Think Universally, Act Neighborly

Carl Sagan saw a perspective inclusive of other worlds as a key to fixing our own. Public domain.

After Halloween, it’s still a mad and Demon-Haunted World.

On November 1, Kathleen Parker invoked the universalist humanism of Carl Sagan’s 1995 book by that name on the op-ed page of the Washington Post (“Time to abandon Twitter, people”) in contrast to “today’s increasingly vile and violent partisanship.”  It’s not just the midterm elections that horrify Parker, but the stoking of divisiveness on social media, particularly on a Twitter now owned by Elon Musk.

Parker amends Sagan’s insistence that “if a human disagrees with you, let him live” to a suggestion that if Musk’s Twitter becomes overrun by reactionaries, we should  “let them live — among themselves.”

Musk’s “free speech absolutist” approach to Twitter may terrify Parker, but Sagan feared that free speech would be restricted to prevent “foreign authors” from “spouting alien ideologies” or atrophy “when no one contradicts the government.” If anything, Sagan was too sanguine that hot-button issues would be dealt with by “shav[ing] a little freedom off the Bill of Rights” rather than a lot.

Rather than calling for top-down oversight of the emerging information superhighway, Sagan welcomed “inexpensive computer self-publishing” as a means to avoid “a very narrow range of attitudes, memories and opinions.”  Noting how quickly “the apparatus for generating indignation” had whipped up support for a war against Saddam Hussein, “someone almost no American had heard of” before 1990 (and of whom he was “not myself an admirer”), Sagan doubted that such expansive “power to drive and determine public opinion will always reside in responsible hands.”

The host and coauthor of Cosmos was updating the view of the host and coauthor of The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling wrote that Playboy magazine’s 1966 interview with American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell was “a public service of infinite value,” since “it is not public exposure that helps these perverters of human dignity” but the “apathy” resulting from its absence.

Writing for on September 26, Sam Sagan and Ann Druyan (who had coauthored the defense of free speech with her husband Carl in The Demon-Haunted World) reiterated that “we can no longer afford to stay in our silos, occasionally lobbing angry invectives at our antagonists. We can’t afford to stop communicating with each other.”

Calls for online communication to become even more siloed — and for a marketplace of ideas closer to the chartered monopolies of the East India Companies than open agoras — are what really scare me.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Think Universally, Act Neighborly” by Joel Schlosberg, OpEdNews, November 12, 2022
  2. “Think universally, act neighborly” by Joel Schlosberg, The Times and Democrat [Orangeburg, South Carolina], November 15, 2022
  3. “Free speech, Twitter and a demon-haunted world” by Joel Schlosberg, The Press [Millbury, Ohio], November 18, 2022

The US “Intelligence Community” Can’t Be Trusted to Police Itself

Classified document on Resolute desk. Photo by Pete Souza. Public Domain.
Classified document on Resolute desk. Photo by Pete Souza. Public Domain.

An “experienced analyst” at the National Security Agency ran an illegal surveillance project that involved “unauthorized targeting and collection of private communications of people or organizations in the US.” The agency’s inspector general concluded that the analyst “acted with reckless disregard”  for “numerous rules and possibly the law.”

This happened ten years ago. The inspector general’s report was issued six years ago. But the public is just now learning about it, courtesy of Bloomberg. After some intrepid Freedom of Information Act work, we can now see a highly redacted version of the IG report.

The NSA’s investigation of the analyst began about a month before American hero Edward Snowden’s public disclosures of other illegal activities on the part of the  “intelligence community.”

Snowden’s reward for exposing crime in government? Involuntary exile to Russia under threat of life imprisonment.

Snowden’s comment on the report: “Defenders of broad surveillance authorities always insist that Americans don’t have to worry because our intelligence agencies are tightly constrained by law and policy …. But time and again we’ve seen that when laws are violated and powers are abused, no one is held legally accountable.”

New government offices/officials seldom solve anything, and usually make things worse. But something obviously needs to be done about the “intelligence community’s” lawlessness. How about a single replacement for multiple agency inspectors general?

Let’s call this proposal the “Intelligence Ombudsman Office.” It would presumably need to be created by Congress. They should get to work on that ASAP.

The IOO would replace all US intelligence agencies’ inspectors general and other internal enforcement mechanisms.

It would consist of a small board — with previous “intelligence community” affiliations an absolute disqualification for appointment — and a staff of reasonable size for the job.

The IOO would have complete authority to visit any “intelligence community” site, view any “intelligence community” generated document no matter its level of classification, interview any “intelligence community” employee under oath, and present allegations of “intelligence community” crimes to grand juries.

It would also run (hopefully very secure from “intelligence community” eavesdropping) tip lines via phone, Internet, snail mail, and in person, and it would be a felony to punish or retaliate against any “intelligence community” employee for using them.

The IOO wouldn’t solve the overall problem of America’s “national security” apparatus running amok. Supporters of freedom have been fighting a rearguard action against that apparatus’s encroachments since at least as far back as the 1940s. The only real solution is to disband the NSA, CIA, NRO, et al., and salt the earth where their headquarters once stood.

But if we can’t get rid of these rogue agencies, we should at least give an external board real power to police them.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.