Inevitably, when I write about banned books, someone leaves a comment exemplifying the ALA propaganda hinting at how endangered our intellectual freedom would be if the ALA OIF weren't here to raise a stink whenever some hillbilly school somewhere removes some questionable book from their library shelves. One of the typical responses is that if this hillbilly school removes the book, then it's the beginning of the end, the thin end of the wedge, though a commenter last week called it the camel's nose under the tent. I wasn't familiar with that phrase, but then there aren't any camels where I live. Perhaps the commenter was a Bedouin or something. Regardless of the vehicle of the metaphor, the tenor is completely wrong. Some hillbillies in Kentucky removing a book from their school library isn't the thin end of the wedge. Saying it is such is the thin end of nonsense.
I almost called it the thin end of desperation, because that's the sense I get every time the ALA OIF releases some of more of this "banned" book propaganda. Since we live in perhaps the most intellectually free country on earth, it just gets harder for a group dedicated to protecting our intellectual freedom to find something to complain about. I feel the same way myself sometimes. When book publishing is going strong, self-publishing is easier than ever, and online publishing is ubiquitous, there's no shortage of information around putting forward any ideas you may care to entertain.
When you can write or say just about anything you want at any time, when many people seem much more concerned about the rights of the vulgar to be loud and obnoxious than the rights of the rest of us to be saved from their vulgarity, where porn merchants have more protection than kids who want to pray at a football game, then we're not living with many threats to intellectual freedom. (Except for the intellectual freedom of religious people, but we all know how terrible they are, so they don't count.) Throw in free internet connections, which our public libraries so generously provide so that people can trade child porn without getting tracked, and you can get to just about anything worth getting to, unless it's a scholarly article or a copyrighted book. Most of those are harder to get.
Aha! the thin-ended camel might say! Most of these "banned" books are just that! You've admitted that they can't just be found everywhere! Well, yeah, okay, but that's a silly argument, too. Some of the "banned" books are in fact available on the Internet. If any benighted souls were desperate enough for reading material to try out Tom Sawyer, they can get it online. But even the copyrighted books are widely available. Take this Golden Compass that everyone is so enthusiastic about defending. You can get that book along with the other two in the trilogy for $13.50 on Amazon. Where's the threat to anyone's intellectual freedom? And the little hillbilly kids who can't get it at the school library can just go to the public library, if they have one. It's probably there, too. Where's the threat to anyone's intellectual freedom?
Comparisons with actual threats to intellectual freedom should make it clear how much of a joke this is. Unless government censorship or control of information is involved, there is no threat. If some legislature decides that their public schools aren't going to teach evolution because it's contrary to some hillbilly's third-grade level literal interpretation of the Bible, then we have a threat to intellectual freedom. If some government starts blocking Internet sites favorable to democracy or critical of the current political regime, then we have a threat to intellectual freedom. Or if some dictator starts imprisoning people for having books in their house that the dictator doesn't agree with, then we have a threat to intellectual freedom.
The problem is, some hillbillies banning The Golden Compass doesn't lead to any of these things, and to say so is just foolish. Removing that book from a Catholic school isn't the thin end of the wedge, though it might be the thin end of nonsense. I'm as pleased as anyone about the freedoms of America, probably more pleased about some freedoms than some of the OIF folks, but this doesn't mean I have to invent fake threats to make myself seem relevant.
Some people say that removing this particular book does threaten the intellectual freedom of the particular students at the particular schools who for some bizarre reason don't have $13 or a public library with the book. Just for argument's sake, let's say there are a handful of these kids. Saying that not having easy access to the Golden Compass or Tom Sawyer or My Daddy Swings Both Ways threatens anyone's freedom is ridiculous. Most libraries don't have most books, so making the argument that being without a particular book means that someone is a victim of censorship means that we're all victims of censorship, even though there aren't any censors.
If getting rid of questionable books were the thin end of the wedge, then we'd get rid of all books, but that never happens. It's only the tiniest handful of politically charged books that are ever challenged. Compare the number of books challenged with the number of books published, and I bet that even under the nightmarish scenario of every challenged book being permanently censored we wouldn't feel much pain. And I mean really censored, not that censored-lite stuff the ALA gets so drunk on. I mean remove the books from society completely. What percentage would be gone? Enough that we couldn't get by okay? I'm not so sure.
This extreme case would definitely be bad, but of course it's inconceivable in our society except among those who dream of totalitarianism, and who pays attention to them. When we narrow down the argument to any particular book, the threat-to-intellectual-freedom argument becomes as weak as water. What particular educational value does the Golden Compass have? Why should this be in school libraries at all? Why should any particular novel be in libraries? Can anyone name any particular novel that's so important for school libraries that its absence is an intellectual disgrace? Can you even name a non-fiction book like that?
Some wonder why I get so annoyed by this "banned" book propaganda. I get annoyed because it's a bunch of lies designed to get us all worried about a threat that doesn't exist so that the ALA can then take a boldly irrelevant stand and provide a solution that's not necessary. What's not to get annoyed about?