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  • Writer's pictureDr. D

Shout down the speaker - please

Oh – and don’t forget to ban his book.

It’s pretty popular right now to describe the left wing in politics as people who believe in shouting others down even before they can speak.

And those on the right are intolerant and narrow minded, bent on banning books.

Depending on which way your politics lean, you may be scandalized by the behavior of the opposite camp.

But the goal is really the same, isn’t it? To keep others from hearing or seeing something just because you don’t like it?

In the news it seems like an everyday thing to see an invited speaker being drowned out by people who oppose what the person may have said or done. I suspect that few or none of these people have ever actually heard the speaker.

Regardless of whether they have or not, they want to see to it that you don’t hear that person either.

I hear it referred to as “self-censorship.”

But I just call it “censorship.” It’s not just censoring the self, it’s censoring my ability to listen to what is said and make my own decisions.

I also see people, many who probably never read the book or even its synopsis, trying to get books banned from libraries. They don’t like what they’ve heard the book was about.

But more importantly, they want to be sure that the rest of us never get to find out what the author said either.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing. Both sides pretend that what they’re doing is okay while what the other is doing isn’t.

But it’s the same thing. Two sides of the same coin. I don’t like it – whatever it is. And I’m going to see to it that you never have a chance to find out whether you do or not.

In other words, both are tryinig to censor what you and I can see, read, or hear.

I’m reading up on censorship

I can’t believe all the quotes I’m finding about censorship in any of its forms. Here are two of my favorites:

He who establishes his argument by noise … shows that

his reason is weak.


A censor is a man (who thinks) he knows more than he thinks

you ought to.

I started wondering where these equally awful behaviors came from and when they started.

It’s pretty clear that book banning has been a popular form of censorship for many years.

Socrates’ works were burned because he supposedly was trying to corrupt the youth of the day by making them think about things a little differently from what the government did..

The Nazis under Hitler made a big show of burning the works of Freud and Einstein.

(In response, Sigmund Freud is said to have commented: “What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are satisfied with burning my books.”)

And while I knew that book banning was an old practice, I didn’t realize how popular shouting down the speaker before the speech has been through the years.

Once again we can look at Socrates. It was common that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak even where his thoughts had been asked for.

During the civil rights movement white mobs often threatened and prevented black speakers from presenting their views.

When I started researching this topic I found so many examples of both types of censorship that I stopped looking.

My point is that it’s been around for quite a while. Even hundreds of years. But it seems to be much more common and louder right now than in recent times.

How successful is book banning?

There are probably as many reasons that people try to ban books as there are people trying to do it.

But it really all just boils down to the fact that the book banners feel threatened by something they think the book is saying.

Maybe they believe that the information in the book is blasphemous, that it will insult the banner’s religious beliefs or their god.

Maybe they’ve been told that the information could be upsetting or even dangerous if it gets into the hands of children.

And often efforts at banning books are successful.

At least for a little while.

Hitler was able to keep many Germans from reading the works of Freud and Einstein.

But there were enough copies floating around that the works of these two men survived the Third Reich.

And it also misses what I think is some really obvious psychology. Censors of all types are missing the real effect of what they’re doing.

As we all know, “forbidden fruit” is pretty much the most exciting. Whatever it is you work hardest at to prevent me from having or knowing makes that thing all the more interesting.

It’s seductive. It makes me want to really know what it is you’re hiding. I’ll work that much harder to find out just what IS the book trying to tell us?

Will it be exciting?

Is it sexy? Scandalous?

What’s so interesting about that book that someone is working so hard to keep it from me?

And ultimately, the book banning effort will fail because it increased the interest, not the opposite.

Huh… I could start a whisper campaign that my blog is being banned and see how much my numbers increase. I hadn’t thought of that before.

Maybe I should try it.

How successful is shouting down the speaker?

It turns out that shouting down speakers without giving them a chance to express themselves is quite successful, just like book banning is.

…For a while.

But there are problems with this approach. if you’re screaming at somebody else, it’s pretty much impossible to get across your own ideas.

And if you won’t actually state your position (because you’re shouting) and defend it against others’ opinions, does that mean you don’t feel very confident about it?

Are you so threatened by any other ideas that you can’t even let them be heard?

So just like book banning, this type of censorship is going to fail eventually.

Throw it out or shout them down…

Both are forms of censorship.

And both of these strategies will fail. Because they increase interest in whatever it is you're trying to keep from me.

The next time you see one of these things happening - either trying to ban books or refusing to let someone express their opinion - think about a few things:

  1. How does it make you feel? Angry? Confused? Triumphant? in agreement?

  2. And however it is that you feel, what is it about the whole thing that contributes to how you feel?

  3. Is it ever okay to practice either form of censorship? Why?

  4. Is there a way to protect free speech from all forms of censorship? Is it important?

  5. And if it is important, what can you do to help?

Illustration of shouting crowd by CanStockPhoto Inc/Nosyrevy

Illustration of angry guy with book by CanStockPhoto Inc/blamb

Illustration of peeping toms by CanStockPhoto Inc/RTRO


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