My mother always made a point of getting me any books that had been banned by any school board. Books, you see, are messengers, and if anyone felt that a message should be blocked, then it must be an awfully important message, indeed. To this day my gut reaction to censorship is to wonder what these ignorant people are trying to hide, and then I absolutely have to get that information.
If I win the lottery (highly unlikely since I don’t play, but you never know what you might find stuck to the bottom of your shoe, and the odds of winning are about the same either way…) I’d start an organization with the sole mission of getting banned books into the hands of those who will be impacted by the ban. If your school is keeping you from reading Anne Frank’s Diary, and you want to read it anyway, you’d contact this foundation and they’d send you a copy, free of charge. In addition, they’d send a dollar to an organization that supports free speech.
Now, wouldn’t that put a burr under the censor’s saddle? The very thought makes me happy. This foundation would emphasize what I’ve known all along: Censorship creates interest. I’ve read many amazing books thanks to ignorant attempts to suppress thoughts and opinions.
Most recently, I read Maus, by Art Spiegelman. This is a graphic novel, so if it hadn’t been for the censors, I probably would never have heard of it, but if I did, I’d most likely have passed it by. It’s just not my genre. But this is not a book that one should pass by under any circumstances. Maus tells the story of the author’s father, who survived the brutal policies and concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
I have read a lot about this dark stain on our history, because some part of me wants desperately to understand how such atrocities can happen, and how they can be prevented. I firmly believe that the only way to prevent evil from engulfing all of us is to look deep into the soul of evil and figure out exactly how it works. But of all the books that I have read, I have to say that Maus gave me a much better sense of what it must have been like to be there, at ground zero, while the world was falling apart.
Since his father survived and went on to have a writer for a son, it allows you to see how these horrific events fundamentally changed the man, and how that, in turn, fundamentally changes the relationship he has with his son. This is a father who would have driven me up the wall. But I can see why the man is the way he is, and for that I feel sorry for both him and for their relationship. The past ripples forward into the future in so many unexpected ways.
Another thing that I hadn’t truly comprehended until I read this book is how exhausting it would be to have your whole life, your loved ones, and everything you own taken from you (that part I get) and then fleeing and trying to survive elsewhere, and maybe even trying to start over, again and again and again, only to have it all snatched away again and again and again.
I’ve only read about this in books. Books have endings. But the Holocaust, unfortunately, does not. It’s not like you were forced to eat a grub, but now that you’ve done it, you can say, “Whew! That’s over with! I’ll never have to eat a grub again!”
No. The grubs just keep on coming. That never truly occurred to me. Life under the Nazis was hell. Hiding and starving was hell. Then the concentration camps were hell. But post-war Europe was also hell. And being a refugee is hell. And being rejected by country after country is hell. And the hate that’s still out there is hell, too. Hate groups are, unfortunately, alive and well.
I know I’m probably making you not want to read this book, but truly, you should. In a strange way, it also leaves you feeling really impressed by Man’s will to survive. It gives you hope that enough of us will say never again that someday, somehow, it will never happen again.
This post’s title may have led you to believe that I take censorship lightly. But free speech is very much the canary in society’s coal mine. When that dies, you better get the hell out of the mine shaft, because things are about to get ugly. But wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if we just took the time to keep that canary healthy and singing?
We’ve become inured to atrocities, because for the most part, they haven’t happened to us. They’re happening somewhere over there, beyond the horizon, or long ago, to ancestors whose lives we can’t really imagine. But we should resist the urge to consider atrocities to be status quo. What’s going on in Ukraine, for example, could so easily happen to us. We need to stay awake.
I am my mother’s daughter, so I will always speak out against any threat to free speech. Words are powerful. Knowledge is powerful. Opinions are powerful. But the people who actively block these things? They are weak. They are nothing but weak-minded, ignorant people whose sole agenda is to render us passive and willing to think exactly the way they do, because that is the only way the weak will ever control us. And that is yet another form of hell.
I have always said what I wanted to say. Sometimes it has gotten me into trouble. But that hasn’t slowed me down. But as humans become increasingly desperate and unstable, they are increasingly prone to striking out against those who aren’t on their “team”. And that has some dangerous consequences. Just ask Salman Rushdie, because Jamal Khashoggi is no longer around to ask.
Obviously, I am not either one of those brave men. But eventually, if this keeps up, the extremists will run out of the Khashoggis and the Rushdies of this world, and they’ll have to go after the smaller targets, like you and me, in order to maintain their control fix. And then we’ll all wish that we had done something sooner.
You don’t think they’re coming for you? Think again. Ron DeSantis, the current Governor of Florida, who wants to run for president, just took the most recent shot across the free speech bow with his Stop Woke Act. A gross oversimplification of this act is that it does not allow schools or businesses to teach people about historical events and biases because it might make them feel guilty. (I don’t know about you, but I think I can handle it.)
Am I the only one who has noticed that the opposite of “Stop Woke” is either “Go Ignorance” or “Go to Sleep”? Neither option seems very palatable to me. Fortunately, as of this writing, this insidious act is tangled up in court, but just the fact that the leader of Florida is so wrong-headed, and wants to run for President, is very good reason to be terrified.
Never stop learning. Stand up. Speak out. Resist. Stay awake.
The ultimate form of free speech and recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5