The Spike or Victoria University College Review, June 1927
FREE THOUGHT AND THE UNIVERSITY
"It is the fundamental right and highest duty of man to think his own thoughts and to act his own acts; independent self-determination is the royal prerogative of the mind. Nothing will avail here but free, unbiassed thought."
Those whose sincere convictions are not, like Babbitt's, fashioned from the editorials of our leading newspapers, can hardly have failed to hear with some perplexity the vast, insistent roar that continually swells throughout the land, deafening everyone with the proclamation that this is a "free country." It is the voice of our self-satisfied conservatism. But stop your ears for a moment against it, or try to lift your own voice in a feeble protest that we might be a good deal freer, and notice the change in that tone! It becomes at once more insistent, more menacing; it reminds you that you are not only "free," but that you must be content to enjoy just this one particular kind of freedom; that any other kind of freedom is not in the interests of the State. You simply must be "free," and free in the way that authority, conservatism, and convention demand.
This sort of thing is, in one way, good: by disapproving of the dissentient voice, it throws the dissenter upon his own inner resources, and—rare phenomenon!—he begins to think! The thought processes may not, from the view of logic, be called page 2 clear or systematic: there are too many interruptions for that! But they come rather as a slow awakening, a gradual approach to full consciousness, with here and there a sharp jolt to speed the revelation. Is this, then, an age of tolerance? What is this freedom"? The absence of the political and industrial tyrant, of the fat parasite who would flourish at the expense of the weak; a semblance of friendship between employer and man; equal recognition by the law of both the rich and the humble; these alone, even if they were realised, would not and do not constitute true freedom. A free people is one in which the highest energies of all have full expression—energies not merely physical, but mental. Man is not free until thought—his essential and particular power—is unrepressed; until every individual in every group may not only act freely, but may speak and think in perfect freedom.
How far is this freedom existent now? Suggest that the provision of the Singapore Base is an inevitable step toward the alienation of a fine people, and your very loyalty is frequently suspect. Speak in purely disinterested terms of the superstitious origin of all religions, and their almost universal opposition to the spread of scientific knowledge, and more often than not, you find your morality questioned!
Thought repressed becomes either mechanical or malcontent. We do not want either. We do not want a society whose thought goes no farther than what it shall eat and drink and wear, or how it may conform with least difficulty to what people have been thinking and saying and doing for a hundred years. Nor, on the other hand, do we want thought that emerges in shallow vindictiveness or purely destructive criticism; thought that fails to realise that what is required is not destruction from without but improvement from within; that lauds the principle of evolution to the sky in every other sphere, yet fails to take cognisance of the fact of evolution in the very institutions which it is attempting to undermine. We want what is common to Shelley and Goethe and Mill, to Darwin and Ghandi and Fosdick—minds unconfined by tradition and custom and prejudice. We want not only the highest, freest thought, but the power and the opportunity to express it.
The University must range itself definitely on the side of true freedom. It is the one spot in the community where there is a chance of our learning to think for ourselves. It must be the centre of the new freedom; it must teach us to express the finest kind of power—the free power of the mind. It has not always failed here in the past. It has been to the everlasting credit of not a few Universities, branded in time of war as "hotbeds of sedition," that they were the only institutions which remained unafraid to preach the doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man.
Can we not learn in all departments of the University, instead of in one or two alone, to think for ourselves? The school and the Church have taught men to remember and to believe, but not to think. The task of the University must be to aid us in the liberation and development of the mind. That is the only path to true freedom, the only means of spreading abroad in page 3 society this spirit of "broad-minded tolerance," which we are so very weary of hearing our newspapers praising as something really and truly realised.
For the age of tolerance is not yet.