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Most things that shock our politicians are nothing new. Government is made up of common people with simple minds. Modern day politicians are typically not well-versed in science, technology or history and this has the natural result of keeping an ignorant society of people. The tactics? Preserve ignorance and threaten those who are infected with curiosity.

There’s a lot of precedent for this method. Thinking animals have been trying to progress since the beginning of abstract thought and unthinking animals have been trying to stop them for just as long.

When primates first created tools, their survival ability sky-rocketed. Hammers and spears became too precious to ever be abandoned once they’d been introduced into the environment. The written word was another such invention. Politicians and the church (usually one and the same) attempted to ensure that the general population remain illiterate because when the people learn to read and write, they start learning. They gather knowledge that tends to upset and awaken society from its mundane slumber.

The best way to keep the people docile and silent is to keep them ignorant. Literate people learn things that inspire political dissent, and that is not compatible with a strong government.

Historically, dissent came from a variety of sources. As an example, an Italian philosopher and physicist by the name of Giordano Bruno was made to wander the continent to avoid capture when he suggested that there may be something outside our own universe (even life). Beware: Science was suggesting that our egos should perhaps not be as big as they are because not everything revolves around us. This view was extremely anti-religious at the time and governments weren’t too fond of it because it threatened to awaken the people’s minds to other possibilities. What would happen if they became less religious and suddenly had more time for education? What if they learned that something could be done about corruption in government?

In any case, Bruno was burned alive for his views but that did not prevent history from being recorded.

For those who chose to stay alive, controversial documents were written in languages that only a select few spoke, like Latin. So having a controversial Latin manuscript delivered to someone was sort of like sending an encrypted file. With low-level encryption, some people will be able to access the information in it, but most people won’t. The purpose of keeping secrets is to avoid political persecution: Torture and death.

Galileo himself was given a friendly tour of the torture chambers after publishing his view that the stars weren’t being held by god. Government and the church didn’t like that. Once confronted and threatened, he published a public apology. It’s quite painful to read and goes something like this.

I, Galileo Galilei… arraigned personally before this tribunal, and kneeling before you, most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors general against heretical depravity throughout the whole Christian Republic, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the holy Gospels — swear that I have always believed, do now believe, and by God’s help will for the future believe, all that is held, preached, and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church. [1]

He probably wasn’t spineless and I suppose anyone can have second thoughts about their intellectual revolution after spending some time touring the torture chambers–the Catholic Church’s own little version of Guantanamo Bay.

A notable difference here between history and present is that politicians used to be relatively knowledgeable people. In centuries past, important people could speak, write and read Latin. They could not drop out of Latin for an alternative elective course. Today, they tend to get away with remaining unlearned. One recent humiliating display of ignorance took place when the Pentagon asked Wikileaks to return electronic documents. This is something most 7 year-olds would identify as a fallacy. The concept involves the simple distinctions between one and many; here and there; now and then.

Some things have changed for the worst and some things have remained the same. When the citizens of Rome were first introduced to Greek art and gypsy music, they hated it. They stoned nude statues and stuck leaves on them. Now we have amputated sculptures with fig leaves over their genitals. Talk about lack of imagination. Literate people with exposure to art and culture learn new frameworks of thought, and this is tends to produce open minds. Open minds are sometimes revolutionary minds and this is not compatible with strong government.

The new leaking revolution isn’t astronomy ant it isn’t art. But it is science and it is an entirely new framework of thought. Once we start living by the standards of transparency, everything that matters will change. It becomes that much more difficult to distract ourselves with issues about the afterlife and professional sports once we’re exposed to facts that reveal the inner workings of our society.

The simple cause-effect trend we note here is the inverse relationship between ignorance and progress. Preserving ignorance is necessary to keep a society functioning– to keep it functioning as is. Most people would rather subsist, or just be; content in their present predicament, many would rather not live through a revolution, even if it means taking that step from subsistence to a real existence as a free individual.

There is a way to ensure that progress continues and it’s the same mechanism that has given us Newtonian Mechanics, Relativity and Quantum Theory. It’s the mechanism that gave us automatically flushing toilets and air travel. That mechanism is publication. You don’t have to learn Latin or cryptography if you have no use for them, but at the very least, don’t stand in the way of progress. At most, stand up for the freedom of expression and publication, because “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).

Notes

[1] Giorgio de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (University of Chicago Press 1955), pp. 312-313.

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