Monday, July 4, 2022

not a hot July the Fourth

The temperature is rather temperate this week, so that's a good thing, but otherwise I was having a hard time feeling like celebrating. We suffered an attempted political coup directed from the highest levels of government last year, and too many people seem not to care; decades' worth of our rights are being stripped away in one massive attack by a group of maniacs; and the pandemic is still going on, marked by my friends' July Fourth party being canceled for the third year in a row. In the past few weeks, at least five people I know have caught the covid, and while none of them died or was even hospitalized, that's way too close for comfort.

But then I saw in the newspaper this article on the meaning of the Declaration's phrase "all men are created equal," and that was worth consideration.

First I'm delighted that nobody in it made the common but tiresome mistake of thinking that "equal" means "the same" and mocking the phrase because people are obviously not identical in personal attributes like talents or skills, or in material comforts. That's not what it refers to.

The immediate referent of the phrase in the Declaration was faith in the principle that, if the British people had representative government, the British colonists deserved it too. Unfortunately it's clear that Jefferson didn't mean everybody should have those equal rights: women, obviously; children; the poor; and, of course, slaves. But the same thing applied to that British representative government. Parliamentary seats hadn't been reapportioned since the Middle Ages, and all kinds of unpopulated places had representation while the new industrial towns were devoid. This was held up as a virtue. It was argued that if the legally unrepresented masses could consider themselves covered by the legislature, then it could cover the unrepresented colonies also, even though, unlike the industrial towns, they were 3000 miles and an ocean away.

So it's a little hard to say to the man who says, yes, all are created equal but that doesn't mean gay people have the right to marry whom they want, that no, that's unJeffersonian. It's wrong, but it's not pure hypocrisy. On the other hand, the ones who say that if all are created equal then we don't have to address inequality have missed the point. Addressing inequality is why the Declaration was written.

A little food for thought on this holiday.

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