Just not the Way you Think
Censorship is everywhere. It’s on Twitter, in children’s books, on the news, and in classrooms. In an age where we have never been more connected, and information has never been more accessible, free speech has never mattered more. A critical portion of this argument that is often missed is the idea that free speech is not something that should only be accessible to those who think like us, but also to those who don’t. Diversity matters, in all contexts, including intellectual diversity.
The recent headline that “inspired” me to write this article was the recent Roald Dahl controversy. Publisher Random Penguin House recently received massive public scrutiny after announcing that they would be making changes to some of Roald Dahl’s novels to make them more suitable for modern audiences.
These changes were centered around race, gender, weight, and mental health. Given some of my previous articles, you might think that I would love to make a change like this. However, I am decidedly not a fan of these changes. Though I am on record as a fan of diversity, I am also not a fan of censorship.
It’s a super weird act of performative woke politics to do this. If they actually cared about woke politics they would refuse to publish the books of a man who was a self-reported anti-semite and allegedly racist and misogynistic. However, since his children’s books are some of the most magical in the world, and thus, make a lot of money, they can’t do that, so they make this half-baked attempt at pleasing the masses.
Roald Dahl was indeed no pillar of moral standing, and it’s also true that his stories positively impacted many people. His personal views don’t mean that his stories weren’t good. You can enjoy the morals and lessons his stories provide and read them to your children without endorsing his outdated and incorrect views.
When we think of the word censorship we almost always think of conservative and/or right-wing viewpoints. However, this isn’t always true and is a skewed portrait of what this looks like in America today. It’s just that while the right is very loud and proud about what viewpoints they would like to censor, the left is going about it in a much more subtle way. Dr. Thomas Ambrosio, a political science professor at NDSU said this, “Both sides are very censorious in their nature, the left has probably become more impactful in their censoring because of the connection between social media and government”
The reason why censorship matters now more than ever is because of the way identity politics have fundamentally changed the way we talk about the extremely important topic in a time when our country had never felt more divided and the future so uncertain.
Ambrosio remarked that there is an “overarching lack of tolerance for opposing ideas” and this is rooted in the belief that our political views are fundamentally tied to who we are. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with us is attacking us. Dr. Ambrosio described it as “… a tribalism that any attack against my idea is an attack against me.” Politicians do nothing but stoke this outrage to “protect your children” and ban books like “Maus” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. They don’t care about your kids, they care about getting re-elected. While we are busy being outraged by that, we miss out on the left telling social media outlets that they need to suppress content talking about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Those who hold more liberal viewpoints, especially young people, are very quick to demonize public figures like celebrities and authors when they fall short of the image that we can create for them in our minds. We want to believe that we are only drawn to works of art whose artists must think and act as we do.
That’s not to say that we should support people who are vocal about their hate for others, especially hateful towards people based on factors that tell you little about someone’s character. However, if we reflect on our own lives and our own choices, there are likely a few things that we regret doing and saying. I certainly hope that people do not make judgments about my character based on the sum of my worst moments.
By censoring Dahl’s books we are erasing the truth of the kind of person he was, and the way he spoke about people. We need to remember what kind of person he was so we can remember that we don’t want to behave that way or endorse people with those viewpoints. He’s not supposed to be the guidepost by which we consider what’s good and evil, and I don’t fully understand why people desire him to be one. If these views don’t align with your values, and they most certainly do not align with mine, then simply don’t read those books. Alternatively, read them, but be mindful of the themes that may be present.
Censoring books is no better than outright banning books. J.K Rowling has faced controversy and backlash for decades and had her book banned because the books “promoted” witchcraft. Now people are talking about boycotting her books because of the way she talks about gender. Regardless of her personal views, her books still had an impact on many of our childhoods. You can choose to enjoy the story and not the authors. My cousin wasn’t allowed to read “Harry Potter ” as a child and now, it’s one of her favorite series. Just goes to show how effective book bans are.
Another interesting thing to consider is that historically, the republican party is all about protecting our civil liberties and our rights. Republicans love to tout on and on about free speech till it’s time to talk about critical race theory, diversity, and systematic racism. The right trips on itself so much because as I talked about with Dr. Kjersten Nelson, who is also a political science professor at NDSU, the right is trying to rectify the differences between our American identity and our American history. Dr. Nelson also said, “From the inception of our country we have had simultaneous and conflicting ideas.”
Back to book bannings, many of the most banned books are commentaries on the current political system and by design make us reflect on the current state of our society. George Orwell’s book “1984” was banned in the Soviet Union for being anti-communist and banned in the states for being pro-communist. Ironically, the main theme of the book is the suppression of information.
In our current age, misinformation is everywhere. Going on the political side of social media is about as fun as wandering through a field of landmines. There are election fraud claims, incorrect information surrounding the pandemic, Chinese spy balloons, and lobbying on both sides of the aisle.
Don’t think for a second that the democratic party wouldn’t be just as quick to jump on any opportunity to support the beliefs that best suit them for that particular election season. Dr. Nelson said, “Leaders are looking for any lever… any sort of inch they can get going into a coming election” Censorship sucks, regardless of who is doing it. Anything that someone says “shouldn’t” be talked about, likely requires the public’s attention rather urgently.
You have to be consuming media critically, with your ears and brain turned on. Dr. Ambrosio went on to say “As consumers, we need to try to understand that most people are coming from a good place, there are people who hate… but most people are pretty decent.” He then added, “The noisy wheel is the one who gets looked at” so, “Don’t think about what you’re seeing, ask yourself why you’re seeing it”. Dr. Nelson also echoed this statement saying “We all have a responsibility to start examining our own habit and pushing ourselves to at least hear something we don’t like”
Essentially, don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons. I know I have not painted myself to be the biggest fan of politicians, but I want to choose to believe that people are doing their best. If we just practiced a little more empathy, and separate our values as humans from something that is wholly political, we may find we have more in common than differences. From there, problem-solving becomes a lot easier.
What remains clear is that the country cannot continue like this. Mark 3:25 says, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand”. And Dr. Nelson emphasized that idea when she said “From the perspective of someone who loves political participation, I love that people are getting excited… but not that they are attacking key elements of our democracy”
We can participate in our democracy and advocate for changes without tearing the whole thing down and starting over.
In conclusion, we need to stop banning books, and stop censorship. Obviously, there are very few free-speech absolutists because in life there are very few absolute things. There is such a thing as age appropriateness for children but that’s taking a look at what can children developmentally understand so that we can talk about these ideas in a way that makes sense. Instead of protecting our kids from this knowledge, maybe talk to them about it and teach critical thinking skills instead.