Saturday, January 15, 2011

Resuscitating Critical Thought and Free Speech

I received an email this week from a professor in Wisconsin. It was a very nice letter in support of the "Dumbing Down of America." I had written that piece earlier in the week after a conversation with a California professor.

He said something in his email that made me pause. Something I take for granted. He thanked me for having the courage to write about things like an American educational system focused on greed and money rather than producing a competent product. A student that has actually learned and retained the material.

When I was a Police Chief, I didn't have "real" freedom of speech. What I had was some abomination. An illusion of free speech. I couldn't utter the truth- because the truth pisses people off. In a small town, uttering the truth will raise a lynch mob. A lynch mob that is not afraid to reach out to your boss and threaten to quit doing business with them until you are canned. I remember that nastiness- all too well.

I created a lynch mob anyway. Any time you stick up for your principles, you are sticking your neck out. It wasn't that I was stupid you see. I had simply decided what kind of man I was going to be. And I didn't give a shit if it cost me my job. Ultimately it did. I am ok with that. I chose that predictable path. (It's always nice to have a cushion of dough before you start uttering opinions)

There are other people who don't care what kind of people they are. They hide all of those insecurities and fears, the subjugate every thought and opinion, and they keep their mouths shut. Why? Because keeping their jobs, their paychecks, perhaps status is more important to them than telling the truth. They have a different set of priorities than a guy like me. They ridicule folks like me. Call us gunslingers and idiots. Of course, in return and in private, I called them ass kissers and pussies.

So is it better to be truthful or is it better to keep your mouth shut? It depends on two things. Your priorities and what kind of person you want to be. I want you to pause here. Conjure up a thought about somebody in your circle of friends. A person that you and your friends universally accept as a "great guy or gal." Because I am about to make a prediction. The person you will be thinking of will be someone who never utters bold opinions. They will be supporting listeners. They will always do what they are told to do. They get a long with a wide array of people because they have an internal drive that avoids conflict at all costs. They will never discuss politics or any subject that could potentially cause conflict. We label these people- great guys or gals- because they are safe and predictable. We know they will never utter harsh opinions. They will not argue when we extend our bold opinions. They will listen to and support us.

Imagine if you will, a world where there is no conflict. A world where there is no critical thought and no uttering of opinions. How productive would that world be? We'd be a nation of communistic zombies. There would be no justice. There would be no critical truth. There would be no improvement because the status quo would always remain status quo. We'd all just chant "Koom-By-Ya."

That world would suck for guys like me. A real yawner.

The world needs supportive people. I like "good guys and gals." I like the emotional safety they provide. But the world also needs change agents. I'll use drug laws as my example. We have failed to achieve any measurable results except incarcerating 4 million people and creating a couple hundred thousand prison jobs. The war on drugs is lost. It's time to try something new. I can utter that shit because I consider it prima facia truth. And I will rigorously argue that the billions, perhaps trillions we have lost- not too mention the lives we have lost- are proof enough. And only the DEA gunslingers, the young indoctrinated cops, and politicians will argue. Because their livelihoods depend on the the continuation of this failed policy and belief system. In fact our entire judicial system, our nations police forces, our health care system, our entire prison system, are built on this failed premise. Legalizing and regulating dope, using the proceeds for education and rehab, would put a lot of people- millions of people- out of work. And just in case you were wondering- I hate dope. I don't even drink anymore.

The war on drugs is lost. What remains is the internal war between those that want the status quo policies continued and change agents like me that say screw that- it doesn't work. That's the real war. The people in power hate change. They have built rich lives on status quo and failed beliefs. They are just as compromised as I once was.

Could I have ever uttered that opinion as a Police Chief? Not a chance in hell. They would have had me strung up by sundown. I didn't have that kind of courage back then. I needed the paycheck. I was compromised.

So to bring this rant full circle and to a close, I understand the consequences of uttering the truth, a truth that is proven de facto true yet the opposition still calls it an opinion. I am in a position now to be able to do so. My income stream is dependable and does not rely on me kissing anyone's ass or playing nice. I understand a Professor in Wisconsin who understands that the system he now relies on for a paycheck is failing. The educational system where teaching and learning and passing those skills on- were once the priority. That system has now been replaced by greed, money, and a hierarchy that likes it that way. The priorities have changed. He cannot publicly criticize an educational system that buys his silence. He would look like a hypocrite. That's how I felt as a Police Chief. Here's your check, now shut up and play nice. 

I appreciate the courage it takes to utter the truth. The truth is inconvenient and out of vogue now days.
We nearly killed it. Maybe the younger crew can bring it back to life.

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