Many of us see censorship as a challenge to our intellect. To forbid us from seeing or doing something is more like a dare than a warning. This fact is frequently overlooked by religious and political leaders who strive to control what we see, hear, and say. Regardless of who or what is trying to control us, we tend to feel caged in by constraints to our liberty. Ironically, whenever some sanctimonious spokesperson advocates the banning of a book, film, or song, more people want to buy it.
This fact is illustrated in the Judeo Christian story about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. The low-hanging fruit was intended as a temptation, and some scholars say, a trap. Some say the “God Given” human trait of curiosity set up this mythical “Catch 22” situation. With or without a serpent, Adam and Eve eventually would have sampled the forbidden fruit anyway.
Whether it is the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), or the outright banning of certain books by the US Federal government, people are going to want to investigate and enjoy literature to their heart’s content.
We have the familiarly read and famously banned example of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This book is often included as assigned reading material in college literature courses and sometimes in high school. The book was supposedly placed “on hold” out of concern for the morals of the nation’s youth.
There are a few books that few of us know about unless we accidentally stumble across them. They are thought to be so subversive that their publishers limit the print run. Readership is curtailed by pricing them in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This was the case for Frederick Lewis Allen’s The Lords of Creation. Until it was finally republished as an e-book this 1935 book has been kept in the shadows.
Allen’s work is described as the story of the Fords, Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts. These families were Allen’s “lords of creation”. The book describes how these and other prominent families have controlled the US and world economy. One contemporary commentator claims that Allen’s book is a powerful history of the one-percent.
One of the most innocuous books to be banned is the dictionary. To be exact The American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary have been removed from schools and even some public libraries. School authorities and city officials blushingly worried that certain words and their definitions could corrupt the pupils and students under their administration. They believed that the dictionary was a hotbed of illicit information.
Perhaps the school superintendents and principals were correct. My friends and I used to flip through the dictionary to find out the definitions of the “naughty” words we used to overhear on the playground. This was simply innocent fun. I don’t think my friends nor I were harmed in any way by our exposure to the dictionary.
Unlike some countries like Communist China and other authoritarian regimes, books that are “banned” in the United States can actually be read without worrying about going to prison for doing so. Preservation of the freedom of expression is an important part of American culture.
The right to speak and write freely along with the right to consume such information are bedrock values in the US. Free expression of thought has long been a challenge to religious and political power. Censorship is the easy remedy to destroy free thought. The guardians of orthodoxy will always challenge freedom of the spoken and written word. Curious, freedom-loving people will continue to uphold the right to read and write whatever we wish.
Enjoy a book today, whatever book your heart desires to read.