KINGMAN – Americans behave as if they invented freedom, and they are so joyful and genuine about it that the rest of the world is happy to celebrate with them, too.
A sky filled with fireworks and confetti, sizzling hot-dogs and a cold, watery beer – that’s how I was introduced to Independence Day celebrations in D.C. area, with my American friends drunk, happy and suddenly all loving Bruce Springsteen.
There is a grassy hill next to Arlington Cemetery with the best view of the National Mall one could wish for. While thousands of tourists are clogging the D.C. metro system, locals leisurely admire a rainbow of fireworks exploding above the Washington Monument and falling into the navy-blue Potomac River.
When Americans celebrate on the Fourth of July, they don’t really care about independence from England, they celebrate their own personal freedom and freedom of their neighbors.
Independence is a concept born in a human mind. It was designed to describe a sense of full agency, a sensation taken in modern Western democracies for granted. The idea is you can set your own goals, follow them, and modify them when you think necessary.
On the level of nations, independence supposedly means the same thing, even though the application itself is problematic – now we take a singular agency typical to a unit and we project it onto a group.
That means the agency and independence of individual units are, by definition, compromised.
When people started to form tribes and later nations, they gave up part of their freedoms for safety and to codify basic rules of conduct. It can be a good deal, as many civilizations experienced, but it works well only when both freedom and compromise are redistributed equally.
Without constant quest for equality – in rights, power, access to resources, and social obligations – freedom becomes something you can buy and sell, and that typically is a sign of a civilization decay. In times of grotesque domestic inequality, rulers try to unify people looking for enemies abroad, often considering starting a war to show now is not a good time for social progress.
But more importantly, inequality discourages, recaptures and slows down independent thinking, which was America’s promise from the beginning and, as I hope, remains its great future.