Addision Gardner: Always Right
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
With Thanksgiving two days away and family inbound from Boulder and Atlanta, I wanted to write about what this day means to me.
The idea of Thanksgiving puts a lump in my throat in a way that even Christmas doesn’t, because this is a holiday that showcases courageous individualism.
Thanksgiving celebrates people who abandoned their homes in search of freedom of worship, freedom of expression, and freedom of association and enterprise.
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October and, while theirs is a more pointedly secular observance, the origins of the day are similar to ours. Canadian Thanksgiving is based upon a 16th-century explorer’s successful completion of a foray into uncharted wilderness.
So, Thanksgiving in North America is about the expression of gratitude for freedom, first and foremost. We join hands and give thanks for the purest part of North America’s genetic heritage: Ancestors who migrated across the Bering Strait, braving the frigid gales of a prehistoric Ice Age, and ancestors who followed the sun, west, across the boundless Atlantic.
Almost everything of value ” every discovery, every invention and innovation ” has come about because somebody rejected convention and separated from the herd. There are very few American monuments to the byproduct of committees.
There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” where the screenwriter depicts our ape-like ancestor lifting aloft an animal bone in tribute to a shimmering, enigmatic obelisk. While I’m not exactly sure what the metaphysical meaning of the black obelisk was, I can relate to that prehuman’s excitement each time I reach for my shiny, black iPhone 3G.
Its workings are an indecipherable enigma, but I’m stirred by its beauty and excited by its complexity. If I had a spare thighbone, I’d wave it in the air in the general direction of Cupertino, Calif., and celebrate its conception in Stephen Wozniak’s head and Steve Jobs’ garage.
Apple Computer was born when Wozniak and Jobs sold everything of value they owned (an HP Pocket calculator and a Volkswagen bus) to raise $1,300 in cash and begin assembling circuit boards in Jobs’ bedroom.
The first “Lisa” prototype ” the first commercial computer to eschew the text-based (DOS) convention in favor of the breakthrough “graphical user interface” ” was assembled on Jobs’ bedspread with paper clips and super glue. From his bedroom, production moved to his garage, and a few years later my iPhone 3G arrived in the mail.
The friendly graphical interface and familiar cursor that greets us when we boot our computers came into being without benefit of government grants or congressional oversight. In his autobiography, “iWoz,” Wozniak says, of the decision to risk all their worldly possessions, that Steve Jobs persuaded him “even if we are not successful, we can tell our grandkids we owned our own company.”
Most of history’s greatest innovations ” from the telescope, to the telephone, to the light bulb, to the radio, to the automotive assembly line, to manned flight ” were conceived and executed by individuals risking private capital (or The Inquisition, in Galileo’s case) in the pursuit of private dreams.
Dreams are acts of individual consciousness and private inspiration. Government is anti-inspiration; it’s an instrument of blunt force, coercion and “playing-field leveling.” It’s an irresistible bulldozer that flattens the creative landscape.
To the extent that we Americans are willing to abandon our risk-taking heritage in favor of government-mandated “security,” to that same extent we will wither as a freedom-loving, innovative society.
Unless I miss my guess, the next great breakthrough will happen in somebody’s garage, not in a federally funded institution stuffed with tenure-seeking turkeys. And, speaking of stuffing and turkeys, my Thanksgiving prayers go out to the members of the 111th Congress and the newly elected, 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.
I pray our new leadership stops the anti-individual, anti-achievement, anti-success rhetoric that has bubbled up throughout this election cycle like sewer gas in a settling pond, and I pray we return to a more moderate, more productive American tradition that features praise for individual accomplishment and our entrepreneurial tradition.
America was founded, explored and settled by people with dreams of building better lives for their families, first, and their “communities” second. We are the most successful democracy in history because we’ve always bridled under the heavy hand of meddlesome government.
Machines that level playing fields to achieve “fairness” can quickly be converted to other, more sinister purposes: The Chinese tanks that machine-gunned university students in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago come readily to mind.
Thursday, when you gather with family and friends to express gratitude, give thanks for those individuals who risked everything to build better lives for their families and, in realizing their dreams, brought the rest of us along for the ride.
It wasn’t “greed” that built this amazing country. It was courage, imagination, and a government that stayed on the sidelines.
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