Censorship sucks. At its core, censorship is about fear — fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of ourselves. We all practice some form of it each day. Not an official and systemic version like that of the Spanish Inquisition, the current Chinese government, or the former USSR, but something more subtle, yet equally as damaging. Whether we’re burning books, jailing dissidents, stopping ourselves from speaking our deepest truths, or spending energy hating ideas we don’t agree with, we are acting out of fear and practicing censorship.
George Bernard Shaw said, “The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” I’m sure he was talking about governments and societies, but this can also be applied to individuals. If I am to progress, I need to remove censorship in all forms from my life. This is one of my many goals for 2011.
We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard. ~Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764
Before I write, my first question tends to be, “What would [insert name of people or organizations here] think?” I always consider the reaction and the potential fallout before I write or speak. In some cases this is prudent. It’s better not to tell Aunt Mildred that her turkey was drier than the Sahara desert or to alert Mr. Williams to the obviousness of his toupee. In most cases, though, it’s just plain cowardly. The questions I should be asking are:
1) What do I think?
2) How does this make me feel?
3) How can this idea/essay/statement change the world for the better?
Sometimes I’ll muster the courage to ask and answer these questions honestly, and then I’ll decide that my answers aren’t worth sharing, usually because I deem them too pedestrian or too controversial. As an example, I’m passionate about gay rights, but after reading my blog you’d probably never know that. Out of 26 posts last year, I posted only one that was related to gay issues (Out and Proud), and it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say. It’s because I censored myself.
And guess which of my 26 posts was the most read post of the year. Yep. “Out and Proud.” That’ll teach me.
Censorship of the “Other”
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. — Voltaire (apparently, he has a lot to say on this topic).
I read a story in the newspaper this weekend about “Captain Salvation,” a new faith-based comic book hero from Salvation Comics. Their motto: “Harvesting souls through God’s Super-Heroes!” My first reaction was fear. Specifically, I was afraid that this comic book would lead more children to become evangelical Christians. In my estimation, we don’t need any more of those. I’ve allowed evangelical Christians to become a faceless group that stands for one thing — a literal reading of the Bible that is as uncompromising as it is exclusionary. I’ve allowed it to become black and white in my mind. I’ve made them the “Other.” It’s easier to dislike something that is not part of yourself.
Irrationally, I wanted Captain Salvation not to exist because it would be easier that way. Burning thousands of those comic books even came to mind. What?! I consider myself a staunch liberal and someone who supports all opinions and all expressions of art. What was I doing fantasizing about destroying comic books? And there it was. Censorship.
My fear of Captain Salvation is the very fear that I fight against. It’s the same fear that allows people to believe that a book about two male penguins raising a baby together should be banned (And Tango Makes Three). It’s the same fear that makes people think that gay marriage will threaten the sacred institution of traditional marriage. And it’s the same fear that allows us to hate, despise, and condemn those that we don’t understand.
How can I expect others to open their hearts and minds to my words, if I refuse to listen to opinions that don’t resonate with my own? I’ve realized that the best way to fight against bad ideas is not through fear and censorship but through the creation and sharing of better ideas. Alfred Whitney Griswold says it best, “In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”
A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. –John F. Kennedy
If I am to be successful, I need to trust. I need to trust myself to say what needs to be said, and I need to trust that the world will ultimately recognize the truth of the better ideas (whatever they may be). Fear and censorship are swift in eliminating offending ideas, but ultimately, they are the weapons of cowards. Whether you agree with my liberal leanings or not, I hope we can agree that creating and nurturing an open forum for all voices, ideas, opinions, and works of art is what will lead to a world that is greater than any of us could have ever imagined.
“Censored” photo courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Windmill photo courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn /FreeDigitalPhotos.net