[This year, I'm thankful for the heroic men and women of the fossil fuel industry. Reliable, economical, industrial scale energy is vital to our incredible, by historic standards, standard of living. Fossil fuels are the workhorse of our energy infrastructure, yet the industry has to work under the moral weight of demonization by energy enemies who claim that fossils are “dirty” and ruining the planet. So, a double thank you—for providing 87% of the world’s energy, and for continuing to do so despite the cruel demonization! Once again, THANK YOU!]
Reprinted below are two thanksgiving messages that I think captures the true essence of Thanksgiving, a holiday practiced only in America. Regardless of how one believes he came into existence (God or nature), the reality is that man is a being of self-generated wealth based on reason who requires certain social conditions for his survival. America was the first country founded explicitly on those conditions; i.e., a country where every individual owns his own life and possesses inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and to the pursuit of his own happiness, coupled inextricably with the obligation to accept the reality that all people are equally endowed with these rights and to treat them accordingly.
It is thus that America, born of the enlightenment ideas of individualism, reason, and republican government, achieved in the span of a mere two hundred-plus years (following centuries of stagnation) its spectacular standard of living. The ensuing excerpts are from two essays that I believe correctly recognize where the credit for America's material plenty belongs: to any man or woman, on whatever level of ability or accomplishment, who contributed in a great or small way to American greatness by doing an honest and productive day's work in pursuit of his or her own well-being.
Thanksgiving: A Most Selfish Holiday by Debi Ghate
Ah, Thanksgiving. To most of us, the word conjures up images of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie and watching football with family and friends. It kicks off the holiday season and is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. We're taught that Thanksgiving came about when pilgrims gave thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. We vaguely mumble thanks for the food on our table, the roof over our head and the loved ones around us. We casually think about how lucky we are and how much better our lives are than, say, those in Bangladesh. But surely there is something more to celebrate, something more sacred about this holiday.
What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?
Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as "a typically American holiday . . . its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." She was right.
What is today's version of the "bountiful harvest"? It's the affluence and success we've gained. It's the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy. It's the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It's the good life.
How did we get this "bountiful harvest"? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn't by the "grace of God." It didn't grow on a fabled "money tree." We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don't create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors. We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.
So, on Thanksgiving, why don't we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things--all the values we most selfishly cherish. We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores. We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable--those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.
As you sit down to your decadent Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. As you look around at who you've chosen to spend your day with--those you've chosen to love--thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible. It's a time to selfishly and proudly say: "I earned this."
The religious tradition of saying grace before meals becomes especially popular around the holidays, when we all are reminded of how fortunate we are to have an abundance of life-sustaining goods and services at our disposal. But there is a grave injustice involved in this tradition.
Where do the ideas, principles, constitutions, governments, and laws that protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness come from? What is the source of the meals, medicines, homes, automobiles, and fighter jets that keep us alive and enable us to flourish? Who is responsible for our freedom, prosperity, and well-being?
Since God is responsible for none of the goods on which human life and happiness depend, why thank him for any such goods? More to the point: Why not thank those who actually are responsible for them? What would a just man do?
Justice is the virtue of judging people rationally--according to what they say, do, and produce--and treating them accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves.
To say grace is to give credit where none is due--and, worse, it is to withhold credit where it is due. To say grace is to commit an act of injustice.
Rational, productive people--whether philosophers, scientists, inventors, artists, businessmen, military strategists, friends, family, or yourself--are who deserve to be thanked for the goods on which your life, liberty, and happiness depend. ... Thank or acknowledge the people who actually provide the goods. Some of them may be sitting right there at the table with you. And if you find yourself at a table where people insist on saying grace, politely insist on saying justice when they're through. It's the right thing to do.
I couldn't have said it better myself. These truths are obvious. A simple rudimentary knowledge of history, coupled with basic observation and logic, are all that's required to realize it. Thank you Debi Ghate and Craig Biddle!
Have a joyous, and well earned, Thanksgiving.
The Star-Ledger's Thanksgiving Tantrum