Alexander Hamilton, Jim Henson, and the Core Principles

“Hamilton had now written 60,000 words in just a couple of months.  For perspective, the book you are holding clocks in at 58,000 words and, I’m embarrassed to say, took much longer.”
                     –Jeff Wilser, “Seek the Core Principles,” Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life.

From November 1774 to February 1775, teenaged college student Alexander Hamilton wrote two political pamphlets defending the American Revolutionary cause.  Specifically, he was responding to pamphlets written by British loyalist Samuel Seabury.  While Wilser estimates Hamilton’s word count for the two pamphlets to be 60,000, according to my estimation, it is closer to 65,000.

I mention this because I was looking at my statistics page for this blog and found that over the course of five months, from July 31 to December 31, 2017, I wrote 66,089 words on this blog.  So I’m almost keeping pace with Alexander Hamilton, in quantity if not in quality.

I was feeling quite smug about this until I did the math and realized that–depending on whether the 60,000 or 65,000 word figure is more accurate–Hamilton still outstrips me by approximately 3000 to 4000 words a month because he created his content in a shorter amount of time.  Also, he was writing everything out in longhand and didn’t have the Internet to assist him in research.

I was going to point out that during two of those months I was working two jobs, but then I realized how ridiculous I sounded.  Was I seriously going to argue that I’m worse off than Alexander “Bastard, Orphan, Impoverished in Squalor” Hamilton?  He would mock me from beyond the grave if he knew.  He’s probably up there on some higher plane of existence right now writing a 30,000-word treatise called “The Moppet Heretic Refuted.” 

(Because he wouldn’t know what a “Muppet” is and would probably assume it was a misspelling.)

Why do I bring all this up?  Well, initially it was lighthearted attempt to facetiously toot my own horn, but then I realized there’s a deeper significance to be derived here.

Like most Americans, I didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton before the musical came along, and what I did know didn’t impress me much.  But until recently, he really was one of the truly unsung American heroes of all time: a warrior and a statesman; equally skilled with the pen and the sword, and wise enough to know when to sheath the latter and pick up the former.  It is impossible to overstate how instrumental he was in the founding of the United States; virtually every fundamental concept of how the nation functions–in regards to legislation, defense, the judiciary, industry, commerce, and essentially anything even remotely related to economics–came out of his head. He had an insight that bordered on clairvoyance; he wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers and warned us all about Donald Trump in the very first one.  Not by name, of course, but he warned that:

“A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” (my emphasis)

In the edition I’m using, this appears on the third page of the Federalist #1.  Hamilton didn’t waste time.

But there are lots of lessons to be learned from Hamilton’s life and his writings that don’t necessarily have anything to do with politics or statesmanship.  That’s the crux of Wilser’s book, and he finds a lesson in Hamilton’s revolutionary pamphlets that is relevant to what I’m trying to accomplish here on my humble little Muppet blog:

“Hamilton channels a habit that would define his entire career–he seeks the core principles.  Once he finds a foundation that’s rock-solid, he then proceeds, point by point, to build the logical argument.  What’s the heart of the argument?  What really matters?” (italics in original)

As I read those words, I realize that, even if I didn’t express it exactly that way to myself, that has been my objective ever since I started writing about the Schism:  Seeking the core principles by asking myself and others, “What really matters?”

In this case, the core principles are Jim Henson’s principles, which are evident throughout his work:  love, forgiveness/reconciliation, inclusivity, appreciation of difference, healthy skepticism of outward appearances, standing up to bullies, sticking up for friends, and gentle deflation of the arrogant and haughty.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast the qualities of Alexander Hamilton and Jim Henson.  They were both geniuses, both died sudden, untimely, and (perhaps) avoidable deaths, each leaving behind not only a large and heartbroken family but a grieving and bewildered nation/world.  Alexander Hamilton seems to have tended more towards extroversion and yet spent a lot of time engaged in the solitary pursuit of writing; Jim Henson tended more towards introversion and yet became boisterous and outgoing when performing a puppet.  Perhaps the most strikingly obvious difference between the two is that Hamilton was hawkish and inclined to run toward conflict (armed or otherwise), whereas Jim Henson was a noted pacifist and was inclined to avoid conflict (interpersonal and otherwise) at all costs. 

And yet, perhaps the two of them had more in common than not; Hamilton expresses a thought in one of his revolutionary pamphlets that is not only very much in harmony with Jim Henson’s core principles but also very applicable to the Schism:

“In a civil society it is the duty of each particular branch to promote not only the good of the whole community, but the good of every other particular branch.  If one part endeavors to violate the rights of another, the rest ought to assist in preventing the injury.  When they do not but remain neutral, they are deficient in their duty, and may be regarded, in some measure, as accomplices.”
                         —A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress, (my emphasis)

In seeking the core principles, one asks, “What really matters?”  but in this case, perhaps it would be easier to ask what doesn’t matter?  It doesn’t matter how much money one has or how many entertainment franchises one owns; it doesn’t matter what one’s last name is or who one’s father was; it doesn’t matter how prestigious or popular or well-trafficked one’s Muppet fan site is…if one violates those core principles–whether by one’s own actions or by tacit approval of the actions of others–one loses credibility and should expect to be held to account. 

As for me, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter how many words I write in a month or five months; what’s important is what I have to say.

 

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