In a letter to Abigail Adams, John Adams wrote that “[he] must study Politics and War that [his] sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy” on May 12, 1780. I feel as though we seldom understand what a privilege it is to have been born, if not in America, in a post-Thomas Paine and Jeffersonian era.
And I feel as though we are taking less and less advantage of the ideas crucial to American liberty. In our founding documents, we decided that no authority could govern upon what might be apt or inapt to say. We were also the first country ever to declare a secular state in its constitution: that there should forever be erected a wall between religion and politics. These decisions, radical in their own time, are extraordinarily civilizational, sane and forward-looking. It is clear to me how these precepts, aside many of our other personal rights, mean to guarantee our continued philosophy. That our investigation and understanding of nature, our debate upon morality, nobility, authority, truth and beauty should stretch on for as long as we can let it in our material world.
We must resist viscerally truth with a capital “T,” absolute morality and complete authority. All professionals are but human primates — just like yourself — and are still subject to fallacy and fatuous argument. Especially in our public political sphere, with candidates so often treading on eggshells to avoid a single public mishap or unsafe answer that might end their career — a process of deceit that obscures American voters of that authority’s true intention. This is the illusion by which we arrive at someone so uncharismatic and anti-intellectual as Donald Trump and someone as unethical as Hillary Clinton after a long campaigning cycle and every opportunity to choose a pair of human primates better suited for the presidency.
It is further obvious to me how much we all have been trained to take arguments from authority with their origins in people no more qualified or better versed to answer these questions than ourselves. I feel as though in contexts unrelated to science, we have forgotten the use of evidence and valid argument. Isn’t it a shame that given someone’s view on abortion or some social issue, you can usually guess what tax system or economic reform they think would better the economy? We do not treat each issue as its own, but as one of many whose solution is inherited from one ideology or political head. Let us not presuppose the answers to serious moral or academic questions, because you might be a Democrat or a Republican, or because it says what you should think in a holy book.
I also say this in critique of our social world. Our idea of social should not only be intoxicating ourselves in darkened rooms, repeatedly jumping to repetitive music. Let us each take joy from deliberation, finding a large social circle within which we may follow evidence and take the risk of disagreement and thinking for ourselves. I find this to be a wonderful fusion of one’s social and academic life, as light is only brought by heat, and we have more to learn from each other than is realized.
I’ve noticed myself, however, how socially difficult this has become in a modern America. I’m a registered Democrat and have major liberal leanings, but I reserve the right to vote Republican or independent or to take a heretical view upon the issue of Islamophobia, cultural appropriation or certain economic regulations. It shouldn’t be the heretic’s job to conform. It is the job of those around him to either reveal his ineptitude or find themselves mistaken.