Happy interdependence day!

Here’s to the founders of the United States (before it was called such), those revolutionary people who had the courage to move forward in breaking away from Great Britain, knowing that if they failed, death by hanging awaited.

As someone who teaches one of the more important revolutionary documents, “Common Sense,” I’d like to point out that the author, Thomas Paine, argues that the Colonies should rebel for several different reasons.  For example, he argues that they should break with Great Britain because American products will always have buyers. In other words, that the early Americans need not worry about the English market; everyone else in Europe would happily buy their cotton, tobacco, and lumber.

Paine also argues that monarchies are politically problematic because they are much more warlike than republics.  His rationale (which is not unique to Paine) is that in a republic, the will of the people is necessary to wage war, and this is clearly not so in a monarchy.  If the king or queen wants to go to war, he or she can do so by royal decree and press the public into service or raise a mercenary force.

Similar contemporary pro-democracy arguments are common.  One, called democratic peace theory (DPT), puts forth the argument that democracies tend to not go to war with other democracies, so it behooves democracies to encourage other countries to adopt democracy as their form of government.  Of course, a problem with this plan is that war is often required for such a change to occur.  Also important to point out is that proponents of DPT are willing to accept that democracies tend to go to war as often as other types of countries, just not with other democracies.  Some people (like me) see this as troubling.

Many (if not most) international relations theorists understand war as unsolvable.  They argue that the best we can do is try to minimize war’s effects.  Other theorists argue that people can prevent war by creating strong international organizations like the U.N., or by tethering as many states together as possible through trade — this is an integral part of the pro-globalization argument.

Still other theorists argue that how we understand the international system, that is a system composed of independent nation-states, is outdated.  They say that trade, technology, religion, and so forth have eroded countries’ power.  In other words, transnational corporations are more important (if not more powerful) than governments.  If this is true, it certainly is troubling from the perspective that Paine sets forth regarding war: that republics can only go to war if the will of the people is behind the effort.

So, if transnational corporations run the show and the people who run corporations are not elected by the people, then whom do we hold accountable for an unpopular action (like going to war)?

Myself, I tend to see humanity as standing on the precipice — I blame our economic system (which is based on independence) for driving us toward collapse: economic, social, environmental.  The fact is that the vast majority of people are not independent.  On a very basic level, we rely on others for all sorts of things: food, water, energy, medicine …

So, what does any of this have to do with the idea of government?   I view the nation-state model as a large part of the problem.  It is based on artificial boundaries — geographic, linguistic, cultural, social — that perpetuate the immoral and unnatural systems of war, capitalism, and poverty.  For example, as an American, I am supposed to be okay with the idea that a Mexican (or fill in any other nationality) life is worth less than an American life.  This simply is not true.

As we move closer and closer toward collapse, we must acknowledge that independence is a myth, created and perpetuated to keep us apart.  It focuses on our differences when, in fact, we have more in common than not.  I argue that most people want essentially the same things out of life: food, clean water, a job, not to suffer, a family, friends, love…  Yet we are so quick to fall into the rabbit hole of war, and accept the “collateral damage” of an Afghani, Iraqi, or Libyan child’s death.

So, I propose that we (while acknowledging the profound courage and sacrifice of the Founders) take a moment to think of those who aren’t American.  We’re all in this together, and unless we figure out a way to celebrate our interdependence, I fear that the road ahead will be as brief as it is fraught.

2 responses to “Happy interdependence day!”

  1. PB says:

    Wow. This was a lot more provocative than I was expecting this morning as I was browsing sale ads for the holiday like a proper American consumer. I am thinking a few random things. I love how you remind us of why the country wanted independence, some reasons known, others less so. We forget in all our rhetoric how much economics always plays a role in sacred historical events. A fact not as flag waving as FREEDOM. I always think of how Jefferson wrote even then that the documents of the founding as well as the whole premise itself would need to be revisited as the country became, in his words, more civilized. He expected an evolution of the culture although what should change and when and how is obviously the sticky point. The other thing that always pops in my head is that the true political soothsayers are the sci-fi writers, who have written about a world run by transnational corporations (disutopian) for years. Perhaps we can only imagine true change in the safe realm of fantasy.

    This was a thoughtful break from the parade and macaroni salad that will be the rest of my day today. Thank you.

  2. lane says:

    a great thought, thanks scotty….