According to the PewResearchCenter, support for public libraries banning books is at its lowest levels in 20 years. Amazingly, this lowest level of support represents 46% of Americans. That is, nearly half of all Americans supposedly support public libraries banning books they deem as containing “dangerous ideas”.
For obvious reasons, I don’t support the banning of books. This is, in part, because the reasons various books have been banned in the past strike me as entirely insane. One of my favorite examples of the craziness of would-be book banners comes from April 2003 in the fine city of Cedarville, Arkansas, when a judge overturned a school-system rule that required children to have parental permission to check out or read Harry Potter books. The reason? Angie Haney heard herself a series of anti-Harry Potter sermons at the local church, and realized that these books were not based on fiction. She really believed that. Thankfully, thoughtful parents and reasonable judges were the order of the day in Arkansas, and children were once more allowed to read children’s books at their own discretion.
This special kind of crazy is far too common. The first Harry Potter book was released in the United States in 1998. Regardless, from 1990-2000, “Potter” was among the most frequently challenged books in the US. Most of this is absurd religiosity: Harry Potter is a book involving wizards and witches. Therefore, it promotes witchcraft, which is evil. Therefore, it’s up to the Army of Jesus to fight it with every breath. This book does not present fantasy, of overcoming odds, of relationships, and friendships, and making the most of your abilities, of parental love. Oh no, it does not.
Other books have gotten similar treatments. James Joyce’s Dubliners was banned for a time because of the violence in “Counterparts”, which baffled Joyce. If anything, he thought, shouldn’t the book get banned for the masturbation depicted in “An Encounter”? Naturally, the short-sighted people who decide to ban books hadn’t noticed the scene.
There are some who believe that allowing books that contain violence, sex, drug use, or, ahem, witchcraft, do, in fact, promote them. The belief that Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is not merely a “study in vice”, but it is also a lesson in the same. Even if this is true, that’s all the better, I say. People want to ban things because they find them dangerous. We find a book dangerous because we don’t understand it, and our lack of understanding makes something provocative into something threatening.
There is a First Amendment argument to be made here, though I am less qualified to write it than most of the other Curious Mechanism writers. It would seem to me, though, that Freedom of Speech is rendered irrelevant if there exists no freedom to read or listen. The right to intake, to absorb stimulus that may be considered horrific, offensive, or dangerous is a critical aspect of the right to output whatever you want.
There is an element of responsibility present here that should not be ignored. There are a lot of very intelligent people who can see the similarity in the danger that eminates from Harry Potter (one of the soul, I suppose?) and that which is contained in a book on building a bomb (a danger of the body, obviously). Information, however, is not dangerous on its own. While I can type “How To Make a Pipe Bomb” into any search engine I like and get a variety of informative results, I know that it is illegal, stupid, and physically dangerous to go and build one. Even if I am so brazen, I’m not vile enough to want to blow someone or something up with it–there are plenty of empty fields for that kind of heinous idiocy. Likewise, I may have pre-ordered Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and have already spent what may be considered too much time wondering what that title means, and yet, I am as certain today as I have ever been that, in fact, goblins do not exist, nor can I Apparate, as much as I’d like to cut down on my daily commute. I am entertained by information–I enjoy learning, and I enjoy story-telling immensely, but I understand that while they may impact my life in some way, I place the value on what I intake, and I alone.
Ignorance, it would seem, begets itself. The ignorant are afraid of what they do not know, and so they seek to destroy it, or hide it, so that neither they, nor anyone else, may ever know it. If art has any value, as the Curious Mechanism certainly believes it does, boundaries must be pushed back and broken down. Passages or entireties of books may offend, but it’s up to the reader to choose to continue reading them. I may have little interest in certain types of literature, but this doesn’t discredit their invaluable contribution. If art advances our culture, our society, then it is our responsibility to allow it to grow.