The Downside of KnowledgeSteven Lieberman
Enlightenment is not always a positive experience. As we search for meaning in our universe, sometimes the very thing we seek turns out to be the greatest curse when we finally grasp it.
This first happened to me in law school back in 1992. I entered the legal field essentially devoid of any understanding of what the practice of law actually entailed. Many, if not the majority of the students who were in my class, were the sons and daughters of already existing lawyers. Like many fields, one generation begets another. My parents were both teachers initially and switched to business people when I was in elementary school. The only experience I had with lawyers growing up revolved around studying famous political figures in history who, for one reason or another, entered public service through the legal route.
What I did have when I started the study of law was a set of assumptions about the American political system. I am not referring to the underlying philosophical underpinnings of America as a country… my love and respect for her has never faltered. But, I, candidly, entered into law school with a belief in the refrain that “America has the best legal system available!”
Three years of law school and a study of comparative legal systems robbed me of that delusion.
That loss of innocence came with a price. All of the things that naturally spring from the judiciary have now become compromised. I do not have the luxury of the efficiency of a shorthand belief system, at least as it relates to the factual decisions determined by a lower court, as well as the opinions delivered by their appellate circuits. This is not to say their judgments are not correct. Many times, in my opinion, they are. The problem is that with my deeper understanding of the workings of the judiciary I can no longer simply accept a ruling as being fundamentally representative of the truth. This is unfortunate, and definitely leads to a high degree of cynicism… but, as I mentioned in the opening sentence: enlightenment is not always a positive experience.
The second event took place while I was driving to work back in 2011. I can still remember exactly where I was… waiting for the light to change on Azusa Ave. and Foothill Blvd. The top of the hour news was playing on KFI and the presenter stated that the North Koreans claimed they had launched a satellite into space and it was now in orbit around the planet.
The newscaster then went on to say the Administration had just reported that the rocket exploded on take-off and there was no satellite.
As I sat there idling at the light, for the first time in my life, I was in a complete state of equipoise. I had no idea who was telling the truth. In the past I would have instantly sided with the authority of my government. After all… how and why would our government lie to us?
Now, I had no idea. The trust of our institutions had been breached through a series of injuries, the largest being the contradictorily named “Patriot Act”.
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This was the biggie for me.
After 9/11, I was one of those calling for abrogation of the Constitution for the benefits of security. Yep. I admit it. It is not one of my finer moments, and it was based on a belief that the government would always limit itself to the least intrusive methods for maintaining security of its people. Like I said… enlightenment is not always a positive experience. Civil Libertarian friends of mine were horrified at the concept of the Patriot Act. I told them their fears were misguided. This was an act that was only to be used against terrorists and had multiple safeguards in place to ensure it did not affect the civil rights of general citizens. A couple of years later the U.S. Attorney in Washington State was holding a press conference announcing the indictment of a large drug-trafficking ring. The defendants were brought to justice through the use of the Patriot Act. She actually bragged about it at the press conference!
While we may not mourn the fate of narco traffickers, that is beside the point. Their crimes pale in comparison to the criminal conduct engaged in by the investigating agencies. They broke the law! The Patriot Act did not give them the ability to use extra-constitutional methods to collect evidence against suspected drug dealers, only terrorists, and then only under very specified circumstances. Yet, the agencies used the act as a fig leaf, as my colleagues knew they would, and engaged in criminal conduct in pursuit of their judicial victories.
They may have marginally “cleaned up the streets” (for a brief period of time), but they destroyed the body politic and put themselves in the same column as those they were seeking to incarcerate.
Now we are being told that religious fundamentalism is not a threat to us. Bioweapons are not something that we should be concerned about. Marxist theory is something to be embraced, and the proponents of that theory are entitled to use violence to promulgate their agenda. Racial tribalism is fine, as long as the tribalism is any color but white. For that is the greatest threat to the republic… white supremacy and the rise of the militia movement!
Propaganda only works when it is consistent with what people actually see. This is disjointed. It is a non-sequitur. Are there white nationalists among us? Of course there are. We have all seen them and they are thoroughly marginalized. They always have been. Have they engaged in violence? Of course, but in the last 50 years that violence has steadily decreased and, again, has not advanced the causes of the white supremacists… actually it has done just the opposite. Their strategic program has been as misguided as their twisted ideology. So, how are they now at the pinnacle of their power according to our current administration?
They are not. We are, once again for the benefit of those in power, being fed an agenda… One that supports the idea that we need those in power to look after us, for there are worse evils in the world than the evils they employ. We just have to trust them.