Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week

Several of the (mostly agent) blogs that I follow have been hyping up this week, "Banned Books Week", and I think that it is my responsibility to say a thing or two.

Before I do, however, I want to note that I think others will ultimately say it better. As such, I am going to add some links at the end of this post. If you stumble across a particularly riveting article, please add it in comments.


In this, the Information Age, the act of censorship in and of itself is counter-intuitive to every other social movement. I know pre-teen children that are being issued laptop computers (with wireless internet), as part of their curriculum.

The phenomenon of social media encourages the exchange of information. Status updates on facebook, myspace. GPS locators built into smart phone technology. A day spent in the local library is now replaced with five minutes on Google.

Every social movement suggests, "We can share with the world more than anyone should ever want to know." Society has evolved to embrace that, in all aspects, from sports and games and hobbies and entertainment to politics and medicine and ecological issues. You are not alone, even if you sit by yourself in front of a computer. The world is at your fingertips.

Is this dangerous? Yes, it is.

But so is censorship. Moreso, in fact.

Freedom of information, of the exchange of ideas, suggests only one thing - that others may listen. It is conducive to an environment where people with wicked and evil ideas may gather together to wage philosophical, economical and societal terrorism on the unexpectant masses.

Then again, in the same stroke, lies the ability for people who have survived or suffered, who face very personal grief, terror and tragedy in their lives, who feel so very alone to reach out and find others - and to learn, indeed, that they are not alone.

Somewhere in the middle, within our nature as a social animal, technology has furthered what has been the case since before the recorded history of man - that we seek approval and acceptance, the birth of cities rose from communities of commonality, and in the 21st century we are linked to each other in ways that were only previously imagined.

In books. In stories. Written recordings of what was originally oral history, passed from parent to child, philosopher to student, king to warrior to farmer. Variations on those themes and ideas, as science and evolution and history all teaches us more of ourselves and more of our past and broadens new ideas towards our collective future.

Censorship cannot be allowed. It is a tyrant's tool, an ancient failure brought forward, when ideas were so powerful that they could create revolutions in thoughts and beliefs. It is an act of fear.

Some many others will write about freedom, about amendments. Those are valid reasons, but they are not mine. I will present to you a universal truth, that does not require legislation.

Friend or foe, if I take the time to teach you my beliefs, I assume you have the ability to understand it. Sheep or lion, it makes no matter who or what you are. Society now does this on the grand scale, we covet information, we respond as a society to knowledge and wisdom.

We live the life that the ancient sages could have only dreamed, but with this one fatal flaw.

Censorship suggests an illogical belief, that you, the reader do not know how to think. Censorship is someone taking your hand and saying, "You may think this, this or this - but not that, oh no. Let me take that from you."

Censorship is putting a cover on an electrical outlet, because you are a child who does not know to not stick your finger in there.

I do not believe in this.

I believe that too much time and effort is spent in telling people what to think. All this information, the task itself is impossible.

It is now time, friends, to tell people HOW to think. To let them decide for themselves. To not treat people as children or horses, blinding their eyes from the frightening realities of the world they live in.

Teach people that all stories have value, all opinions have value, and the wise can turn a critical eye without blinders and decide for themselves what is right - based upon their beliefs.

Do you gain more satisfaction from being followed blindly, by those cowered in fear and ignorance - or would it be better to know that those who follow your beliefs know exactly what's out there, and have made a critical decision made with full knowledge of their options?

I choose the latter. Censorship chooses the former. I will take an educated and wide-eyed decision. I will choose the critical thinker over the fearful faithful.

For the love of humanity, use this opportunity to teach people HOW to think, to make their own decisions and stop deluding yourself into thinking that in this Age of Information, that you can hide ANYTHING from the masses. You can't. You're foolish to try, and you insult everyone in the process.

In the Age of Information, can we spend no effort in teaching people HOW to think critically? How is it so politically correct to cherish the individual, to treat everyone as equal with one hand, but then take away their ability to make their own critical choices with another?

Faith remains after beliefs are manifested. But you must give people the tools by which to construct beliefs that are true to the world they live in.

People are NOT too stupid to make their own choices. Censorship suggests they are, and for that reason alone, it shames me to know it still takes place.

~ Bill, Coyote.


American Library Association

Banned Books.com

Tahereh will review her favorite banned book, Sep 30.

Agent Janet Reid (aka Query Shark).

Agent Suzie Townsend and a couple of banned book reviews here.

Banned Book Review Week Excitement, ala The Rejectionist.


  1. Great post Bill.

    I need to go look into these links in more detail because I am curious as to what is being banned and the reasons given especially in 'free' countries.

    I agree with what you write here and that people should have the ability to think for themselves and make their own minds up.

