Typically, I shy away from politics here — I can think of exactly one post I made, and that was solely based around a bad, old joke. My reasoning for avoiding politics (at least, outside of how Everything Is Political, I suppose) is that I try to go for timeliness here, and nothing’s more likely to be instantly dated than a political reference. Not only that, but there are a LOT of people who do politics way better than me (um, Slacktivist, who does most everything better than me?), and, well, mainly, I’m not a skilled debater, and I prefer to keep my opinions on things more divisive than what movies are good and bad to myself unless explicitly asked. Though, pretty much everyone knows I’m a pretty far-left Liberal Whackjob.
That being said, however, in the myriad of scandal over John McCain’s Vice Presidential Pick, one segment leapt out at me. I initially feared it wouldn’t be picked up on, based on the sexier stuff like the children that may or may not belong to her daughter and the Bridge To Nowhere and all that other stuff — but luckily, at least some people have grabbed and run with it. The piece made me feel ill and angry. I’m talking about the reference in the Time magazine profile (and later referenced and expanded upon by The New York Times) about how she requested the librarian work with her on banning books.
In my eyes, there is NOTHING more un-American than that sentiment. The First Amendment — not to mention the rest of the Constitution and Bill of Rights — is absolutely sacred, and to try to restrict access to ideas is absolutely repugnant. Sadly, we don’t know what exactly it was she wanted to ban (the Times article references an interview given to the Frontiersman in Wasilla, AK, where she says the book-banning request was “rhetorical”), and so I won’t get into speculation on the motives of the ban as some folks have. After all, what does it matter? Banning ANYTHING is equally bad. And the idea of her actually firing (then reinstating; perhaps this is why the Time piece refers only to threats of firing being made) the Wasilla librarian for DOING HER JOB is even worse. Librarians have a duty — one they take very seriously — to uphold the ideals of free expression, and that duty circumvents any political “allegences” that insecure leaders demand.
Text is beautiful. The exchange of ideas — even those you disagree with, even those that offend you, even those that disgust you — is beautiful. To stand in the way of that goes against everything the Founding Fathers intended, and, indeed, what makes America great. We’re the only country that has Freedom Of Expression (and religion and all that good stuff) codified into our country’s foundations. This is a HUGE and IMPORTANT thing if you didn’t realize — elsewhere, you can be punished for saying or writing things that go against the government or the prevailing way of thinking — not here. Granted, most first world countries grant freedom of speech — I don’t want to give the bizarre and erroneous impression that you will be jailed instantly if, say, in England, you write that the Prime Minister Is Not A Very Nice Fellow At All — though it is not a right given first off by the most important document of the land.
The timing is rather right for me on this issue — I’ve been reading David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague about the comic book scandals of the early 1950s, where comics were used as a scapegoat for everything from juvenile delinquency to poor eyesight. There were public burnings — not by the government, of course, but by “concerned citizens” — and attempts to ban comics all-together in cities and states (each attempt struck down on First Amendment grounds). So, the idea of censorship has been on my mind a lot. Expression needs to be protected — and not just popular expression. No one needs to protect that — no one has a problem if I say “Kittens are adorable” or “Ice cream is delicious.” It’s the ugly speech that needs the protection.
Some people may ask why we SHOULD protect ugly speech. After all, is it really in our best interests as a nation to let, for example, a racist nut go on and on and on about how the Blacks or Jews or Whathaveyou are controlling and ruining the world? And, well, yes it is — in that example, if anything, it helps to illustrate how silly and hateful some sad people can be and perhaps can even act as guidance by counter-example — but overall, the main point is: WHO GETS TO DECIDE WHAT IS UGLY? Some things we might be able to all decide on (and, in a way, we have — actual Obscenity is outlawed, though, sadly, with a vague definition, but luckily, a definition that makes “obscenity” a hard label to apply)… but what about things in a gray area? Do we want someone like Sarah Palin deciding what we can and cannot read?
It can be argued that she’s not banning the books outright — you could still bring your copies into Wasilla, and order them from bookstores or the Internet — but by removing them from the library, she’d be putting a deep clamp on the availability, a clamp that affects those who don’t have the money to buy books disproportionately.
The idea of that — keeping ideas deemed objectionable out of the hands of those who are unwilling or unable to pay to explore them and gain knowledge — is nauseating… and a little strange. After all, if the ideas are so bad, wouldn’t it be best to keep them available where anyone can see the flaws and be informed? The idea of banning comes from fear — fear, perhaps founded, perhaps not — that the ideas are SO compelling that they will somehow force their wills on the reader and flush out any other ideas that they have. Ideas are important, and powerful, but this mindset seems to think of people as blank slates who have no ideas of their own to mesh with, absorb OR battle incoming ones. Seems like a supreme insult to her constituents, if you ask me.
I just find it so interesting that then, as now, it seems that those in favor of banning certain materials seem to do so on the basis of finding the materials “un-American”, when they don’t seem to realize that the fact that controversial ideas are published by a free press is one of the most American, and wonderful, things out there.