12 People Share Their Thoughts On Book Banning

Is it right to ban a book? What do you think? Check out this Quora thread for more comments.

1. Robert Frost

No, it is never right to ban a book.

Offensive is a meaningless word. Offense is taken, not given. A book cannot be offensive. In “Apology for Printers” in 1730, Benjamin Franklin said:

“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed”

And Salman Rushdie is quoted as saying:

Amazon / Lolita

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

It is certainly never acceptable to silence political opposition. President Harry Truman said:

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

Nor is acceptable to silence dangerous ideas. Truman’s successor, President John F. Kennedy said:

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For 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.”

2. Ann Litz

Treat a controversial book like a particularly high-profile accused criminal: Let it defend itself. If it can’t, let it die in obscurity.

In all the years I worked at a public library, not a single book was banned, or even challenged. To my knowledge, no one ever even walked up to my director and demanded to know why “this book” was on our shelves.

Amazon / Song Of Solomon
Amazon / Song Of Solomon

However, we (and numerous other libraries in the U.S.) were repeatedly the victims of passive banning. Sometimes books on particular subjects, such as abortion, simply disappeared off our shelves. The other way it worked: someone (usually a student) would take out a book, then never return it. The book would be off our shelves for almost three months — often during the height of research-paper season or the height of its topical popularity due to a news event — before the student was billed for it. Sometimes they paid. Sometimes not. If they paid, we would have to reorder the book, if it was still available from the publisher and vendor. Maybe another week or month before it came in. Then processing. Add a couple of days. By now the book had been unavailable to anyone for almost a third of a year. And as soon as it was on the shelf again, it disappeared again. Maybe this time the replacement cost went up, or it was no longer available from the usual vendors. Sometimes the tightly budgeted library eventually gave up and stopped replacing it. Banning accomplished.

Even at their most inflammatory, socially oriented books that are moral, immoral, religious, anti-religious, feminist, anti-feminist, sexual, anti-sexual, racist and reverse-racist — especially books that are particularly well-written — almost always lead to much-needed public discussion and debate in other forums and might even lead to change.

Many of the books most popular with, and meaningful to, those here on Quora — the Harry Potter series, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Kite Runner, The Giver, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984, The Color Purple, Flowers for Algnernon and even the children’s poetry collection A Light in the Attic — seem to have attracted particular attention from those who don’t want themselves or anyone else to read about unpleasant or personally challenging topics. But worthy books, like the religions that have withstood thousands of years of challenges, will survive, thrive, be interpreted and re-interpreted and live on.

In parts of the U.S., sex and sexuality are as incendiary as religion is in certain other parts of the world. Blatant ignorance and faulty playground “intelligence” are preferable to the expertise proffered by doctors and other medical professionals geared towards adolescents facing puberty, as revealed by the repeated and unsuccessful challenges of Where Did I Come From?, It’s Perfectly Normal and What’s Happening to My Body? And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that homosexual penguins, and Heather’s two mommies, have not brought about the utter collapse of civilization.

Amazon / The Satanic Verses: A Novel
Amazon / The Satanic Verses: A Novel

Books on criminal rather than social issues pose more of a dilemma. How can we justify the continued existence of books on how to commit what can be deadly crimes, such as The Anarchist’s Cookbook, which gives detailed instructions on how to build bombs and other weapons?

For all its pride in the First Amendment, even the American government has struggled with this as well. In the 1979 Wisconsin court case The U.S. vs. The Progressive (United States v. Progressive (W.D. Wis. 1979) the government challenged the magazine’s planned publication of the secrets of the hydrogen bomb; the author, Howard Morland, said he merely aggregated information readily available from other sources. The government eventually dropped its case. Progressive was an example of prior restraint, in which action is taken to prevent controversial material from ever being published, and which is illegal in the U.S.; the case cemented the country’s anti-censorship stance.

Given the moral murkiness of such volumes as Derek Humphry’s Final Exit, a book designed for the terminally ill on how to commit suicide, I reluctantly agree that even these potentially deadly books might deserve a place on the shelf. We need to be aware of these ideas, if only to confront them.

A good book will withstand any challenge. Don’t ban it. Allow the book to come to light, let it be discussed and debated, then force it to live or die on its merits.

“Disappearing” a controversial book doesn’t make its subject disappear.

3. Ky Conn

I allowed my 3 sons to read whatever they wished, with one caveat: I would read it too. And then, we would discuss it. If at any time, I deemed the book to be too mature, we’d shelve it until it was more appropriate. I never flat out banned anything. We worked our way through much of the Harry Potter series (all 3 grew to adulthood and moved out before all of the books were released). I even read the “Song of Ice and Fire” series (now known as “A Game of Thrones”) with my oldest son, who was then 16. I was embarrassed at parts, yes…but it also led to some very interesting discussions on human behavior and sexuality that he might otherwise have been ignorant of. And, I lived through the experience AND “the talk”….not the one you give when they’re 12 or 13, but the one you (should) have when they really truly are becoming adults.

My 2 older boys and I read through the entire “Animorphs” series, and even watched some of the TV show. Sadly, my youngest never expressed much interest in reading, so I lost that way of connecting with him. There were books that my kids would start reading, and then think, “Oh man, Mom’s gonna read this too. I’d better wait”, and I’m sure there were those books that they read behind my back.

