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Is it too late to let freedom ring once more?

Rabbi Yonason Goldson

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Published May 25, 2016

Is it too late to let freedom ring once more?

The re-writing of American tradition vs. the re-righting of American values

Facebook has confessed that stories appearing on its supposedly-unbiased "Trending Topics" were manipulated. Rather than risk allowing its one billion active users exposure to the corrosive influence of conservative commentators, Facebookís "news curators" decided to doctor the list of headline stories to favor left-wing political leanings.

In other breaking news, the sky is still blue, the grass is still green, and the loudest proponents of freedom are still laboring mightily to impose their vision of freedom on others.

Freedom of speech has been on life-support for decades already, wracked by the infectious scourge of groupthink, political correctness, and moral equivalence. College newspapers have routinely been stolen by students and even administrators for espousing politically incorrect views. Speakers of all ideological stripes have been shouted down, sometimes even by groups they support. Recently, a petition circulated among Yale students to repeal the First Amendment (including, ironically, the right to petition) collected 50 signatures in one hour.

Freedom of assembly is also under attack, as Harvard University launches a new campaign to coerce the dissolution of single-sex student groups. Astonishingly, Harvard has abandoned the double-standard of only targeting all-male groups, sparking protest from young women who have benefited from all-female associations. Harvard deserves some small accolades for applying its ideological agenda even-handedly, with both eyes closed.

POLITICS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

In his recent commencement address at Howard University, President Obama offered this advice for reversing the tide of willful ignorance and divisiveness: "Listen to those you disagree with, and be prepared to compromise. Democracy requires compromise, even when you're 100 percent right." Itís a pity the president hasnít come to this realization sooner, before he forced down the throat of the American people his healthcare plan, his Iran deal, his open-borders policy, and his imperial edict outlawing bathroom segregation by gender.

The real death of free speech stems from the death of credibility. News organizations have abandoned even the pretense of objectivity or accuracy. The line between reporting and editorializing is consciously and persistently blurred. Elected officials and presidential candidates show such utter disregard for the truth that they donít even attempt to disguise their prevarications, much less apologize when caught in the act.

But itís the corruption of language itself that may pose the greatest danger to what remains of the institution one called Truth.

There was a time when we turned to Webster, Roget, and Fowler for instruction in the use of language. Today, politicians and the media study under the tutelage of Lewis Carroll:


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."

The question today is not which but who is to be master. George Orwell warned us half a century ago that the one who controls the present controls the past, and that the one who controls the past controls the future. In the same way that the Party manipulated the people through the control of language in Orwellís dystopian classic 1984, the modern culture of political correctness is molding American society into something that the Framers never intended and would never have imagined.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, wrote Thomas Jefferson. But nothing is self-evident anymore, and this is by design.

The sanctity of life has been profaned under the banner of choice and reproductive rights. The natural biological and social definitions of family and sexual identity have been erased by a campaign of gender equality. And the lives of inner-city residents are being shattered by criminals set free across the country by the evisceration of law-enforcement under the slogan Black Lives Matter.

REAPING WHAT WE HAVE SOWN

They will eat the fruit of their ways and be sated with their own devices, warns King Solomon. The full measure of this proverb is truly frightening, for the architects of moral anarchy and social disintegration continue to celebrate their victories, congratulate themselves for their ideals, and push their agendas forward even as civilization crumbles around them.

When open-mindedness becomes the justification for persecuting those who think differently, when opposing voices are silenced in the name of freedom, when the weight of law and financial penalty is brought to bear against those who stand for traditional values, when collateral damage is ignored because it discredits well-intentioned but failed ideology, then we no longer live in a free society.

For over a generation, the relentless tide of individual freedom and personal autonomy has washed against the shore of American society, sweeping the sands of tradition and responsibility out to sea and eroding the common beliefs that once formed the foundations of our country. If we donít rebuild the embankments of enduring values, soon we will all be underwater.

What can we do about it? Hereís a simple, five-step plan.

1.Speak up. Donít be afraid to express your opinion, whether in the presence of friends or adversaries.

2. Cite facts. This requires doing your homework, familiarizing yourself with hard data from reliable sources, and understanding the other side. Your ability to silence objectors will depend upon demonstrating your knowledge and establishing your credibility.

3. Stay civil. Even if others donít, never resort to name-calling or personal attacks. Your objective is to convince and convert, not to alienate and not to preach to the choir.

4. Persevere. You wonít change anyoneís worldview with one conversation. It has taken the perpetrators of moral anarchy decades to achieve their ends. It will take some time to reverse the damage.

5. Be consistent. Donít excuse bad behavior just because someone is "on your side." The willingness to condemn distortions and disingenuity without partisanship will encourage others to do the same.

Is it too late to make a difference? If we donít try, weíll never know. But we know what will happen if we donít try.

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Rabbi Yonason Goldson, a talmudic scholar and former hitchhiker, circumnavigator, and newspaper columnist, lives with his wife in St. Louis, Missouri, where he teaches, writes, and lectures. His new book Proverbial Beauty: Secrets for Success and Happiness from the Wisdom of the Ages is available on Amazon.

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