‘The Eves of Our Destruction’: Can Citizens be Ignorant and Free at the Same Time?

As authors, we tend to specialize in writing fiction or nonfiction. A few writers are able to successfully write both entertaining fiction and erudite nonfiction but in a terrible irony, increasingly, our society seems to be so easily manipulated in blurring the distinction.

Thomas JeffersonIn 1816 in a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote, “bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant.” I have been wondering lately if it is possible to be free and ignorant at the same time. This is very troubling to me because in the last few years and particularly this year, what counts for knowledge and facts has been so blurred, I don’t think we can know the difference.

What if the truth eludes me, becomes so translucent that I can no longer make the easy distinction between what is or is not a fact? When does a lie become so big and so loud that it obfuscates the truth and kills it? I have believed for many years that when the last victim of or witness to the holocaust dies, the truth about the holocaust will die, too. One only has to listen to educated powerful men talk about the American Civil War to see how facts can be destroyed. John Kelly, a four star general and Chief of Staff to the president recently said the Civil War happened because of “the lack of an ability to compromise.” Comprise with who for what? Partial freedom, limited slavery, indentured servitude?

Image courtesy of Washington Times

Laura Ingraham who was interviewing the General did nothing to challenge or refute his claims. Ms. Ingraham is an educated woman with a B.A. degree from Dartmouth and JD from the University of Virginia. John Kelly is also highly educated with degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Georgetown and the National Defense University and yet he said with a straight face that the Civil War was failure to compromise. If educated people can so easily refute established history, how can the average person find the way or the will to make the distinction?

During the last election you and I were ceaselessly manipulated by a foreign power, an adversary of the United States to influence the last election. Thousands of adds on social media provided false information specifically designed to affect our vote. If advertising works, and the evidence is compelling that is does, then did we make an uninformed vote based on lies? And if we collectively made an election choice based on lies and manipulation, are we truly free?

As a fiction writer, I take many liberties to craft stories to engage my readers and entertain them. I try to make my stories credible and even when I do stretch credulity to create suspense I try not to diverge from reality so much that my readers lose interest. If our leaders, politicians, generals and corporate executives continue to allow our democracy to be debased by obfuscating the truth for their own ends, I fear that citizens will lose interest and our freedom will be killed by ignorance.

 

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