Our Classified World
Since the time of Pericles, defenders of human freedom have promoted the virtues of open debate within society, and for the full freedom of citizens to investigate their government and world. Whether in a household, a classroom, or a nation, a free flow of critically examined and openly discussed ideas gives us our best chance for intellectual growth and personal achievement.
The legendary physicist, Robert J. Oppenheimer, put the matter succinctly. “There must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry,” wrote the man who led the Manhattan Project. “There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.”
Oppenheimer, a man of conscience and intellect who straddled the worlds of free inquiry and national security, was in a good position to understand the deep meaning of his words.
And yet, despite the wonders of the Web, our world is not one in which free inquiry is the rule. It is a world in which our reality is polished and tinted on a daily basis by global power interests, and in which much of what really goes on is classified.
Consider. The Library of Congress adds roughly 60 million pages to its holdings each year, a huge cache of information for the public. However, also each year, the U.S. Government classifies nearly ten times that amount – an estimated 560 million pages of documents. For scholars engaged in political, historical, scientific, or any other archival work, the grim reality is that most of their government’s activities are secret.
What’s especially galling is that the nature of modern scientific and academic work enable such secrecy to thrive. This belies what they are supposed to do, at least according to the proponents of an open society.