The colour of the truth

The Amish practise the tradition of rumspringa . At 18, their children, who have since birth been subjected to strict family discipline, are set free.

They are allowed, solicited even, to go out and experience the ways of the “English” – pop music, TV, drinking, drugs and sex.

A couple of years later, they have to decide whether to return to the Amish community or to live as ordinary Americans.

Far from allowing the youngsters a truly free choice, the decision is brutally biased.

After growing up fantasising about the illicit pleasures of the prohibited “English” world, the adolescent Amish are suddenly thrown into it. And this exposure inexorably backlashes, generating unbearable anxiety – no wonder 90 per cent of the youngsters “freely decide” to go back.

This is how our academic freedom works. If one wants to be fully accepted by those in power, there is nothing better than a “radical” past during which one lived out one’s wild dreams.

The Parisian May of 1968 was such a rumspringa, which, in the long term, helped stabilise the system.

A century ago, G.K. Chesterton perspicuously detected the same trap:

Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free and he will not free himself.

[Extract. Appeared in Times Higher Education on February 4th 2005.]