    I am still on the fence in the censorship debate with regards to certain things however. I see the point of many that desensitising people to extreme material may be a negative thing. There are issues such as the worst kinds of abuse sold as pornography for example which make you pause and wonder if their availability is not encouraging people to indulge in this kind of behaviour as well as the supply and demand argument. I know its not books as such im talking about here but it is an issue of censorship.

    Thats the one point I have that bothers me with regards to free rights for all to any material they wish to utilise.

    I think the trouble is when you being to ban things you don't like then they take on a special meaning and more power than if you had just done nothing. Again not a book example but that recent guy in America who was gpoing to burn a load of copies of the Koran. The power and platform given to him by everyone going to up in arms and talking about it was far greater than if someone had just banned his ass from doing it and left it at that.

    Ok so I need to come back to this after i've churned this over in my mind a little more.

    I am agreement with the sentiments of your post, but I also think it's possible that censorship might have it's place and a positive place at that in certain circumstances. But then who gets to decide and for what reasons.

    Yes definitley need to return to this, its late here!

    Really enjoyed this post. :-)

  2. Thank you, Raine.

    While I'm not a huge fan of, say, the "explicit lyrics" label on music, I'm not objected to it.

    Is there a mediation point here, like, "warning labels for books"?

    At least here in the States, you have to be over the age of 18 before you can enter a pornographic website.

    That has its uses. Information by which a consumer can make a more informed choice - is good.

    Pornographic material is already regulated and rated here - the banned books (for the most part, as I do not have the list memorized) simply address more sensitive societal issues.

    That's what makes this a big deal here. I'm pretty damn conservative too, but I'm far more adamant about the freedom of speech than I've ever been about the right to bear arms.

    Those who are banning these books tend to have a moral or religious objection, and that's just too conservative for my tastes.

    It's actually a little ironic, but this is about as political as I'm going to get on here. ;-)

  3. We've been studying freedom of speech in my Constitutional Law class and this is an interesting commentary.

    There are 3 different rationales when approaching this subject that the Supreme Court of the US uses and the argument you make coincides mostly with the marketplace of ideas approach - all speech should be heard and if you don't like it you can always speak against that subject you don't like.

    There's also the self-governance approach, which says that political speech should be protected, but nothing else necessarily should be. And lastly, there's the self-fulfillment rationale which says that speech is okay if it helps you fulfill all you were meant to be.

    Anyway, that's putting it very briefly and I'm not sure exactly where I stand.

    When it comes to books, I still think there are moments when censoring is a good thing - such as books on how to build a bomb, etc. Some things just aren't necessary and/or dangerous and would fall into low-value categories that I would argue actually do bring our society down.

    Whew, lots of rambling.

  4. Hi Bryce, nice to see ya.

    Certainly good timing for your law class! I suppose my 'marketplace of ideas' is a good parallel to my otherwise relative conservatism. It seems to fit.

    There are so many laws for slander, libel, pornography that banning a book because it questions the church - http://suvudu.com/2010/09/banned-books-week-the-golden-compass.html - over the top. Too much.

    Building a bomb? Terrible other things? Whether someone self publishes a book or not, that information is out there, on the internet, and not being blocked.

    I'd rather ignore it. I'd rather teach my children: "building a bomb sounds really cool, but you might blow off your face. Is it really worth it? What do you need a bomb for anyway?"

    On the other hand, knowledge is good. How many people make themselves sick because they mix bleach and ammonia while cleaning and produce chlorine gas?

    I knew how to make napalm when I was 14, because someone saw it in a movie. (One of those cool 80's action adventure flicks.)

    Anyway, you didn't ramble. I surely did!

    I'm okay with warning labels. I'm okay with purchasing restrictions, like movies and music. But outright banning? I can't get behind it.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  5. Always good to stop by this blog. :)

    Good points, I tend to be on the conservative side myself.

    I think that teaching our children not to build bombs (since that's the example we're using) would be the perfect plan if people were actually decent enough to do so, hence why I think it's okay to ban some things.

    But, you make a very good point, and in the cases we've been reading I've been happy to see that the court usually tries to err on giving the government less power over such things.

    This is the same reason we have such a thing as the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard for criminal trials. The "state" errs on the side of letting more people off who are guilty just so the state can't just take over whenever they want.

    Thanks for a good discussion Bill. You're always very contemplative and I like that. :)

  6. "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women's Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme."

    - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Coda (1979 edition)

    "The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak."

    — Robert Heinlein "The Man Who Sold the Moon"

    "If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."

