Don’t Panic: We Still Have Library Cards

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I generally make it a habit of eschewing the news media. It is not just the exasperating constancy of war, mass killings, disease, climate change and Justin Beiber that make me want to retreat to my cave. It’s the incompetence of modern day journalism.

Now, I’m not talking about technical incompetence. Today’s journos are very skilled and work at an exuberant pace. They mostly get their facts (with the exception of Fox News) correct and with the help of the Internet its almost impossible to be ignorant of everything happening in the world at any given time.

(It is debatable as to just how beneficial the effect of knowing just how terrible things are on the human psyche is.)

My beef with modern journalism is its cowardice.

In a time in which candidates for President Of the United States of America openly and blatantly lie to the people to stoke the fires of hatred, paranoia and even sedition, few modern journalists lack the spine to call them on their deceptions.

Lying to the American people, dividing them, playing on the prejudices with gross distortions about “socialism” and the specter of “sharia” law (biblical law, though, that’s okay) and all other manner of boogeymen should be tantamount to treason. It tears at the fabric of our society. And it’s done for the political and financial gain of insanely wealthy individuals.  The same individuals who fight raising wages, who ship jobs overseas so they can lower their overhead costs. These people are the opposite of patriots.

But the news media is ever ready to print their lies in huge letters for all to see, without regard to its effect. And one of the worst lies told and too often repeated without analysis is this:

America is in a Death Spiral and Will Become a Third World Nation Tomorrow

This fiction is all too often espoused by partisans who are hilariously oblivious to the fact that their efforts to limit education, cut social services and inject their (at times) backward religiosity into the national determinism will be the cause of such a doomsday.

But no such doomsday will ever come. As defense of our future and, to some extent our past, allow me to present as a beacon of hope and virtue, the greatest American institution there ever was:

The Humble Public Library

At the New York Public Library (NYPL) main branch on 42nd Street in Manhattan this quote is etched in stone:

“I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the conditions, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1822

The most revolutionary idea of The Revolution was that every citizen was afford the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” This is often quoted as shorthand for the big ideas of the time, but too often, the pundits, journos and talking heads miss a critical detail: the context of happiness is not a pursuit of sensory pleasures or simply free time. To the founders happiness and freedom began with the exercising of the mind.

This is why slaves were (and are) forbidden from literacy. A free mind is soon to command a free body.

You can’t find libraries in the intellectually impoverished parts of this planet. Go ahead, find the ISIS Public Library in Raqqa. I’ll wait.

It is no coincidence that the cultural decline of the Arab world charts its rise in Islamic religiosity. The “Golden Age of Arab Science” as its often known ended between approximately 700-1000 years ago. There are many different factors contributing to that decline and the subsequent intellectual dark period that followed and persists today. But in the modern age these hyper-religious societies have produced little to no scientific advancements, literary contributions or philosophical conversations.

Comparatively: we’re doing great over here in the USA!

And that’s in large part due to a deeply liberal idea: that all persons have not just the right, but the obligation, to expand their minds in as many ways as he or she can. Monotone thinking and notional echo-chambers are the deaths of empathy, insight and a host of other really really good things.

The public library is the beacon and champion of Being Really Smart. And in an age in which we are bombarded with images and information from all over the globe being really smart is critical. It is the only thing that can inoculate citizens from misinformation and lies.

Libraries may the greatest thing America has ever done for itself.

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