Visions of Helicopter Blades Danced in my Head

Since dawn this morning, I have had the drone of helicopter blades driving through my head. Most of the time it has been a vague annoyance. But the sound struck me as especially sad, even a bit apocalyptic, when I tucked my twelve year old into bed this evening. We live on the edge of a world—only blocks from the University of California, Berkeley, only miles from Occupy Oakland—that uses blunt instruments such as these—the terror of helicopter blades cutting through the air, the fear induced by projectiles launched from guns into crowds—to protect the world of commerce from the world of knowledge.

Yes. The use of these blunt instruments attests to the depth and strength of the skin—not deep, not strong—that stands between knowledge and power. It attests to the fear and terror that knowledge provokes in power and to the powerlessness of power in the face of knowledge. (Do I hear the drone of the helicopter blades subsiding? Or only clearing the way before my son’s dead-tired sleep? I still hear them, hear them both, at a distance.)

We live on the edge of just such a world. The world of commercial power has always felt that the institution just beyond my doorstep, this university, its university, is rightfully theirs. They measured its value, they paid the market price, the fair price, for all its wares. (There. The helicopters are gone.) Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann believed that they had made a fair deal. They paid the market price—in 1978 dollars—for a ballot proposition in California. And now they (or their heirs and assigns) are paying for popular uprisings around the world. (I wonder how much fuel was consumed hovering above Berkeley today?)

But, here is a fact that I know for certain. When Australopithecus differentiated itself 2.5M years ago from its fellows, it possessed and passed on a biological directive that resists placing a price upon its soul or ours. Because the knowledge that it requires to survive and achieve its highest potential it will protect no matter how many projectiles or helicopters you send its way. This knowledge is its life-blood. It knows this in its genes. And so it will resist. It will achieve its goal—not simply life, but the good life—no matter what you place in its path, or it (and you) will die.

The helicopters have departed. I hear my son’s breathing even out. The knowledge of life and the life of knowledge are not for sale.