Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Banning Baldwin and Woolf

Every year for one week the American Library Association has Banned Book week from late September into October. In conjunction with the posters and essays on the importance of intellectual freedom they publish a list of books that were banned from schools or are frequently challenged. It's probably going to be a longer list than usual this year. All because of a failed political stunt by Alabama State Rep. Gerald Allen.

He came into the national scene in 2004 by supporting a gay marriage ban in Alabama. He tried to follow that up with a bill that I can only believe was intended for buzz it would create. The bill would have prevented public money being used to buy materials that portrayed being gay as an acceptable lifestyle. It was pretty poorly worded and would have had the effect of not only banning books like the The Color Purple (not a bad book to have in a collection by the way) but also The Fire Next Time because James Baldwin was gay.

Alabama leads
the country in challenges to books but it is not just the Bible belt or the former Confederate south that wants to dictate what books are appropriate to read. There are plenty of challenges leveled at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn every year by African Americans in the north who object to the use of the word nigger and the depiction of the escaped slave Jim. Book banning has become organize with the American Family Association and others making local fights national.

There seems to be a new tinge to the idea of book banning and challenges. Outright bans are not asked for as much since that makes the groups look extreme but moving the books behind desks are done in order to have the same effect. Political organizations and publications make lists of books that they consider to be dangerous, such as Human Events List of the 10 Most Harmful Books. I looked through the list and some books you could make a case for being harmful such as Mein Kempf but Sexuality in the Human Male was a survey of what men were doing sexually and Kinsey did not make the logical leaps that Hernstein and Murray made in The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

He also did not ignore uncomfortable facts in order to make his argument such as Murray in his latest Human Accomplishment which suggests that most advances were made by White European Christians. This is controdicted by the historical fact that agriculture began in Mesopotamia (Iraq), large ship building, telescopes, gunpowder and advanced metallurgy were invented in China, Muslims created astronomical charts, modern hospitals, sanitation and modern navigation. I could go on in this tangent; but it is odd that Human Events calls this books necessary Fall reading for conservatives when it is filled with inaccuracies but chides Kinsey for a possible interpretation that others have made of his work that children having sex may be beneficial.

I have seen an attmpt by people on the left to come up with their own list of harmful books such as The Bible, The Koran, and The Fountainhead. The case can be made that these books drove on fanatics just like the list that Human Events put out but as Eye Weekly points out they are not in and of themselves harmful. The books on both lists and those that are frequently challenged are merely meme delivery systems. The power of any idea is how it reacts in your own mind when it comes into contact with the other ideas that you have. For some people reading Mein Kempf inspired them to seek out genocide of an entire people, for others in a different time it can be used to raise compassion and try to bring about equality. The same can be said of the Bible or the Koran.

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