22 July 2022

Black Mirror

If you are squarely in the target audience for Black Mirror, you have already watched it. If you have not yet jumped in, I have a few resources here which may help decide whether it is right for you, including a skip guide if you want to just pick up a few of the best episdodes for your tastes.

The “black mirror” of the title references both the computer screen and, of course, the show’s intention to reflect back to us the way computers and related technologies affect our society today. Most episodes take the form of a sort of design-science-fiction: stories which explore the implications of imaginary technologies. The tone generally relies heavily on morbid humor and tragic ironic twists in the style of Richard Matheson. (Even if you do not recognize Matheson’s name you probably recognize the Matheson Twist from countless imitations and screen adaptations, including more than a dozen episodes of the original Twilight Zone series.)Black Mirror also invites comparison to The Twilight Zone in having an anthology format, each episode an independent story.

I recommend these episodes most highly, starting with an important word of advice:

  • S01E01 “The National Anthem” — One of the gutsiest satires ever put on film. But even if you plan to watch the whole series, do not watch this first episode first. If you take to the show, you can go back for this episode later. But the tone of it is so deadpan — and the moves it makes so mortifying — that it can easily throw one out of the show entirely.
  • S03E04 “San Junipero” — A break from the show’s usual tone, poignant and ultimately optimistic ... plus some of the best evocation of clothing from the 1980s ever put on film. I recommend it as your One Episode if you feel sure you will not care for the show in general. And pick it up as a parting dessert if you find yourself losing interest.
  • S03E01 “Nosedive” — Both one of the best meditations on the show’s themes and one of its best-executed stories. The ending is cathartic. If you only watch one episode to get what the show is about, I recommend this one or ...
  • S01E02 “Fifteen Million Merits” — My favorite episode. It squeezes in half a dozen turns where it becomes about something different, and intelligently satirizes several particular things plus a big thing which is hard to name.
  • S04E01 “USS Callister” — Famous for its witty evocation of Star Trek, though one should expect the middle part of the story to go seriously dark places.
  • S04E05 “Metalhead” — Though it has a topical theme, this episode is an almost pure, lean action thriller rather than a satire with something to say.
  • S02E03 “The Waldo Moment” — A political satire which felt a bit too broad and fantastical when it was released in 2013 ... and now feels frighteningly prescient.
  • S05E02 “Smithereens” — A complex satire which covers a lot of ground. I think it falls a little short of its thematic ambitions, but still impressive because it aims high.
  • S04E04 “Hang the DJ” — Though not as strong as “San Junipero”, it also has a twist more like more sentimental O. Henry than cutting Richard Matheson.

Content warnings

Black Mirror presents the tricky bind that many episodes have cause for content warnings ... which constitute significan spoilers. If you have trauma triggers, ask someone who has seen the show about whether yours mean you should skip an episode; if you lack such a friend, I invite you to drop me a line.

I do have a quick word about two key episodes:

  • S04E06 “Black Museum” delivers its own mini-anthology of stories. Despite my strong stomach, the segment about the doctor squicked me right out. Know that it will Go There hard.
  • S03E02 “Playtest” is a straight-up monster horror story. It delivers effective shocks but disappointingly hollow storytelling, not just in having nothing to say but also in the execution of its horror conceit. Teenage Me probably would have dug it, but adult me thinks even folks who take to the show might want to give it a pass.

13 July 2022

What, if not liberal democracy?

I have long kept intellectual and personal company with radical leftists, and in the last several years I have radicalized enough that I no longer count as a progressive — I am a leftist now, too.

But I have a long-standing impasse in talking with many of my leftist comrades, because I also I have a deep commitment to liberal democracy: universal human rights, rule of law, democratically accountable institutions, et cetera. Many leftists see that as hopelessly confused. I have some questions for them.

First, though, a little clarity about what I mean.

I grant how the history of liberal democracy suggests something fundamentally wrong with it. The Enlightenment thinkers who originally shaped the body of libdem ideas and institutions named private property ownership as a primary human right on a par with free speech and freedom of religion. The emergence of libdem governments from that was entangled with the grave injustices of colonialism, slavery, genocide, and the birth of capitalism. Plus, of course, realworld liberal democracies today are capitalist societies exhibiting countless social injustices. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

But libdem principle and left ideals are woven together in my heart and mind.

Where history shows libdem principle & institutions delivering injustices in practice, it also suggests that libdemming harder helps. More commitment to rights & democracy makes societies more just.

