We Lose Basic Freedoms When We Ban Books
Are We Still Letting Someone Else Tell Us How to Think?
Recently I watched Showtimes' "The Tudors" and was appalled at the way King Henry VIII wielded his power to destroy anything he didn't approve of. These included, but were not limited to, rival lovers, people of "unapproved" faiths, and banned books. The scenes were haunting but I felt smugly comfortable because I knew that civilization has moved far beyond the days when anyone or any power can dictate personal freedoms, especially in the United States.
Then I read an article protesting book banning, and realized that in 2012 there are still people, right here in the U.S., who would happily destroy information which contradicts their personal beliefs.
Which Moral Guardians Have Banned Books?
Human beings seek leaders, give them power, then look to them for guidance. History tells us that it is often these moral commanders who have decided what information their charges should be exposed to.
A list of groups which have influenced what cultures read and learn includes the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, the Jewish faith, the Islamic faith, numerous sects, the Nazi's, and almost every government in history.
United States citizens may be surprised to realize that the same books they hold as sacred are considered heretical 3,000 miles away. They may be even more astonished to find that several of the books they were required to read in school would be forbidden even in another part of the U.S.
Some of the Titles Which Have Been Banned in the U.S.
If you are a fan of literary censorship, you probably feel it's necessary in order to protect young minds from pollution and to keep our society "decent". Those are some of the arguments which were used to ban the the following, partial, list of banned books (Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, March 1996-1997):
The Scarlet Letter - (Nathaniel Hawthorne) - Banned because it conflicts with community
Moby Dick - (Herman Melville) - Banned because it conflicts with the community
Beloved - (Tony Morrison) - Banned because it's considered too violent
Twelfth Night - (William Shakespeare) - Banned because it "encourages homosexuality"
Of Mice and Men - (John Steinbeck) - Banned for use of profanity
The Joy Luck Club - (Any Tan) - Banned because it conflicts with the community
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - (Mark Twain) - Banned because it's racially offensive
Book Banning vs A Basic Freedom
"Banned books are books to which free access is not permitted. The practice of banning books is a form of censorship, and often has political, religious or moral motivations." (en.wikipedia.org)
On the surface it might seem that "protecting" a group from harmful information would be the responsible, even moral thing to do. However, there are at least a couple of problems with that logic:
- Book banning is akin to "throwing out the baby with the bath water" - when you ban information you find objectionable, you also limit the reader's worldview and intellectual growth.
- When a group restricts anyone's ability to choose what they read, they are also robbing them of a basic freedom.
"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."
(Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas -(" The Un-American Act") Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20)
The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the freedom of expression. Those freedoms are, by law, extended to everyone, even if you don't like what they say.
Who is Responsible for What We Read?
There is no doubt that it would be grossly irresponsble to expose our children to all of the available media. However controlling this is a job for parents. Everyone has a unique cultural and personal ethic they want to provide for their family and they not only have the right to do so, it is their responsibility. But does that job extend to the community?
When we act as a community to determine what is appropriate for other people, we are abdicating our individuality and engaging in the worst kind of "groupthink". In the process other peoples' freedoms are being trampled on. How is this an improvement on history?
It doesn't seem consistent to deplore ancient persecution, cultural "cleansing", and government control while working hard to manage what other citizens can read.
The short version is: If you're a parent and don't want your children exposed to a particular book then control that. It's your right. Don't buy the book or check it out of the library. If you are an adult who objects to a book's content, just don't read it. Let your fellow citizens make up their minds. It's their right - and it's guaranteed.