They matter to writers so much they spent lifetimes crafting them, breathing life into them, showing them to the world and often defending them from that same world. Until the last word standing. No other art form raises emotions as powerful as the written form does. Books have been banned, burned, and otherwise destroyed, and writers persecuted, exiled, even sentenced to death, since the primordial times.
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the ideal governance is only achievable by shaping people’s character. The censorship was not only regarded as necessary, but an honourable task. Anaxagoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher was forced to leave Athens, and his writings burned as ‘derogatory to gods.’ Socrates was sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC for his ‘corruption of youth.’
Since then, there has been no shortage of those pronouncing all kinds of written work unsuitable, or dangerous for all kind of reasons; from political and religious leaders to bureaucrats, school headmasters, classroom teachers, or simply those in charge of your local library.
This passion for banning a written word from seeing the light of a day was practiced throughout the history, in all cultures and societies. The only variance is in the degree of persecution; the more totalitarian the regime is, or the more exclusive the society is, the more severe persecution and consequence will be. Think of Inquisition, or Stalin’s Gulags, or Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or Hitler’s Book Burning, or Khomeini’s Fatwa, and many others.
Those who believe themselves called upon to lead tribes share the same burning desire to prevent those tribes from seeing, reading, and learning from materials they deem unsuitable, dangerous or unworthy. In other words; in any way different or challenging to those believes, and value systems they approve of.
Whether one presides over the local school, or leads millions of faithful followers, the task remains the same; moulding and guardianship of collective consciousness. And while ideals, ideologies, morals and doctrines have changed over the centuries, the urge to shape, control and direct human mind has not. Because unsurpassed power lies within that mind.
While tempting to dismiss those who ban any different or opposing thought, as simply small-minded, power-hungry despots, it might be wise to consider some facts.
Science shows that human species are programmed to exist in tribes and follow all-powerful, all-knowing leader, whose love and wisdom keeps them and their families safe. And while those tribes have evolved into communities and complex societies we now inhabit, the same primal need for safety remains engraved in our DNA. Because safety is critical for survival of species.
By their very nature tribes function cohesively, they are united around the same leader, and same set of values and believes. Those who are perceived to pose a challenge, or in any way threaten the establish order by voicing different views and believes are expelled.
Because if their views and teachings spread and take root, the supremacy of the accepted truths and existing leader may be questioned. No supreme leader can afford to tolerate that. And so those expelled become outcasts, dissidents, émigrés, and sometimes form rival tribes of their own, based on the set of, although different to the original, but equally unquestionable doctrines. When that occurs; one set of burning books is simply replaced with the different one. Stalinists burned religious scripts as ‘the opiate for the masses’; only to ban ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ and exile its author, together with many others.
Ascent of internet gives us impression that it is no longer possible to prevent, at least those with the access to it, from seeing and reading whatever they wish. Not so fast. It is no secret that internet is control by handful of global players and some governments doing their best in filtering what is and what is not suitable for populous in their countries. Number of books are banned, or at least objected to every year. Most recently, calles were made to ban ‘Fifty Shades’ from some libraries.
Therefore, despite the internet, those believing themselves tasked with ensuring that our minds remain unpolluted by whatever material they deem toxic, have neither vanished, nor significantly diminished.
Whenever and for whatever announced reasons books, or any written material, is banned, burned or prevented to reach readers, the same, most primal of human emotions is in play; fear of unknown. Fear of what is different, not familiar, not known, and what it might do to the minds of those, ‘guardians of minds’ deem; too young, too fragile, or simply too impressionable to access.
When written word is banned, or in any way prevented from reaching readers, those doing banning not only place themselves on the throne of knowing what is best for thee, but also deem the thee incapable of deciding for themselves whether they like it or not.
There is however something ‘guardians of minds’ almost always overlook. The power of another typically human trait; curiosity. Because curiosity will induce humans to go to any length to access what is prohibited. And because of that, the opposite effect of that intended occurs; what is banned or pronounced controversial becomes highly valuable and sought after. Nothing works better for popularity than the label of ban or controversy. Consequently, on the long run, it is both short-sighted and counter-productive to ban written word.
If you are writer, could you imagine writing something so potent, so significant, to cause such stir? As for me; if I can only produce such work I will gladly take any consequences ‘guardians of minds’ can possibly devise.