On July 4th, 1776 the Continental Congress formally stated that 13 American colonies were breaking from Great Britain and laid down the principles on which a new country would be based. Now that we’re sitting in the middle of a pandemic, it’s reasonable to reflect on that document created some 244 years ago. Because if there ever was a time where we all needed to be United but in fact were united, it’s the summer of 2020. So let’s dig into this document through the lens of the Pandemic.
These united States
If you read the first line of the Declaration of Independence something jumps out: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…” Think about that for a second. Notice how the “u” isn’t capitalized. In fact, when you look at the actual document, it’s even more interesting than that:
Notice how the words “of the thirteen united” are all in lower case. The idea of being united is definitely downplayed.
The Civil War
In Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War, one of the clear stars is an eccentric civil war historian by the name of Shelby Foote. In the documentary, one of his most poignant lines is:
“Before the war, it was said ‘the United States are’—grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is,’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an ‘is.'”
So our modern notion of being the United States with a capital “U” didn’t begin until after our country was yanked apart and put back together through the crucible of war. It was at that point that a collection of rogue states became a real United nation.
united by the Pandemic
I remember back in March when the world began shutting down, I told my kids that this was their “World War II” moment. That time when our country and the world would come together to defeat a common foe and that great sacrifice would be required to see us through to victory. Yet sitting here on July 4th, somehow that never really happened. In fact, while it took a civil war to bind us together, it seems like it’s taken a pandemic to pull us apart.
We’ve lost that capital “U” in these past few months. Whether it’s the idea of wearing a face mask or social distancing or shutting down or staying open, we all have different ideas. For some, that’s evidence of all of the things that are wrong with our country. For others, it highlights what made “us” into an “is”. Meaning, it defines the ideas of freedom on which this country was based.
Can We Get that Capital “U” Back?
No matter on which side of the pandemic debates you fall, it’s fair to say that many of us have allowed them to divide us. So how can we get that capital “U” back? How can we get United? Perhaps by understanding that division and differing opinions are what earns us that “U”.
Through this blog, I’ve tried to bring up the medical issues and follow the data where that leads. That often leads to contrarian conclusions that oppose the prevailing narrative. Many readers like that, but for some that opposing view causes intense anger. However, isn’t that also the core of what these United States represent? A movie president once said:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, and who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
So we don’t earn back that capital “U” by making everyone tow the party line. In fact, we earn it back by allowing as many differing opinions as there are. By allowing anyone to have any opinion, even if it doesn’t agree with ours and especially if it doesn’t agree with ours.
Science and Medicine are All About Challenging the Narrative
We have allowed science and medicine to become politicized. In order for that to work, we must all pretend that specific topics in science and medicine are settled. After all, science can’t be used as a blunt instrument if it’s all wishy-washy and constantly questioning itself. No, it can only be used that way if its conclusions are rock solid and never change. But that, of course, is fiction.
The definition of the scientific method is:
“a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
“criticism is the backbone of the scientific method“
Note that the data leads to a hypothesis (a best guess). Then one tests that “best guess” and that leads to a new theory. Also, note that it’s the job of every physician or scientist to question the status quo. That’s how science works. These are the ideas of the greatest enlightened thinkers in history like Aristotle, Descartes, Galileo, and Newton.
Hence, in many ways, our country, which was founded on the ideas of the enlightenment that were popular in the 1700’s, is all about challenging the existing narrative. It is only through those challenges that our country can thrive. That’s the way we get back our capital “U.
The upshot? The pandemic is a medical and scientific problem. Any and all narratives MUST be challenged. Every point of view MUST be permitted. Our country was founded on this bedrock of enlightenment thinking. So the next time you think about excoriating someone for not towing the pandemic party line, think about Descartes, the Declaration, and the Civil War. For us to earn back that capital “U” we must not only tolerate opinions that don’t agree with ours we MUST also CELEBRATE them.