Saturday, August 31, 2013

Censorship Part 2: Saying Yes and Saying No / Chewing the Cud

For every book you read, you say no to 10,000 other books. What's important about this statistic is not the exact number (it's based on various estimates that are relative to historical developments and to the actual reader), what's important is that we say no when we say yes. Derrida, in his The Gift of Death, argues for this ethical dilemma. When I say yes to one person, I say no to another person. Even if I live to be 105, and I talk to a new person every day, I will still only talk to 38,325 people. When I choose to mentor or be mentored by someone, I automatically exclude someone else.

What does this have to do with censorship? Of course, we can leave the choice of books up to each individual, though, as I mentioned before, it would be a dubious form of wisdom to allow children this sort of freedom. However, in a culture that advocates "open discussion," we tend to overlook the fact that not everyone gets a voice. Not everyone can have a voice. The average Barnes and Noble has around 25,000 books in it. If you read a book a week for fifty years, you'll read a tenth of those books, and I can't tell you how many countless times I've gone to Barnes and Noble only to be disappointed because they didn't have the book I wanted. Every time you walk into Barnes and Noble, 25,000 people clamor for your attention. How do you choose which one to listen to? What are the important topics? Should you read about apartheid in South Africa? Or the Civil Rights Movement in America? Or The Federalist Papers so you can understand America better? Or Hamlet, because if anything abides, it's Shakespeare?

We have all sorts of reasons why we listen to specific people and issues rather than others, but how can we judge the importance of something without hearing it out in the first place? How do I know which is more important, Gulp by Mary Roach or Rush by Maya Banks, neither of which I'd even heard of before I just looked at Best Books of the Month by Amazon? The problem with "open discussion" and "objectivity" is that neither take into account our human finitude. Pedagogy is not just a problem for children. Even adults are being shaped and formed by what they hear, read, and watch. That's why we listen to people we trust when we want more information on a particular subject.

At this point, we're ranging far beyond censorship, but we are still talking about inclusion and exclusion. Many times, the only justification for recommending a book comes in the reading, but this justification for a book in exclusion to other books comes after the reading. A natural reaction to this train of logic is a guilty freezing, but that's precisely what we can't do. We can't scratch off our responsibilities like dead skin or hide until they go away. The decisions that we make have real consequences, and these decisions cannot be justified until after we've acted, if at all. Many people ask me what they should and should not read, and I can either answer with my limited knowledge (better known as ignorance) or refuse. Thank goodness my parents didn't refuse to share with me, because while we may raise our children the wrong way, at least we raise our children. We cannot refuse our responsibilities, even though we know we'll do them badly. We can only be grateful for the grace that carries us in spite of ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment