The Lost ACLU Lecture of Carl Sagan

Steven Pinker and Harvey Silverglate in Quillette:

Around 1987, Sagan gave an uncannily prescient lecture to the Illinois state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on the intersection between his area of expertise and theirs. We were fortunate to obtain a recording of that lecture, which we have transcribed, lightly edited, and annotated to update its historical allusions and contemporary relevance. Sagan spoke prophetically of the irrationality that plagued public discourse, the imperative of international cooperation, the dangers posed by advances in technology, and the threats to free speech and democracy in the United States. A 35-year retrospective reveals both increments of progress (some owing to Sagan’s own efforts) and
continuing menaces.

Most importantly, he highlighted the virtues common to science and civil liberties that are needed to deal with these challenges: freedom of speech, skepticism, constraints on authority, openness to opposing arguments, and an acknowledgment of one’s own fallibility.

The two of us, a cognitive scientist and a civil liberties lawyer, are presenting this lecture to the public at a time when Sagan’s insights are needed even more urgently than they were when originally expressed.

More here.