I’ll give it to you!
There was a time when I thought this was funny. Now I realize it’s actually a dangerous and all too common attitude.
George Orwell described a dystopian society in his novel, 1984, in which there were thought police acting on behalf of an ever watchful Big Brother. In that world, you were not entitled to your own opinions, and you were not allowed to share your thoughts with others, unless they were consistent with those of Big Brother. If you were caught holding or expressing a contrary idea, you were severely punished. Even worse, you could become an unperson, somewhat paradoxically. I recently watched the original film version of 1984 and was struck by the utter darkness of the world described. Can you imagine living in such a world? I wouldn’t last long.
In his column in the Washington Post on Friday, April 12 entitled Thought Police on Patrol, Charles Krauthammer referenced a petition signed by 110,000 people that had been delivered to the newspaper back in February. It demanded that the Post follow the lead of the Los Angeles Times banning (censoring) the publication of articles, editorials, or comments that expressed a certain opinion contrary to the truth as known by the those who created and signed the petition. Two organizations proudly claimed responsibility for the petition, CREDO and Forecast the Facts.org. Here is the relevant language from their website.
Forecast the Facts is dedicated to ensuring that Americans hear the truth . . . We do this by empowering everyday people to speak out in the face of misinformation and hold accountable those who mislead the public.
If you want to know what truth they are so concerned about, you can go to their website and even sign the petition yourself if you are so inclined. The specific truth these people want to control is not relevant to my point. The money line is . . . hold accountable those who mislead the public. So, if you happen to disagree with this organization, as I do, and if you dare to speak or write your opinion, as I certainly have, then you are misleading the public. And, you must be held accountable, a euphemism for punishment. Wow! and the Los Angeles Times fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Fortunately, the Washington Post did not.
These people are proud to be thought police, they see nothing wrong with it. They honestly believe it is honorable to control the opinions and the speech of others, and they are the exclusive arbiters of truth. Any opinions contrary to theirs are labeled as misinformation and must be censored, even punished. This attitude is preposterous beyond all reason and arrogant to the extreme. The issue in the crosshairs of this group happens to be a hotly debated scientific issue with public policy implications (and an eternal problem–see my previous post), making their actions even more absurd and dangerous.
The advancement of scientific knowledge depends upon open debate free of censorship. Scientists are human, and therefore, vulnerable to an emotional attachment to their opinions, but as scientists they are supposed to remain objective, always pursuing a more complete understanding. Science is never settled. Declaring it so is not consistent with the scientific method. Forcing your opinions on others, stifling their freedom of expression, and punishing them for holding different ideas is not consistent with the principles we hold most vital to the future of a free society.
I want you to have your own opinions. I defend your right to hold them. I may disagree with you, but the only way we can both grow in our knowledge and wisdom is to remain open-minded and respectful of each other’s rights to hold personal points of view. We want our news sources to offer differing perspectives and minority opinions. Freedom of the press is another vital principle we cherish. We don’t want to live in that Orwellian world.