Sunday, July 09, 2006

Some Late July 4th Thoughts

I've been thinking about Independence Day. It's celebrated differently than other countries do their day of national founding.

Other countries mass large numbers of armed police and soldiers to parade past the population. These armed men are generally ordered to be there. They haven't a choice.

These parades are solemn, dignified ceremonies. They are intended to remind the population of the power of the state.

In the US, the celebration is largely a volunteer activity. Parades are held, of course, but they are generally organized by the civilian population, who generously invite members of the services to join in. But, they also invite the Scouts, local politicians, and schoolchildren. And just about anyone who wants to wave at their fellow residents.

In the US, the emphasis is on fun, informality, and enjoying the day. The parade is followed by sacrifices of large quantities of meat to a ritual fire, consumption of huge quantities of carbohydrates, washed down by sugar or alcohol, and followed by sloth in the extreme.

We shoot off fireworks. Until fairly recently (when fire departments, weary of rescuing civilians from the consequences of their ill-thought actions, took over the job), this was a individual activity. Can you imagine any other country letting its citizens have explosive devices? Originally, the former colonists just used rifles to make noise. One favorite activity of the new citizens was to shoot the rifle into a hollow tree - I haven't tried this, but I assume that the effect was to amplify the noise.

In America, the average citizen is not just permitted to be armed, it is his/her absolute right to own guns. Try that in most other countries. Just owning a gun in England can get an otherwise law-abiding subject hauled off to jail. I guess nobody reads George Orwell anymore in his homeland.

Other than a direct threat to commit violence against a public official, you're pretty much free to cuss him/her out. As long as you don't play too fast and loose with the facts, you can say just about whatever you want without penalty. You may risk loss of business or a job, but you won't suffer criminal penalties for your willingness to shoot off your mouth.

The phone company slogan "you're now free to move around the country" applies. We don't need internal passports, permission from a government entity, or anything - we're basically free to live where we have an inclination.

We can change jobs without paperwork. Other than contract jobs, we have few restrictions on changing jobs or careers. We can economically better ourselves by switching employers, or by starting our own business.

These freedoms come at a cost. Men have died to defend these freedoms. We might suffer from economic upheavals - bankruptcies, plant closings, company moves to other, more business-friendly regions of the country. It's easy to say we're free to take advantage of opportunity - it's quite another to venture into the unknown. Many, even in America, won't make those changes without a fight. Some only do under pressure. Look at New Orleans. The few who bit the bullet and left had stresses. Some returned. Others made a new life for themselves in another part of the country, and, in the process, learned some lessons about life change.

I recently had to move to secure employment, once I realized that many of the northeastern states were over-supplied with workers in my field. Was it easy? NO. Was it unbearable? NO.

Generations of Americans left comfortable lives to move to the frontiers. They did so, knowing they'd probably never see the people in their family again. Even if they survived the trip.

Think about it. I, or my husband, made 7-8 trips to visit each other in the last year. It wasn't totally cheap, but it was doable. Not so the pioneers. When they left, it was forever. It was too time-consuming and difficult, not to mention expensive, to return for a visit. I had to wait weeks between visits. They had to wait forever.

The amazing thing is that they did it.

In the words of Yakov Smirnoff, "What a country!"

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