If a tree falls deep in the forest, and no person is near, does it make a sound?
The First Amendment to the Unites States Constitution grants freedom of speech. It was, and is, clearly understood that democracy is not possible without informed citizens. Freedom of speech is under escalating attack and must be defended. However, in the United States we still have more freedom of speech than most other countries through much of history. Despite this freedom, we in the United States are less informed that people in other countries. Why?
If people speak, and no one listens, is anyone informed?
My limited learning through most of my life was because I both already had ‘knowledge’ and had internalized our culture of censorship. I was personally wasting the freedom of speech, hard won and defended by my ancestors.
Culture of Knowledge versus Learning
Those Who Know, Don’t Know~400 BCE China by Lau Tze
Those Who Don’t Know, Know
In our culture we value ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowledgeable’ people. We ridicule people who do not express certainty, who change their mind, or who accept that they were wrong.
This was very obvious in my engineering career. Nearly every time managers would choose the technical option proposed by a far less experienced person, delivered expressing total confidence, over my informed and qualified recommendation. I always attempted to better explain the consequences. At first I was confused when they did not appear to even care, but eventually, I realized that the culture required this. Managers were climbing a ladder, often changing jobs before consequences were known. They were rarely held accountable for what happened in their old jobs. It functions somewhat similar to the childhood game of hot potato. This culture extended to the top so the aspirations of my bosses would be risked if they did not present everything with total confidence to their bosses. Everyone needed to project total confidence. For personal gain in this culture, you must ‘know’.
For those of us valuing the results and product over personal gains, it made our jobs difficult. Everyone has various strengths and abilities to contribute. People who understood their limitations could constructively contribute. Conversely, those who projected knowledge far beyond reality, out-running their headlights, were given visibility and promotion, sometimes leaving a trail of damage in their wake.
Think about the words of Lau Tzu. Initially they appear contradictory, nonsensical. Think about something you ‘know’. If you ‘know’ something, really think that you ‘know’, are you open to learning? Every time that a person thinks they ‘know’, they are saying to themselves that there is nothing more for them to learn about it and that others must learn what they ‘know’.
Life is mysterious and complicated, far beyond what we can learn in a lifetime. When a person starts to think they ‘know’, their learning ends. The sooner in life that they ‘know’, the less they learn. We learn only while while we remain like a curious child.
Many who are not familiar with the scientific method assume that the use of the word ‘theory’, implying doubts, indicates that it is less likely true than alternative perspectives. This is the whole point of Lau Tze. Scientists learn and gain a far greater understanding by always being open to new information. The word ‘theory’ is used to emphasis that it represents the best understanding to date but must be open to further discoveries and necessary revision. Individually, all scientists are not humble, but the process is one of humility.
In the field of science, all of our technology demonstrates the effectiveness of humility, of not ‘knowing’. This method is equally valid in all aspects of our lives. I now pay attention to detect when I think I ‘know’ something so I can remove this barrier and resume learning.
This cultural emphasis on ‘knowing’ creates fear of accepting or acknowledging that we may not ‘know’. One morning, 25 years ago, while dealing with the trauma of trying to care for my children through divorce, in a flash of a few seconds, my perspective on everything broke out and expanded. I felt a sense of expansion before any thoughts. On inspection, I had let go of ‘knowing’ anything. I was puzzled because I expected this would feel like a loss but in fact I felt that I had gained immensely. Reality is far more immense that my thoughts. My fear of not ‘knowing’ was not valid.
We still live in a culture where ‘knowing’ is required to climb the ladder. But if sufficient number of people do not stop ‘knowing’ and start learning, this career ladder of our culture will be but a historic moment of history of an extinct species, unlikely known to any future species … gone.
Culture of Censorship
A few weeks after Howard Zinn’s death, politicians starting banning or attempted to ban his book “A People’s History of the United State.” The Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels sought to ban the book throughout the Indiana school system (read more). In 2011, Arizona lawmakers removed “A People’s History” from schools in Tucson as part of the ban on Mexican American studies. A March 3, 2017 Arkansas Bill would Ban Howard Zinn writings from schools (read more).
In 2012 when Mike Pence, our current Vice President, replaced Mitch Daniels as governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels went on to be President of Purdue University where previously my brother Bob studied engineering and was promoted to Marine Corps officer. Less than 2 weeks after the January 27, 2010 death of Howard Zinn, then Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels sought the removal of Zinn’s work from the schools of Indiana. As governor, he appointed eight of the ten board members of Purdue University, reappointed the other two and then this Board of Trustees unanimously elected Mitch Daniels as President of Purdue after his term as governor. Unlike previous Purdue presidents, he lacked a background in academia. Conversely, he has demonstrated record of censorship. This was a cascading attack on freedom of speech from elementary schools through university.
These are only a couple examples of intentional censorship of what the public sees.
Most of the important information is not reported by the mainstream media. This is rarely intentional censorship but rather automatic internal censorship of the people within the news organization (read more).
I knew very little about events outside the acceptable range of dialogue in the United States. Nothing inconsistent with our myth of “democracy” is acceptable. I was ignorant of even being ignorant so I had no reason to even look beyond or behind the acceptable range of dialogue.
I was effectively censoring what I was exposed to. I did not look at foreign sources of news. I did not listen to anyone labeled socialist or read any of the socialist propaganda.
I could have at any point. It was relatively easy once I was motivated to look (read more).
My internal censorship kept me ignorant. I hope that the climate emergency motivates you to turn off your internal censorship, learn, and help save our children.