Today, as I write, is the Fourth of July, Independence Day for those of us in the US. Parties and fireworks had already started last night, when I went to pick up my daughter from her friend’s house where she’d spent the day. They’ll be continuing today, tomorrow, and probably through the weekend. Facebook feeds, Twitter streams, Google+ streams, and other social media are full of patriotic sentiment and pictures. We’ll be joining in the celebrations ourselves in a few hours.
But what is it, exactly, that we celebrate on this day? Are freedom and independence the same idea in different words, or are there real, significant differences between them? When we imagine a future, with things like the Star Trek universe, or re-imagine the past with re-enactments (or re-creations like the Tres Columnae Project stories), what role is there for freedom and independence in the worlds we imagine?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I think it’s important to ask … and to ask not just ourselves, but the communities we belong to. When I was a child, the Fourth was all about community for me. There was a neighborhood-wide picnic that brought dozens of people together, sharing food, conversation, blankets, and lawn chairs on hot, sunny afternoons. Sometimes, when I was younger, there were fireworks at night, which we watched from the hill in Mr. Johnson’s yard. There were always fireworks in the distance, ones you could see over the treetops if you looked in the right direction. And while there’s no neighborhood picnic where I live now, you can still see several different fireworks displays, or parts of them, if you look over the treetops in just the right direction.
To build a deep, lasting community, its members need a sense of interdependence, but that’s a very different thing from dependency or codependency. To be voluntarily, freely interdependent, you need some degree of independence and self-reliance … and an interdependent community will also foster and develop the independence and self-reliance of its members. I think of my very diverse circle of friends, and of the ways we’re comfortable with our differences, even disagreements. We form a community despite, or maybe even because of, those differences and disagreements, and as we encounter new ones, our friendships deepen.
That’s my hope for all Americans on this Independence Day, as all of us struggle with how to respond to differences and disagreements. Do we yell and label the way factory-schools and factory-media and other factory-institutions encourage us to do? Do we aim for cold politeness with no real engagement? Or do we aim to engage, to understand each other more deeply, to value each other despite the disagreements?
I hope we’ll choose the third option, today and in the days to come. It’s hard, sometimes painful, but it’s the only road to real community in our diversity. And if enough of us take it, perhaps the factory-institutions will have to change or die.
What do you think?