Independence came to us via ink….in a way. In the small city-state of Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press launched humanity into the modern world. Prior to the 1500s, most of humankind lived under the thumb of the King, the Tribal Leader, the Bishop.
The explosive spread of ideas and information enabled by mass production of printed material slowly undermined the majestic authority of the monarchy, the tribe, and the church. This laid the groundwork for the rise of the nation-state as a means for organizing people.
Nearly three centuries later a group of thinkers met in Philadelphia to formalize the idea that the individual is sovereign. In the City Of Brotherly Love, these men put down on paper that at the pinnacle of society sits each of us and our personal connection to our creator. The job of the government is to protect this relationship so that we may follow our unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Several centuries after that summer in Philly, the internet and all that it spawns is undermining the majestic authority of many institutions we assumed would always exist. Consider how fast the ability for people to connect one-to-one is destabilizing institutors such as newspapers, taxis, education, even the government. Formal national defense is less and less about protecting physical locations and more about dominating the digital space. Gunpowder and split atoms are no longer necessary to bring about the downfall of a nation-state.
Sitting at this computer right now feels a bit like living in 1500 holding a freshly printed book. A sense that there is an epochal change coming, but with no idea how it will play out. As Yogi Berra once said; “Predictions are hard, especially about the future”.
But the concept first documented in 1776 remains. We, as individuals, are supreme. When we wave that flag and light that firecracker we proclaim our individual right to liberty and to pursue – beyond the constrictions of our birth, our gender, our race, our economic status – a life of meaning and purpose.
Independence Day is about the liberation of the individual. This is worth celebrating every day of the year.