Most Americans have heard the story of Benjamin Franklin fighting for the turkey as the country’s national bird. However, I assume few know the reasoning (I certainly didn’t). In this week’s New Yorker Adam Gopnik explains:
Franklin is arguing hard about whether there ought to be hereditary legacies in American life, and he makes the keen point that there are two kinds of honor in the world: the Old World’s “descending honor,” in which people pass on their goods and their status to their children, and the New World’s “ascending honor,” in which children strive to impress their parents by moving up in society on their own. For Franklin, ascending honor—what we would now call meritocratic advancement—is the American goal, and descending honor the American danger. The eagle is to him an avian example of descending honor in action: looking classy but swooping down to feed on the helpless. The turkey is the bird of ascending honor: silly and vain, pluming itself too much on the small stuff but sharing the feed with the other birds in the yard and ready to give hell to anyone who tries to make trouble.
Happy Thanksgiving. (With a special Thanksgiving shout out to my mom, who makes a killer turkey and is the biggest Benjamin Franklin fan I know.)