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A History of Censorship

Updated on July 19, 2018
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I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!

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Freedom and creativity go hand in hand, always have, and always will.

Throughout known time there has always been a fight of good against evil, of right against wrong, of freedom versus censorship, of the lowly creative spirit versus "The Man."

In the olden days censorship was more blatant: if you went against the Crown, or the Court, or the Church, or whoever was in charge, you were beheaded. Pretty simple business.

People, or the vast majority of people, kept their crayons coloring within the lines of what was acceptable to avoid amputation and certain death. This was fairly effective crowd control, and the certain killer of creative thought.

These days censorship is generally a bit more subtle. It begins with small, gradually creeping infringements of our liberty that often go unnoticed for long periods of time. But one day something alerts us to the truth, usually when the censorship starts to actually affect our lives directly.

Submitting to censorship is to enter a world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.

— Lois Lowry

The Purpose of Censorship

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Censorship is almost always funneling people in certain directions "for their own good." Despite common understanding, it often doesn't begin as a conscious evil plan to dominate the masses. Rather, it's a gradual shaping of a population through laws and invasive measures meant to "help" make that population "better."

At least, this is what they want us to believe, and perhaps in the beginning they actually do believe this. When it comes down to it, though, censorship is inherently selfish. Curbing creative thought and creative actions to match a pre-designated ideal stifles freedom. The group or person censoring wields great power over those who are censored.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

— Lord Acton

Have your words or works ever been censored (changed without your permission)?

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The belief that "They" know what's good for us more than we know ourselves is a recurring theme throughout history. Curbing your freedoms is often done in good faith, for the good of us all, and is not an evil scheme. But over time, the seemingly insignificant pieces of censorship turn into a behemoth that can't be ignored.

At some point, the censorship of our thoughts or works "for our own good" oversteps the limits that people are willing to tolerate. This has sparked civil wars, mass uprisings, and the eventual overthrow of whoever censored the people "too much." These days, as far as Internet censorship is concerned, people vote with their feet and eventually find a place where they have the freedom to create and interact without the fear of being censored.

While the purpose of censorship almost always appears to be for our benefit, how can the reduction of freedom and liberty ever really be in our interest? Censorship shapes us into one uniform unit with nothing that can upset the apple cart. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech are usually the first things to go.

Types of Censorship

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Thought

I think everyone can agree that our thoughts define and influence our identities. What we think shapes who we are, how we interact with the world, and how we view life itself.

Freedom of thought/conscience is internal, and therefore more difficult to control than external freedoms. However, it's inherently connected to other aspects of freedom that are much easier to censor.

If you are a big George Orwell fan you might recall the Thought Police. Any thoughts that deviated from the norm were instantly suppressed. "Thought crimes" and "thought criminals" were found and punished. In fact, many of the thought criminals merely disappeared and were never heard from again.

Another good example of thought censorship is in cases of brainwashing and thought programming. This has been experienced in cults or the infamous government program called MK Ultra. Programming Pavlovian responses in people's minds is a form of thought censorship and thought control.

The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.

— George Bernard Shaw
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Expression

The way we write, the works of art that we create, and even the freedom of the press to publish what they like falls under this category. Unfortunately, while this is one of the greatest forms of freedom, self expression is often the first to be censored.

In this Internet age the freedom to express ourselves has greatly improved. At the same time, however, the Internet also allows for an increased level of censorship from multiple sources (individual websites, for example.)

The ability to speak or write without others censoring or changing what we're saying represents the level of overall freedom in a country (or website.) A free press not dictated by the federal government used to be one of America's claims to fame.

Let me give you an example of modern censorship of expression. This writing venue that you are now reading from, HubPages, made the decision to censor and change not only our words (and therefore our thoughts), but also the thoughts and words of our readers.

A faceless and mindless software robot sweeps through each of our articles every time the page is updated. The robot "corrects" grammar in our articles and in our comments based on computer algorithms. 95% of the time I have found that these so-called corrections either make my articles nonsensical, or else offend people's ability to express themselves openly on my pages.

As with any form of censorship, it starts gradually and then builds exponentially. It will generally continue until people either fight back or move their experiences elsewhere.

Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.

— Henry Louis Gates
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Speech

The ability to speak our minds publicly is another freedom that is often taken for granted. If I want to, I should be able to speak to anyone I wish to about anything I want to, as long as I'm not infringing their rights in any way.

Have you seen the orators who stand atop a crate in the town park and preach to anyone passing by? In less free societies, these people would be cuffed and arrested, or worse (think North Korea.)

The freedom to speak our minds without fear is one of the most important aspects of freedom. Censoring speech allows the people in power to limit the transfer of information from one person to another.

Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.

— Bruce Coville
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Religion

The censorship of expression by various religions has been around since the idea of religion was first conceived. It's a tool by which the church controls their followers' beliefs. Over time it has proven somewhat effective in keeping people "in line."

A great example of religious censorship is the Catholic Church's infamous list of banned books (now discontinued.) Any Catholic who read these books would be reprimanded, cast out of the church, ostracized, or worse.

Generally religious sects will "outlaw" certain works that run counter to their belief system. I used to live in a Bible Belt state where almost everyone was from a religious sect that believed the Earth is 3,000 years old.

The school teachers there refused to teach evolution because it was banned by their church, and the school principals allowed them to skip that chapter because it was banned by their church as well.

The end result was that ideas were not allowed to be explored unless they matched their church's doctrine. Any external beliefs that might cast doubt on their personal belief systems were censored and disallowed.

Censorship is the height of vanity.

— Martha Graham

The Worst Thing About Censorship Is XXXXX

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Censorship limits the range of thought, expression, and speech, funneling people into cookie-cutter shaped molds. Anything that falls outside of the norm will be squished to fit into the "acceptable" parameters.

It's not terrible to have parameters and guidelines, especially if you're a business. However, abusing these parameters can lead to the slippery slope of censorship.

Let's refer to my HubPages example again, where the robot automatically changes our words for us. When you take it upon yourself to change others' works without their permission, this is no longer a parameter or guideline, but censorship.

The difference is that when guidelines are broken, the business notifies you of areas that can be improved upon and allows you to make the changes if you want to. In the case of censorship, the business systematically changes your work without asking your permission.

The very heart of censorship is invasive and demeaning. The worst thing about censorship is XXXX XX XXXXXX XX XX relax XXXXXX XXXXXXXXX everything XX XXXX XXX is X XX X XXX under XXX XX X XXXXXXXXXXX XXX control.

© 2015 Kate P

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