I haven't taken many classes lately with research papers. It's all been problem sets, notes, finals... not much in the way of going out and finding stuff on my own. Because of this, it was not until yesterday that I experienced the awe-inspiring mass of documentation that is the U.S. Government Archive, on the first floor of the libe: rows and rows of compressed movable shelving, stuffed full of treatises on every imaginable topic.
They're filed according to some byzantine scheme, with at least six separate fields for each identifier. The notation uses capitalization, slashes, dashes, dots, colons, and even superscripts to index each document, and after perusing shelves of this stuff, I can't ascertain what those numbers mean. On this shelf, a decrepit tome "War" rests sedately on the shelf; thicker than it is tall, it describes the military capacities of the United States decades ago. Here's a report on global warming written in 2005: a thin paper booklet held together by staples, and right next to it: five volumes, over three thousand pages, detailing the threat of Communism to the American public.
There's an org chart of American Communism, with hierarchical boxes and arrows laying out the many attack vectors of the insidious Left Agenda. There are pages and pages of testimony before special investigative committee, in which politicians, actors, doctors, and professors testify that they have not been involved with the Communist cause. There are pages and pages about the Multinational Negro Commission, and the Communist Youth Outreach programs. There's discussion of legal proceedings: laws to outlaw the teaching of Communism or related principles in public schools.
Holding this book in my hands, I laughed. How funny, to think of Communism as a serious threat to the American life or government! And how unsettling, that we took it so seriously! What person nowadays would consider blacklisting someone from an entire profession, just because they happened to support a different style of resource allocation? Report one's friends or neighbors to an investigative committee? The fear of Communism, in retrospect, is comical, irrational, unsupportable. I want to say to myself, "Look how far we've come. This isn't an issue now--we're smarter, more experienced, less afraid."
I wonder if, in the future, we'll look back on what we fear today, and laugh. Will we be darkly amused at how we applied the word "terrorism"? Will we chuckle at ourselves for disputes over the teaching of evolution in public schools? And will we reflect on how we fought tooth and nail to withhold legal benefits from same-sex couples, smile, and think "I'm glad we're over that now."?