Dennis BeaverJune 4, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver

“I am a tenured high school social studies teacher and also a reserve deputy sheriff. For years I’ve shown students YouTube and training videos of law enforcement encounters that led to violence and shootings. We analyze how they could have been prevented.

Also, I show them university studies demonstrating no proof that cops are out hunting people of color, as the media often suggests.

“Recently I was brought before the school board, told I am spreading pro-police propaganda and am a racist. That made me laugh, as I am Black! I was not given a chance explain or defend myself, but to keep my job I must agree to not use this material again.

“Mr. Beaver, what’s happening to our country, to academic freedom, to just the simple ability of showing many sides of important social issues? What explains so much hate today? It is destroying education! Teachers are afraid to tell the truth.

“There is no room for dialogue, difference of opinion or disagreement. If you don’t agree, then there is something wrong with you. I believe our democracy is in trouble, and I’m scared. What are your thoughts? Lance.”

We Are More Divided than Ever

Just chat with Gary Saul Morson and Morton Shapiro as I did recently and you will understand why they maintain the United States is dangerously divided, putting freedom of speech, academic freedom and our democracy at risk.

Morson is a professor of Slavic languages and literature at Northwestern University. Shapiro is the school’s President. They co-authored “Minds Wide Shut – How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us,” that has just been published.

Their book explores how our thinking about important social or economic issues can be fossilized by the kind of dangerous thought process happening right now, today, across our country.

I asked them, “How did we get to the stage that people are not listening to each other? What will it take to see the end of our democracy?”

Shapiro – If you want to hasten the end of democracy, then regardless of the issue, don’t feel you need to compromise if you are absolutely convinced you know the truth.

Consequences: The complete failure to engage in dialogue. Decide that you literally want to destroy anyone who disagrees with you or who dares to promote a different point of view, such as this teacher who is faced with losing his job.

Think, “Unless we do it to them, they will do it to us.” Either side can do the liquidating or either side can be the victim. This happened in Soviet Russia and China and is still happening there. But now it is here, in our own country. Cancel Culture may just be the beginning.

Morson – Refuse to recognize tradeoffs or alternatives. Do not consider the other side as people we can learn from. Consider those who differ with us as evil.

Consequences: It is impossible to come up with effective public policy without input from people with various points of view. We have but to look at the early history of the Soviet Union’s “5-Year Plan” and the Chinese “Great Leap Forward,” where millions of people died from starvation because ideology won over experts in agriculture telling the truth about the failures of these horribly mistaken ventures. In many instances, the experts were killed.

Shapiro – A great way to undermine democracy is to convince yourself that violence is acceptable to achieve your political goal and that truth is all on one side. Keep hating your perceived enemy more and more.

Consequences: Then the slide begins. Things that were one day unimaginable become accepted behavior the next day and then the norm. Who would ever have thought a Jan. 6, 2021 could be possible in the United States of America?

By continuing to hate anyone whose opinion differs with ours we face a civil war leading to no reason for two political parties, freedom of speech or elections. We would live the Soviet experience. The logical extension is that we could only choose one candidate.

Morson – Another way to undo democracy is to nurture the idea of secession – leaving the Union – when things don’t go your way.

Consequences: A study conducted by Rochester University found that 3 in 10 citizens (29 percent) said they’d support their state seceding from the union. This leads to a real challenge to the future of the country. We had one civil war. Do we want another?

Are We Too Late to Fix The Situation?

The authors urge that we all, “Open our minds to the other side, and reallocate some of our TV viewing time to watching, not just one news station, but several.”

Read “Minds Wide Shut” and you will find yourself aboard H.G. Well’s Time Machine, and witness how, across the ages, closed minds have led to misery – and how we can thwart the next Jan. 6.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.