Wednesday, June 01, 2005

RE: Harmful books 

So, fixing for a scrap are we? (Rolls up sleeves) Too bad this seems to have overshadowed the EU vote coverage, which is probably much more interesting (Shameless plug, shameless plug). Unfortunately, you won't find a lot of argument here. While I agree with some of the poorly spelled but still thoughtful comments of one reader, I think that Jason is basically right on this one. The reason I posted the link was that I thought it was interesting that they had labeled them just that: "Harmful Books." "Influential" would have been a much less provocative title, but perhaps no more accurate. The point of the list is not just texts of influence, but texts whose influence, in the period in question, was overwhelmingly one of malice and destruction. True, Marx and Engels were merely constructing a new economic thesis, but that does not make the results of that thesis any less disastrous for the people who were caught under those who bought into the whole load of crap. I also noticed you were careful to avoid certain books which you could not so easily defend: "Quotations of Chairman Mao," published solely for mass, forced distribution and brainwashing, is hardly more than a tool for subduing the masses. Defensible literature? Hardly. There must be some level on which the authors of these texts are to blame. Calling for an international revolution of the United Workers Class is sort of like shouting fire in the crowded World's theater, no? Leaving aside whether or not they can and should be published I think its hard for you to argue that during the 19th and 20th century, these texts (at least some) were not harmful.
All that being said, I think that labeling them "Harmful Books" does remove blame, at least in a way, from where it belongs: on those who took such texts for motive and circumstance to commit atrocities unmatched in human history. Hitler and his Gestapo killed in droves, Mein Kampf may have motivated them, but I doubt it did much actual damage, barring a well dealt blow to the cranium (Leads to interesting propositions... the Conking of Prague?). Words, like guns, are tools, and when wielded by he who carries them they can be servants of good or fists with which to crush all he encounters. I won't defend calling such books "Dangerous" outright, but neither will I ride to the aide of "The Communist Manifesto" with such zeal either. I still think its sludge...

[Update: In a perfectly timed ruling, it seems that guns don't kill people all by themselves afterall. Finally, a sensible liability ruling. Now, on to the trial of "The Kinsey Report"...]

I agree. I think the worst offender, if a book may be an offender, would be quotations from Chairman Mao, because it was distributed by a man in power forcibly, and for very harmful reasons. The other books at least have some separation between their publishing and their influencing people to be stupid (_Mein Kamf_ has this separation, _The Communist Manifesto_ more so). You're right, there are more important things going on right now, but I just had to say that I think there are very few ideas, no matter how wrong, that don't deserve to be heard, if at least so they may be quickly and thorougly refuted.
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