Sunday, July 27, 2014

Does it take a Hero to make it a Plot?

Today, I came across this blog post on my Facebook feed. It is very well written, which is why I am sharing it here.

I think it's a somewhat fictionalized blog post in which the protagonist -- who may or may not be the author -- argues that most people do not have a coherent plot to their lives precisely because they are not heroes. Things happen to them randomly --  sometimes even very big things -- but they totally fail to rise to the occasion, decline to learn any lessons and continue to be more or less the same person they were at the start of the story.

If this were true, most people would be sitcom character, like Homer Simpson or Archie Bunker. To be totally untouched and unchanged by every experience would in itself be a heroic trait, I would think. One can be an anti-hero or a comic hero, but still remain a hero somehow, by dint of sheer intransigence.

That blog post -- My Cousin is not a Hero --  is well written or it would not have caught my eye. But is it true? And isn't there a plot hidden somewhere in this story about the non-hero cousin and his meaningless, but eventful life?

I am both a writer and an editor, and, yes, I have seen would-be novels that had plenty of events and no coherent plot. A plot does not consist merely of a series of chronologically ordered events, no matter how stirring. There has to be conflict build up, a climax and a denouement. But does the hero have to change? And if so, how much?

According to K.M. Weiland, there is such a thing as a flat character arc, in which the novel has a plot, but the protagonist does not change.

According to Weiland:

Next to the positive change arc, the flat character arc is the most popular storyline. Also called the “testing arc,” the flat arc is about a character who does not change. He already has the Truth figured out in the beginning of the story, and he uses that Truth to help him overcome various external tests.

But to have a plot, the character still has to overcome something, be tested and for there to be an outcome that has some sort of emotional as well as ideological meaning to the reader.

The problem with people who tell you that "real life" has no plot is not that they lead uneventful lives. And it is also not that they are impervious to change.  It's also not necessarily that they are not heroic. Some very heroic people fail to recognize the significance of their lives.  It's because they have no interesting vantage point from which to view the events that do happen in their lives. Most people do indeed change over a lifetime, both on the inside and on the outside. But they don't tend to shift their vantage point to learn what can be learned from their story. Or, alternatively, their vantage point shifts with the circumstances, so they cannot appreciate how very much they have changed. They have no perspective. They maintain no Olympian vision. Which is not to say that a third person observing them from a distance might not make a perfectly riveting story out of their lives.

Jean Laffite was indeed a hero. And he did write his own life's story. I enjoyed reading it. And it did provide a certain amount of perspective, before I could start my own version of that story. But for every person in real life that we can think of to write about, there are as many different perspectives from which to view them as there are authors. That's why a book about Jean Laffite by me is different from a book written about Jean Laffite by anybody else.

There is the story with its bare bones facts. There is the character of the protagonist who may or may not change during the story.  But there is also the framing process, in which the author decides on perspective. Without a frame of reference, there cannot be a plot.

A picture of a frame from the wikipedia

Most people's lives do have a plot. They are just standing too close to see it. And for every life story, what the plot actually is depends on where you are standing. Perspective matters just as much as character does. Even the lesson that we glean from the story of the non-heroic cousin is a moral colored by the viewpoint of the author.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Champ d'Asile: Immigration, Asylum and Assistance

Today, we hear a lot about new immigrants coming to this country, seeking asylum and assistance. We don't know the facts about what is happening, and many of the stories we are hearing are alarming. It is hard to have any kind of perspective on what is going on right now, with most news stories being colored by the ideology of either the right or the left. Is this an invading force of belligerents out to claim our land, our surplus and our livelihoods? Or are we seeing a ragtag group of unaccompanied children in need of asylum and assistance? Or  is it something else altogether?

This is not the first time we have had mixed signals concerning a group of immigrants coming to the United States. Do you know the story of Champ d'Asile?