The Civil Rights Movement provides a familiar example. I am not a fool who thinks that the CRM fixed racist injustice in these United States by improving rights protections and access to the the ballot box for Black people. Obviously racist injustices remain. But it would be both dismal and absurd to deny that the CRM corrected injustices at all. And though we must understand power politics to understand how the CRM forced institutional changes, that offers an incomplete understanding. The CRM used not just power politics; it also stood heavily on an insistence on libdem principles, to drive institutions not only to better serve Black people but to become more consistent with those libdem principles. Grounding political claims in libdem ideas about universal rights stood literally at the center of the name of the Civil Rights Movement.

Not that we can rely on Libdemming Harder as our sole instrument to bring justice. Injustices persisting in the wake of the CRM exemplify how history demonstrates a need for adjuncts and counterweights for the limitations of libdem principles & institutions. And I believe that we have plenty of headroom for very different liberal democracies which are much more liberally democratic and deliver much better justice than we have now.

That includes me finding socialism not just compatible with libdem principle but implied in it ... or at least in the democratic half. Surely capitalism’s private ownership of the means of production is un-democratic? Surely we can at least conceive of a body of libdem principle which does not count private property among our basic rights but does find a right to the material necessities for a dignified life? I am hardly the only person to suggest this. Point 10 in the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program demands “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology” and explains itself with nothing other than a direct quote of the statement of libdem principle from the top of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.

This pairing of libdem and socialist principle addresses the worrisome history of the socialist project. Lenin, Stalin, and Mao do not prove anti-leftists’ claim that socialism inevitably leads to horror, but they should inspire some wariness. That all three rejected libdem principle suggests that we should think twice before doing the same.

If we believe that socialism holds more promise than history has yet proved, can we not respect that same hope for liberal democracy?

So I have these questions for leftists who reject a marriage of liberal democracy with leftist ideals:

  • If “liberal democracy” by definition includes capitalism, what is the name for a socialist society with governance grounded in universal rights, democratically accountable institutions, rule of law, and all that other libdem jazz? You need not accept this as a good idea or even plausible to attempt. I just want to know what to call it to avoid confusion.
  • If “liberal democracy” by definition includes the Westphalian nation-state, what is the name for universal rights, democratically accountable institutions, rule of law, and all that other libdem jazz when expressed through a social or political order other than the state? Again, I just ask what I should call that thing.
  • If you reject libdem universal rights, democratically accountable institutions, rule of law, et cetera as cursed to inevitably produce injustice, what governance principles & forms do you propose instead? I do not demand every detail, but I need at least as much clarity as those 200-odd words in the Declaration.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

I thoroughly enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s film and was dazzled by some of the performances. And I hated the politics of the way it presented the history.

To understand my frustrations, mild spoilers below.

On bare facts the film is okay. It takes a large number of small liberties with historical details, and a handful of understandable big liberties. One of the big revisions is that the treatment of Bobby Seale in the courtroom, which feels like imaginary movie theatrics, is actually dramatically toned down from what really happened. So it goes with historical dramas, in the name of telling the story. I gather that Slate’s list running down the particulars is pretty good, if you want them.

But on the texture, it is much more frustrating. There are some high points — “we see a cop do something you don’t ever wanna see a cop do” is a shattering line in context of the film and the world we have now — but it is fundamentally a misrepresentation of the meaning of the story, who the Seven were, and what they stood for.

The heart of the problem is the treatment of Abbie Hoffman. Sasha Baron Cohen is breathtaking in the role and Aaron Sorkin’s knack for writing smart characters who feel like they talk like real smart people talk communicates how Hoffman, for all his deliberate clowning, was very very smart and very very purposeful. And vigor of that portrayal makes the problem with it all the more galling as a demonstration of the general problem of the movie.

Much of the film concerns friction between Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden. At the start of Act III the movie gives us a Sorkin-tastic moment in which they have The Conversation in which they reveal that they Truly Respect One Another. I admire Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue and story structure and the scene is, as craft, terrific. As is often the case with Sorkin’s writing, while I was watching I fell under his spell and found it moving in the way I was supposed to.

