You think you’re celebrating the birth of a country, but that’s not the real story. Independence Day is more… much, much more.
We just added Juneteenth as a national holiday celebrating the emancipation of the slaves in 1865. The holiday commemorates another milestone along the path to human liberation.
Merely five centuries ago, every culture across the globe had some system whereby one person could own another. The practice of slavery was active in Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East, and even amongst Native Americans long before the arrival of Columbus.
For those who weren’t outright enslaved, life was little better. Prior to 1450, most of humankind lived under the thumb of the King, the Tribal Leader, the Bishop.
Then came Johannes Gutenberg and the path to liberation finally opened.
Gutenberg’s printing press launched us into the modern world and liberated large portions of humanity. The spread of ideas and information enabled by the mass production of printed material slowly undermined the majestic authority of the monarchy, the tribe, and the church.
Independence Becomes Real
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 America 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 Philly we see the internet weakening 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 industries 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. Gun powder 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 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 natural 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 everyday.