    - Benjamin Franklin (1730)

    "People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy; but the antagonism is here now. It is this very conflict of spiritual and moral ideas which gives the free countries a great part of their strength. You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. On all sides they are guarded by masses of armed men, cannons, aeroplanes, fortifications, and the like — they boast and vaunt themselves before the world, yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts; words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic. They make frantic efforts to bar our thoughts and words; they are afraid of the workings of the human mind. Cannons, airplanes, they can manufacture in large quantities; but how are they to quell the natural promptings of human nature, which after all these centuries of trial and progress has inherited a whole armoury of potent and indestructible knowledge?"

    - Winston Churchill, in "The Defence of Freedom and Peace (The Lights are Going Out)", radio broadcast to the United States and to London (16 October 1938)

  7. These are all quotes from visionary men that eloquently express my thoughts on censorship. Although I generally tend to be wary of the application of Godwin's Law, in this instance, I find it quite apropos. (For disastrously humorous misapplications of Godwin's Law, just
    read the comments of any Youtube video.)

    Great post, Bill. I would say that I largely agree with your stance and viewpoints. I would also say that this is a topic I feel extremely passionate about and that there is actually a relevant Supreme Court case looming whose outcome could potentially have ramifications on all media.




    In fact, I would say that this is probably one of the largest legal battles over censorship since the 1950's, when the comic book industry underwent similar legal scrutiny. Amicus briefs have been filed by both the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Media Coalition. To make a comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, this is the legal equivalent of the Battle of Five Armies for all media. The stakes are that high.

    I do agree with you that censorship is a topic that should rise above political ideology, but it is in its inconstant sands that battle lines must be drawn. This is because it is ultimately political forces that create the policy that determines the accessibility of content that we consume and create. Lobbyists that represent various interest groups (some of the very same ones mentioned in that Bradbury quote) push for legislation that limits access to content that they disagree with. But to believe that freedom of speech and expression can or should be excluded for some words and ideas is to not believe in the concept at all.

    But I will reaffirm that censorship is a thing that is abhorrent regardless of whatever political ideology a person subscribes to (unless you subscribe to tyranny). Those who are liberal should rightly view it as an impingement upon the First Amendment that protects freedom of speech and expression. Those who are conservative should rightly view it as unnecessary government intervention in matters that should be decided on an individual level. Everyone in between should recognize the dangers that arise from the suppression of information and ideas.

    There are lots of people running around with lit matches. These same people would see the Library of Alexandria razed over and over again. Some would believe that they were doing humanity a favor by extirpating the lure and temptation of such "corrupting" knowledge.

    However, that is NOT a choice for them to make. It belongs to all of us.

    So even if there are some willing to ignite a match, there are Super Soakers for those who are willing to bear them. Be involved! Even at the individual level it is possible to make a difference.

  8. Bryce - Good discussion, indeed. There is something to be said after the perenially uneducated, and the laws that we seem to have to make to protect people from themselves.

    I grieve for that state of things, I truly do. I can't disagree with the principle - states ban fireworks because people burn down their homes and blow off their limbs.

    I get it, I really do. I just ache for a time when this age of information evolves into an age of education, of teaching people how to think.


    Bryan, amazing quotes, great points. Particularly keen point that the politicians are elected by niche constituencies and thus their career rather demands they enforce those requests. The system is built for this sort of thing, the irony is almost depressing.

    More ironically, something I forgot to mention, was that as a teenager I had a little tiff with my school over an underground magazine I was circulating. I remember doing the legal research on my rights as a student and such (a billion years ago, mind you). I didn't get into trouble, but I didn't win a major victory either.

    I hadn't realized how strongly I felt about this until I sat down to write the post. Something that I will continue to do as an author, even if only at my essentially anonymous level, is to stand up against censorship.

    Though I think you covered it best in those quotes above, especially that which gives freedom its meaning and strength.

  9. This is a great article on io9 that lists ten great science fiction books that are part of the Banned Books list.


    I've read about half of them and thoroughly enjoyed them. It looks like I have some more reading to do!

    I can see how the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip K. Pullman is not a crowd pleaser with the religious fundamentalists, but I thought it was highly imaginative and thought provoking. Mostly, I loved how the characters were complex and tended to exist morally in very grey areas. The story challenges Machiavellian thoughts while at the same time forcing its protagonists into situations where there is no clear cut "right choice." It made watching Lyra and Will develop as characters feel more natural and added texture to how the audience feels about Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, who both commit unconscionable actions in pursuit of their goals but are not without redeemable qualities. There are other themes that deal with blind adherence to authority, the dangers of fanaticism in regards to superstitions and dogma, and an excellent study of the contrast between free will and predetermination in multiple universes.

    Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five really require no introduction. They're both superlative novels in completely different ways.

  10. Exactly, Brian. What better reading experience than to be challenged by a book, beliefs, morality, and all the while being entertained.

    We can explore in fiction those themes that would be too controversial otherwise, and gain self awareness in the process. All the more reason that censorship hinders the process of critical thinking.


Thank you for your comment.