Have you ever wished it was possible to spend some time with any of those we call our Founding Fathers and ask them about the country they founded and the country it has become?
Would they be astounded? Shocked? Disappointed? Of course, no one knows because such a wish can never come true … until now.
I just finished a very good book entitled “Poorer Richard’s America”, subtitled “What would Ben say”. The “Ben” in question is Benjamin Franklin and the author, Tom Blair, perfectly – at least in my opinion – captures Franklin’s voice. He also captures the common sense and logic which made Poor Richard’s Almanac such a hit during Franklin’s time.
So, given the intriguing premise that Ben Franklin was going to discuss our America, the book was irresistible. From culture to politics to philosophy, this series of short essays captured in 39 chapters discusses most of the burning political issues of today with brilliant discussion of both the past and the present. In fact, it is the use of the past while pointing out the present problems that makes the book so compelling.
For instance, a simple example grounded in our US history helps explain our problems in seeding democracy in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And why was Iraq actually easier than Afghanistan. Blair’s Franklin harkens us back to the founding of the country and Jamestown as well. Jamestown, some 150 years before our Constitution was ratified, was our first settlement in the “New World”. They almost starved to death and died out. Franklin wonders where on the priority list of Jamestown the establishment of democracy would have ranked. He supposes not very high. In fact, until the priorities of food, shelter and security were satisfied, and a modicum of prosperity established, “democracy as a form of self-governance” probably wouldn’t even gain a passing thought.
In Iraq it was much easier, in relative terms, to satisfy those basic priorities than it is in Afghanistan, where they still haven’t been satisfied. Of course there are other cultural problems as well, but I think the basic point makes sense. And it is that sort of easily understood “sense” that makes the book so compelling.
One other observation I’ll pass you way that resonated with me had to do, of all things, with reality TV. I find it to be a horrific form of entertainment. Blair’s Franklin agrees:
“Since I opened this diminutive essay by referencing television, let me return to the great giver of light and noise. For many Americans, television has become both a pacifier and a false voice of self-worth. I came, after much hesitancy, to this conclusion while considering the great Colosseum in Rome. A Colosseum where, for the morbid enjoyment of the masses, humanity was discarded and humans were first degraded, then slain. Many reality TV programs shown today on America’s networks likewise degrade humans for the enjoyment of the masses; but, unlike Rome, the Colosseum is brought to each American’s house – no need to exercise by walking to a great amphitheater.”
A perfect capture of that bit of culture in my estimation. Grab the book folks – you’ll be glad you did.