I was completing the final days of my senior year in high school when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square to clear the pro-democracy protesters.
Today, 25 years later, many Chinese citizens still do not know the whole story of what happened in their own capital and activists struggle to commemorate the thousands who died when the Army opened fire on unarmed protestors. The government still suppresses the record of these events (you can read Helen Gao’s first person account in today’s New York Times). In recent memory we have seen the Arab Spring ripple across the Middle East. The passion for robust democratic reforms even reached the North American continent with the Occupy Wall Street movement.While the severity of the abuses and the urgency for change vary from decade to decade and country to country, people everywhere yearn for freedom. Wherever there are tyrants and dictators willing to crush the pursuit of knowledge and freedom of expression and movement, people will eventually rise up, even at the risk of their own lives, to demand change.
There is very little that is more human than the quest to know and understand. Abusive power lives off of and thrives in an environment of ignorance and superstition. Tyrany will suppress the free dissemination of knowledge at all costs. Admittedly, the question of whether there is a God is intensely abstract compared to people’s need for food, shelter and physical freedom, but the impulse to stifle inquiry is the same. As Jean-Francois Lyotard pointed out, metanarratives, by their very nature, lead to oppression because they are totalizing in nature. That is, they seek to bring every person and idea under their domain. As such they cannot tolerate contrary views and suppress any opposition. Totalizing metanarratives cannot coexist with a plurality of views because it’s view all-inclusive.
We honor those who gave their lives 25 years ago in Beijing, and more recently in the Middle East and elsewhere, when we refuse to tolerate efforts to subsume our humanity under totalizing stories, whether those stories are called Christianity, science, capitalism or communism.