Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why Democracy is Difficult

If you run the Declaration of Independence through a grammar and style checker, you will find that it takes a modern college education to understand.  I would argue that most of today’s graduates do not understand it, but perhaps that is only from the lack of trying.

The founders of our republic were not average.  They were successful merchants and farmers and craftsmen.  George Washington was a surveyor.  (Quick: what is the square root of three?  A surveyor has memorized that as securely as most literate Americans have memorized the letter after R.)  If you drink beer you know the Sam Adams brand. It seems common enough, until you extrapolate from zymurgy to genetic engineering.
American founding fathers, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others standing at a table on which is the Declaration of Independence
Jonathan Trumbull's
Signing of the Declaration of Independence
from the Library of Congress website

Karl Popper’s ringing plea, The Open Society and Its Enemies, was an appeal to ignorance. We do not know everything. Indeed, we cannot. New discoveries reveal that what we know today might not be true tomorrow.  Against that the fascists and communists of Popper’s time and the jihadi of our own offer intransigent commitment to claims of absolute certainty. Thus, the collapse of Arab Spring led to the rise of ISIS.

But an alternative exists.  Reality, reason, egoism, capitalism, and romanticism comprise the parameters of philosophical objectivism.  Ayn Rand’s capital-O Objectivism is just one expression of that. The broader philosophical objectivism, i.e., rational-empiricism, is the foundation of political freedom and social tolerance. 

But it is not easy, and nothing in the stars says that it must be. When Ptolemy I Soter complained to Euclid that geometry was difficult, the latter said that there is no royal road. In other words, there is no way to make this easier. Thinking is hard work.  It is easy to condemn the physically lazy, but no special sin exists for the intellectually slothful—except, of course, sloth itself.  Among the Texas State Guard, my email sigline is “Sapientia ardua est.”

Widespread intelligence and education are the basis for political freedom.  Of axiomatic necessity, most people are average.  Therefore, it might be argued that it takes a committed engagement by an intellectual elite to bring about a better form of government. However, the Flynn Effect posits that we are all smarter now than our ancestors of 100 or 200 years ago.  Maybe we just are not applying our intelligence to the right problems.
Anonymous and created for Loompanics Unlimited, 1991, for my article, "Did Thomas Jefferson Wear Mirrorshades? - or - Why is the Secret Service Busting Publishers?"  I was inspired by the cyberpunk story, "Mozart in Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner (Omni, September 1985). I found this image shrunken to an avatar by a patriot named "Fegeldolfy" on the Ron Paul Forums Liberty Forest.
Created for an article that I wrote:
"Did Thomas Jefferson Wear
(Loompanics, 1991)
On my Macintosh, I have Word 2008, and its Spelling and Grammar checker seems to have a ceiling of 12th grade. Nothing scores more difficult.  So, I ran the Declaration of Independence through several readability engines available on a website created by one Brian Scott. (“ is a non-commercial ‘passion project’ created by freelance writer Brian Scott. The website offers free information and tools to understand readability formulas.  Visit Brian's other websites, and”)
Readability Consensus 
Grade Level: 19
Reading Level: difficult to read.
Reader's Age: College graduate

Readability Consensus
Grade Level: 23
Reading Level: very difficult to read.
Reader's Age: College graduate

Readability Consensus
Grade Level: 16
Reading Level: difficult to read.
Reader's Age: College graduate

Modernizing the presentation does lower the readability to grade 7.8.  Now it resembles Peter Norvig’s PowerPoint presentation of the Gettysburg Address (here).

We hold these truths to be self-evident:
  • All men are created equal.
  • They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.
  • Among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
  • To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.
  • Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  • Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.
  •  The people may institute new Government.
  • The foundation of the new Government rests on such principles as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
  • The Government should organize its powers in such form.


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