Even if you live in a strict religious home, controversial books can open up a world of discussion between you and your kids…age appropriately, of course. Going back to the first George R. R. Martin book my oldest son brought home…he was already past the first sex scene by the time I saw the book, but he was afraid that I would make him put the book aside until he was an adult. And some would argue that maybe I should have, but I told him that I’d have to read what he’d already read, and then he would have to convince me to allow him to keep reading if I felt it was too “old” for him. He chose to continue reading, and he chose to discuss the books with me as we went. Me? I wanted to wrap the book up and hide it in the deepest, darkest well I could find. “My baby boy shouldn’t be reading this smut!” I thought to myself. But, the book was well-written, and it also gave him a new interest in history. And, he didn’t run out and become a sex-fiend, either.

And, there’s also the strange phenomenon that, if you ban a book, it becomes even more appealing.

4. Pradeep N Rao

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -A rephrased Voltaire’s quote by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

If we can do that, then and only then can we claim to have understood the meaning of the term ‘liberty’.

5. Peter Flom

I will just give a quotation from Heinrich Heine. In the original German (which I do not speak):

Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

I have seen this translated various ways, all with the same point:

Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.

6. Rob Menes

What does it mean to “ban a book”? Does it prevent the creation of an idea or a work of art? Is it simply the prohibition, or limiting, of the dissemination of the work? Does it imply sale, transport, or access of the material in a specific form? Does it matter who determines the ban? Are there penalties for ignoring the ban?

Every society prioritizes its values and freedom of speech is only one important value. Peace, security, justice, freedom from oppression all compete with freedom of speech. Is banning a book different from classifying specific activities of government to prevent knowledge of those activities? Is banning a book different from withholding the names of people involved in court cases to protect their ability to be judged fairly? We agree as a society that there are some pieces of information – artistic or otherwise – that should not be broadly available. There are some values which are more important.

The meaning of the phrase is paramount. I can understand and even support the activity of the literal meaning of “banning a book.” However, if banning a book is a metaphor for controlling creativity, if it reaches into the very origin of our thoughts, then it does rival the threat to our very existence. In that case, it cannot be tolerated for it will destroy the society.

7. Doug Dingus

Words are as offensive as you think they are. Your remedy for offensive words is more words, ideally those words that show others just how poorly rendered the words you find offensive really are.

8. Ben Mordecai

I’m in agreement with the people here against banning books from a government standpoint.

The only setting where book banning makes sense to me would be between parents and children for works that would be too disturbing or overtly graphic for a child. Even then, it is not an unqualified ban, but one that is designed with the best interest of the child in mind.

To be clear, I’m not talking about banning Huckleberry Finn because of the colorful language. I’m talking more about extreme violence and erotica.

9. Clell Harmon

Banning books is the act of cowards, frightened by ideas.

10. Jorge Loría

Books wouldn’t be the issue, it’s the ideas within them. However, ideas are impossible to ban.

“An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” -Cobb (from Inception)

11. Eric Carwardine

One use of banning is to increase the popularity of the book.

Unscrupulous authors and publishers have been known to use banning to boost flagging sales. But it will always be true that good advertising will quickly see the demise of a bad product.

Censorship and banning are simply ways of discriminating against the less well-off in society. With enough money at your disposal you can board flights to anywhere in the world in order to enjoy a forbidden product. The rich and powerful use censorship and banning to exclude the hoi polloi from enjoying the things which the rich and powerful covet to themselves.

And one reason that law enforcement agencies are so interested in pornography sources has nothing to do with protecting the children – or protecting anybody else. It has long been known that terrorist groups use the images on such sources to conceal their own messages – an art and science known as steganography.

But ALL literature, no matter how it be classified, is the product of a human mind or minds. None of it originated in outer space, in some alien society, even though the inspiration for the literature’s creation may well have been some extra-terrestrial phenomenon. So by what right – unless by the ‘right’ of physical force (“Might is right”) – does one human mind presume to declare what other human minds might consume?

12. Aditya Verman

As far as inciting violence is concerned, people can do a lot better job than books.

The only books that have the capacity to incite violence on a large scale are the religious books of various faiths. They blatantly call for you kill and enslave in the name of religion.People who are being influenced by those books have killed and harmed each other for generations. Their have been mass killings, bombings and crusades based on their teaching.Are we banning these books ?

Popular literature in Hindu religion like ‘The laws of Manu’ and ‘The Vedas’ spread false propaganda like the ‘varna'(casts) culture and prophesize the superiority of one class over another. Are we banning those ?

The only books that are being banned are those which have a different viewpoint against popular religious beliefs(mostly false); or which have a different viewpoint against any form of social oppression or against the ruling classes. It could be ‘Satanic Verses’ or ‘The Hindus’.

Even ‘Alice’s adventures in wonderland’ was banned in China in 1865 because the censor General Ho Chien believed that attributing human language to animals was an insult to humans. Weird, right ?

Pieces of art are banned and destroyed in this world because people don’t want the veil to be lifted.

No book or painting; or any piece of art and literature should ever be banned. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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