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Matt Lillywhite

Here's Why Banning Books Is A Terrible Idea

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Matt Lillywhite
Matt Lillywhite
 2021-05-10

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Right now, many people on the left want to ban books for being racist, transphobic, politically incorrect, and many other things that are totally subjective. They don’t want anyone to feel offended. So, they do everything within their power to ensure that “dangerous” or “harmful” concepts and ideas in books never get read.

Take Jordan Peterson as an example. When his books were released, many people wanted them to be removed from libraries and bookstores. In part, this was because the author’s words were frequently taken out of context. Thus, many people thought Jordan Peterson was saying something completely different from his actual message of personal responsibility. Quoting an article published by The Atlantic:

“The book became the occasion for vicious profiles and editorials, but it was difficult to attack the work on ideological grounds because it was an apolitical self-help book that was at once more literary and more helpful than most, and that was moreover a commercial success.”

People on the right of the political spectrum are equally as guilty of wanting to ban books as those on the left. Because of the negative comments and accusations levelled at the former President, the White House and many members of the Republican Party wanted Fire And Fury to be banned. According to CNBC, Trump asked, “that the author and publisher of an explosive new book about the White House stop releasing material and retract and apologize for excerpts already published.”

Whether we like it or not, banning specific ideas from existence is a very slippery slope. After all, the first amendment guarantees everyone in the United States has the right to free speech, thought, and inquiry. And if we take that away, it opens the door to authoritarianism and censorship based on the political desires of a group or ideology.

Why should one side of the political spectrum have the moral righteousness and power to decide if a book can be read or not? The truth is that humans are innately flawed, and so are our decisions. We make mistakes all the time. And inevitably, banning books would be a big one. 

Here are several reasons why:

We need to expose ourselves to “good” and “bad” ideas.

According to an article published by CBC, “A person sees a book with content that runs counter to their personal belief or value system and the knee-jerk reaction is to try to make that book disappear as if that can make the ideas contained in it disappear, too.”

That strategy won’t work. Bad ideas exist and won’t magically fade from existence. So, if an idea or concept is genuinely terrible (such as communism under the Soviet Union), we should have the opportunity to discover why it’s dangerous for ourselves.

The alternative is allowing people of a political ideology to determine if you’re allowed to read books by a specific author (or not). And obviously, that would be a disaster since propaganda and biased work makes it difficult for citizens to differentiate fact from fiction.

Controversial books spark public debate and discourse.

I’m empathetic to the fact that some topics are extremely uncomfortable to discuss. For example, Abagail Shrier’s book, Irreversible Damage, recently faced large amounts of public controversy. As Christopher J Ferguson P.H.D writes in Psychology Today:

“The book posits that a sudden surge in the number of teen girls identifying as trans boys is due not to gender dysphoria or transgenderism but rather to girls with other mental conditions who are mistakenly self-identifying as trans because there is social capital built into marginalized identities.”

As a society, we need to have more nuanced conversations instead of insulting and yelling at people whenever they say something we disagree with. After all, two things can be true at once.

The vast majority of people who identify as trans may benefit from a surgical transition. However, there is also a subset of people (including children) who have various personality disorders that cause identity confusion. And as Abagail Shrier states in her book, surgical transitions for that segment of the population might be a terrible idea as they’re irreversible.

The Supreme Court of the United States has already decided that all citizens have a First Amendment right to receive information, regardless of how controversial it may be. As Justice William Brennan said in 1965: 

“The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.”

It’s okay if you disagree with the premise or concepts posed in a specific book. That’s normal. However, in my opinion, nobody should have the right to determine what can and cannot be read. Because as history has proven time and time again, banning books is a terrible idea.

Instead, expose bad ideas for what they are and allow the good ones to take hold within society based solely on their merit alone. Allow controversial books to elicit public debate and discourse so that we can have a more nuanced discussion about the nature of our society.

Doing that is the only way to move the country (and the world) in the correct direction. Not left, not right, but forward.