Throughout history, book burnings have been used as a way to censor information and punish people. While it may seem like a harmless or victimless act, burning books can have dangerous consequences.
Prepare yourself — this post is part recap of current events/history, part argument making the case for “burn book = not good”, and probably part rant/opinion. But — as a Jew, an empath, a creator, a thinker, a democracy/freedom-lover, and so many other things — it kills me to see the unsavory bits of our past repeating.
“Book burning refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.” — Holocaust Encyclopedia
History of Burning Books
Pretty much, there’s been a war on words since the beginning. Pieces of writing have been burned since writing on flammable media has existed.
Yesteryear’s Book Burnings
Possibly the most noted book burnings occurred in Germany prior to World War II. Nazi student groups rounded up books they deemed “un-German” — by their definition of German. In practice, this meant that seminal works by Jews, liberals, and others who didn’t fit their ideological mold were heaped onto the pyre.
The people ordering books to be burned have done so for a variety of reasons. But they seem to primarily boil down to one (or both) of two things:
- A play for power. If you can control the flow of info, you have a greater shot at controlling the minds of those consuming the info.
- Side effects of conflict. Stuff gets destroyed during wars….
If you’d like a deeper delve into the backstory of book burning, check out one of these interesting articles:
- The Wikipedia page on book burning is loaded with good info, too.
Today’s Book Bannings & Burnings…and Then Some
So why write this post? What sparked my emotion? How’s this topic fit into the confines of the KIR blog?
My fury and disappointment and sadness have been stoked by the recent book burnings taking place here in the US. While less drastic than setting manuscripts and their kin ablaze, book banning is also on the rise. In my mind, it’s like the gateway to striking that match and tossing the tomes onto the bonfire.
Today. In America. The Land of the Free. Ire + Irony = Ireny
But, I also think it’s the unfolding events in Ukraine. This is a country of people whose freedom, democracy, and very lives are literally being rolled over by tanks from an invading nation. A nation where it’s not uncommon for freedom of speech, press, and demonstrations to be…shall we say…selectively redacted.
Lastly, the intent of this blog is to help us as humans — at the micro level (i.e., each of us as individual peeps) and at the macro level (i.e., all of us collectively as sentient beings) — live better, happier, healthier lives.
And when some swaths are actively trying to abase our species in a pervasive and persistent manner — well, a gal’s gotta speak up. I’m hoping that somehow, in some way, this post takes a chip out of atrocities and contributes to their crumbling demise. Something akin to trying to help lift us up instead of passively letting others keep tearing us down….
Consequences of Book Burning
Limited information equals limited minds, which can lead to limited hearts. People with small hearts and minds often tend to have very restricted views on life and what’s acceptable. It’s an exclusionary approach rather than an embracing and inclusive one.
When people — voluntarily or otherwise — cut themselves off from information, expression, and alternate viewpoints, they shrink their worlds. They censor their potential and opportunities. I find this so incredibly sad for them.
But, by retracting their horizons instead of striving to broaden them, these folks are also hurting those around them. They’re perpetuating and spreading things like hate, bigotry, mediocrity, and ignorance. This is detrimental to those in their immediate sphere (e.g., their kids) as well as those in their extended local and global communities. And, frankly, this makes me angry (and sad for those caught in the dragnet).
It’s not a giant leap from burning books to the destruction of property and institutions and violence against other people (and animals). They all stem from hatred and intolerance that’s then ignited by some force trying to exert power or control over a group of people.
Do you catch my drift? Book burnfests and savage invasions — it’s all related and intertwined.
It all serves the few and already-powerful while squashing the many and not-powerful. It’s short-sighted and narrow-minded. Priorities and principles are outta whack — at best misguided and at worst pure evil. And, ultimately we all lose; it’s a zero-sum scenario in which there are no winners.
“Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.” — Fahrenheit 451
Book Banning Isn’t Any Better
Banning books is no less consequential than burning them. In many ways, it’s achieving the same outcome — removing ideas, information, data, and perspectives from circulation. The effect is that there’s less knowledge or discourse available to the masses with which to educate themselves. The result is still greater ignorance (and greater ignorance of our ignorance) and diminished intellect and tolerance.
Books Are for Buying, Reading, Sharing & Discussing
I don’t like to rattle on without offering some hope or constructive and actionable ideas for moving forward in a more positive way. So, here are some suggestions for helping to snuff out this book burning (and banning) horribility.
- Read banned books! (Maus is life-changing and my personal recommended starting point! But, sadly, there are so many titles to choose from….)
- Get a library card for every member of your family and use it.
- Subscribe to media services (e.g., audiobook, podcast, radio, video, podcast, news aggregators, blogs).
- Consume a diverse array of content from a variety of sources.
- Join a book club.
- Discuss current events with your family, friends, and peers.
- Attend lectures, plays, musical performances, etc.
- Take a literature, language, or composition class.
- Donate books to libraries.
- Give books as gifts.
- Write a book, article, poem and share it with others.
- Study world history, geography, and cultures.
- Develop critical thinking skills.
- Support causes and organizations that work to protect freedom, integrity, and human dignity.
- Connect with others — people who may have a different background or life experience than you — and learn. Enrich each other’s lives!
Burning Book is Playing with Fire
Book burning is not only bad, it’s dangerous. It can have serious negative consequences for both the individual and society as a whole.
Banning and burning books is a slippery slope — please don’t let history repeat itself. There are deeds big and small that we can all do to help turn the tides of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that are bound up with the act and mindset of incinerating the written word.
Encourage thinking, learning, acceptance. Cherish and derive enrichment from different people and ideas. Open up the world; don’t let it collapse in on itself in the aftermath of a biblio-inferno.