The Daily Man-Up: We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

March 21, 2019 | No Comments » | Topics: Man-Up

(photo: @nonsapvisuals)

Like every kid, I was forced to read Fahrenheit 451 in high school.

If you’d asked me what it was about before last week, I would have told you: “Firemen who burn books.”

And if you’d asked me why on earth they did that, I would have answered just as confidently: “Because a tyrannical government wanted them to.”

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Earlier this year a community college student in San Bernardino protested being required to read a Neil Gaiman graphic novel in one of her classes. It was too graphic, apparently. Her father—who does not seem to understand that his daughter is a separate human being (an adult one no less)—told The Los Angeles Times, “If they [had] put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” A mom in Tennessee has complained that the gynecological information in the book in the bestselling nonfiction science book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is too pornographic for her 10th grade son.  

While these conservative complaints about the content of books is unfortunately as old as time. We’re also seeing surge in a different type.

A Rutgers student has proposed putting trigger warnings on The Great Gatsby. Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” was banned on many college campuses for promoting rape. Last year, Wellesley students created a petition to remove an art project featuring a lifelike statue of a sleepwalking man in his underwear in the snow because it caused “undue stress.” Controversial speakers (many conservative) have been blocked from speaking at college commencements. Pick up artists—never convicted of any crime—have had their visas revoked due to trending Twitter hashtags.

The people in these examples are certainly a bit ridiculous—but by no means bad. None of them see themselves as censors, naturally. They were being sensitive, outraged, protective or triggered. And to be fair, most of their complaints and protests stop short of actually saying “This should not be allowed anywhere.”

But that distinction matters less than they think.

Let’s go back to 451, which I found myself re-reading recently. It begins with Guy Montag burning a house that contained books. Why? How did it come to be that firemen burned books instead of putting out fires as they always had?

The firemen have been doing it for so long they have no idea. Most of them have never even read a book. Except one fireman—Captain Beatty—who has been around long enough to remember what life was like before. As Montag begins to doubt his profession—going as far as to hide a book in his house—he is subjected to a speech from Beatty. In it Beatty explains that it wasn’t the government that decided that books were a threat. It was his fellow citizens.

“It didn’t come from the government down,” he tells him. “There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no!”

In fact, it was something rather simple—something that should sound very familiar. It was a desire not to offend—of an earnest notion to literally have “everyone made equal.” And it’s at the end of this speech that we get the killer passage:

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right?…Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, to the incinerator.”

And before you get offended, let’s clarify what Bradbury means by minorities. He’s not talking about race. He’s talking about it in the same way that Madison and Hamilton did in the Federalist Papers. He’s speaking about small, interested groups who try to force the rest of the majority to adhere to the minority’s set of beliefs.

I don’t mean to cherry pick. I see no need to pile on to college students as being particularly responsible for the “coddling of the American mind.” (Great piece, read it.) Though I do find it ironic that we require kids to read this book in high school and just a few years (or months) later, they’re leading the charge on exactly the kind of well-intentioned censorship Bradbury was talking about. I don’t mean to say that these examples come close to the kind of overt censorship that every reasonable person dreads. But I do mean to say that they come from the same place—and very alarmingly—ultimately end together in a much worse place.

Check out the rest of the article here

 

 

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