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A few thoughts on working together. Posted on 11/21/2001.

So I'm quite taken with Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph Ellis. Hardly an undiscovered gem (it won the Pulitzer Prize for History writing), but still worth mentioning, as it definitely had an impact on me.

I, like many, if not most Americans, have a naive view of revolutionary history. An understanding of the major players with little more than a totemic sense of the roles they played -- Washington the General and First President, Jefferson the Author of the Declaration of Independence, Madison the Architect of the Constitution, etc., etc.

Ellis' book exposes the complexity behind these, and other, major players, through a delightfully simple conceit, focusing on six key points of exchange to delve into the messy truths behind the revolution, the constitution, and perhaps most importantly, the transfer of presidential power from Washington to Adams to Jefferson.

Of the many things I took away from the book, perhaps the most impressive were the tales of collaboration. We so often think of these men as Great Individuals, for whom ideas simply flowed from brain to paper, or whose behavior was singular and true. But in actuality, these men worked together, and with others, to produce the greatness we're now famliar with.

Our schooling and society does so much to exalt the standing the individual, to suggest that working with others is somehow "cheating," that it's a weakness to suggest you rely on others to succeed, that attribution typically belongs to a single person. This is frustrating for me, someone who pretty much can't do anything even remotely significant or interesting without bouncing half-baked ideas off of others in an attempt to hit upon something that passes muster.

It was inspiring to read how Hamilton helped Washington craft much of his Farewell Address; how Jefferson and Adams worked side by side, then at odds, and then in concert again; how Madison's greatest strength was probably the channeling of others' energies and ideas.

In a wholly other vein, Founding Brothers revealed to me the degree to which the social/political divisions we witness today (hawks/doves, big government/libertarianism, etc.) not only were the big issues of that time, but how their points were baked into the constitution and our current form of government, essentially becoming (to mix metaphors) the DNA of our political system, suggesting that these discussions will continue as long as the country exists.

Anyway. Read the book. Check it out from your local library. I did!

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Previous entry: "You Make the Call."
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I have a side interest in interpreting the Founders in light of today's knowledge. For instance, a recently published book suggests that Jefferson, one of my favorites, had Aspergers syndrome. (Diagnosing Jefferson by Norm Ledgin, Temple Grandin)

Aspergers patients are noted for their concrete view of life, their poor social skills, their obsessive (but *not* compulsive) focus, their hyperlexia and the anxiety they experience when facing unknowns or complexity. They are often above average IQ, and would have been considered eccentric in earlier times.

The book suggests that Jefferson's poor school performance, his inability to wear clothing that was the least bit scratchy, and his meticulous accounting (even though he died nearly penniless) all were indications of the different brain construction that doctors believe that Aspergers patients share.

It is intriguiging to think that one of the nations' greatest might not have been constructed quite the same way that we define normal. The thought that today, poor Tom might have been drugged to distraction is a sad commentary on how intolerant we have become of our differences.

Posted by Josie @ 12/13/2001 01:19 PM PST [link to this comment]

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