Does curiosity have political consequences? (Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a partisan rant.) To put it another way, what happens when curiosity becomes what we might call ‘skilled curiosity’ — meaning, the tendency to ask questions such as “Why is that?” and “How do you know?” plus the knowledge of how to gather information, test hypotheses, weigh evidence, and detect BS. Here’s a concise explanation:
“Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. …[T]his may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
— Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)
Since nearly half the people reading this blog live in countries other than the United States, it may be better to speak of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than the Bill of Rights (part of the US Constitution), but the main point is the same: No law or declaration will secure human rights unless the people have both the will and the skills to hold their leaders accountable — something my own countrymen need to learn if we’re to reign in our increasingly nosy and paranoid government.