Professor Danielle Allen asserts that a typo in the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence distorts the document’s meaning because some more recent copies often take their text from the flawed printing. In a new video filmed at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival, Dr. Allen explains that the famous words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” should be followed by a dash, not a period and a dash. The dash links the words closely to the rest of the sentence, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” The text emphasizes the connection of the inalienable rights to the governments that protect them. Thus, the inalienable rights do not stand alone.
Topics for discussion might include how typos can impact texts. Students could find on the Internet other examples of famous typos and their consequences.
On Jan. 26, representatives of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a compelling gesture of visual rhetorical, moved their symbolic Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds, making the reading two and a half minutes until midnight. The clock’s time setting is a rhetorical visualization of dangers to humanity that could cause extinction. The current clock setting is the closest to midnight since 1953, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. tested hydrogen bombs.
Bulletin’s Science and Security Board explained their recent action:
“Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change … This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a U.S. presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.”
The impact of the clock image, ticking toward doomsday, grabs the imagination in ways simply a textual warning might not. The Doomsday Clock, said physicist Lawrence Krauss at the Washington Press Club event offers “a rare opportunity to reach the global public directly.”
Activities: 1) Discuss the visual impact of the Doomsday Clock set at two and a half minutes to midnight. How does it make you feel about humanity’s danger of extinction? 2) Research the history of the Doomsday Clock and the recent action of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Do you think the scientists were wise in choosing the Doomsday Clock as an attention-getting device? How so?
Regardless of your students’ individual beliefs about climate change, they should be able to agree that recent publicity indicates that President-elect Trump has named climate change sceptics to head every major government agency dealing with climate change. Or at least they should be able to agree after doing a little research. According to the Guardian, “With at least nine senior members of transition team denying basic scientific understanding, president-elect’s choices demonstrate pro-fossil fuels agenda.”
Students can research and write about Trump’s planned chnge in government policy without getting into emptional arguments for or against climate change. One way they can do this is by focusing their research upon the background of the nine proposed cabinet members and how the nine’s voiced opinions about climate change differ from that of President Obama’s administration.
A good place to start for this research project would be the Guardian’s article, “Trump’s Transition: Sceptics Guide Every Agency Dealing with Climate Change.”