Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Declaration for Dummies

One of the biggest complaints people have about history is that it's old.  When I was in college, I had to read    New Atlantis and The Great Instauration  by Francis Bacon.  I tried.  I really did.  The problem was, it is impossible to read.  A single sentence was as long as a modern paragraph, and every word that wasn't "the" or "of," I had to consult a dictionary.  This is why so many kids are turned off by Shakespeare, honestly.  Too many "thou"s and "dost"s.  This is why we have to have Supreme Court justices; not just to tell us whether a thing is constitutional or not, but to tell us what the hell the Constitution says.  Does the document mean what it says, or do we need to interpret the old, muddled, antiquated language?  I happen to believe that the framers of the constitution meant exactly what they said- they just tended to say things a little less plainly than we do today.  They said "bear arms" when I'd just say, "carry weapons."  So, in an attempt to demystify history, I present you with a "dumbed down" version of the Declaration of Independence.

"All 13 of us agreed on the 4th of July, 1776, that we  are a united American nation.  We want to break away from the mother country and do our own thing (which is only natural...God himself would agree).  Anyway, we think we ought to tell you why we're leaving.  This stuff should be obvious, even to idiots.  God made everybody the same, and everybody has rights you can't take away, like life, freedom, and finding a way to make yourself happy.  To make sure no body messes with our rights, people form governments, and the governments get their power from the people that made them.  If the government starts pushing people around, though, people have a right to throw the bums out and put something together they think is better.  It would be stupid to have a revolution over one tiny little thing or on a whim, so usually people just take the abuse instead of standing up for themselves because they're afraid of change.  People get fed up after awhile, though, and when the government steps over the line, the people, actually, people need to throw the bums out and make a new government.  That's kind of where we're at now, we've had all we can take, and we just can't take anymore- so, we're leaving.  The king of England has done nothing but kick us around for as long as we can remember, and in case you don't believe us, we're going to list all the crap we've put up with."
  The list goes on for a while.  I'm not sure how Jefferson managed to fit it all on one piece of parchment.  Anyway, you get my point.  Thomas Jefferson was obviously an intelligent man with a command of the English language, and the Declaration is perfect in every way.  It just takes a little thought.  These days, people tend to write exactly the way they speak, so I doubt if this document could have been written today. That's O.K.  I'm not saying everyone needs to speak like a flowered fop. Sometimes, simple is best. One of the things I always liked about George Bush was that he wasn't glib, he didn't sound, or even try to sound, as if Shakespeare wrote all of his speeches.  The idea, here, is that while I appreciate the declaration the way it was written, I am not so impressed by someone who can recite it, and that is where I think teachers and especially politicians fail.  What's important is what it means.  You can't trust your teachers or your politicians to make sense of it for you, or even me.  Read it.  Understand it.  Live it.  Love it.

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