The Fear of Knowledge



Aaron Swartz

         There is an evil lurking in this land that we proclaim as the champion of freedom & democracy. And that evil is the fear of knowledge. The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz clearly reveals the government’s panic whenever the “wrong” type of information or knowledge is leaked to the general public.


         This evil has been labeled terrorism since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and while that horrific event was indeed an attack intended to strike terror into the hearts of the American public, its real objective was to unleash the dogs of war. Osama bin Laden knew full well that if he gave the American military giant the excuse to attack and occupy Middle Eastern countries, he’d unite the fanatical, extremist elements of his twisted version of Islam in a never-ending jihad against American imperialism. And the extremist element in our government and corporate elite have likewise used this “war on terrorism” to implement the plans they have had for decades for the expansion of the American empire.


         Unfortunately for the 99% of Americans and the poor & suffering billions around the globe, we all lose in this battle between fundamentalists and fascists. And one of the first casualties was our Bill of Rights. All people everywhere have a natural, God-given right to knowledge and none but the wicked fear knowledge. They fear knowledge because when knowledge is revealed and the light of public scrutiny shows the hollowness of what our leaders try to tell us, the powerful are toppled.


         Aaron Swartz was 26 years old and his “crime” was that he believed the knowledge contained in tens of thousands of scientific journals should be available to everyone, not just those who could afford an M.I.T. education. So, Aaron was accused of “hacking” into the computer system at M.I.T. and was hounded and threatened for many months with over a million dollars fine and a possible 35 years in prison. This absolutely astounds me especially when I know that the corporate cockroaches on Wall St. & elsewhere who brought our national economy & the world economy to the brink of total collapse, have not been prosecuted or seen a single day in jail. A young man who wants to share knowledge with the world is persecuted to the point that he takes his own life but war criminals like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, etc. not only get away with murder by lying us into a war but they earn millions on the talk circuit? Jesus Christ! What is it going to take for us to wake-up? Do we have to return to a level of poverty and degradation similar to the conditions in Scotland as portrayed in the movie “Braveheart?”


         Furthermore, what about our government’s determination to get Julian Assange in an American prison. His organization pulled the curtain back as in the final scenes of The Wizard of Oz and revealed the stark truth that we are being manipulated by fear & trickery. Wikileaks released something like over 250,000 State Dept. cables that revealed the truth behind all our corporate media spin regarding our actions overseas. We, myself included, have become a nation of sheep because we willingly offer up our personal information on sites like Facebook, which is a gift for the government spies amongst us. Think I’m being paranoid? What about those “No fly lists?” Many American citizens have been subjected to humiliating treatment and weren’t allowed on flights.


         Perhaps you think I’m blowing this “fear of knowledge” way out of proportion? Consider the war on public education and teachers’ unions in particular. The fascists (government & corporate collaborators) have joined forces with the “Christian” fundamentalists or extremists in their goal of completely eliminating public education and privatizing all schooling. Why? I’m not claiming it’s a grand conspiracy; quite frankly they’re not that clever. No, it’s a matter of convenience. The power elite wants to stifle dissent and by posing as Christian values crusaders they can de-fund the humanities departments in universities. Not all Christian fundamentalists are evil and I believe many of them sincerely believe they are on moral high ground. But we’ve all seen countless television preachers who have fleeced their flocks so they could live in luxury.


         But, the truly powerful in this government and in the transnational corporate suites and penthouses, want a populace that is educated just enough to keep the money flowing but not encumbered by trivial things like morality or ethics. What the malicious morons don’t understand though is that the human mind needs to be completely unfettered or free to follow knowledge wherever it leads and by trying to confine & curtail it, they are stunting its growth and the human imagination. Corporations need graduate students who are capable of the highest thinking skills such as critical & analytical thinking skills. They also need nonconformity in terms of employees free to think outside the box, free to question the wisdom of their superiors, etc. if they are to be truly innovative and create, design, invent new ideas, new products, new services, etc. which will give their corporation the edge on the competition.


         One of my greatest disappointments in the last several years was the election of President Obama and I voted for him the first time but not the second. President Obama’s first campaign for the presidency was boiled down to a singe word, “Change.” What a brilliant public relations campaign or more accurately, advertising scam and propaganda coup. Not only has Obama not been a champion of real change or progress, he has continued many of the worst practices of the George ‘Dubya’ Bush administration such as drone strikes, the prison at Guantanamo, suspension of habeas corpus, spying on Americans with no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever, opening up ever more of our wilderness areas to exploitation by the corporate whores, etc.


