The other day, I came across a list of fourteen downloadable files of books that have been made illegal or banned.
“Banned books?” I thought to myself. “Feh.” I generally look skeptically whenever I hear something has been banned because experience has shown me when someone says a book shouldn’t be read it’s an attempt at censorship and not because there is truly something harmful in the book.
And really, how can a book be harmful?
A quick scan through a list of banned books through the ages only confirms my initial feeling.
- The Diary of Anne Frank banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews favorably.
- The Da Vinci Code deemed offensive to Christianity
- Gustave Flaubert was prosecuted in France for “offenses to public morals” because of his Madame Bovary.
- Not Without My Daughter banned in Iran because it shows Iran in a bad light.
Do you see a pattern here? People and political bodies excise literature and art that conflicts with their world view. As world view shifts, as it inevitably does, the list of censored and outlawed materials changes too. While truth may be a difficult entity to determine, when a government or other body seeks to limit and thus carefully construct the information their citizens receive, propaganda overtakes our vision of reality.
It Begins By Indoctrinating the Children
According to the American Library Association, parents challenge books more often than any other group under the guise of protecting their children. I’m so proud! “Anti-family,” I believe is the doublespeak term used to justify these actions.
Ironically, when a government wants to censor the actions of its people, they first indoctrinate children in the ways of “correct thinking” and those children then spy on their parents. Refer back to Orwell’s 1984 to see how this happens.
But are there some books that shouldn’t be open for public consumption?
Last week, I would have said no. All books should be open and readily available to those who want to read them.
Of course, I get that certain books contain materials that aren’t appropriate for younger children – be that with sexually explicit or violent content – but you don’t protect children by simply removing the offending material from public consumption.
Then I came across this list of 14 books.
Should Simply Reading About Illegal Subjects Be Outlawed?
This list includes a Beginner’s Guide To Growing Marijuana and another on How-to Grow Psychedelic Mushrooms. Fine, I understand they might be banned because they encourage and teach people to cultivate illegal crops, but those are plants, right? How much harm can they really do and how many mushrooms will the average person grow? That and whether or not these crops should even be illegal is a topic worthy of another article in itself.
All of these are already available for sale or even free over the internet. While my Amazon search for Justin Gombos’ Fooling the Bladder Cops only lead me to a small selection of deluxe hydration bladders, Yahoo brought me right to what I wanted to read.
That’s when my initial resolve begins to waver.
While many of us might find it a great party trick to pick a lock or help a friend set up grow lights in an empty closet, the bottom line is these books help train you to commit crimes or learn to get away with them.
Do you really want someone at the wheel of your flight or train ride having tricked a urine test?
How many of those people living free and clear off the grid are law abiding citizens who mean and do no harm but simply want to be alone. (If my experiences living on a tiny island off the coast of Panama is any indication, that number is extremely small.)
Some other titles to consider:
- Twenty-one Techniques of Silent Killing.
- Silent But Deadly: More Homemade Silencers.
- The ever maligned Anarchist’s Cookbook.
Is Information Dangerous In Itself?
When I originally found this list of books, my thought was to publish the titles as a list of interesting banned and illegal books with quotes and links to them, but then I had a second thought. After all, there’s plenty of information to suggest these books are indeed dangerous.
Do you agree with our decision?
Is our responsibility to maintain an honest press and thus open paths to information that could be dangerous? Or should we take on the role of protecting people from potential harm?
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Leigh Shulman is a writer, photographer and mom living in Salta, Argentina. There, she runs Cloudhead Art, an art & education group that creates collaborative art using social media to connect people and resources. You can read about her travels on her blog The Future Is Red
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