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!


  1. I can see you put a lot of thought in this one. When it comes to people complaining, to me it does not bother me so much. Not everyone is meant to be bold and heroic, and I think some people just use Facebook to let off a little bit of steam. However, I do agree with you it is better to be like Ebenezer Fox and do something about an undesirable situation rather than wallow in misery.

    1. Thanks, Julia. I understand that not everyone will be bold. But it can be confusing to onlookers when someone complains and then fails to act on it. We encourage each other by complaining together, but it is wrong to work someone else up over an injustice, but to leave him to rebel alone.

  2. Great article, Aya! I used to complain about my last job, but after awhile, I got so tired of hearing myself that I thought, geez, only *I* can do something about it and how miserable am making everyone around me that has to listen to my pathetic, whining loser talk?
    So I made the change.
    Last month, our CIO at our company accidentally did a "reply all" to everyone in the company and revealed his true thoughts on some of our loud whiners. He said, "I like the current plan to retain talent. Sadly, it's usually the really talented people who leave and the whiners, complainers and hangers-on that stay forever". (I'm paraphrasing). It caused the loudest uproar from the complainers / whiners, dead-beats. *smile*
    I would love to know how to change the govt. without getting myself thrown in jail or some watch list. Because now, with all our rights stripped away, we can be thrown in a deep, dark dungeon forever without being able to even speak with an attorney.
    These are very scary times when we can't even have an appearance of speaking out against the govt. without risking our livelihood or our families....and it's going to get worse. I'd love to know how to go about it....

    1. Hi, Kathy. That is funny about your CIOs reply to all! It is true, in my experience, that the biggest complainers never leave.

      I don't have all the answers with regard to the current situation with our government, either. But I tend to think that it's not the people who are now making the biggest show of patriotic indignation who will eventually stand up for what is right.