But in that scene Movie Hoffman says a thing about his aims which would have repulsed Real Hoffman. Sorkin does not understand the left, thinks he does, and thinks he can bend left voices to speak for his undercooked mushy liberalism. Abbie Hoffman wanted a transformative leftist revolution. He was working for one. He believed that he and his movement would achieve it. He wanted to save the lives of American soldiers, yes, but he understood that the moral urgency was in saving the lives of Vietnamese people.

If you understand that, you will see what is wrong with The Conversation, the climax, and the whole film.

After you have seen the movie, I recommend checking out some critical commentaries:

12 July 2022

Three big economic policies

There are three broad rival frameworks for economic policy under contemporary capitalism (which also are relevant under most socialist proposals): monetarist policy, demand-side fiscal policy, and supply-side fiscal policy. In practice all three are pretty much always in play, but different policy programs generally emphasize one over the others.

All three claim to be the best way to manage the economy in two ways:

  1. Moderating the impacts of the boom & bust cycles which emerge in markets
  2. Ensuring that industry has the capacity to provide valuable goods & services

In service of these things, they try to juggle some tendencies which tend to conflict:

  • ensuring that industry provisions enough goods & services that people enjoy prosperity
  • keeping people prudent so they do not bid up the prices of things which are in fixed or nearly-fixed supply (like land or raw materials)
  • ensuring that industry invests in new capacity (like factories and technological R&D).

Monetarist policy says that the best way to do this is through controlling how much money is in the economy, generally by controlling interest rates charged by a central bank (in the US, the Federal Reserve) to private banks when they need to borrow money. If the central bank’s interest rates are high, then the private banks will be cautious about lending money, leading people in the economy to be cautious and prudent in their decisions; low interest rates make people more free-spending. So policy tries to set interest rates at a level which keeps the economy moving without encouraging mistakes. It tries to push against the booms and busts, raising interest rates during the boom (to curtail a tendency toward bidding up prices and investing in dumb things) while cutting them during the bust (to make money available to keep things moving when times are lean).

Both forms of fiscal policy try to do something similar not through banks but through choices in government taxation & spending, taxing more & spending less during the boom while taxing less & spending more during the bust.

The difference between the two forms of fiscal policy is where in the economy they focus their attention.

Demand-side fiscal policy looks at shaping consumer spending. How much money do ordinary people have in their pockets? If you make sure they have the right amount, then they will buy useful products & services and industry will invest in capacity to provide them. So it favors policies which put money in most people’s pockets.

Supply-side fiscal policy looks at shaping investor’s choices. If you make sure that they have the right amount of resources, then they build the capacity to deliver useful goods & services and hire people to do the necessary work. So it favors policies which put money in the pockets of the rich people who shape investment.

Demand-side fiscal policy dominated the US in the middle of the 20th century. The movement conservatism which dominated the Republican Party from 1980-2016 favored supply-side fiscal policy ... and the general consensus came to emphasize monetary policy more than it had in the past.

Movement conservatives argued for supply-side policy by saying things like, “Capital gains taxes are dumb and counterproductive. If you own something like a factory and it gains in value, that is because it makes something useful. We should not discourage that by taxing the owners for some of the increase in value! It is good to make factories which make useful things! Yes, cutting the capital gains tax makes rich people who own things like factories richer, which may sound unfair, but it is okay because ordinary people get jobs working in those factories and they make useful stuff, so the wealth ‘trickles down’ to everybody. Indeed, since you are making more stuff, the country is wealthier, so a lower tax rate does not reduce the tax revenue the government gets, since the economy is more productive: a smaller portion of a bigger pie comes out to the same amount for government to spend.”

Supply-side economic policy thus can sound plausible. But the experiment we have conducted thanks to movement conservatives demonstrates conclusively that it is entirely wrong. It just concentrates wealth. Since supply-side policy does not mitigate unemployment during busts in the boom-and-bust cycle, workers fear losing their jobs and do not have the power to force employers to pay them more, even when productivity increases. It is a rationalization for enriching the already-rich who own capital under capitalism. So despite this now well-demonstrated failure, it is still around and still the driving theory for Republican Party policy, since the rich will always find ways to support and reward people who argue for policy which makes them richer.

08 July 2022



Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a Jewish song about fucking, doubt, longing, being Jewish, kinky fucking, lust, melancholy, agapē, magic, and Jewish fucking.

The song is well-known because Jeff Buckley did a cover in which he says, “yes, really, this song is totally about fucking”:

It is not a Christmas song and it is not an Easter song. It is an extremely Jewish song about Jewish fucking.

