THE 4TH AND ISAAC NEWTON

Yesterday, July 4th, brought to mind Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This thought emanated from reasons historical, personal and contemporary.

On July 4, 1776—or close to that date depending on which historian you read—the American Colonies reacted in equal and opposite measure to such British practices as taxation without representation. The Continental Congress announced that Americans would represent themselves to their own government. If they paid taxes—not a popular thought—they’d at least pay themselves.

Human nature being imperfect—the Preamble to the Constitution expresses the desire to form a more perfect union—fulfilling the American Dream has required ongoing employment of the Third Law of Motion. Freedom in the U.S.A. did not instantly translate to freedom for all. Yet every hypocritical act of repression spawned an equal and opposite reaction. Thus in 1826 Maryland, founded to protect Catholics, finally passed the “Jew Bill” granting Jews the right to sit as members of the state assembly. In 1865, the 13th Amendment banned slavery, although securing equal rights for African Americans took another century to enshrine into comprehensive law and subsequent efforts to put into practice. Women didn’t achieve suffrage until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

For gay men, a lesbians and transgender folks, the struggle continues. But we’ve come a long way. Carolyn and I celebrated with our son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy when they married last August in Vermont. Last Sunday, we marched with PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—in San Francisco’s Pride parade.

Which brings us to Newton’s Law beyond our shores. In Turkey, massive protests constitute an equal and opposite reaction to a democratically elected government cramming Islamic law down people’s throats. Ankara responds with its own “equal and opposite reaction.” Besir Atalay, one of four deputy prime ministers, pointed the usual finger at outside agitators—including “the Jewish Diaspora.”

In Egypt, a “soft coup” removed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Egyptians developed their own equal and opposite reaction to the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak by deposing him. Secularists led the way then saw their efforts undermined by the nation’s one highly organized civilian group, the Brotherhood. Many Egyptians boycotted the election won by Morsi. After a year of Islamist power grabs and an economy descending from (very) bad to (much) worse, massive protests created another equal and opposite reaction. The military stepped in to avoid chaos. Another reaction, if not quite equal, already has spawned violence as the Brotherhood protests.

It’s anyone’s guess what further reactions await in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly Iran under a new, more “liberal” president.

Fortunately, every attempt to establish authoritarianism prompts men and women to react in opposition. Their efforts are fraught with danger. When they manage to create a new government, the flame of freedom remains fragile. But the spark never dies.

May those people and parties who seek to impose narrow, rigid systems with an iron fist give more thought to a brilliant man whose contributions to physics also reveal much about politics and human nature.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

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One Comment


  1. Carolyn Perlstein
    Jul 05, 2013

    Freedom is such a fundamental human desire that is sadly not available to all.

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