A History of  Champ D'Asile shortly after it was abandoned
Champ D'Asile was a settlement of Napoleonic French exiles in Texas led by General Charles Lallemand. But before they came to Galveston which was then ruled by Jean Laffite, they tried to find acceptance in the United States, during the administration of James Monroe. Here is a brief account of what happened.

Napoleon had lost his last big battle and was imprisoned for good on the Island of St. Helena. The monarchy in France had been restored. This left a large group of French families, men, women and children, displaced and without a home. They wanted to settle in America. However, when they brought their Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive to Alabama Territory, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, fearing that their true aim was military rather than agricultural, asked them to leave. Having nowhere to go, they searched far and wide for someone who would accept them. The benefactor who allowed them to settle was none other than Jean Laffite.

Jean Laffite welcomed them in Galveston, and there they founded their Champ d'Asile, but its very name a place of asylum. Their experiences included failed crops, encounters with the Karankawa Indians and with alligators and the hurricane of September of 1818. They eventually gave up and were evacuated before the start of 1819.

During the time when the settlers of  Champ d'Asile were in Jean Laffite's territory of Galveztown, the privateer assisted them in several different ways. He offered military protection, fortifications and even a grounded battleship to protect them. He also supplied them with some basic nourishment at a time when they might have otherwise starved. Some people think that was generous, and others feel that Laffite did not do enough. In my opinion, what he did was just right.

When a group of people want to join an already existing commune -- and by "commune" I am using Laffite's usage of the word -- they need to offer something of value to the already established people, but they also need to be offered an opportunity to better their own condition. There were no farmers among Laffite's men. They were mostly privateers who made their living off war and commerce. Every country that is going to be viable in the long run needs to make a stab at growing its own food. So it made sense for Laffite to welcome farmers. It made sense for him to offer them protection from those who would displace them, with the understanding that sooner or later they would start to pay their own way by growing their own food and creating a surplus of crops to sell cheaply to the locals. When the French settlers fell on hard times, Laffite even shared his own supplies to keep them alive. But he did not give them enough for them to feel satisfied and for their stomachs to be full. This was a good policy, because it gave the settlers an incentive to keep working for their own subsistence. Laffite also allowed them to come and go at will, and when the settlers deemed their agricultural experiment a failure, they were free to leave.

In every case of  legal immigration, as opposed to armed invasion, there has to be incentive on both sides for the inclusion of new people in an already existing settlement. The newcomers must offer some value, and those who welcome them need to understand that the transition might be difficult. But most of all, the experiment of trying to live together must be provisional. If the new people are not happy, they should be free to go. If their hosts are not happy with their contribution, it should also be possible to expel them. Like every business transaction, immigration needs to be two-sided and voluntary. The immigrants should not be imprisoned and kept from leaving, and the populace among whom they settle must be free to decide how much or how little help they wish to give them. Nothing should be taken by force on either side of the transaction.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can Small Children Think Deep Thoughts?

As a companion to the question: "Is this a book for children?", another reaction I have gotten to Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain is: "No child can possibly be as smart as you portray Jules to be. He can't be aware of all the things he seems aware of. Small children are oblivious to what the grownups are up to."

To some extent, maybe it is true that I make Jules a little more articulate than a child that age would be. But by and large, I disagree. Small children do have intellectual lives, and some of them think some pretty deep thoughts. Sometimes the piping voice, the unsteady gait, the poor hand eye coordination and the lack of sophistication in wording a question hide the real thoughts that a child has or the deep insights that have already been formulated. In my fiction, I do polish up the voice of the small child to make things clearer for readers, but I don't think I make him more sophisticated than a small child can be.

In my own childhood, the adults fell into two camps: those who underestimated my intelligence and those who overestimated it. I was not a genius, but I was also not the imbecile that some people assume every toddler or preschooler or first or second grader must be.

Now, it is not anybody's fault that they did not estimate a child's intelligence just right. Nobody can read into another person's mind. We are bound to make mistakes in one direction or another, but it was very telling in my mind at the time, who tended to think more of my abilities and who thought less. You did not need to question them about it. Their actions spoke louder than words.