Christians: do not tempt Reb Cohen’s shade to rise out of Sheol to explain this.

There are three acceptable versions — Cohen’s, Buckley’s, and this guy’s in Yiddish:

I was inspired by verses from Life’s Not Fair You See ...

I’ve heard there was some words in verse
Where Cohen wrote of sex and worse
But goys don’t really listen to it, do ya
It starts with lust, it ends with death
It’s fully yid in every breath
I just don't think you grok the “Hallelujah”

... to add a few of my own ...

When Cohen names the holy dove
He doesn’t mean romantic love
It’s obvious the meaning really threw ya
It’s not quite G-d, and sure ain’t Christ
The highest Good, but isn’t nice
It’s a cold and it’s a broken הַלְלוּ יָהּ

(And you can find a silly riff of mine among a delightful collection of them.)

My friend @ETori says:

I know my people like to make fun of Xtians fascination with Hallelujah. I mean, they hear it really differently than most Jews do. At the same time, there is such a pervasive sense of grief in it. It’s not just sex, it’s mourning, it’s anger, it’s love, it’s breathtaking.

I mean ... it’s in the tradition of the Song of Solomon, which Jewish educators tried to convince me was really about the Torah.

Or Hafez poems, where Muslim clergy try to tell you that the wine is a metaphor for Gd.

Sammy Aurora underlines the point:

Hallelujah isn’t just a sex song, it’s a song by a very Jewish man that references his very Jewish (and very negative) perspective on God and religion. Please stop trying to make it a church song, thank you.

To ever one saying: “wait, it’s a sex song?”:

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end”
Rolling Stone: How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion

Also to clarify, “negative” is the wrong word for the portrayal of God and religion in Cohen’s work, but what I meant was that it’s something other than uncomplicated praise and worship and often has a dark undertone. Which makes it weird to use as a Christian hymn.

Babadybbuk snarks:

Me: how about a remake of Boorman’s Excalibur but make it KING DAVID and essentially one long ass music video for Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and it’s SO H•RNY that it has gentiles vomiting in the aisles during screenings 🤔

Question asked while making the film fest rounds: what compelled you to make this highly controversial film???

Me: The Christian gentiles had to be taught a lesson. For too long they’ve been making Cohen’s Hallelujah about Jesus when all this time it’s been a h•rny Jewish song.

Jacob Brogan snarks:

New rule: If you’re going to do something (figure skating, scoring an emotional scene in an animated comedy, etc.) accompanied by any version of “Hallelujah,” you have to first write a short essay explaining what you think the lyrics mean.

I would like to also use this space to rescue a linkrotted commentary I like:

I wrote this a while ago for FB after someone asked “wait, what is the song really about, I thought it was about an abusive relationship?” Thought I would share here.

This is your obligatory PSA that Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is a DEEPLY and undeniably Jewish song.

Cohen was born, lived, and died as an Orthodox Jew - he also embraced elements of Buddhism, but contrary to what people may assume, that doesn’t mean he stopped being a religious Jew. He himself said so in interviews - that he was content with his religion and identified as Jewish.

A lot of his music is informed by his Judaism and by the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. For example, Abraham’s famous line of “hineni” or “here I am” being used as the refrain in “You Want it Darker.” Cohen’s “Who By Fire” is a pretty literal interpretation of the Unatoneh Tokef prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy, about inescapable morality. His work is often very literally and directly informed by his Judaism.

Hallelujah is perhaps the ULTIMATE example of Judaism in Cohen’s work. It uses two famous stories from the Tanakh - the imagry of “bathing on the roof” comes from King David (of secret chords and psalmistry) and his adulterous lust for Batsheva. The lyric about tied down and having ones hair cut is an allusion to Delilah cutting Shimshon/Samson’s hair, betraying him and stealing his strength. Hallelujah itself is a Hebrew word - “Hallel” means praise, the “u” ending makes it a vocative command, and “Jah” represents the Divine, the object of praise. It means “you should/let us praise the Divine.”

Cohen wrote DOZENS of verses for the song, and most people covering the song use the ones selected by Jeff Buckley for his cover. However, if you look at the original verses Cohen sang, you’ll find even MORE Jewish sentiment.

