I just recently started watching a television show on Netflix, a Revolutionary-era story called Turn. It's not the best show--it's not The Wire or anything--but it has got me to thinking that very little media has been focused on this era of American history. Even when I was a kid, not much information was passed on or talked about, as far as the collective historical archive goes, about this war. Why is that? Why would we spend so precious little time learning about this story when American History (with the capital H) tends to love congratulating ourselves on our war "victories." All thoughts seem to lead to the same conclusion: it would not serve corporate interests to promote the ethos behind this war.
The war for independence was part of the Enlightenment wave, a period where individuals rose up and challenged the years of absolute control of the ruling class. Well, they challenged it conditionally, as it really only applied to certain folks of particular shades and with particular genitalia, but the thought process was started and it swept throughout the colonizers' lands. In truth, the treatises and philosophies written during those years (1650-1790ish, although I would go so far as to suggest that November 5, 1605 was the stalled beginning...), earned their name "enlightened" and had they actually been enacted--as written--they could have become the Utopia many wrote of. Unfortunately, as only a portion of the world's population was permitted to live in this enlightened realm, it was doomed to failure. There were, however, a couple of historical moments that stand out as truly challenging the dominant power structure of the day; one of those being the topic of this little missive, the war for independence for the 13 North American colonies (and, for the record, "America" should have stopped there and peace made with the First Nations people for this trajectory to have fulfilled itself, but due to the partial application of its basic tenets it was doomed to recreate the actions that had originally led them to leave their homelands in the first place and, ultimately, to failure). As they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In any event, this rumination is not so much about a Revolutionary War lesson as it is a reflection on the strange historical blackout that is that particular war. We have in many ways returned to a similar social place, in a mere 239 years, as those in power tend to control the means of force (and the streams of media that educate the masses). If the Ideological State Apparatus* (ISA: schools, churches, media) doesn't work, those in control will always rely on the Repressive State Apparatus (RSA: government, police, courts). This is precisely what the British brought with them (and please let's remember these British tended toward the Puritanical, thus a certain sadistic pleasure was derived from denial and punishment) and it has been an ingrained part of American Society ever since. But there was a time...a time when the ideals and values of the Enlightenment inspired thousands to fight against tyrannies and strive for a more egalitarian social order. Indeed the television show, Turn, tends to focus clearly on this aspect of the war. And so, since happening upon this program, I have begun to reflect on the absence of education in schools and the media regarding one of the driving forces behind American independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Declaration of Independence (excerpt), 1789 [italics mine]
We have largely forgotten this foundational tenet in our Declaration of Independence and I believe that is more than partially due to the fact that we have returned to a repressive social environment much like the days when Americans-to-be rose up against the king and threw off the shackles of an unhealthy system. Our king is now Citizens United, corporate personhood, and a consumerist mindset that keeps us enslaved to the machine. How will we deal with it this time? And that time is coming quickly, at least growing recognition of the ISA in the social control equation: people are waking up from a long, dark sleep (thank you Assange and Snowden) and the #BlackLivesMatter and the growing popularity of Bernie Sanders are bellweathers for this. What I'm not so sure of, or perhaps where my real fear lies, is in how long till the RSA kicks in on a mass scale. Being of an age so that The Terminator (the first one of course, not the franchise) captured the zeitgeist of my personal root fears, a Skynet-type monster computer in control, crushing human skulls under metal feet...now the machine is captured by iPhones across the globe, exposing what's always been there, was in fact transplanted here along with white supremacy. Strange fruit indeed...this leads me to wondering just how far they'll go to keep control.
A very insidious example lies in the fact that we learn almost nothing about the history of our fight for independence and it serves the interests of those with power to distract us from remembering; pharmaceutically medicated in order to fit into narrower and tighter spaces. Through remembering we might draw connections that would gather us together in common realization that our enemy is not one another, not color, not religion, or gender but is that which seeks to control human impulse and natural order. That which has created seconds and minutes and hours and a notion of time beyond the movements of the sun and moon. It's funny to me how science--the great precursor to the Enlightenment--is working to figure out how time and space do not work in the regimented second-minute-hour-past-moving-to-future framework we've come to function under. Because you can't punch a time clock if you can't measure time in segments, hence you can't count hours or pennies or millions. It's all wrapped up in a notion of profit and ownership and THAT is what must be retaught to the people. By cracking that shell, by speaking up and challenging the things that are so ingrained in our quotidian lives as to have become mythology, by creating open source media that start an internal dialogue and lead to a realization of our roots, we encourage the tide to Turn. Do it now.
*Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," 1970