Friday, August 24, 2012

Common Sense - Thomas Paine

It feels as though lately every post begins with an apology for the length of time which has passed since the previous post.  We are just beginning to come through the busy season at work and we're down to 8 weeks until the wedding.  Also, I have moved into the house that Kevin and I will be living in after the wedding.  It has been a crazy month, and I have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I hate that I have only one post so far in August.  My blog silence, however, should not be taken as a sign that I am not reading.  I am, in fact, in the midst of four good-sized volumes and have no doubt that there will be a barrage of blog posts in September as I begin to wrap them up.  You can look forward to some classic literature, the continuation of a series, and a return to some high school required reading.  Oh, and I am picking up one of summer's best sellers at the library this weekend.  Obviously, I don't really know how to slow down.

Thanks to a lovely little website called DailyLit, I will not leave Jenny Lawson standing alone as the only author whose work I completed in August.  (I must have unconsciously gone in search of the most extreme opposite to her memoir as I could find.  I find it very hard to imagine Thomas Paine and the Bloggess would run in the same social circles.)  For those of you who are unfamiliar with their service, DailyLit is a website that helps busy people like me read more.  In a world where checking email is the first thing most of us do in the morning - or any time we have a free moment - DailyLit is helping to make reading a part of that routine. You sign up, choose your book, and set up when and how often you would like installments emailed to you.  You can also make them part of an RSS feed.  They have a wide range of work on their website.  There isn't a lot of current stuff; it is mostly public domain works and poetry.  However, if you want to tackle a big classic novel you have always meant to read but never quite find the time to pick up, DailyLit will be happy to deliver it to you one manageable bite at a time.  Best part: it's free.

Thomas Paine, for those of you who were not paying attention in history class, can be classified as one of America's Founding Fathers.  He was one of many prolific writers and thinkers living in America at the time of the war for independence and the creation of these United States.  Common Sense is arguably his most well-known work, at least in modern times.  It probably should be classified as more of a pamphlet than a book - it is only 64 pages.  Yet, the density of its prose requires enough effort to muddle through that I will count it toward my goal with no shame.  The pamphlet was published anonymously at first, at the start of 1776.  If you are an American, you should know that as the year of our country's birth...well, maybe not if you are this girl. The rest of you, though, no excuses.

If you are paying attention, you will have already realized that Paine's little piece was published before the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress on July 4.  Common Sense stimulated national discussion and argued for American freedom at a time when many Americans were still undecided which course of action would be the best for them.  

The pamphlet is broken down into four sections. The first of these deals with man's rights and government in general.  This is by far the section that I enjoyed the most as I found many of Paine's thoughts still applicable today.  I'll address a few that resonated with me specifically in a moment.  Then Paine actively attacks monarchy as a form of government, disputing that it is not only wrong for British/American relations, but a form of idolatry.  Clearly, the man was not a fan of the King.  Paine goes on to discuss the American situation specifically and, unsurprisingly, the need to be independent from Britain.  The final section is a general conclusion and final thoughts.

One of the first things that Paine states in the opening is that "Time makes more converts than reason."  Basically, what he is saying is that time makes us comfortable with whatever situation we are in and we therefore begin believing that everything is normal.  For Paine, this was exemplified in the British rule and taxes.  While it is hard to believe now, the oppression of American colonists had been going on for so long that many found it acceptable.  The vote for independence would have been far from unanimous if each American colonist had been polled.  People were afraid of life not only out from under British protection, but the conflict with Britain that would, and did, arise.  For a modern American, however, I think the implications of this statement are even more severe.  For us, it is not the oppression of a foreign power or even our own government that seem dangerously normal.  Rather, it is the very freedom which Paine and others fought so hard for that has led us into an era where gun violence, corporate fraud, and general moral bankruptcy are commonplace.  I am not going to get preachy or take political sides; but it is worth taking a step back and evaluating the state of our nation, especially as we approach another presidential election.  Things our Founding Fathers would have seen as catastrophic are barely a blip on the evening news.  Yet, it is we who hold the power to change our own circumstances. 
"...when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer."
Translation: we set ourselves up for the misery about which we complain.  If we are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in our nation, we need only speak out to begin the change.  We have been gifted with the beautiful privilege of voting on the men and women who represent us.  We have the ability to call or even digitally contact them when an issue we care about is at stake.  Yet, so many of us pass this opportunities by only to complain about the state of our country when things do not go our way.  So, don't forget to voice your opinion, whatever it may be, come November.  If you are not already registered, head over to Rock the Vote and get signed up!

Even if you despise government and all that it stands for, it is important to be a part of the process.  Paine, in his wisdom, realized that a group of people of any significant size would need a government.  Each man cannot do what is right in his own eyes or conflict is inescapable.  Government is a necessary "evil."  As Paine puts it:
"Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence...for were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver...."
If ever anyone looked for evidence that man is inherently evil, they need look no further than our need for government.  Certainly, we have a internal desire to do the right thing, but we are incapable of always knowing what that is without some guidance.  For many around the world, the choices are made for them.  We can be thankful that our voices are hat least part of the discussion.
Though the 18th century wording did make it a struggle to get through at times, Paine presents some strong cases and deep thoughts.  His work truly does transcend the years and speak to the inalienable rights of mankind as a whole.  Sure, the rant against monarchy or the discussion of the best course of action may not apply to me now, but the heart of his words do.  Paine and his peers changed the world and we would be wise not to let their wisdom fade unremembered.

Pages: 64
Date Finished: August 24, 2012

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