In the barrage of recent events, Independence Day invites self-reflection on the history and values that we associate with this hallowed holiday.
Diverse expressions of dissent related to COVID-19, racial issues, and national interest clearly expose contentious rifts in the landscape of America’s identity. It’s ironic that these conflicting viewpoints are commonly derived from aspirations imbedded in the nation’s origins – foremost, individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Americans are renowned for independent thinking, articulated in the landmark essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841). Resisting conformity and following one’s instincts as perceived in an “every-man-for-himself” world have been espoused for much of America’s history.
Related residual views still predominate among various divisive groups, serving as a vaguely understood basis of self-respect. Yet, intertwined social, economic, and technological changes that have occurred since these tenets of American identity were formed require that we adapt them to new circumstances.
If we are to advance America’s promise in the 21st century, such “tribal” allegiances must be replaced by shared concern for the reciprocal consequences of our choices – across all creeds, races, and partisan divides.
Personal liberty depends on a vigorous, respectful society which requires tempering the excesses of what might be called a “frontier ethic” whose practitioners are often skeptical of science and unsympathetic toward other groups – including racial minorities and migrants.
Forfeiting fantasized freedoms is essential if we hope to restrain COVID and other diseases, restore our ravaged global environment, and establish lasting social justice.
Achieving an equitable and robustly interdependent society with mutually beneficial opportunities requires that past prejudices, exploitations, and antagonisms be cast aside. A revitalized sense of the common good must inspire our vision instead of partisan power.
To honor America’s consecrated ideals, we must struggle for independence from the oppressive dogmatism that degrades our country’s worthy prospects.
~ David Kyler, Co-Founder & Co-Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast