It is that time of year again, and it is Banned Books Week, marked this year from Sept. 27 through Oct. 3. It’s been three years since I last did a posting on Banned Books Week, and the movement of things in the absolute wrong direction since then is shocking, nearly catastrophic. As our society and others around the world march lemming-like toward a cliff that might well be impossible to climb back from, the impetus to censor in 2020 far exceeds simply banning books. As I warned three years ago, there are those who would not just censor our speech but who seek to control our very thoughts, bringing us face-to-face, 36 years off schedule, with a world George Orwell foresaw in his novel 1984.
There are still those nattering busybodies who would censor what we – and especially what our offspring – read, and they have not gone away. As cataloged by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, they’re as undeterred as ever in their quest to control what meets readers’ eyes, as evidenced by the OIF’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list of the previous year, as well as its list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the past decade. It seems generic sex, violence, naughty words (such as, for instance, the colloquial use of the “N” word that landed the classic To Kill a Mockingbird on the latter list), and politically unpopular topics have yielded to fears of the Gay Peril: Eight of the past year’s 10 banned books were considered unacceptable due to inclusion of LGBTQIA+ content.
But the Thought Police don’t stop there, and they have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of modern life. Consider these developments of the previous three years, and most especially things that are going on and exploding all around us right now:
- Passage of the SESTA and FOSTA laws; these laws, which went into effect in 2018, were sold as an effort to stop sex trafficking, a task for which they have been utterly ineffectual. What they have done is suppress the right of American citizens and citizens of other countries to communicate freely on matters of sex and sex work, and have made life vastly more dangerous and untenable for adult sex workers. These laws strike at the very basis of the First Amendment, an effect made all the worse as large media organizations rolled over and played dead in deference to these repressive laws and government threats.
- An explosion of largely politically motivated censorship on the major social media and search platforms, most notably Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Apple, and a raft of smaller sites, such as NextDoor (myself a victim of that site’s biased censorship policies); if you don’t conform to the leftist views of the pimple-faced censors employed by these sites, there is a good chance you’ll be shadow-banned, blocked, outright banned, or have special “warnings” applied to your posts. Meanwhile, rabid left-wing – even Communist Chinese – propaganda is allowed under the guise that it is “truthful,” while valid scientific opinion that differs from the left-wing orthodoxy is blocked. In the view of these censors, their users, obviously lesser beings, are not capable of judging for themselves what is truthful, accurate, or acceptable. Remember, these are giant corporations with enormous impact. And then ask yourself this: What was the last time your electric utility, your car manufacturer, or your gasoline company censored your thoughts? And if they did, would you tolerate it?
- The New York Times’ 1619 Project is being imposed on school children across the country in an effort to brainwash them into hating their own country and believing debunked racial falsehoods about American history. Cowed into accepting this racist project – or believing themselves the myths on which it is based – school board after school board and entire states have rolled over and adopted this and other bogus, highly divisive programs to be forced down the throats of young generations. At the same time, racist – and highly lucrative to the contractors conducting them – programs of “racial sensitivity” and training in “white privilege” are running rampant through corporate America. At least President Trump has banned such programs based on what is called “Critical Race Theory,” seen as abusive and divisive, which have been run, at taxpayer expense, in U.S. Government agencies and the military.
- Cancel culture and “woke” intolerance is running rampant through the land as people are literally canceled – fired, ostracized, vilified, attacked, and even killed – for harboring the “wrong” views, expressing things that differ from the orthodoxy, or even being related to someone deemed cancellable. The list of people, both high and low in the society, grows virtually by the hour. While those tutored to think repression and protecting those who can’t handle free speech are acceptable defend it with bogus arguments, what was once a free society is being turned into an American version of the former East Germany. Refuse to join in a chant of “Black Lives Matter” while trying to enjoy a quiet dinner in cities big and small across the country, regardless your actual views, and you are increasingly likely to be harassed and shouted at and threatened as if you were an accused witch in Seventeenth Century Salem. As I have often said, we are entering a new Dark Age.
- In my last posting on this subject, I noted how college campuses have become bastions of intolerance. I quoted a survey which found that more than half of the college students surveyed – 51 percent – believed it was okay to loudly and repeatedly disrupt a speaker who holds views they see as “very controversial” or known for making “offensive and hurtful statements,” so an audience cannot hear the speaker, while another one in five college students — 19 percent – believed it acceptable to use violence to shut down a speaker they viewed as “offensive.” The same survey found that 40 percent of college students believed that hate speech was not protected under the First Amendment (it is). I would venture, given current cancel culture realities, those percentages would be significantly higher today. There is little doubt that the hate and intolerance sweeping the nation has its origins among the pampered children who learn their intolerance from the leftist professors on the nation’s college campuses.
- And what look at repression of thought or behavior in America would be complete without consideration of the imposition of virtual martial law and suspension of the Constitution at the whim of many state governors and local government officials in response to the coronavirus thing. While response to COVID-19 has varied widely from state to state, as might be expected in a country as large and diverse as the U.S., many of the measures imposed in some places go beyond either what are scientifically justified or Constitutionally valid. We’ve witnessed a mother in an open air stadium watching her son compete in a sports event handcuffed and literally dragged away by what amounted to mindless storm troopers for failing to wear a mask, and church congregants attending a service outdoors, in their cars, ticketed and arrested. And who has forgotten the admonition of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garzetti who proclaimed that walking on the dry sand was safe and sanctioned but walking on the wet sand would result in a plague upon the City of Angels and not allowed?
Like lobsters lulled to sleep as the temperature of the water around them rises and rises until it kills them, it seems many among us are those lobsters as the forces of repression and intimidation, compelled conformity, and thought control become ever-more emergent and corrosive of free thought and expression.
In my last posting on this subject, I quoted Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who, in his concurring view in the 1927 case of Whitney v. California, said, “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”
I also quoted the words of Frederick Douglass, the great black social reformer and abolitionist who himself had escaped slavery – the same Frederick Douglass whose statue the rabble of the cancel crowd rampaging across America pulled down – who said, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
In fact, the repression gaining ascendancy threatens not just our rights as either hearer or speaker, but our very freedom of thought and, in many cases, our very right to life. We all have grave cause for concern.
Photo credits: Featured image: Shut Mouth, Notavandal, Unsplash; Banned Books Week, American Library Association; V Mask on Demonstrator, Markus Spiske, Unsplash; Imperial Storm Troopers, Phil Shaw, Unsplash. All images used with permission.