Here is an example. One day,  when I was three or four, I accidentally stepped on a toy playpen made out of sticks that someone had given me. I was sorry about it, and I got a lecture about needing to be more careful. But meanwhile, without thinking much about it, I started to arrange the broken pieces into a pattern on the floor.

My father saw the pieces so arranged and recognized that I was making a picture of a human figure, albeit a crude one. He was so impressed by this that he found some way to preserve the temporary art work by gluing the pieces to a cardboard folder. Now most parents would just throw the broken pieces away, but my father preserved this primitive art form for all time.

My experience was that the more tuned in someone was into my intellect, the less nurturing they were. The more nurturing they were, the more they tended to discount my intellect.

Every person has both an intellect and an emotional life, as well as a body with crude needs and an intermediate playful, animal being. My experience throughout my life, ever since early childhood, is that people are clued in to either your body or your soul, your intellect or your lesser animal being, but they are seldom equally attuned to all aspects. As a child, most of the people in my life were all too attuned to my animal self, wanting to feed me and cuddle me and heal me when I was sick and keep me safe from harm, while totally ignoring the fact that I was also a person with a mind. On the other hand, those people who have been tuned into my mind usually tended to discount my physical needs and limitations. Since they saw me as an adult thinker, they didn't pay attention to the reasons I could not always keep up physically.

This problem is not unique to me. It's called the mind/body dichotomy, and it is a problem that all western culture experiences. Hence we have men who can relate to  a woman as a body and men who can relate to a woman as a mind, but seldom can they relate to both at once in the same woman. So they segregate certain women off for intellectual platonic relationships, while choosing other women for the repository of their animal pleasure. But did you know that children and chimpanzees are also treated this way by educators, parents, social workers and physicians?

Some people see children as innocent, cuddly beings with no abstract intentions or long range plans and very few thoughts of their own beyond getting their immediate animal needs met  -- some kind of noble savages. The same sort of people also look at chimpanzees that way. They often try to save chimpanzees from people who relate to them in any other than the crudest way.

 Very small children are capable of abstraction. They can have deep thoughts. They think about many things beyond the immediate range of the moment. They philosophize. They theorize. So do chimpanzees. The theories can be wrong. The thoughts can be mistaken. The model of the universe can be over-simplified, but there is thinking going on.

I used to be a very honest child, and the lies that I told before the age of ten could be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Here is the fist lie I remember telling. It happened like this. We were at the beach. I was about four. My father and his friend were going swimming. The friend was an amputee, but I did not know this. He had served in the Israeli war of independence and had lost one leg below the knee. However, he was always in long pants and wore a prosthesis that worked rather well. He was an athletic man, and he continued to be very active, flying, swimming. skiing and always challenging himself despite what many people would consider a disability. But I was shocked, because I had never seen him without the prosthesis, and nobody warned me.

I lay down on the sand and closed my eyes, and when my mother asked me what was the matter, I lied. I said I was tired. The idea of amputation was too overwhelming for me to face at that moment. But since I lied, I now considered myself a liar, with all the moral ambivalence that goes with that. Anybody who told even a single lie was considered a liar in my mind at the time.

About three and a half years later, I wrote a story that began like this:

Once a father came from war. He had plastic legs. His child did not know it. She jumped on her father, and he fell down. The child's mother said: "Honey, he has plastic legs from war. He cannot stand you." The father went to his room, and the child asked her mother why her father didn't run away like the man from the story. The mother said: "But you remember, the man from the story died."
In case you want to see what the actual manuscript looked like, here it is:

The picture at the bottom is of the mother standing, while the child and father fall to the ground

As you can see, the spelling is very bad, the hand eye coordination is also crude, and the lines slant very badly, but as soon as you regularize the spelling and manage to put yourself into the spirit of the thing, you can see that the topic of this story is rather abstract.

