Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Banned Books Remind Us

If  you have ever read 1984 by George Orwell, you know that contrary to what the NRA would have you believe, unarming the public is not the first step in controlling a society.  It is all about controlling information. In the novel, Orwell writes  “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” More aptly, this statement of double-think in the book is about managing all aspects of information and creativity.  In Orwell's dystopia, even children's songs have been carefully altered.  It is this reason why remembering horrific incidents accurately or having events like Banned Books Week are important.

1984 is more than a warning about the rise of the totalitarian state.  It is also a guide to how such states exist and how they come to be.  We see the control of both an entire society, as well as individual brain washing.  Many have understood how to accomplish these states.  Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler were two such leaders.  They understood that first a ruling class must have a common enemy, and they must control information.  Finding an enemy is easy.  Simply keep plugging away at one person or group. The next is to make sure that fewer and fewer have information.  Teachers and Professors become evil and vilified by these dictators.  History is wrong. Science is wrong. It becomes a matter of opinion.  I read an article which pointed out that in few other places do we expect the uninformed to be experts.  Politicians tell us the evils of climate science and school board members announce that the history is wrong.  This despite the fact that the historians and scientists have spent years becoming experts.  We would never expect the local and highly skilled plumber to come into the hospital and do sucessful surgery; and yet, we let the local dentist tell us that the curriculum at the school is wrong, or a business man announce that science is an opinion.

One of the first things a dictator will do is to control the artists, the writers and the teachers.  The free thinkers must go.  The dictator knows that to control a society, he must divide it, keep it ill informed, make it paranoid while giving it the appearance of being free.  All this is in 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451.  We see the life of a dissident in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. We see the definition of true friendship and the truth of that friendship in Lord of the Rings.  We find innocence in Of Mice and Men and what it is truly like to stand against a culture of ignorance in To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are so many books, plays and so much history to learn.  Is it any wonder that even modern versions of oligarchies want control science and history and knowledge?

As students walk out in protest against those who would control history; as Texas builds text books in which Moses becomes a guiding hand in the founding of the United States; and as people deny the sciences be it in autism, climate, or genetically modified crops, we must be forever aware and wary of those who would take away or ignore what is right and true.  A society that does not remain vigilant and fight against those who would even go against their own best interests is doomed.  As Daniel Patrick Moynihan would say, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

This is the reason for Banned Books Week.  A well-read person is harder to mislead.  I am not talking about someone who reads the news, but someone who reads be it fantasy, romance, classics, biography or history. If we are not vigilant, we become like the hero at the end of 1984. Winston Smith "gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

If a free society is to survive, then a price and commitment must be paid.  Just turn off the propaganda of those who divide us.  It is what Banned Books Week reminds us to do.

Just turn it off.