Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Books Week Post #2

It's Banned Books Week, and I blogged about a related Censorship issue on Shelf Inflicted.

Most of us who read more than one or two books a year rely on some social media or another to find our next book. We talk about books, us readers, and we shouldn't have to worry about what we say or how we say it UNLESS we threaten harm on someone's person. When a social media outlet takes it upon itself to censor what we are allowed to say, the conversation is headed to oblivion and eventually there won't be room for any opinion that isn't GLOWING.

That's a horrible thought. And it won't stop there, either. Happy-clappy fivestarland is also known as the Big Brother is Watching kind of totalitarian state that Orwell railed against. It's a truism that Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, expressed best: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." When all that's available are second-rate crappy books that get praised to the skies, how does a culture hook readers? Classics?

I don't know about your experiences with English class, but my teachers almost made a TV watcher out of me by teaching to the curriculum and compelling me to read, for example, The Scarlet Letter, and discuss it with the mouth-breathing trogs I went to school with. The curriculum was aimed at the trogs. I was asleep in my corner. Unlike most people, I was hugely lucky in that my mother was a voracious reader who liked to talk about books, and my much older sister owned a bookstore. I watched a few other natural readers who didn't have my advantages sink into indifference.

So I suspect classic books aren't likely to lead folks to reading. In fact, it's my observation that most readers of more than a book or two a year found classics after getting hooked on chick lit, or science fiction, or mysteries, and finding the literary world was chock-a-block with amazing stuff! And quite a lot of them...20 million on Goodreads, at least 2 million on LibraryThing, and the smaller sites are growing...turn to social media for help navigating the *stunning* amount of material available.

So when a big player in the field, like Goodreads, starts a ham-fisted campaign to make opinions nicey-nice, and then makes that error worse with a tin-eared social non-response to the original screw-up, well it's cause for worry. Whether or not you belong to Goodreads, it's going to affect you sooner or later. The chilling effect of censorship is insidious. It's actually not the formal, overt, clearly (or vaguely) articulated censorship that is most harmful.

It is the erosion of your internal sense of freedom. Censorship kills free thought, slowly, quietly, and indirectly. This rule today breeds that habit of avoidance that stifles that thought tomorrow. Who knows what the consequences of that stifled thought will be? A genius stifled, a mass murderer stopped, an invention unrealized...there is no way to know.

But I do know this. The risk of stifled thought depriving the world of good, important things outweighs the cost of hurt feelings and offended sensibilities. Even mine. I don't lobby for the banning of religion or the wholesale execution of gun nuts. I'd like to. I think those things should happen. But the precedent I set by advocating such draconian action EXTENDS TO ME.

Likewise censoring opinions about books, authors, publishers, etc. The precedent set extends to the censors, and those advocating the censorship.

Think about that carefully before advocating that a Rule be Established.

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