Jeremy Bentham once said, “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” This brings to mind the question of how we should help people as a society. Should we, as some argue, only help ourselves, because if everyone helps themselves then we don’t have to worry about anyone else. Or, if we have the ability to help others and we do not, this is morally repugnant, and it is our duty to ensure that everyone helps each other, creating a sustaining community of equals. This is a problem that has plagued the human race since our inception. Some societies, such as the Vikings or the Mongols, consider self and family above others. Other societies, such as the Ottomans or the Chinese, believe that the will of the self should be put below the benefit of the society as a whole. But as Americans, our perspective is more varied, as it should be. We have had programs such as Harding’s Rugged Individualism, which encouraged Social Darwinism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism, and we have had programs such as LBJ’s Great Society or the New Deal, which obviously take the opposite approach.
I would argue that a middling approach must be taken. We must not create a complacent welfare state where work is viewed as unnecessary when you have the funds coming from welfare. We must also not create a state where individuals suffer because they can’t receive assistance because of the greed of others. We must create programs which first and foremost must provide a general service to the taxpayers. It must also encourage work, and not just blind checks. Third, this program must be exclusively be run by the government, not by contractors or private companies. The government has been tainted by the profit-hungry corporate machine, and this will only distort the intentions of this program. Corporations and profit are not bad, however they have no place in governmental endeavors. Government exists to serve the people, and enable them to succeed for themselves, not to make money. I would offer the WPA as an ideal example, something that I have already written about at length. The people of America do not need a welfare check, they need a job and skills.
I would argue that it is morally repugnant that one would watch millions of people suffer, and not do something about it at any level. If private corporations will not help the people in the way that they need it, then it is time for the government to fulfill its responsibilities to the population. The Republican line that these programs encourage complacency is false, they only say this because they are bought and paid for by corporations.
The day that humanity halts questioning, we cease to exist. Inquiry is an innate quality that makes humans the way that we are. Civilization would not have progressed if it wasn’t for the audacious nature of individuals, and our desire to know.
The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, which I personally consider one of the most significant ages in our history, was the century that defined our country and our people. In a single century, great men such as John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau reshaped our understanding of the human experience. Established institutions such as the monarchy and the church began to crumble, and out of the ashes of conflict rose the freest societies humanity has ever known.
This progress is not universal. There are those in our society who wish to see the rights of man disappear, degraded, and denied. It is a fact of life that there are always those who wish to exert undue amounts of power over their fellow man, this is human nature and is not something that can be ignored or easily defeated. The ultimate goal of these vile men is the denial of knowledge, of understanding, to the people. The most effective way to combat this is the effective and timely distribution of knowledge to everyone, and to not hinder the flow of information to the people. The phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” comes to mind, and this is certainly true. We do not remember the personality of Thomas Jefferson or Jeremy Bentham, we remember their words, because ideas are the only immortal beings.
Knowledge is a double-edged sword. It can be used simultaneously to repress and to liberate. However, it is better that we be exposed to every idea rather than the ideas chosen by a select few, because this allows people to make their own choices, good or bad.
Humanity will progress when the whole of society is exposed to the collective knowledge of the human race. Limiting knowledge, shutting down research centers, cutting funding, these things are not just detrimental, they are catastrophic. The monetary cost of progress is high, but it is not just a necessary cost, it is a long term gain for all of us. It is up to the United States Government to fund research institutions, as it is clear that the private sector seeks to distort science in order to make profit. While profit is a good thing, the government is the only institution capable of consistently releasing unbiased and clear results.
This repression of the academic community that we are experiencing in the Trump era is harmful, and damaging to our reputation abroad, as well as our ability to conduct ourselves as the leader of the world. The United States succeeds when we enable the brightest among us to, and slashing funds or relying on the private sector is not the correct path.