03 July 2011

Understanding Our Stories

So..Tomorrow is this country's most sacred, if you will, holiday.  Actually, I don't it's so odd to call Independence Day "sacred" because, as George Monbiot has written, America is a religion.

Today's news reports were filled with the shocking statistic that more than forty percent of US citizens polled couldn't answer "1776" to the question of when this country gained its independence.  And another large number, I forget exactly what, couldn't name the country from which this one gained its independence.

Even though "1776" and "England" are both parts of recorded history, they are parts of a canon and mythology.  No religion has ever existed, much less been propagated  without those two vital elements.  That is because no religion has ever been sustained without belief, and mere facts are not sufficient for that.

Although a myth is a fiction, if you will, it will never gain believers if it does not have at least an element of truth.  That a group of men on this continent convened and declared the place in which they lived to be a sovereign nation, independent from the one from which their forebears or they themselves came, is indisputable.  However, the idea that they created an "independent" country by breaking away from what was then the world's most powerful empire is, while a teriffic story, a not-quite-accurate description of the truth.

The fact of the matter is that this country was, at that point, thinly populated, save for Philadelphia and Boston:  Most of the original inhabitants of this country had already been, by that time, wiped out.  And the number of Anglos, and all Europeans, who settled here was still a fraction of the number of people in England, or any other European country.  Plus, outside the two metropoli, this country was still mainly agricultural, while England was the most technologically advanced country, as well as the one with the strongest navy.  

There is simply no way this country could have ceded from Britain independently.  Were it not for the French, Dutch, Spanish, Polish and some volunteers and mercenaries from other places, this country might still be a crown colony.  And, for decades after winning the War of Independence, a.k.a., the Revolution, this country was still dependent on those other countries.  And more merchants and farmers, as well as other people, had economic as well as cultural and familial ties to England than is commonly acknowledged. 

Another thing that, to my knowledge, is never mentioned in American History classes and textbooks--at least not the ones taught and written in the US by Americans--is that there were actually fifteen colonies.  Thirteen rebelled.  The other two, Nova Scotia and Quebec, really couldn't:  The former was the North American base for the Royal Navy, while Montreal and Quebec City were, for all intents and purposes. garrisons of the Royal Army.

There is no denying that Americans have accomplished much, and that this country has made a number of positive contributions to this world.  However, Americans, for all of their initiative and willingness to work hard and take risks, never accomplished those things alone.  Of course, we cannot forget that the people who made those contributions came from some place else, or descended from people who did.

I find myself thinking about myths and beliefs after the passage of same-sex marriage legislation.  Much of the opposition to it here and elsewhere has to do with a belief in a mythology--about relationships and families, as well as the nature of this country.  Religions die when the mythology can't be reconciled with changing realities.  Although I grew up Catholic (Hey, I was an altar boy!), I haven't considered myself a Christian in a very long time.  However,  I will say that is one thing Christianity had done better than most other religions.  That is not to say, of course, that other change isn't necessary, and that people won't continue to oppose such change.  The same might be said for Judaism.  And, whenever change becomes inevitable, there are those who will oppose it, sometimes violently.  That is why fundamentalist movements, like the ones we see today in Christianity and Islam, are really--if unwittingly--an acknowledgement that the myth has met a new reality,and change is inevitable.  

The notion that a family consists of one man, one woman, and fill-in-the-blank-number of kids is one that came about at a time when people started having kids at thirteen or fourteen and  didn't live to be much past thirty, and when most of those people had to grow, slaughter, sew and build whatever they used. That reality no longer exists, at least in industrialized countries.  Longer lives and specialized labor gives people the time and means to understand that there are indeed alternatives to, or at least variations on, the stories they've been told about family structure, gender roles and other things.  Thankfully, more people are coming to understand this.