Archive for January 25th, 2022

The Book Burners

Book Burning Saint Dominic and the Albigenses (1480). A painting by Pedro Berruguete depicting Dominic, founder of the Inquisition, checking books for heresy with a trial by fire.

Saint Dominic and the Albigensians- Pedro Berruquete, 1480

We are witnessing a worrisome trend in this country , one that is an echo from every repressive, authoritarian regime throughout history.

The banning and burning of books. In fact, some places require that any book– any book— that is reported by a parent must be removed from school or or public libraries. Any book.

School districts and states threatening librarians and teachers with large fines, loss of employment and even prison. Constant reconnaissance of teachers in the classroom.

Banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a grad school level concept that has never been taught below the collegiate level, which in turns leads to banning anything that deals with race or civil rights. A seminar for high school educators led by a college professor dealing with MLK and the civil rights movement was cancelled recently for just this reason.

There is an attempt to eradicate huge swaths of history and literature because the sheer idea of it makes some weak-minded folks uncomfortable.


“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

― Mark Twain

As I said, this is nothing new. Censorship, rewriting history, and attempting to control the thoughts and minds of citizens are tricks right out of the authoritarian handbook. It has been with us since somewhere around the beginning of time. It was no doubt first written on a cave wall somewhere.

“All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!”

― Kurt Vonnegut

The irony here is that the very people who employ these tactics have usually come to power as a result of freedom of thought and expression. In the society they envision, their type of antics would be squashed.

But they don’t see it that way, of course. Their belief system is very binary, black and white with no shades of gray at all. They cannot believe that free thought and expression is the defining characteristic of this nation, as imperfect as it is or has been.

It has shaped our history and by extension the history of the world. How many consequential things would we be without had our freedom to think and dream been restricted?

Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. And that includes the craziest and most conspiratorial of us. because in a free society one can express almost any idea. But, in a free society, others are able to freely protest and counter those ideas.

In a free society, you can say what you wish but do not expect to have it go unanswered. You can expect pushback, an argument and even repercussions.

In a society that bans thought and ideas, there are no longer two sides to any argument.

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

― Joseph Brodsky

If all the people trying to ban and burn books had ever read a book they would know how misguided and futile their efforts will be in the end. No nation that has stifled free thought and tried to eradicate history has persevered. All eventually fall.

And that is because ideas and thought and truths– the voices and souls of those books– do not burn.

They persist so long as one mind holds them.

And if we are lucky, these minds and ideas challenge us, making us question the limits of our worldview and expanding our mind to surpass those limits. They inspire greater dreams and aspirations, those that bring us progress and the betterment of all mankind. 

“Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book…”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

It’s a real sign of weakness when we attempt to stifle free thought. It signals that we don’t believe that our children or ourselves do not have the ability to comprehend new ideas and evaluate them without somehow tainting our values and beliefs.

The hallmark of a healthy, functioning society is one whose citizens have inquisitive minds that are open to all ideas and intellectually strong enough to distinguish between those that are right and those that are wrong.

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”

― Yevgeny Yevtushenko

This book banning and these other extreme measures taking place currently can be quelled if we don’t just shrug it off and say that it’s none of our business what takes place in some county a thousand miles away. 

It will be our business at some point. Silence is always complicity. Our silence enables.


“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

― Harry S. Truman, Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950

Keep your eyes and ears open. Speak out against this type of censorship. The freedom to think and speak is not our enemy. No, it is our greatest asset and once lost it is not easily regained.

Controlling what one thinks or says is the true enemy of all mankind. It is an existential danger for reasons best summed up in the oft-used quote from the poet Heinrich Heine:

Those who burn books will in the end burn people.

— Heinrich Heine, Almansor


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