         Moreover, Obama has prosecuted more ‘whistleblowers’ than Dubya and I believe, all former presidents combined? What the Hell? He wants to silence whistleblowers who believe it’s the morally right thing to do to inform the public of illegal corporate & government practices, unsafe products, etc. but when asked about prosecuting the Bush administration for their war crimes and part in the economic collapse that should truthfully be called what it is, a Depression, Obama said “I’m not interested in looking backward.” Which of course dovetails nicely with his new bullshit campaign’s mantra “Lean Forward,” which has become the logo for MSNBC’s supposed Left-wing liberals. You may recall that it was MSNBC that fired Phil Donahue right around the time of our invasion of Iraq. Why? Because he was too critical of the propaganda cloud that smothered all rational voices at the time. Donahue would have on one “liberal” and two “conservatives” but even this was too much for those who fear knowledge because the public may not be as dumb as the status quo hopes and may start connecting the dots.  If people are allowed to hear the many sides in these complex issues which affect our lives so profoundly and if the public is taught to recognize the circular reasoning, the arguments ad hominem, the red herrings, the straw man arguments, etc. the house of cards that American power is made up of will crumble.

Chomsky at work

         Noam Chomsky has spent his life reading, writing, lecturing, and fighting against the injustices here in America and around the world and he has summed it up very nicely. MSNBC’s “talking heads” are allowed on national television because they stay within the allowed framework or parameters of discussion. If they were to step outside that box and delve into the deeper, hidden agendas of the corporate elite, they would pose a real threat to the powers that be so they must be kept on a tight leash. And when FOX News is allowed to do nothing but lie, pervert, distort, manipulate the facts 24/7 without ever being called out for their blatant propaganda, we are truly fucked!


         I say this because FOX “News” clearly preys on people’s emotions and its tools are fear & hate e.g. keep the public whipped-up emotionally by scaring them and scapegoating gays, “liberals,” democrats, immigrants, unions, teachers, etc. they keep the uninformed public focused on everything but the actual things that matter e.g. the 1% pulling the majority of the politicians’ strings. It’s the age-old strategy of Divide & Conquer and they keep us distracted with our modern day equivalents of the gladiators in the Roman Coliseum with lavish spectacles, gory deaths via combat, etc. while the rich plunder the poor. More Americans are concerned with who won the latest Dancing with the Stars competition, American Idol, ‘Reality shows,’ sports, etc. than with the people overseas and here in America who are being thrown out of their homes, dying because they don’t have medical insurance, having their pension plans & life savings stolen legally by the politicians who are the lapdogs for the corporate cockroaches. What does this say about American values? Isn’t that we hear them screaming about ad nauseam, “family values?”


         As for me, I will persevere in my belief in the power of knowledge to empower, not in a Machiavellian sense but in the sense of personal empowerment so one is not easily victimized by the unscrupulous. Knowledge is my guiding light and comfort or shelter from the storm. The rich and powerful have been afraid of knowledge from the beginning of recorded history. Socrates has been called the “Father of Western Philosophy,” and I respect his life and teachings so deeply that I purchased a bust of him many years ago and take it with me wherever I go as an inspiration and constant reminder of what is true or truly worthy of admiration and emulation. Socrates was put on trial by the government of Athens because he stirred people up with his questioning, his consistent logic, honest and rational reasoning. He was put to death for his defiance & integrity but he went to his death with dignity because he knew in his heart he was true to the pursuit of wisdom.


         I’d like to believe that Aaron Swartz also went to his death knowing this. I believe Aaron Swartz was a warrior for equality, freedom, truth, & justice and had such a deep love for humanity that he gave his life in order to bring attention to the importance of knowledge being free and available to all people. Another one of my heroes is Bertrand Russell and this quote from him sums it up nicely:


Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”
Bertrand Russell, Why Men Fight


     The way to fight terrorism is with knowledge, law, and practicing what we preach, not terrorizing the world with our military that is more powerful & larger than the rest of the world’s military might combined. We need people trained in the languages, customs, religions, etc. of those countries that terrorists originate from. But then the massive, Congressional/Military/Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us about wouldn’t make their trillions of dollars by draining our economy and we could instead invest in Americans. We could put everyone to work, provide top notch universal health care & education, take care of our roads, bridges, etc. You see, this is what knowledge could teach us if we were allowed access to it but people like Aaron Swartz & Julian Assange pose a threat to those in power because they want to make all knowledge, especially the hidden knowledge available only to the corporate cockroaches, to be on public display for all to ponder, debate, and vote on when it affects their lives. I wish to end with another quote from that venerable sage, Bertrand Russell, who by the way, is an intellectual hero to Noam Chomsky & Chomsky has a poster of Russell on the wall of his office at M.I.T. with this quote:

The Three Passions of Bertrand Russell: Love, Truth, and JusticeThree passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. (…)I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved. (…)Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to Earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me. (…)I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. (…)

This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found. (…)

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