Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Let's Talk Book Burnings

This is not a post I particularly want to write, but I know myself well enough to know that, if I don't, I will look back on this time with a knot in my stomach for keeping quiet. I won't live with that knot for someone else. Recently, I have been...accused is too strong of a word...parallels have been drawn between my words/actions and Nazi Germany book burnings. Yep, Nazi Germany book burnings. This is a line I have to draw.

Here's what happened: Over at another blog I read, the author praised Bill O'Reilly's book, Killing Lincoln. She started it with "Whatever your feelings are about Bill O'Reilly's politics are, put them aside" and then went on to talk about what a great book it was. I contacted her privately and said, in essence, "no." I would not simply set aside my feelings for a man who believes my family, friends, and I are less than he is because of our respective sexual/gender orientations, citizenship, skin color, race, and religions. That whatever he said about Lincoln does not trump what he says about the people I love. I explained I was hurt that she would advocate such a thing.

She apologized. Beautifully, publicly, and sincerely. She acknowledged that she found the man as loathsome as I and hadn't thought through the full implications of the post. When I asked her to take down the offending post, she did so. And that is when a man who reads her blog brought up censorship and book burnings.

So. Here we are.

Dear Sir ~ I want to address two issues that arose for me around your comments to my fellow blogger. First, book burning. Second, I believe, although acknowledge I do not know for certain, you said she should backup our shared beliefs that Bill O'Reilly is a vituperative pundit who preaches ignorance and hate from his usual platform.

First, book burning. Should we only read "approved" books? Should we only read what others tell us to read? Because this is what the Nazis advocated. Advocated to the point of book burning. So, I assume you are asking me (by way of my fellow blogger) these same questions. Since we do not know each other, I will not simply roll my eyes at you. No, we should not only read approved books. We should not only read what others tell us to read. However, drawing this line is a classic deflection and derailment technique. Speaking out against hate is not the same thing as burning books. Speaking out against people who want to exclude or make less than, is not the same thing as speaking out against people who want inclusion and equality. Requesting everyone think fully and completely is not the same thing as requiring everyone to think the same way. And speaking out against a book written by a man who preaches hate on a regular basis is not the same as preventing that man's book from being published or consumed. 

Nor is it the same as punishing people who do choose to read, or even cosign, this man's words. People caught reading banned books were subject to fines, imprisonment, labor, and worse. Speaking out against a book or an author, explaining why it is offensive, asking it not be touted holds none of the threat of punishment. If you are implying I somehow hold that power over her, it is her blog. It is her space. And yes, as someone she knows and loves, I have some power over her. It is still her blog, her choice, her power. Had my fellow blogger not removed her post, she would have no political, financial, or governmental repercussions for not doing so. Perhaps our relationship might have been damaged but that would have been based on the two of us deciding if we could still be in relationship with someone who disagreed with us about such a core issue ~ not anything remotely as punitive as a Nazi book burning or reading a banned book. 

The Nazis were also big into censorship. Might you be accusing us of that? If it was your word or not, it was the impression my fellow blogger took away from your comment. So let's look at censorship while we're at this. According to the free legal dictionary, censorship is the suppression or proscription of speech or writing that is deemed obscene, indecent, or unduly controversial. Cool. That's what censorship is. Censorship is not: telling someone why their words were hurtful. It is not explaining that someone's political beliefs are exclusive of several populations of people who are supposed to have the exact same rights as everyone else. It is not being angry at someone for holding those exclusionary political beliefs. It is not requesting that someone remove the praise of hateful people from a website.  

Censorship, like book burning, has no power from the bottom up. The people without power cannot censor the people with power. My fellow blogger and I cannot possibly censor Bill O'Reilly. The man has more power than she and I will ever have. 

The thing about freedom of speech is that we all have it. Yes, even Bill O'Reilly. That's why his book is available. But so do my fellow blogger and I. She has the right to post the blog. I have the right to ask her to take it down. She has the right to do so, or not, as she sees fit. And she is under no more pressure from me to take it down because O'Reilly's beliefs are offensive, than she is under pressure from you to leave it up because you will accuse her and her reader of being akin to Nazi book burners if she she doesn't continue to praise an author she finds offensive.

Second, the prove it, which may or may not have come, but I suspect did. My fellow blogger said she would not give O'Reilly the energy it took to find specific, direct quotes. My suspicion of the prove it comes from that. And to you, sir, I would say "educate yourself." It is not my fellow blogger's job to get you to really listen to what this man says. It is not her job to spell it all out for you. If you don't know, are scared she might be right, want to prove her wrong ~ google. Do enough research to get a sense of his whole body of work, not just a statement that backs you up. After all, a broken clock is right twice a day. And if you don't care enough to do the legwork yourself, don't expect her to do it for you. She is confident enough in her knowledge and understanding of the man to stand by her guns. If that's not enough for you, then do your own work. All that being said, in order to protect my fellow blogger from accusations of being malleable or manipulated by me or in some other way ignorant, I will accept your prove it and offer you this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. Those are nothing more than the top seven results I found. The results pages go on much, much longer.

I do not know you, Sir. I suspect, however, you are a white man. Your fear of people ~ especially women ~ not falling in line with the status quo, in other words a world in which you are at the top and the rest of us ... aren't, is palpable in your conversation with my fellow blogger. At the end, your debate with her seems to have ended with "love wins" ~ meaning her love for me trumps your sound, logical arguments. Let me be very clear: it's not that love won. It's that your arguments were invalid. There was nothing akin to a book burning. No censorship. Not even the underlying undertone of a threat should someone choose to read Bill O'Reilly. Nothing. It's not that love won; it's that you lost.

Actually, I'd like to think it was both.

Those are Pobble Thoughts. That and a buck fifty will get you coffee.