This is not simply a story about a double amputee whose daughter caused him to lose his balance by jumping on him. It is a story that explores the issue of conscription versus desertion. Is it better to avoid war by failing to serve, even though deserters are shot? And who is braver, someone who serves because he was drafted or someone who risks death for desertion? (The man in the story referred to in the text was a deserter who was shot. I just naturally assumed any reader would know what story I was talking about.)

Now, admittedly, this is not good writing. The command of English is crude. English was my second language that I had learned the year before, and I was in second grade, somewhere between the age of seven and eight. But the theme of the story is quite abstract. It represents issues that bothered me and that I thought about between the ages of four and seven. (Everything I write about is usually a delayed reaction to something that happened quite some time earlier, with the plot reworked for maximal dramatic effect.)

So here is the next page of the story:

In the picture at the bottom the girl is talking to the doctor in the hospital

The child said: "But you said Pop was brave." The mother lied and said: "He did run away from war." The child said "Oh", but did not believe her mother. So she went to the doctor in the hospital and asked: "Did my father run away from war?" "No," said the doctor. "Thanks," said the girl. She was so happy to hear that her mother was a liar, because she was beautiful, and the child was a liar herself, and the child wanted to be beautiful, too. 
This story has no title, but years later, when I reread it as an adult, I labeled it as "Is There No Truth in Beauty?", because now we have strayed into an even more abstract area of inquiry: why do the beautiful people we know on average lie more than the less beautiful people? Does lying make you beautiful? Or does being beautiful make you lie? Or what exactly is the nature of this correlation. (You may not even agree that there is such a correlation, but I had found it to be true in my life at the time I wrote the story.)

This story goes on and on and culminates with the girl being locked up in  a cage by her parents. But I will spare you the rest of the pages. Suffice it to say that for those people who believe children never explore abstract themes, this is a counterexample.

The point is that small children, however poorly they may express themselves, can think deep thoughts. They are capable of abstraction at a young age, if they are the sort of people who think deeply as adults. But those who only relate to children on the animal level of basic needs and wants may never find this out.

There is a bias to every written work.  But there is also a bias to every person and every reader. If a reader has never related to a child as an abstract thinker, they may disagree that any child is capable of such thinking.

As for me, you can see that I have returned to the same themes that preoccupied me in second grade: how war should be waged and who is braver: the obedient conscript or the free agent. But I would venture to say that the writing has improved with time, and the answers to some of the questions have deepened.
I also have a better illustrator. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Benefits of Acquired Immunity

We've all heard the adage "Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger" or "the meek shall inherit the earth". I think these sayings don't really apply to every situation, and many people misinterpret what they mean. It is not true that anything that does not kill us will make us stronger. Many people have emerged maimed and scarred for life out of situations that did not kill them. It is also not generally true that meek or the poor have the opportunity as individuals to rule the world. But it is true that because of their exposure to situations that more powerful or wealthy people are able to avoid, the children of the poor tend to be stronger and healthier and more resilient than those of the rich. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than how the course of disease decided battles during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Yellow fever is a case in point. The following article by Pam Keyes describes how Napoleon's loss of Haiti and his decision to give up Louisiana were almost entirely decided by the immunity to yellow fever of the Haitian blacks and the complete vulnerability to the disease of the French troops sent to put down the rebellion:

Yellow fever was also instrumental in the fall from grace of Edward Livingston. He was holding two offices in New York City, one local and one Federal, when he took sick while attending to his duties as mayor. While he was ill, a subordinate embezzled money from the funds of the Office of the United States Attorney to which President Jefferson had appointed him. Livingston was forced to resign, turn over his entire fortune to the Federal government and try to start a new life in New Orleans. Jefferson never forgave him. However, having survived yellow fever, Livingston was extremely resilient, lived through the War of 1812 as a prominent citizen in New Orleans, and was able to attain to the high federal office of Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson.

Malaria was another disease that played havoc with unexposed populations, while sparing the adult slaves who could not avoid exposure.

