July 4th, 2020


When we moved into our current apartment, C noticed that there was a birdhouse out on our balcony; and soon, that there were sparrows flying around it, and going in and out. Yesterday, I saw one of them sitting at the entrance, and a small beak sticking out.

This morning, C got up before me and opened the glass door. I noticed that there was a lot of bird noise coming from outside, so I looked out, and saw a much larger number of sparrows flying around than I had seen before, between the birdhouse, the railing, and the nearby tree. They didn't often stay in sight, but it looked as if some of them were smaller than the others. So I think there have been nestlings, and now they've learned to fly. The loud vocalizations seem as if they might be a way for the parents and offspring to keep track of each other.

Independence Day

Most people these days just say "July fourth," but its older name is worth remembering.

What is being celebrated is independence: The separation of the United States from Great Britain. This was one of the first times that the idea of the consent of the governed was announced as a political principle, one that logically implied that consent could be withdraw and that a government that lost it had no right to exist. Originally this was founded on the idea of "the rights of Englishmen," but Thomas Jefferson broadened it to rights held by all human beings, equally, and that was the underlying concept of the resulting government.

Obviously it wasn't fully implemented at once, though it was struggled over at the Constitutional Convention (I've read their proposals for what to do about slavery, and Madison's warning that if the slave trade went on much longer the United States would be doomed). But that same principle was what led to abolitionism; Frederick Douglas's speeches looked back to it. Emancipation was not a turn against American ideas but a turning back to them.

And in the more general principle, I think the United States was the best thing that happened in history. It wasn't just that we became a rich country; it was that we had ideas such as the consent of the governed, natural rights, and constitutional government, and tried to follow them, however imperfectly, to a degree that other countries still haven't grasped. Those are the basis for real independence, not only of a country but of individual human beings. And whatever the merits of other countries or cultures, I think these are the gold standard for a society fit for human beings to live in. I hope the United States continues to have them, and more fully.