It all started with a gift. My husband’s aunt offered a book to my son, the policeman, with a handwritten card stuck inside. In trembly writing (she’s very elderly) she wrote that she hoped the book would be read and that it was, in her opinion, a very important work of literature that showed the impending doom of our civilization. Well, I love science fiction and apocalyptic fiction, so I grabbed it and started to read the back cover. Books are one of my favorite things, along with wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings*…and you’ll see why that song popped into my head at that moment.
I read the back blurb with growing anger and dismay. It was a fiction book presented as a prophetic statement about immigrants arriving and submerging France. The horde was portrayed as a soulless, vicious mass of Africans and Arabs intent on sucking up France’s social security funds, using its free medical supplies, and raping its women. I admit – I first laughed in astonishment, then I was enraged and I tore out a page of the book in sheer anger.
My family looked at me in amazement. “That is what the Nazis do,” admonished my husband. And here I met the full force of the censorship dilemma. Do we, as thinking, feeling, intelligent humans, allow freedom of speech and writing to the extent that a book inciting racial hatred can be published by a major publisher? Was I wrong to tear up the book? The answer, dear reader, is yes – and no. The publisher must be free to publish. The reader, free to read. The reader is also free to tear up the book, fling it against the wall, or burn it – as long as it is one reader and not a crowd. Let me explain. But first, a word about censorship – and more about the book and the debate we had that evening, as we played a game called “Cards against Humanity”**, which as anyone knows, should be severely censored.
Censorship is a slippery slope – where does one begin? When is it important to censor, and when must humans let other humans decide for themselves? The bar is already set for age – censorship is already used extensively to protect children. Movies are rated. Books are edited. Even magazine articles are checked. As a writer, I was urged to use the moniker “Native American” for “Indian” in one of my books (more correct historically and ethnically). A little girl in Germany wrote this letter to a magazine editor when she was hurt by a word and the article went viral – as people all over the world agreed that some words hurt and should be censored from children’s books. I remember reading a history book when I was in my teens – the book had been written in the 1930’s – and it referred to Native Americans as “bucks” and “squaws”. That shocked me, and I’m not even Native American. The book may have been a good one – but the only thing I remember about it was that dehumanization of a whole group of people.
And finally, in my opinion, that is the criteria that should be used in censorship. Does the book dehumanize people? Does it incite racism and hatred? Does it make it easier to despise them and to destroy them as a group? Does it pave the way for genocide? Right now, on the internet, there are sites and online magazines that do nothing but incite fear and hatred. They are free to publish articles that are biased in favor of their world views in order to bring about their vision of reality. What is scary is that any person not fitting into their reality has now become “the enemy”, and so their sites are changing the way people look at their neighbors and friends – even their family members. (Like right now I’m looking at my aunt like she’s lost her marbles, but oh well…) These magazines appear perfectly harmless – and I know several of my freinds and family members read these sites. I’m cool with this***, and I certainly don’t have to read them, or if I do, I am free to think “this is total shit”, and I can block the link so I don’t see it anymore (the virtual way to throw a book against the wall). But it’s getting harder and harder to censor things with the Internet**. And I’m not sure that we should. As Charlotte Brontë once said, “give them enough rope…” at least this way we see what they really are.
Is it OK to rip up a book? Yes, and even burn it. It’s OK to turn off the TV, block websites, and tell your own children they can’t watch Club Dorothy. But it’s not OK for a group of people to dictate what everyone else has to think and feel and believe, under threat of extermination. It’s not fine for a mob to form and burn a pile of books, because that is what the Nazis did. On the other hand, there has to be a way of distinguishing fake news and propaganda from facts. There should be a clear line between fiction and reality – with disclaimers. People ought to know that there are sites and news sources they can rely on. Reality has to be represented in the media, and not just opinions. For every fact there are thousands of opinions, and it’s making it very hard to remain open-minded. Being open-minded in a world full of propaganda makes for a whole lot of brainwashed people out there. Like zombies. Like, the zombie apocalypse is really happening! See? I love science fiction, but at least I’m trying to separate the fiction from the facts without resorting to censorship.
*Oh, and kudos to those connecting the “wild geese that fly” with the Von Trapps fleeing the Nazi regime in Austria…
** This may not be politically correct, but I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. What other game can make anal fistulas so hilarious?
***Not really – I find myself thinking that anyone who reads The Standard, Breitbart, Valeurs Actuelles, or listens to Fox news and believes that crap, has been brainwashed and is part of the zombie apocalypse.