In South Carolina during the War of 1812, malaria not only took the life of Governor Joseph Alston's only son, Aaron Burr Alston (Gampy), it also made it impossible for him to maintain discipline in the state militia.

Because the rich planters had avoided exposure to malaria by fleeing the area during the hot season, they were spared the high infant mortality that black slaves were exposed to, but they ended up with children who had not acquired immunity to the disease, and as adults were useless for military service in the field. If instead they had allowed their children to be exposed to the disease, then infant mortality would have been higher, but surviving children, and hence military-aged adults, would have been immune.

Immunity to malaria is acquired differently from the way immunity to yellow fever works. In the case of yellow fever, those surviving the disease acquire immunity by antigens in their bloodstream. Infants and persons under the age of five suffer a much milder disease, so that exposure at an early age is beneficial, and infants of mothers who have had yellow fever have what is known as passive resistance.

Immunity to malaria, on the other hand, involves genetic changes through natural selection. Malaria is said to have placed the greatest selective pressure on the human genome -- more than any other disease --  in recent years. Genetic immunity is acquired, among other paths,  through the sickle cell trait, which can lead to sickle cell anemia in those who are homozygous -- having two copies of the allele -- but does not lead to anemia in those who are heterozygous or have just one copy. In other words, the trait is recessive and is helpful enough for survival that it remains in exposed populations despite the risk of anemia to some descendants.

A Plasmodium, the living entity that malaria consists of

Whether a population acquires immunity to a disease through antigens or through mutation, the greatest danger to the safety, health and well being of the public can come not from exposure to the disease, but from its complete and total eradication and then an accidental or deliberate reintroduction.

Take the case of the recent cholera epidemic in Haiti. Cholera had been completely eradicated among the Haitians for about a century. As a result, no living person in Haiti had any immunity to cholera. Then in 2010 there was an earthquake. The UN sent in a peace-keeping force that included Nepalese who carried cholera. In short order, one in sixteen Haitians came down with the disease and eight thousand have died of it.

One of the benefits of being a first world country may be low exposure to many epidemics. Some people think we should try to eradicate all disease. In doing so, we would be freeing ourselves from the last source of natural selection for our species, as we have eliminated all other predators long since. But one of the dangers of artificial eradication is complete lack of immunity and total helplessness in the face of the accidental or intentional reintroduction of the pathogen.

Today, we have new people, some of them mere children, coming in to the United States through our southern borders, Many of them may have been exposed to diseases that we have eradicated a long time ago. They may be healthy and immune, but our lack of exposure can make us vulnerable. The balanced approach to disease control is to acquire immunity naturally, rather than trusting that we will never be exposed again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Property Rights, Education and Suffrage

Somebody said to me yesterday:

Every advance in our culture that you take for granted was protested and fought by conservatives. As a woman, can you vote? Own property in your own name? Attend higher education? Become a doctor or lawyer? Have bank accounts or investments in your name? Serve in the military? Serve in government? 

That person was a "progressive," and he would like to attribute any rights that anybody has to the agitation of people like himself. But he is wrong. Progress does not necessarily happen in a straight line progression. Sometimes as some rights are gained, other rights are lost. Trying to imagine what our life would be like in an earlier historical period depends very much on who we might have been, because different people during the same period find themselves in situations that are as different as night from day.

Of course, we could always imagine that we might have been wealthy and prosperous and have belonged to the ruling class, and a lot of historical fantasies are based on that. What would it have been like to be Queen Elizabeth the First? How would we have handled that kind of power? Even though most women of her day and age were uneducated, without property or a say in their government, this woman was not only highly educated but a successful ruler of men.

Marie Laveau
by Frank Schneider
Other fantasies are exercises in self-subjugation and humiliation. What would it be like to be a slave girl on a plantation with a very harsh and inhumane master? How could we maintain our human dignity while having so little control over our own persons? Would it be possible?

