Lee Keeling

Lee Keeling

I’m in something of uncharted territory, because I find myself in agreement with a recent column authored by Christine Flowers and published in this paper.

I’m not used to that. Particularly on mornings when I’m otherwise more or less cheerfully disposed, and I see that she has a piece on the Viewpoints page, I have to stop and think about whether I want to risk damaging my mood. Sometimes, I’ll start to read but then stop, preferring to save her a slot for later, after the rough and tumble of the day (and maybe a glass or two of wine) have me in more of a mind to put up with her.

So, I was pleased to read her offering in the Sept. 14 issue on the matter of banning books. Flowers notes that people have felt the urge to ban books for centuries. As she says, these attacks come from both sides of the political spectrum.

Our community is currently dealing with a fresh crop of book-banners, this particular cohort being fueled and encouraged by a decidedly “far-right” interest group. The commissioners court deserves special mention for the extent to which it let itself get triggered into issuing a threat to evict the public library from the — wait for it — “library building.” Were that to have happened, I guess they could park maintainers and dump trucks there, or maybe use it for another emergency response headquarters.

Even city council seems a little wobbly about confronting this latest effort, although the city’s head librarian, her staff and the volunteer Library Board have all shown great resolve in vindicating the principle that the public library is there for the public, not just some portion of it. In her column, Flowers rightly notes the power of words and warns that their censorship corrodes the “independent mind,” which according to her is the “most important attribute of humanity.”

“That’s why,” she says, “I support librarians who fight against censorship, even when the books they champion violate my morals and my fundamental principles.”

It’s not surprising that somebody like Stephen King might have a thing or two to say about this. He gets right to the heart of it: “Censorship and the suppression of reading materials are rarely about family values and almost always about control. Censorship’s bottom line is this: If the novel “Christine” offends me, I don’t just want to make sure it’s kept from my kid; I want to make sure it’s kept from your kids, as well, and all the kids. This bit of intellectual arrogance, undemocratic and as old as time, is best expressed this way: “If it’s bad for me and my family, it’s bad for everyone’s family.’”

Though the expression might be lost on an Ethiopian (Ethiopia banned “Hamlet” in 1978), there’s the rub. No one argues any of us are without the right to conclude that a book is harmful, immoral, dangerous, or otherwise something we want no association with. Further, we have the right to the opinion that others should shun it as well, and that if they don’t, the nation will surely implode. But no matter how convinced we are that our opinions and conclusions are correct, we have no right to impose them on others.

We only get to have our own strong opinions at the cost of trusting our fellow citizens to make up their own minds about theirs. If we lose sight of that because we’re convinced of the righteousness of our own cause and adopt a rule to silence those of a different mind, we should realize that it is the nature of such a rule that, though we may be pleased now to have prevailed, over the course of time and events, a day will come when we are the ones it silences.

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Lee Keeling has practiced law in Victoria since 1993. You can reach him at lee.keeling@gmail.com.