“…as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.” John Milton’s Aeropagitica.
Humans have developed their reasoning through books and art, and if we take a look into history, the literature that has shaped intellectual thought in all societies have always been contested ones. How many prophets and other holy men have been persecuted for sharing their books of Divine inspiration? How many great thinkers from our philosophy books have been imprisoned and executed for sharing their thoughts? How many prison cells today contain individuals who dared to criticize injustices through writing? Throughout time, polemical writings have been labeled “corrupt,” “evil,” and “blasphemous”.
As a bookish person, you can see why I find Milton’s words so powerful. My friend and I were discussing the quote yesterday and he mentioned that some books have the power to corrupt. I disagree with this. Books are just books; books are inanimate objects and cannot corrupt people, we choose to be corrupt (or not).
Since the dawn of literacy, people have been inspired by holy, and essentially peaceful, books to declare war and commit horrible acts of murder and terror. How would we explain that? People can use good content to do bad things, just like people can use bad content to express good things. The idea that “bad” content leads to corruption denies the human ability to reason and control their urges. I would rather decide for myself what content is useful to my intellectual and spiritual growth rather than live in a Sesame Street vacuum where we all sing happy songs.
Literature isn’t the only medium where we sometimes see a backlash from government to ban it from store shelves. Hiphop has constantly received a bad rap. As Eminem puts it, “they put my lyrics up under this microscope, searchin’ with a fine tooth comb, its like this rope, waitin’ to choke, tightening around my throat, watching me while I write this, like I don’t like this, nope, all I hear is, lyrics, lyrics, constant controversy, sponsors working ’round the clock, to try to stop my concerts early”. I like these words because it captures the stifling effect of censorship. Personally, I think Eminem is talented as a lyricist and as an artist, and there are things we can learn from such a passionate artist. Yet, I don’t particularly admire him as a person nor would I advocate most of the content of his music.
Naturally, I would agree that it makes sense for parents to supervise the things children read, watch and hear as they are still learning how to reason. Mentally stable adults, however, have complete control as to how they will react (or not) to the information they encounter. At the end, it is the hand the pulls the trigger, right?