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Risking Justice

In Behind the Carbon Curtain, The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech. I suggest actions that people can take in response to efforts by those in power to silence dissent. These responses to censorship distilled in my last blog elicited some interesting and worried feedback from readers. In light of concerns with regard to retaliation, it seems important that I provide a “Warning Label” for activism.

There are three caveats in responding to corporate-sponsored censorship by politicians and government agencies. First, be careful. No viable ethical system requires self-destruction. As a tenured professor my job is secure, but this is not the case for most people. Heed the admonition of General George Patton to U.S. troops 1944: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Second, be courageous. It is also true that no action is morally praiseworthy if one stands to lose nothing. Of course, for some people, perhaps many, other demands on their lives make the risks of social action untenable. As Socrates recognized centuries ago, courage is profoundly contextual. Each person must decide what free speech is worth compared to the costs of speaking out. But as Marianne Williamson wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

My third caveat concerns the nature of commitment. In working toward a more just world, we often yearn for the completion of our task. We pin our hopes on success, on seeing the fruits of our labor. We aspire to make our town, or state, or nation into a place where people can express themselves without fear of retribution. But the work of social justice will never be done. That is the curse and the blessing of being human. It’s a curse in that there is no completion of our labors, a blessing in that there shall always be meaningful work.

To understand what the world needs of us, we must hear the muted voices of our neighbors, read the accounts of destroyed art and suppressed science, and listen for what can’t be said in classrooms. But to sustain our work, we must look inside of ourselves. There we shall find the understanding that world-making is self-making, that the endless labor of life is about sustaining our own dignity.

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