Okay I know I’m a couple of weeks late to this. I honestly didn’t know banned books week was coming up until it was already gone. With that being said, let’s dive right in.
Banned books week is a celebration of the freedom to read. It’s a time that encourages people to engage with all sorts of books that espouse all different kinds of ideas, even ones that are considered unpopular, unorthodox, and even dangerous. Banned Books week began in 1982 as a response to a sudden surge in challenged books, and has continued ever since. You can take a look here to see the top ten challenged books from last year.
You might think that you’ve never even touched a banned book in your life, but you’d most likely be wrong. For example, if you go back to the early 2000s, you’ll find a cultural phenomenon that was once challenged under the guise of it being anti-family and having occult or satanic themes. And what was that phenomenon?
That’s right, Harry freaking Potter was once accused of being satanic and anti-family. I’m not even joking. I remember that time vaguely too. I was only around seven or so when the first book was published, but I recall hearing about people refusing to let their kids read it.
Harry Potter might be one of the stranger books to be challenged, but many books face that issue even today. Which raises the question: should books be banned based on their content? Should we withhold them from people because they might spread potentially dangerous ideas?
Now I’m one of those people who believes in that pesky “freedom” idea, so I say no. Yes, words have power. We’ve known for a long time that words have power. But if we refuse to take the time to understand that power, we risk falling victim to it.
Take Hitler’s Mein Kampf for example. Sure, it’s a volatile and disgusting piece of literature whose content inevitably led to one of the most violent genocides in human history. Sure, it was written by one of the most vile human beings that ever lived. But to deny its existence or ban it in a way acknowledges the power that it once had. Mein Kampf laid out Hilter’s argument that there was a global Jewish conspiracy. I mean, the man was clearly insane. But to pretend that it was just another time and nothing like that could ever happen again is the deny the often contradictory nature of the human spirit. We love each other, but also fear each other.
Now I’m not recommending handing something like Mein Kampf to a six-year old or anything. But if we acknowledge and confront the darker sides of human nature that Mein Kampf and other books reveal, we can adequately prepare our children for when they encounter true hatred in the world. If we deny it and try to hide it from our kids, we’d be lying to ourselves. Then, if and when they encounter such monstrous hatred, they’d be unprepared to deal with it. In the worst scenario they might even get sucked in and become a part of it.
We extol the virtue of our capacity to love, but we often refuse to face the danger of our capacity to hate.
If we as a species want to progress, we need to understand our capabilities and our flaws. Our weakness and our strengths. Our goods and our evils. Which is why banning these books just because they present a viewpoint we don’t agree with is a troublesome proposition. It restricts access to information that can enlighten our lives and give us a perspective that we might never have had without it. Some of these books are dangerous for sure. Some of them present disturbing viewpoints that advocate racial or sexual hatred. But by facing these ideas and acknowledging how wrong they are, we take away their power. To ban them and push them out of sight is to only increase their strength, increase their allure for the misguided and foolish. By holding up a book like Mein Kampf and saying “this is what hate looks like…this is what evil looks like,” we rob the words of their pull. We show the people the book is just that, a book. A stack of papers bound into a spine.
Through education and understanding, we can gleam a context for these words that robs them of their power. Words can say anything, but it’s the actions they drive that can be dangerous. After all, words are powerful, but only if we allow them to be.
Thanks for reading. Tune in next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week!