“They say I took the name in vain, but I don’t even know the name.” Blasphemy or taking G-d’s name in vain has a very different meaning in Judaism - we can’t use G-d’s sacred Name unless we are directly addressing G-d, and even then, only the high priest can use it, and only in the most sacred place in the Temple at the most sacred time of the year. But because the Romans destroyed the Temple and exiled us, the high priest line was broken, the Temple doesn’t exist, and the Name is believed to have been passed down secretly in Babylonia until as late as 600ce, when it vanished entirely.

In a real sense, the original way that we communicated with G-d in Judaism has been destroyed by outsiders, and we’ve had to adapt. Judaism moved on, now a religion of text instead of Temple, but there’s still a GREAT sense of loss and displacement around that issue.

“There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter what you heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah” - not to get too deep into it, but, this is a reflection of Kabbalah, Jewish ontological mysticism. One explanation of creation is that G-d, the Eternal, withdrew in order to make space for the universe to be born. As G-d collapsed inwards, everything in the universe emanated out from G-d’s person like shafts of light. Everything that exists came from one of these 10 eminations of divinity or the 22 letters of the Hebrew language. There’s a blaze of light in every word - a spark that reflects how G-d used light and words to create everything.

This gets very very interesting when you get to the idea of “the holy or the broken.” Kabbalah conceives of those eminations as vessels that hold the divine light of G-d, but that the reason evil exists in the world is that long ago, the vesseks cracked and the sparks all fell out. Now, each positive aspect like love, strength, harmony, has a negative aspect, like death, sadness, corruption. Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is the job of doing more and more good deeds in the earthly realm so that we can gather up all that light and positivity and repair what’s been broken in the world, on a personal level but also a cosmological one. So, while there’s a holy hallelujah - joy, thanksgiving, gratitude, praise - there’s also brokenness, sorrow, despair. But even that is part of the world, an empty shadow of the good aspects of existence, and you have to take the bad with the good and just try to make the world better.

“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” In Judaism, we don’t need an external source for salvation. You do the best you can, you apologize when you do wrong and try to do better, and if you still suck, you go to the equivalent of purgatory for 11 months max. Thats it. No hell, and no Jesus required.. Many Jewish people don’t believe in an afterlife at all, or believe in other options like reincarnation. But anyone who does believe in a positive afterlife (analogous to heaven or paradise) believes it’s available to anyone who simply tries to be a good person.

Now, one of the biggest problems actually comes from people adapting Jeff’s version. The verse “Maybe there’s a God above” was written by Cohen, but he didn’t sing it. Jeff Buckley chose to include it in his rendition. “Maybe” theres a G-d is a VERY Jewish sentiment. We are a religion, NOT a faith. Belief in G-d is more or less optional. No one, even in Orthodox circles, will ever ask you about your personal belief in G-d. That’s none of their business, it’s quite rude, like asking about money or something. Everyone sorts out their spiritual journey on their own, and Judaism makes a LOT of space for questioning, doubt, multiple conflicting viewpoints, even downright disbelief. As a result, there are many agnostic and atheist Jews who are still deeply religious and fully observant. However, in an ire inducing brand of Christian hubris, most Christian artists choose to change this to “I know that there’s a God above,” TOTALLY stripping the Jewish context from that line because doubt is not culturally acceptable in their faith-centric system.

Unfortunately, Christians often go even farther than inserting a forced and obligatory belief in G-d - I have heard renditions of Hallelujah with the lyrics totally changed, so that it becomes an Evangelical worship song about the love of Jesus, a Christmas song about the birth of Jesus, or even (horrifyingly) a Passion narrative song for Easter about the death of Jesus. There are THOUSANDS of songs on those topics already. Stealing a Jewish song for a Christian purpose is ironically just like the story of the rich man with many sheep who stole the poor man’s only sheep. Which is a metaphor for David stealing Batsheva from Uriah. WHICH IS LITERALLY IN THE SONG. It’s the biggest religion on earth stealing something from one of the smallest. To make matters worst, juxtaposing it with the crucifixion is BEYOND tone deaf, considering one of the origins of antisemitism is the accusation that Jews killed Jesus. No one in history has mistreated, exiled, exterminated, and abused the Jewish people to the extent that Christians have - and still, they have the nerve to take a fundamentally Jewish song and appropriate it for their purposes.

Hallelujah is a beautiful song, and many people of all backgrounds relate to it. That’s because, though it is a deeply Jewish song, its fundamentally about the tension between beauty and brokenness - in love, life, humanity, the divine, and the universe. Everyone relates to that. But thats THE central and foundational message of the song, onto which other messages are applied. To make it about Christmas, Jesus, or the crucifixion STRIPS that message and replaces it with (what Judaism essentially considers) idolatry.

