty of the traffic on facebook walls and twitter feeds suggests that many people are simply trying to get on with their lives, but that was true in 1776 (but walls and feeds meant something else).
- Some people are moving the levers of power behind the scenes, using influence and intrigue to affect change. Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of secret societies, which he subsequently made public in his autobiography.
- Some think that comedy or hyperbole is the way to address contentious issues, or at least to get the discussion moving past roadblocks. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, meet Thomas Paine.
There are plenty of similarities, but there are also differences that make the outcome harder to predict.
- Our conversation is no longer local. When the colonies broke away, they had the hope of being largely self-sustaining. The adage may be that all politics is local, but now the affects are more likely to be global. If one state or nation bans something, but another makes it legal, there will be migrations. When a disaster strikes Japan, businesses around the world feel the break in their supply lines and consumers can’t get certain products. Debris and pollution spread just as far as before, but the quantities and consequences are far greater. Fortunately, the support flows in from around the planet because we are much more aware of each other now.
- More people are involved in the debates and notice the consequences. A population of over 300,000,000 Americans means over 300,000,000 opinions even if some of them are trying to use prescribed talking points. Consensus is tough enough in a two person relationship. No wonder we have a tough time getting to an agreement. No wonder compromise may be the only path to solutions. Unfortunately, compromise is out of fashion.
- Debates – wait a minute, we don’t debate anymore – anyone trying to fully understand an issue today has to either devote an academic level of research to the task, accept a lot of the background on trust, or draw boundaries around the issue at the range of their familiarity. Legalizing marijuana is an issue of personal freedom, legal jurisdiction, health relief, health care, foreign drug wars, hemp fabric production, taxation, and economic. The definitions of life and death were simpler in 1776, but now we know more about what’s happening in the womb, how to fertilize eggs outside the body, and the nature of stem cells, can cure major illnesses, compensate for major traumas, and extend life to the point that it is hard to recognize. Who’s life is it when we haven’t agreed upon a definition of life? And if life is that precious, do we only consider human life?
Last week’s Money And Life conference at Whidbey Institute was more about the money side of the balance; but that is no less complicated. I’ll post more about that after some of the content becomes public, which at least means after Katie Teague’s movie, Money & Life, premieres (and by the way, she’d appreciate donations to finish producing the final cut.) It is apparent that economies, currencies, commodities, luxuries, and necessities are seriously out of balance; and that bringing them into balance involves species-wide consequences. No wonder the European Union is in such disarray. No wonder Kyoto, Rio, and Copenhagen haven’t created global solutions that are enthusiastically pursued and completed.
The Occupy Movement represents just as likely a path to solution. Alvin Toffler’s book, Powershift, suggested that governments would become anachronisms when information became more important than geographical borders. Some people, some individuals, are creating ways to find their own solutions. They are joining together to learn, and the dispersing to enact their independent variations on those solutions. Independence is a powerful tool, and now it can be applied with more awareness of our interdependencies.
As an optimist, I see many possible positive paths to appealing futures. As a realist and someone aware of the mathematics behind systems, I expect us to witness traumatic economic, environmental, and societal upheavals. As an investor, I keep in mind, that if publicly traded corporations continue to exist, that those with positively disruptive solutions are probably going to be in high demand – and so will their stocks. If only I didn’t have to sell stock in the meantime. (Got a job for an aerospace engineer that understands finance, trends, and how to write?)
As an islander, it is time to get out my bike and head over to the Maxwelton Fourth of July Parade. I’ll be part of the Occupy Your Bike troupe, squad, fleet, whatever. Registration is easy. Show up. Ride. Smile. Celebrate our independence and our community. Celebrate our solutions (we won’t be the only group with an idea) and have fun doing it. Happy Birthday America. And thank you, Francis Hopkinson. Did you know how this would turn out? Do any of us?