Complicating the Fourth of July

Declaration-of-IndependenceI planned to write a post exploring the implications of July 4th, but became overwhelmed realizing it would necessarily have to touch on patriotism, nationalism, symbolism, colonialism, and imperialism, at least. Much is wrapped up in an apparently simple holiday commemorating the independence of the United States from Great Britain. And I realized that is what does not sit well with me, the simplicity with which July 4th is usually treated.

For many people, the day is no more than a welcome respite from waged labor. That perspective, with its inherent expression of alienated labor and preference for spending time with family and/or community instead of at work, could be seen as anti-capitalist in a certain light and is worthy of consideration.

But I am more concerned with the underlying narrative that implicitly goes along with the acceptance of July 4th as something to be commemorated and the often consequent proactive, uncritical impulse towards patriotism and jingoism.

It is not my intent to tell anyone to celebrate July 4th or not. It is my intent to call for reflection on what one is celebrating. Most of us operate on a worldview where many behaviors and attitudes are taken as a given. The answer to “Why?” we do certain things is simply “Because.”

– “Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?”

– “Because that is just what we do.”

If pressured, one can probably throw in a “freedom,” or a “democracy,” or a “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Ask for a definition of any of those concepts and how it relates to July 4th and things get a little more messy and/or hostile.

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