Sunday, June 9, 2013

On Freedom

Recent developments compel me to re-publish the following  post at this time.  It is even more important now than it was when posted in 2011.

There are  two generations in the United States today who have never known true freedom.  The best example of proof for this statement is the ambivalent response to the release of documents by Wikileaks.  Some people welcome it as exactly right.  Some consider it a traitorous act.  Most are made uneasy by it with shifting feelings of "it's good"  or "maybe not so good."
I don't understand why people are willing to say that they don't need to know everything our government does or plans to do.  Is it the label of SECRET that frightens them?  Or is it the burden of knowing?
In 1955, there was a re-issue of a book titled Generation of Vipers by Philip Wylie.  When this book first appeared in December 1942 it was controversial.  Partly this was due to Mr Wylie speaking his mind in the midst of a world war.  It was also due to his original and iconclastic thought and plain expression thereof.
Mr Wylie wrote a number of footnotes for the re-issue of 1955.  The following is one of those footnotes.  It appears in the last chapter of the book.

"We can have one categorical premise only:  the democratic premise - leaving no room for any other - demanding the right to all information as the route to all understanding and judgment, and transcending in private, national and international existence all special pleading..
It is the steady loss of this right which, since 1945, has caused me to assert in every possible medium that liberty is perishing in U.S.A.  Common man did not see, after Hiroshima, that to make any part of abstract science a secret was to deny to all mankind access to basic truth.  Uncommon man, a very few physicists excepted, did not see that formidable point, either.  And neither group perceived that a little start at making mere knowledge secret would inevitably spread, so that much knowledge would soon be hidden, much policy would in consequence be shaped in secret, and the people would no longer be "properly informed" wherefore able to make "appropriate decdisions" - indeed, any decisions.
In 1945, and every since, I have published the view that a failure of the Soviets to enter into an open, free, inspected world community of scientific knowledge, including what is called "military secrets" must be regarded by the American people as an intolerable affront to American freedom and therefore an obligatory cause for ultimatum.  I have continuingly pointed out that the only alternative - a secret America - a land where even the elected representatives no longer can be "cleared" to learn all the facts, truths and data relevant to good government - leads to what in effect amounts to dictatorship, since it is not free and open government.
I have said that such a condition - recognized or not - would breed increasing fear in a people thitherto accustomed to knowing (by their constitutional rights) all the facts.  I have said that their automatic terror -conscious or not- would lead the people of this country into a state of hysteria - a state of inappropriate response, a state in which some would become apathetic to every peril, othes would seek to vent their unidentified terror by punishing "whipping boys,"  and still others would try to escape by attitudes of "eat, drink and be merry," or by plunging into religious paroxysms- "trusting" God to accomplish duties they would not themselves even face, or embracing fugue and fantasy-imagining that "it can't happen here" or that little men from outer space would save us from the bombs.
As early as 1946, I named the years to come - these years- "The Terror"  (always providing we kept failing to see that a secret Russia, by compelling secrecy on U.S.A., abrogated our basic freedom to know).  The hysterias I predicted are manifest in our national life today.  So far, we have failed to see that awful meaning of our lost liberty;  we have failed to take the formidable, self-evident steps against Russia;  we have failed even to realize that we are now a kind of permissive "dictatorship" wherein the man in the street no longer controls his government because he no longer knows what "secrets" effect its policies, its plans, its expenditures, and so on.
It is not surprising, then, that we exhibit the classical forms of hysteria on a wide scale -or that we do not appreciate these symptoms for what they are:  such self-blindness is one symptom of the familiar disease.
There is no such thing as a free and uninformed people;  there is not even such a thing as a free press in a land of government by restriction and classification.  Without all knowledge, liberty expires;  so all of us who think we are still free are bitterly deluded."

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