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Less than three decades into the experiment known as America, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession, unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”
Jefferson and the other founding fathers believed that an uninformed population would be more easily controlled by a dictator, thus, an educated electorate was essential to democracy itself.
Cut to today where the challenge we face isn’t so much access to information, but parsing through mountains of it in pursuit of the truth.
Take the US presidential election, for example. One scroll through any social media feed will demonstrate that our devolving political civility is being aided by a public that actually appears eager to be misinformed.
Within both parties, false memes are being shared as fact, biased sites are being espoused as news, and each candidate’s words are being taken out of context and spun for maximum outrage.
As a result, the water has become so muddy that it’s difficult to separate truth from fiction – which brings us back to the current threat to our liberty: An unprincipled public.
In other words, we can have the world’s best libraries in our pockets, but if we don’t use them to check our sources or, worse, knowingly spread untruths to advance our views, then we are not only contributing to our own ignorance, but we are contributing to the ignorance of others as well.
As the means, so the end.
Thus, if we want an ethical government we must be willing to participate in ways that are ethical ourselves.