To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Observercast

Thought Police Mobilize Again

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In the continuing Republican attack on the republic in which we stand, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill recently to collect the most personal of private information on everyone involved in the state’s higher education system.

House Bill 223, as reported by Huffington Post’s Nina Golgowski, “will require public colleges and universities to annually survey their students and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints.”

At the signing DeSantis hinted that “schools could face financial penalties depending on the survey results,” she wrote.

Saying his state’s colleges exhibit “intellectually repressive environments,” he and his GOPQ comrades have an enacted an intellectually repressive law that will invade the hearts and minds of students, professors and every other college employee. Since the law “does not state whether the survey’s answers will be kept anonymous,” we can expect a database of those who think “right” [mouth the same platitudes as Republicans] and those dangerous subversives who think for themselves.

Teaching students how to think for themselves is the primary benefit of a college education. Everything else is job training that could be better handled through apprenticeships.

Republicans are cut-and-paste clones when it comes to oppressive legislation, taking the same bills – along with donations – from rightwing oligarchs into legislatures across the nation. The argument against academic freedom often boils down to the dread that daughters and sons attending college might learn something counter to family superstitions and prejudices.

At one time, The Dallas Morning News had a great roster of columnists. I believe it was John Anders who recounted his experience as a college freshman, balking at some newfangled idea or fact. The prof, in true Socratic fashion, led him through a series of scenarios until he found himself admitting that he was in college not to hear anything that he didn’t already know.

It was a moment of awakening for the youngster. But such revelations scare the bejeebers out of those whom Commonweal’s Charles McNamara calls Know-Nothing Know-It-Alls.

We have seen these tactics from Republicans before – during the Joseph McCarthy Era. Professors who taught anything that might be construed, even misconstrued, as being “liberal” were driven from their classrooms.

Or, in the case of one of my best English professors, he arrived in my neck of the Piney Woods after being suspended from City College of New York in 1957 “on a charge of falsely denying membership in the Communist party,” according to the New York Times at the time. Heck, in our studies of 16th century literature, Shakespeare and Milton, we didn’t even delve into the hornets’ nests of Elizabethan and English Civil War politics, much less any politics from 300 years later.

As bizarre as it might sound, back then I would have likely been classified as some kind of Puritan though certainly not a confused Calvinistic kook. It would have taken extraordinary circumstances to get a border commoner such as I into the circle of the Wizard Earl and his School of the Night. But, as a Percy, he was a distant relative – al a Edmund Spenser and the famous Spencers [Diana’s ancestors] – and they, too, were Northerners. Hmm.

I did encounter modern politics in my American foreign policy course, with one of the most charismatic of my professors. About 20 years later, his widow informed me that he had been hounded off campus. American foreign policy in the 1970’s? Yeah, Vietnam came up a time or two.

In the double-speak which they employ when not outright lying, these former, self-proclaimed defenders of individual liberty call the Florida measure “an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution.”

So, teenage freshman, what are your “beliefs and viewpoints?” And be certain that your answers will follow you all the days of your life and determine your employment eligibility forever.

The goal, of course, is to eliminate any unfavorable mention of old conservatives – say, the attempted right-wing coup against FDR – or the fascists who have grabbed the Republican Party guidon – say the armed attack on the Capitol in the latest right wing coup attempt or Florida’s un-American attack on free speech, thought and beliefs.

At the bill-signing press conference, DeSantis said he did not want Florida colleges to be “hotbeds for stale ideology.”

So, moving from McCarthy Era loyalty oaths to DeSantis loyalty screenings represents a great leap forward in repression? No, same stale attempt to destroy dissent.

In his draft of the Virginia State for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson addressed these demagogues: … “the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy.”

And these are dangerous people pursuing an assault on free thinking.

Gary Edmondson
Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democrats. He lives in Duncan, following a sporadic career as a small-town journalist, mostly in Texas, and as an editor of educational audio-visual materials. Some days he's a philosopher/poet, others a poet/philosopher.