The Thought Police: Freedom from Freedom      

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A recent controversy arose at Stanford University over an image of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” For those of you unfamiliar with this book, Hitler wrote it in 1925 and it became the basis for the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) in Germany. (

The image provoked a reaction somewhat out of proportion to the reality of any actual threat, yet the university actions are difficult to explain. They launched an investigation based on a report in their Protected Identity system and felt the need to counsel the student about reading such material in public and to “educate” them on the need for being sensitive to the “feelings” of others.

The “Protected Identity Report” was filed in the matter when some students objected—and apparently felt threatened—by the image of a “reading in progress.” What is a protected identity report you ask? Excellent question I myself posed.

It would seem the Protected Identity program, while sounding well-intended, can become a block to legitimate educational pursuits.

From the Stanford website;

“The Protected Identity Harm Reporting process is the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.

Specifically, a PIH incident is conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law. 

The Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting process intakes information via a reporting mechanism to 1) help students who have been affected by these incidents and 2) collect data. It is not a judicial or investigative process* though we do hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal. “

Here, it didn’t seem to matter that the book in question causing the distress — a book mind you, not a Nazi rally or recruiting poster—was assigned reading in a humanities class at the university! One would assume you could buy the book in the university book store (unless they hide such things in a locked backroom.) Yet the university—which one would assume knew the book was assigned reading—felt the need to proceed with an investigation and contacted the “offending” student.

Are we really so fragile as a species that someone reading a book can cause us angst and discomfort? Maybe schools should focus on fortifying their students to face the vicissitudes of life instead of pandering to their weaknesses by sanitizing reality.

If one considers a weakness like a wound, one needs to treat it, not mask it with morphine. Killing the pain ignores the fundamental problem.

We are a species of creatures who have produced Mozart, Beethoven, Davinci, Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, Mia Angelou, Marie Curie, and countless others. We have also produced Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, The Inquisition, World Wars, and Nuclear weapons.

Joe Broadmeadow, Author

At the risk of sounding callous—who am I kidding, I am callous about this nonsense—if our universities are turning out graduates offended by and needing protection from someone else reading a book, we are doomed as a society. While there are many things we as a society need to eradicate from our practices and prejudices, reading is not one of them.

I’ve read Mein Kampf, I didn’t become a Nazi. I’ve read books by Lenin, I didn’t become a communist. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings, I didn’t become a Hobbit.

You get the point. In reading I learned something every time.

While university goals should be to expand one’s knowledge and perspective on the world, it should also promote resiliency in the face of opposing views or perspectives that go against what is good for all of humanity. In order to right a wrong or fight against harmful philosophies or beliefs one needs both the courage of conviction and the will to stand up for the right thing. No “protected identity harm” process in the world will offer any help in such matters.

I can think of no better course than to understand the nature of evil and recognize it in all its forms. One needs to see through the sheep’s clothing and identify the wolf.

Now I am not naïve. There are many examples of people, even in this day and age, embracing the Nazi agenda and other despicable philosophies. No better example than this gem of a story.

I would encourage you to read it to appreciate the danger still exists. Understanding the motivation behind one’s enemy is a major step toward planning to defeat it. Ignorance is never a sound foundation to deal with any issue. Reading a book to understand even the most horrendous philosophy is less dangerous than failing to understand such things exist. I would argue it is a necessary step in fighting such offensive and inhuman philosophies.

Unless we regain our understanding that the world can be a harsh place requiring resiliency, knowledge, and determination, we will never eradicate those fools who embrace racial superiority, ignorance, and brutality.

We are a species of creatures who have produced Mozart, Beethoven, Davinci, Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, Mia Angelou, Marie Curie, and countless others. We have also produced Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, The Inquisition, World Wars, and Nuclear weapons.

Within every human is the capacity for greatness and great evil. Until we encourage one over the other—a road not easy or without effort—all the Protected Identity reports in the world will amount to nothing more than a record of our failure.

Now go read a book! Here’s a good start,

2 thoughts on “The Thought Police: Freedom from Freedom      

  1. The word “until” seems like the wrong word to begin the paragraph about fourth from the end. Otherwise, well said, and points well taken.

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