You may not know it, but Banned Books Week just ended.
Sponsored each year by the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and other groups, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information—access that is currently limited in some way in every single state.
Each year, hundreds of books and plays are banned in American schools, libraries, and theaters. Some of the most frequently-banned are classics of Western civilization, such as 1984, Catch-22, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—all, coincidentally, about the dangers of following authority blindly. “Dangerous” books like these are surely banned in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia as well.
But U.S. censors don’t simply want to keep adult books out of people’s hands; each year, the most-often banned books are wildly popular books written for children. These include Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal, the Harry Potter series, Judy Blume’s books, and this year’s “winner,” The Adventures of Captain Underpants.
It’s easy to deride the impulse to censor as the product of paranoid or repressed Right-wing minds. But the Left has a strong impulse to censor as well. Let’s look at some of the institutions of censorship championed by the Left on college campuses these days:
* Trigger warnings
Professors are being increasingly pressured to warn students of any words they may hear in lectures or read in books that “trigger” strong feelings in students, including incest, virgin, Holocaust, and yes, tornado. Predictably, some professors are whitewashing their lectures and reading lists to accommodate, rather than challenge, students’ lack of abilities to handle life. Rather than demanding personal growth, this policy will assure that such students remain victims.
* Speech codes
Most universities now have speech codes prohibiting students or anyone else on campus from saying things that hurt others’ feelings. While often described as creating a “safe campus environment,” this restricts spirited debate, makes sure students won’t be challenged, discourages anyone from learning rhetorical skills, prevents students from learning how to deal with hurt feelings, and gives the Administration the power to expel almost any student they wish.
* Challenging controversial campus lecturers or graduation speakers
The heckler’s veto is a key tool on campus these days. It is now dressed up as political speech. Condoleeza Rice withdrew from speaking at Rutgers after a student sit-in involved police and a shattered glass door. The Consul General of Israel was prevented from speaking at a San Francisco area college by a small group of pro-Palestinian students. Warren Farrell was prevented from speaking at the University of Toronto by a group of so-called feminists who misunderstood his truly feminist message—before he spoke.
Apparently none of these groups who so passionately oppose “oppression” and “privilege” see the irony in their oppressive bullying of their fellow students.
* Ignoring female students’ binge drinking
While RAPE IS NEVER THE VICTIM’S FAULT (is that clear enough?), it is baffling that tens of thousands of college women drink to the point of incapacity weekend after weekend when this behavior is a proven risk factor for rape. It is even more baffling that anyone who mentions this is attacked as a rape apologist.
We helpfully tell each other to stay out of certain neighborhoods at night because they are dangerous (especially to women traveling alone). So why is it wrong to say “don’t deliberately get roaring drunk in certain neighborhoods at night because that’s dangerous”? Yes, of course, men need to be sternly addressed and they need to change. But at the very same time we can ask women to think about how and why they deliberately risk putting themselves in harm’s way.
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For short videos of John Waters, Whoopi Goldberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others participating in Banned Books Week, including a wonderful clip from Dav Pilkey about what to do if you hate a certain book, click here.
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For more on campus censorship (including their devastating critique of how the U.C. Berkeley Chancellor has dishonored the Free Speech Movement), see http://www.TheFire.org.