But most people's lives, during whatever period they happen to live in, do not fall into either extreme. They are not entirely helpless and without political and economic power. And they are also not rich or royalty or commanders of great armies and fleets. In Theodosia and the Pirates, I explored some of the in-between spaces. I described middle class people of different ethnic groups with varying degrees of education, property ownership and power.

Do you imagine that during a time when the insititution of slavery was intact every black woman was powerless, enslaved and not a property owner? Would it surprise you to know that there were many eminent free, property owning, business-running, influential women of color living in the 19th century prior to the emancipation proclamation? Do you think they waited helplessly for Abraham Lincoln to come and free them?

Take Marie Laveau, for instance:

She was not only free, she was born free! Both her parents were free, and her children were born free. She owned property. She ran businesses. She was wealthy and influential. Her power exceeded that of many white men and women of her time. But most importantly, she was an individual. Her life, like the life of any person during any period, was shaped by her own decisions, within the context of the society in which she lived. You or I placed into her shoes might not have fared as well.

I didn't write about Marie Laveau in Theodosia and the Pirates, but I did include Marie Villard as a supporting character. Marie Villard was not nearly as powerful or influential as Marie Laveau, but she, too, was a woman of color who was free, owned property and enjoyed a relationship of plaçage with a relatively important man: Pierre Laffite. Plaçage guaranteed Marie the ownership of a home of her own and the acknowledgement of her children. It was better than marriage. It left Marie free, while guaranteeing her financial and social security. And all because miscegenation laws did not allow for legal marriage between races.

This is one of the ironies of anarchy versus lawful living: oftentimes the contractual agreements arrived at by free people to get around a law that will not allow them to do something can be much more fair than the legal thing they weren't allowed to do. If Marie Villard had married Pierre, she might not have been able to own property and be financially independent. But because she could not marry him, she was able to negotiate what amounts to a very nice settlement that provided for herself and her children.

A white woman, either married to or having an affair with a white man, found herself under quite a different situation. Theodosia Burr did not own property. She did not run a business. She was highly educated, but in many ways helpless to determine her own fate.

But even the question of education is a complicated one. Before mandatory state-run education was instituted, just how much of an education anybody got was very much dependent on who was the head of the household and how highly that person valued education. Aaron Burr saw to it that his daughter, Theodosia, was better educated than many men of her day. He also educated his slaves.

But just in case you think this was a complete aberration on Burr's part, please consider that his own mother, Esther Edwards Burr, the daughter of the preacher Jonathan Edwards, was also highly educated. Her diary reveals a witty, fluent and expressive writer. If conservatism is to be equated with keeping women in the dark, why was Esther Edwards better educated than most young high school students today of either gender?

These are complex issues. Education, property ownership and  the right to vote do  not mean anything, unless they are seen in the context of the society in which they arise and the personal abilities of the individual who receives them. We are not all better off because of universal suffrage, universal education and the emancipation proclamation. Not all black people were slaves. Not all women were illiterate or lacking in property rights before women's lib. Not all gained by the change in society. Having free education available actually makes it harder for some to educate their children than it was before this "right" was granted to all.

There is an ebb and flow to all things in human affairs. We take two steps forward and three steps back. Things do not always get better, there is not just one side to every argument, and looking into the lives of many different people both in the past and the present will show you how much progress we really are making. That's why I think historical fiction is worth exploring.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ebenezer Fox and the Pursuit of Happiness

Ebenezer Fox and his friend John Kelley seeking their fortune
Today is the fourth of July, and all across the country people are celebrating. But it is unclear what, if anything, they are celebrating, beyond the fact that they have a day off from their regular work. Are they pursuing happiness? Are they fighting for their freedom? And really, what do all those words in the Declaration of Independence mean to any of us today?

One scholar is attempting to show that no period was present after the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" and that this should influence how the declaration is to be read.

