16 April 2017

Of Trebuchets and Founding Principles

I particularly enjoyed a NOVA special about trebuchets. In the episode, they build a lathe, to build a better lathe, to finally turn an axle for the trebuchet. This idea that something can be used to make something better than itself is immensely gratifying to me. A process of perfectibility which strives towards perfection, and despite never actually reaching perfection, each iteration can be better than the previous.

So, it grates on me when some of my generally more "progressive" friends conflate what was made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with who made them, who they without much study or contemplation dismiss as universally, racist, sexist, slave-owning, evil bastards, incapable of generating anything worthy of our modern, progressive times.

Sadly, they'll never read anything like Robert Curry's spectacular Jefferson, Locke, and the Declaration of Independence  where he shows that despite Jefferson's profound respect and understanding of John Locke, the "self-evident" of the Declaration was not the self-evident of Locke, but rather that of Thomas Reid; the "unalienable rights" were not Lockean, but rather derived from Francis Hutcheson. Sure, Jefferson owned slaves, but his hypocrisy in life cannot in itself diminish the power of the ideal. A couple weeks before his death, Jefferson said:
All eyes are open to or opening to … the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Jefferson may have been wearing boots and spurs, but it wasn't nature or God who put those on him. For this Passover, let us please remember there is a difference between where you are, seeing where you need to go, getting there, and finally arriving. Someone can lead you to the promised land even though they are forbidden to reach it them self.

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