To use this song at the RNC in support of the Trump campaign does the same thing. Though the lyrics were unchanged, the true message was stripped away, leaving behind an undeniable message - praise Trump. This is idolatry, this is blasphemy, this is appropriation, this is theft, this is defilement and violation and assult.

In conclusion:

04 July 2022

Independence Day

This is a deep revision of my old Independence Day post. (And I sharpened it up here in 2023.)

On this day, arriving in a dire moment in American life, I want to celebrate how our national holiday commemorates neither a military victory nor founding an institution, but rather people signing a statement of principles: the Declaration Of Independence.

Some of the principles the Founders asserted 246 years ago are superb. Frankly, many of them are … not so much. And we have failed to live up to the best of those principles.

But celebrating the nation by pointing to its defining principles — not land or blood or history or institutions, but principles — is good. So every year I re-read the Declaration on Indpendence Day.

I offer reflections on my favorite parts.

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them

I could do without the implicit sexism, but taking care to name your reasons for your politics is good.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Being clear about which key points one takes as axiomatic — points where one refuses to even enter into an argument about them — is good. I recently learned that Benjamin Franklin suggested that bit, telling Jefferson that his initial draft “sacred and undeniable” was not strong enough.

that all men are created equal [⋯] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

As Heather Cox “How The South Won The Civil War”Richardson observes

For all the fact that the congressmen got around the sticky little problem of Black and Indigenous slavery by defining “men” as “white men,” and for all that it never crossed their minds that women might also have rights, the Declaration of Independence was an astonishingly radical document. In a world that had been dominated by a small class of rich men for so long that most people simply accepted that they should be forever tied to their status at birth, a group of upstart legislators on the edges of a continent declared that no man was born better than any other.

… so this is good stuff.

And I love how the Declaration says “among these” rights. We have a lot of rights. We have too many rights to list. This is just a start, naming some of the key big ones. Especially delightful to me is naming “pursuit of happiness” in that top tier of rights. A frank admission that we cannot demand happiness, combined with the insistence that we are entitled to the things we need to have in order try for happiness. Again the expansive implications of not enumerating the particulars, as there are too many and the principle runs deeper any examples could encompass.

to secure these rights, governments are instituted

Our rights do not bind and limit government. Our rights do not come from government. Our rights exist prior to government. Our rights are what government is for.

governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

When people do not accept their government’s legitimacy, it renders that government inherently unjust. We have a word for this principle: “democracy”.

whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it the right of the people to alter or to abolish it

Again, government is our instrument. If it does not secure our rights, it has failed and we can fix it.

when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security


These are instructions.

in every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury

The first step in political change is to name the problems, to open the possibility of a correction.

we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor

For political change we must act in solidarity, backed by all we are and all we possess.

Every year on Independence Day I also re-read a speech by the greatest American, Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? Douglass underlines the paradox that the very people who declared these principles held other people in the bondage of slavery, as profound a betrayal of humanity and equality and rights as one could imagine, persisting among those founders’ children and grandchildren.

I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States …

Though we ended the slavery of his time, I humbly submit that we continue to fail too much, too often, in too many ways. Our nation still merits Douglass’ scathing words.

When I read these two great documents, I revisit those American principles. I ask myself what my principles are and how I may fulfill my principles better. I keep returning to the same statement of my most fundamental politics, my version of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”:

all people are equal in rights, dignity, and moral claim to the fruits of this world

all people

ALL people


And rights are necessary but not sufficient. Our moral equality extends to our essential value, to respect, to our material needs.

I hold those truths to be self-evident

My nation was born from slavery & genocide, the greatest injustices I can imagine. It perpetuates both, and their consequences, to this very day. But our national holiday reminds us how the USA came with a manual which counters those by getting some very important things very right.

  1. We start from principles
  2. Those principles hold that government — the public’s instrument for explicitly shaping society — has no legitimacy if it does not ensure liberty & equality for all
  3. We are not simply entitled to direct the nation to liberty & equality for all; we have an obligation to correct every failure in that purpose

The founding crimes of slavery & genocide rendered the entire system which supported them illegitimate on its own terms. So do our ongoing crimes. Every American bears an obligation to stand up for aligning our nation with its highest principles.