Educated in what? To impart knowledge, we have to gain it first. Knowledge begins with ideas. Many times ideas compete. To follow an idea to knowledge we have to allow the widest range of exchange and never impede ideas from being propagated. Let the ideas fight it out in public and let the best add to our store of knowledge. You might say everyone agrees to that. You would be wrong! The world is a free place to present and discuss ideas so long as they’re the “right” ones.In what part of the globe can you post any idea on the internet or other media without fear of retribution? Russia? China? Turkey? Cuba? We know espousing the wrong thoughts could land you in a world of trouble. A poem on TV in Germany can find you in legal problems. Just ask comedian Jan Böhmermann. He will soon find himself in court for a sastirical poem mocking the President of Turkey. But the U.S. is different, you say. An energy company discussing its business with shareholders and others can find itself threatened by hordes of State Attorney Generals with a blizzard of litigation. Just ask Exxon. In fact anyone not towing the line on Climate Change, could find themselves in trouble. Talk about an area where there are all sorts of ideas and questions in play, it’s climate change. Even if you agree with the premise the world is warming, there are loads of things to discuss. Should the Government stop subsidizing flood insurance in coastal or low-lying areas if the seas are rising? Should we encourage heat and drought resistant GMOs to safeguard the food supply? What actions make the most economic sense? Is warming actually better overall for mankind? Try to get a dime of Government funding for research for any these and you’ll be disappointed. Private sector funding is dying from fear of what Exxon is facing or worse. Even if you could get funding, what University would support it? In fact the very Universities that should be oasis for the free exchange of thought are in fact just the opposite. How many people can freely express unpopular (at least on campus) ideas at your local U?
People might think that most of this has to do with just politics and not the broader pursuit of knowledge, but that is a false divide. Galileo’s problems with the Church was more about politics than science. Science challenged not just the current thinking, but the very basis of a powerful and governing institution. Politics by its very nature is entwined with everything we do and we have to get it inline with free ideas and the pursuit of knowledge. In other words, the laws must protect and the people must support the free flow of ideas to maximize progress and the increase in”MORE’. Spreading ideas in politics takes money. We took up this problem in our Dina & Dollars post (commentary 1/5/2015) in which we made the argument against donation limits and disclosure rules. While in most cases well intended, these generally have the effect of curbing the dissemination of information.
What if the idea is just crazy? A lot of ideas that seemed crazy at the time have turned out to in fact right. For instance, prior to the 1980’s, 10% of all adults were afflicted with painful stomach ulcers. The medical establishment overwhelmingly supported the idea that stress was the cause. Endless gallons of Maalox were consumed and large numbers of books and programs for stress relief were sold. A long came an Australian Doctor who had the off the wall idea that a bacteria was the cause of ulcers. To say his idea had little support is being kind. He got nowhere until he literally infected himself to prove his theory. Treated simply with antibiotics, we rarely even here about stomach ulcers today. Dr. Barry Marshall endured almost universal derision from his peers before he was proved right. Maybe more open minds might have sped this great find. At least the good doctor along with his pathologist collaborator Robin Warren were awarded the 2005 Nobel prize for Medicine. Galileo was imprisoned. History is replete with similar stories. It’s called thinking outside the box.
There will always be excuses to limit the free flow of ideas and information. National security, establishment thought or even feelings have been used recently to curb easy transmission of thought. National Security should be as narrowly defined as possible. Every tin pot dictator has cried national security to limit the dissemination of ideas and information. None of them ever created “More”. Isis is an extreme but edifying example of this principle. The Islamic State actually rejects all western thought. Their reward is in the next world. Any modern thought threatens their national security and existence. They will never create “More ” for their people. Further, may those who demand adherence to established thought be infected with H. pylori and be denied antibiotics. Feelings, are you serious?