Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Resilience and Intolerance

Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open, and that in his youth,and so try to test his ideas on reality.
- Albert Einstein

That wonderful time of year when new graduates are forced out go forth into the real world is finally coming to a close.  This season was marked by a rising tide of intolerance.

Item:  40 students and three faculty members at Haverford College arrogantly demanded that the former Chancellor at the University of California (Berkeley) apologize for his handling of a protest at his university in 2011.  He ultimately withdrew rather than accede to their demands.

Item:  Dozens of students and alumni protested the selection of a Democratic Colorado state senator as commencement speaker because they disagreed with his views.

Item:  A petition from a group of students and faculty at Smith College ultimately forced Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, to withdraw as commencement speaker.

Item:  At Rutgers, Muslim student organizations, and student and faculty activists, pressured Condoleezza Rice into declining an invitation to speak at commencement.

Item:  The President of Brandeis caved to pressure and “disinvited” a woman’s rights activist because of her controversial views on religion.

Unfortunately, this was not confined to colleges and universities.

Item:  A liberal group delivered a petition with over 100,000 signatures calling on the Washington Post to not publish any stories that cast doubt on climate change.

Item:  In South Carolina, two state senators sought to punish two universities for putting books prominently portraying gay protagonists on suggested summer reading lists.

Item:  Within two weeks of announcing that he had agreed to be on the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Lennart Bengtsson – a prominent mainstream climate scientist – faced such withering personal attacks and harassment from within the climate science community that he felt compelled to withdraw.  The GWPF has committed the unpardonable sin of trying to bring anthropogenic climate change believers and skeptics together in civil discourse.

Each of these incidents ought to be offensive to everyone who believes in freedom of speech.  But that shouldn’t blind us to the implications they have for community resilience.  Ultimately, resilient communities adapt to whatever changes they face.  And by its very nature, adaptation requires innovation on the part of a community – doing things differently so that it can achieve a better outcome.  This means breaking down the walls of the prison of its ideas; trying to gain new perspectives on those ideas, and new ideas to meet the challenges of a changing world.

Long ago and far away, I lived for a while in the poorest state in our country.  An economic developer I knew told me that he had an infallible test to determine whether a community was going to grow.  “Look to see if it accepts new ideas and new people,” he said.  “If it does, it will recognize that it’s not necessary to take someone else’s piece of the pie – you just have to make the pie bigger for everyone.”
Thus, a community’s resilience is tied to its ability to learn.  Restricting access to new ideas or different perspectives constrains a community’s resilience, imprisons it in today’s accepted wisdom so that it is less likely to be able to solve the problems it will face tomorrow.  We must decry this rising intolerance not only for its offense against free speech but also because it makes us all less resilient.