Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The muzzle

The first people targeted by political ideologues are almost always the artists, authors, poets, and other creatives.

No other group has a way of striking at the soul the way these people do; often with one single image or turn of phrase they point out with blinding clarity the hypocrisy and ugliness of the people in power.  No wonder they're suppressed -- sometimes violently.  Faced with depictions of nudity or sexuality, one man said:
It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth's sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength...  [We will see to it that] works of art which cannot be understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence will never again find their way to the people.

Another commented, "Degenerates are not always criminals, prostitutes, anarchists and pronounced lunatics; they are often authors and artists."

Make no mistake; book bans and book burnings, shutting down or defunding libraries and art exhibits, are not about protecting children from age-inappropriate material.  There is an honest discussion to be had about what is appropriate for children to learn about at what age, and no one -- liberal or conservative -- disputes that point.  This, however, goes way beyond that.

The people doing this don't want anyone, anywhere, to have access to books or art that runs against the straight White Christian agenda.  So the first to go are creative works by or about minorities, anything dealing openly with sexuality, and anything that even mentions LGBTQ+ people; i.e., anything labeled "degenerate."  It's not like the goal isn't obvious, especially with regards to sexuality.  "All things which take place in the sexual sphere are not the private affair of the individual," said one government official, "but signify the life and death of the nation."

And once that kind of thing gets started, it gets whipped into a frenzy, because the people doing it honestly believe they're fighting evil.  One witness to a book burning said the following:

I held my breath while he hurled the first volume into the flames: it was like burning something alive.  Then students followed with whole armfuls of books, while schoolboys screamed into the microphone their condemnations of this and that author, and as each name was mentioned the crowd booed and hissed.  You felt the venom behind their denunciations.  Children of fourteen mouthing abuse.

Creative people can fight back, but once the works are destroyed, in some sense it's too late.  One author, more optimistic than I am, said, "History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas.  Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.  You can burn my books and the books of the best minds... but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds."

Perhaps so, but once access is stopped, you don't even have to burn the physical copies.  This is something fascists have learned all too well.  Control what people find out -- place a stranglehold on the media, and muzzle the people who dissent, especially the artists and writers -- and you're ninety percent of the way to victory.  "Those who don't read good books," said another famous author, "have no advantage over those who can't."

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States, Book burning (3), CC BY 2.0]

The only acceptable response is to fight back.  Hard.  Especially us creative types, who are so frequently in the bullseye of the hatred.  If, as an adult, you find something offensive -- fine, don't read it.  However, passing legislation to prevent anyone else from reading it is the road to ceding control to the state over what people are allowed to see, hear, and think.  And if you don't think this is one short step from denying the personhood and right to exist of people who have an ethnicity, religion, political ideology, or sexual orientation different from the short list of ones accepted by the powers-that-be, you are being willfully blind to history.

Because -- oh, sorry, forgot to mention -- everything in this post comes from the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  Who did you think I was talking about?

[Nota bene: the quotes are, in order, from Adolf Hitler (1937); German nationalist Max Nordau (1892); Heinrich Himmler (1937); American journalist Lilian T. Mowrer (1933); Helen Keller (1933); and Mark Twain (1895)]


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