I suppose there’s nothing worse than posting something late for a special event, but what I’m posting about was likely unknown to many of you last week (it was to me until someone told me), and…well, I’m on a once-weekly posting schedule here, so you’ll have to look over it.
Last week was National Banned Book Week in the U.S., an event sponsored by the American Library Association and other organizations to draw attention to the harm done by censorship and the still unbelievably common practice of banning books in certain schools and communities. You would be amazed at the books that have been banned in the U.S.: titles and authors ranging from Harry Potter to Shel Silverstein have been deemed dangerous or unfit for reading by children. My imagination immediately invokes images of book burnings through the course of history (I saw a video presentation for National Banned Book Week that contained images of Nazi book burnings), and I immediately leap to frustration at efforts to close down freedom of inquiry and expression. I think it is important to read opposing and unpopular viewpoints, because I’m not sure how one disagrees with something until one understands what that something is.
In fact, I groan at how, very recently, history has repeated itself at some level, this time in the name of protecting state secrets.
As a scholar, as a thinker, as an artist, I will scream from the hilltops that censorship is never, ever okay. I’ll also cry that the public has a right to know, whatever the dirty laundry of our leaders. Banning books and keeping them from the hands of inquisitive readers causes all sorts of adrenaline-laced exasperation to course through me, because it smacks of mind control and propaganda. Everyone should be able to read everything whenever they want. Literature and scholarship must be open to all, and is the property of all.
Someone vocalized a rational, opposing viewpoint during a conversation at the end of the week. That would be that children of certain ages should be prevented from reading certain material in order to protect their innocence. I spat and sputtered for a moment upon hearing that, but when you think of it…none of us would argue against protecting a child’s innocence, would we? The person taking this stance wasn’t advocating for books to be banned, but merely withheld until a certain age…more of a parental function than a governmental function, I think, and perhaps as a tactic of the educational system.
Now, I don’t for a moment think that this metaphor extends to governments keeping secrets from their people, but I can suddenly see the logic of protecting names of vulnerable people that could meet harm or lose their lives should their names be published.
Still, does that merit censorship? I can’t agree that it should. A higher burden of responsibility on the writer, perhaps, and a recognition that servants who place themselves in harm’s way assume the risk that such a thing could happen. Similarly, in the vein of the other argument, I’m not sorry I read anything from my childhood, although I can see how I certainly lost a level of innocence by reading some of the authors that I did.
L’Engle once said that only books with something to say get banned. Franklin spoke against the concept of giving away liberty for the sake of security. I can’t sleep well at night with the idea of advocating the restriction of thought in the name of security or protection. Yet, I can’t sleep well at night with the idea of robbing anyone of whatever innocence they might have left in our bent and industrialized culture. National Banned Book Week leaves me in a bit of a conundrum.
What do you think?