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“Don’t just do something: stand there!”

Douglas Hofstadter, in the third volume of his philosophy of human consciousness titled I Am A Strange Loop, laid out a model of the mind he called the “careenium.” Rather than searching out “the seat of the soul,” he observed molecular interactions directing human action. If the brain is a molecular  machine, then Hofstadter’s book presents the machine watching itself and  communicating its observations to us. Today the activities of homo sapiens have created a planetary culture that feels like the macro-“careenium.” There is so much activity without much volition from or for us, the scrambled molecules.

The question I am working on here is the same one that Marx and Engels addressed: How do the powerful rise, and why do the subjugated remain subjugated for so long? What can one person be in all this mess? Can we only watch helplessly as the farce of empire plays out repeatedly like planetary botulism?

In our nation, now so early in the new millennium, the ideals voiced in the founding documents have gotten pretty muddy. The Declaration sent over to George III (poor, benighted man) had a “libertarian” flavor, tinged with “egalitarian” sentiment. We Rebels wanted ownership of our land and commerce, free from the “protection” of the Crown. At that time one could still refer to the Magna Carta and get some recognition among reasonable British subjects. The abuses of royal power had impressed our forefathers and mothers with their lack of standing in the Empire, and the documents they drafted reflected that.

I understand, at this distance, what was important for George, his Parliament and his military. The Treasury was supported by commerce with the colonies, and commerce was enforced by the Navy—at considerable expense (viz., Pirates of the Caribbean). The Americas were not bringing proper return on investment, and had to be brought to heel. Parliament, both the House of Lords and the raucous Commons, were constantly upset by those fractious American Colonials attempting to have their own way.

With the success of the Revolutionary War, we took on a national identity distinct from Britain, yet very British in the conduct of business and government.  It was an English baron, John Dalberg-Acton, who said, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even the US motto, E Pluribus Unum, has an authoritarian feel that put a strain on our idealism. Central banking and federal taxation chafed us nearly as much as colonial subjugation. In writing the first ten amendments to our Constitution (now so tortured), the Convention of 1789 bowed to the wisdom of delegates, especially the delegates from New York. They had experience trading with the rest of the world, as well as evidence regarding the evils which would corrupt our national character. Almost 100 years later, Abraham Lincoln was obliged to conduct a war to preserve that uncomfortable union.

This July 4, as we celebrate  the declaration of our independence, it would be refreshing to try on the “Spirit of 1776.” How with great trepidation, those whom the founders permitted to be full participants in political decision-making chose to become “Enemies of the Crown” and pledged together “our lives, our fortunes and our Sacred Honor.” Let us dwell in the Colonial mindset and view our modern selves not as “Lords of the Sea” but as actors in an evolving Patriot Dream which no slogan can encompass, and no demagogue can enslave.

The state is essentially a document. The nation is a great number of people united in purpose and pledged to one another for life. There is no monarch to receive our Declaration, and no single enemy worthy of armed opposition. “Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” Here is the oft-repeated lesson of world domination: if we fail in vigilance and react too late to the fearful force of oppression, loss of liberty is the consequence.

Fred Silsby is a recovering philosopher and a resident in downtown Olympia, volunteering in various ways  to counteract the force of social gravity on the remains of his careening mind.


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