Thursday Weigh-In: Independence Day Edition

Yesterday was the Fourth of July! And since we weren’t posting and didn’t have a Wednesday Weigh-In, it seems only fitting to do one today on independence and individualism.

In America, we typically spend much of our “Independence Day” celebrating with others: barbeques, beach outings, and watching fireworks with friends are all pretty traditional activities.  But despite the social nature of our celebration, independence is still at the heart of the holiday. And while it’s true that the “independence” in “Independence Day” is referring more to national sovereignty than individual, it still seems like a good time to reflect a bit on what “independence” is meaning these days. Thanks to Destiny’s Child and 1980’s Lady Power Suits, the term “independent woman” is somewhat clichéd these days, used more commonly with air quotes than without.

But it’s clear that there’s more to the term to be explored. A good classic take comes from the inimitable Frederick Douglass, who reminded us back in 1852 with his essay “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” that “independence” can be a privilege and sometimes even a pipe dream when real freedom isn’t available or accessible to all. In the video below, Danny Glover performs Frederick Douglass for “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”

In a more recent examination, Kurt Anderson writes about independence and more specifically, individualism in the New York Times, arguing that “selfishness won” over the past several decades:

What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.

With these thoughts in mind, this week’s weigh-in centers on independence and individualism.

What kinds of activities or behaviors make you feel the most independent? Do you think our society and community has gotten more independence or less? Is independence itself something that you actively seek for yourself?

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