Tyranny vs. Progress

By on December 17, 2010

by Adam Spangler

"Progress" has always been mankind’s greatest goal. Humanity wishes to improve its technology, its society, and its environment. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The first object of human association [is] the full improvement of their condition." We speak of disasters "setting us back," and new inventions and milestones as giving mankind a "giant leap" forward. In order for this thrilling goal of progress to be achieved, there must be a free exchange of ideas, so that great leaps forward can be quickly transmitted throughout humanity. This need for free idea exchange is particularly acute in a college or university setting. These institutions are, by definition, devoted to educating the next generation in the latest ideas, and discovering new concepts with their research.

However, FIRE’s two videos chronicle policies and actions that directly contradict the purpose of education.

The common denominator between the cases outlined in the two videos: A single worldview or mindset that has been accepted as absolutely true by those in power and then imposed on everyone under them. In the case of Keith John Sampson, the affirmative action office member, Marguerite Watkins, made a judgment about Sampson before hearing his side of the story. She based her prejudgment on a belief that any provocation, justified or not, of an African American is racial harassment. In the University of Delaware case, there was a similar mindset: "All white males are racist," a judgment of character on the color of their skin. There was no attempt to hear out the beliefs of the individuals. Why do so, when racism is a matter of students’ skin color, not the content of their character? In such an environment, there is no possibility of debate or learning. Why debate, when everyone knows that the prevailing mindset is absolutely true? Any competing idea must be false.

The result: Novel ideas are stifled unless they exactly fit the current ideology. Ideas that don’t fit the prevailing worldview either take a long time to gain acceptance or are totally choked out. Like the Biblical dragon eagerly waiting to kill the woman’s baby the instant he is born, the people in power kill off the next generation of ideas when they come to the proud conclusion that their own ideas are absolute truth and, therefore, immortal. These conditions are particularly distressing when they rear their ugly heads in our top educational establishments, because we rely on these institutions to lead the charge into new social and technological advancements. Yet, when these oppressive worldviews appear, the implicit message is that there is nothing new to be discovered.

Such stifling of new ideas in favor of one ideology constitutes nothing less than a crime against the progress of humanity. Why? Those in power inevitably fail to note that every one of their pet ideas was itself novel and untried at one point. The heliocentric universe was a new idea at a time when the prevailing mindset supported a geocentric universe. The reluctant acceptance of Copernicus’ logic initiated a scientific revolution, taking humanity toward a more concrete, mathematical, and critical view of the universe. What if the earth-centered worldview was not just ingrained in the minds of most scientists, but tyrannically imposed on ALL scientific minds? We might still be adding layer after layer of epicycles, all of them just convoluted reasoning to justify our outmoded ideas. We might still be plugging on with a geocentric universe. Weighed down with an outmoded idea, mankind would never have made the "giant leap" to the moon.

The red flag of every tyrannical worldview is its claim to be the final truth, the culmination of human development. As long as there is human suffering anywhere in the world, there is room for improvement, and no place at all for such beliefs that we have achieved a closure of history, that we have built a tower to heaven.

Tyranny consists of a single worldview (shared by those in power) being forcefully imposed on all subordinates. It stifles new ideas, forgetting that its own ideas were once new. It deep freezes the progress of science, chaining all its subjects to a single "developmental milestone." The two cases outlined in FIRE’s documentaries are an outrage to thinking people because they represent attempts, intentional or not, to stifle free speech and debate in our universities, places intended to lead the way in humanity’s progress. Those same thinking people are all too aware that, unchecked, this virulent tyranny will quickly spread from those educational establishments, infecting everyone in power. It is FIRE’s vital job to catch and destroy each case of this disease before it goes viral in our educational establishments and, from there, all of our society.