What difference would it make? It would establish that a government by the consent of the governed is one of those self evident truths. The problem is that the only way to show a lack of consent, once a government is foisted on us, is to rebel. And without an out-and-out rebellion, we are deemed to consent. On Facebook, I have friends of all political persuasions. Some complain loudly about the present situation, but do nothing about it, beyond accusing those in power of  "treason." Others, who support the current regime, say that to speak ill of your elected officials is "sedition". Really! Treason and sedition, on different sides of the political conflict. Strong words, but they are meaningless, unless you plan to do something about it. And of course, nobody does. And since we do nothing, we are deemed to have a government by the consent of the governed. And life goes on.

The same is true at work. If you hate your job, but you go in every day, because you are afraid that you would starve without that job, you, too, have been deemed to consent. I cannot tell you how many grown men and women I know who hate what they are doing for a living, and yet don't have the guts to change their situation.  They all behave like Oliver Twist, Dickens' lost little waif, who needs to be saved by somebody else.

Which is why today I want to talk about Ebenezer Fox. Ebenezer Fox was a revolutionary war hero. He enlisted at the age of twelve. But before he could do that, he needed to have the guts to leave his job. And it was precisely because there was so much "seditious" and "treasonous" talk in the air that he found the courage to do so.

At the start of his autobiography, Ebenezer Fox reminds us why it was that the British Colonies were in such a state as to require rebellion. It had to do with war and who was should pay for waging it.  Since the war was primarily for the purpose of defending the colonies, the British thought it was only just that the colonies should bear the brunt of the burden of defending themselves, in the form of heavy taxation. (Well, not really that heavy compared to how we are taxed today, but it seemed heavy to the Colonists, so they complained.)

Ebenezer Fox, who has a name right out of a Dickens novel, was sent off to earn his keep at seven years of age, working for a farmer named Pelham. The work was hard and he did not like it, so he complained about it a lot to his father. But his father did not take his complaints seriously.

Is it good to complain? I think it is, if you're planning to do something about it. Otherwise, probably best to keep your complaints to yourself.

This is also something that I wonder about as I read the posts on Facebook. Some people talk about how oppressed they are by their employer, and yet they never leave their jobs. Instead, they want the government to force their employer to give them more benefits. Other people are really into "gratitude". No matter how bad things get in their lives, they consider how much worse they could get, and so they loudly  thank whatever gods may be for not plaguing them with even more burdens. In other words, they play the Pollyanna game.

Ebenezer Fox was not a Pollyanna. He complained loudly, and it was good that he did, because we all need to work up some steam before we find the courage to rebel. If we just count our blessings, we will never do anything to change our current situation. But on the other hand, Ebenezer Fox was not one of those annoying complainers who never do anything about it, and just enjoy wallowing in their own misery.

Ebenezer Fox, like the heroes of Judges, thought that he should do what was right in his own eyes. He didn't think somebody else should do it for him, although he did seek out a friend to do it with him. This is the spirit of anarchy that prevailed just prior to the revolutionary war, and it is a spirit that we are sorely lacking today.

You can read the entire story of Ebenezer Fox online right here:

How many Ebenezer Foxes do you know today? Is it possible that by instituting child labor laws we have actually enslaved our children and deprived them of the means of seeking their own way in life? Back in the day, many a child escaped from an unhappy situation into service as a cabin boy. Even Aaron Burr tried to do so, and was able to negotiate with his Uncle Timothy Edwards for better conditions before he consented to climb down off the mainmast of the ship where he served as cabin boy for a week.

What hope is there for any of us now, if we can't back up our complaints by choosing a different employer or changing our government by refusing to submit? And what hope for all those illegal alien children spilling across our borders only to find themselves barricaded behind the gates of concentration camps run by the state?

What we don't need is more child labor laws or more employee rights laws. What we need is the self-reliance and plucky individualism that characterized the spirit of 1776. To become your own master, you first must master yourself -- just like Ebenezer Fox. So here's to seditious talk and seditious actions, for young and old alike! Happy fourth of July!