Banning or Restricting Books

In any debate about banning books, one side will argue that banning books always backfires. Knowing that someone bans a book will make the book appealing to others, is the argument, and the remedy instead is to engage the readers after they read it.

That assumes the reader is smart enough to think critically about the topic and that the reader has an open mind. I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption.

There are books that pander to people who want an excuse to believe something that isn’t true. For some authors, it’s a pure pursuit of profit: write about UFO conspiracies, and you’ll find a captive audience who’ll buy anything to support their hopes or delusions. For other authors, it’s about a personal bias or indirect economic gain. Write about how climate change is a fraud, and convince enough people that climate change is a fraud, and you won’t have to pay the expense of remedying the causes of global warming.

Sometimes, it’s not dishonesty; it can be pure stupidity. Maybe some of the climate change deniers never really understood the scientific method and really sincerely believe that there is legitimate doubt about climate change. Maybe they sincerely believe that the 3% of scientists who don’t agree that global warming is caused by human activity are, like Galileo, geniuses who are ahead of their times.

I don’t really care whether an author is stupid or dishonest. If there’s a rational basis to decide that a book is false and deceptive or grossly misleading, I’d be cautious about letting anyone read it. The smart people might be able to see past the flowery writing and rhetorical tricks (“You are too smart to be deceived by those 97% of scientists!”), but clearly some people buy it, either because they’re too stupid to know better or because it’s to their personal advantage to seize upon some excuse to doubt the truth.

I’d never ban the Bible because it teaches two creation stories. But I’d ban it as a scientific text, because it’s not a scientific text.

I wouldn’t ban books that disparage homosexual rights, but I’d ban books that repeat discredited claims that would justify restrictions on freedom if true. “Gays are child molesters,” isn’t an opinion; it’s an inflammatory claim that is disproven easily, both because most gays aren’t child molesters and because most child molesters aren’t gays.

Maybe I can’t and wouldn’t officially ban those books. But I’d put such books in a category of books I’d keep away from any children I was responsible for, either as a guardian or an educator. If someone insisted I let children read such deception, I’d insist upon also teaching why those books are deceptive. I can’t make a horse drink, but I can make sure the horse is led to water.

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