“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are all well and good, but have you ever wondered if we have chosen to emphasize the wrong phrase in our Declaration of Independence? Could it be that the functional words are the very first ones, ‘When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’? This phrase more aptly expresses the true utilitarian intent of the document and more accurately describes the American Ethic.
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…”
With this eloquent opening phrase Jefferson perfectly captures the essence of the American spirit of pragmatism. In the end we always do what is necessary, what Works. In the process of serving what amounted to a petition of divorce on the British Crown the Declaration also planted the seeds of a national ideal that was brash, rugged, bold and ultimately utilitarian. Whatever obstacles present themselves, American grit and ingenuity will do whatever is necessary to surmount them. We tamed a continent with this spirit, the one that values What Works. Experience begets expedience.
When it became necessary, we severed our bonds with the British Empire. Thus it became necessary to ‘form a more perfect union,’ and sometime later it became necessary to defend that union. When it became necessary to defeat totalitarianism and military aggression in the world, we did that too. We cured diseases when epidemics made it necessary and we even parted the land like Moses split the Red Sea when it became necessary to join two oceans. We can practically do miracles, when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary.
We find ourselves at a place in history where several things are becoming necessary. The immediate necessity surrounds the rubric of ‘jobs.’ While everyone thinks that jobs are the solution, jobs are actually the problem. To solve this problem will require an entire rethink of how we distribute wealth in our society. The notion of what a job is in the context of the world economy will need to change and change drastically. The American Middle Class is based on yesterday’s idea of what a job is. The idea of holding one job for an entire career, then retiring with a pension is as quaint as hereditary guilds and serfdom. One of the things which has been globalized in the new world economy is the value of a worker. American workers are no longer the benchmark of modern labor. When we agreed to buy cheap consumer goods at WalMart we also accepted the Chinese standards for labor. When we walk out our front door in the morning to look for a job, we are no longer simply competing with other Americans with similar needs and expectations and living expenses, we are competing with workers from Mexico, China, India and Brazil where the worker’s lot has been less lavish and expectations are not as high. We have not come to grips with the fact that whole categories and types of jobs are disappearing and they will never come back. Thus, it becomes necessary to find a new relationship between work and wealth if we intend to maintain a consumer economy.
Our other looming necessity is to convert our economy and culture from one which runs on imported petroleum to one which can be sustained on fuels which are greener and more renewable and most importantly Ours. The inevitable outcome should we fail to meet this necessity is the same sad demise enjoyed by every addict, to be owned by the pusher and watch our wealth vanish dime bag by dime bag. Like any addict, we are reluctant to surrender the pacifier and suffer the pains of a metabolic readjustment, but if we don’t, the dope will surely poison us. Rehab becomes necessary. Rehab consists of learning how to do things in a different way. We are going to find it necessary to invent new ways of paying the electric bill, of course, if we intend to have more human events.
The Poet’s Eye sees that if we apply the American ethic of pragmatism and ingenuity, if we do what is necessary, these two problems can partially solve one another. We have two needs. One is to employ an idle workforce and the other is to overhaul our energy infrastructure to bring it into a sustainable 21st Century. These hands could easily wash one another. If Barak Obama wants to fulfill his promise of change and progress, he will accept the realpolitic fact that Congress is a tawdry circus marionette dancing to the tune of special interests and is thus never going to take the necessary steps and he will dust off that power of Executive Order and establish a National Energy Workforce which would directly and with private partnerships begin the necessary work of our conversion to sustainable energy and make it as high a national priority as whipping the Nazis or going to the moon or making sure that Lindsay Lohan stays straight. We have what is needed. All we lack is firm, decisive leadership which in the course of human events, has certainly become necessary.
No saviour from on high delivers
No faith have we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E’er the thieves will out with their booty
And give to all a happier lot.
Each at the forge must do their duty
And we’ll strike while the iron is hot.