Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paging Ray Bradbury

I have been a non-rabid fan of good science fiction for a long time. It challenges, makes you think, puts things into perspective... and entertains. My taste in sci-fi is peculiar, and changing - for example, I was never blown away by Asimov and Bradbury, got disappointed eventually in Orson Scott Card, developed a liking for Heinlein late (although it keeps growing), and I adored Robert Sheckley. Lately, I find my appreciation for sci-fi tilting towards a different aspect of it: it appears elements of its more dystopic visions begin to materialize around me. Without further ado, I tip my hat ever-so-slightly to Ray Bradbury's foresight - coming to a bookstore or library near you, courtesy of the US government, bookburning. You could have almost missed that hat tip, and there is a reason for it - Bradbury stated that "451 Fahrenheit" was not about censorship, but about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

Bradbury is, of course, entitled to his interpretation. Perhaps he picked up a meme without fully realizing it - a testament to his keen perception, if not his sharp intellect - and his creation took on a life of its own. I see it differently. I am not in the least bothered by people glued to their TV's, iPods, or gaming consoles. Such is human nature, and throughout history the vast majority of people have lacked the interest and capacity for elitist, intellectual, abstract knowledge, which was until recently almost exclusively stored and distributed in the form of paper artifacts. I am profoundly bothered, however, when the government restricts access to knowledge.

So, back to our modern-day Guy Montags. I am not a conspiracy theorist, and thus I do not think what the article describes is, per se, outright censorship. These books are just victims of the crackdown on things that those who have been given the power to crack down on things think they ought to be cracking down on, and of the law of unintended consequences. What does
get my panties in a bundle, however, is that it does have an element of censorship. It is this element that bothers me, as I expect the modern "firefighters" will soon sense it, and see it a feature, not a bug. What I mean is that by "protecting" little Johnnie and Jane from books printed before 1985, the Agent Smith's are also preventing them from learning about any number of realities from the world before political correctness, multiculturalism, environmentalism, gun control, etc., took hold. Bingo, we are on the proverbial slippery slope. How long do you think it'll be before protecting children from noxious lead-infused illustrations extends into protecting them from noxious thoughts and ideas? Something along the lines of "reading books has been found to contribute to sedentary lifestyle, and hence obesity, therefore thou shalt not read" is not as far out as it seems. That's the danger - the slow creep of the "you may not do it for your own safety" argument as acceptable. When the government gets a tool/weapon, it uses it, sooner or later.

Before you think I am hyperventilating in the paranoid grips of a bad LSD trip, think about pubs in the UK (and increasingly elsewhere). A staple of the British lifestyle, if there is any, and yet a thorn in the side of health Nazis, who prefer a healthier tax base that costs less and pays more in taxes without discussing it too much over a pint. Banning pubs and bars immediately would lead to a revolution, and that's not an exaggeration. So... let's ban smoking there on the grounds that "it's for your own good". Not a ban, sure, but enough to shrink the customer base enough to make many of these fine establishments unprofitable, as enough smokers get tired of shivering in the rain outside to get a puff, evicted from a private property the owner of which would gladly admit them, were not his or her license on the line. Unsurprisingly, pubs are going out of business, and the government has achieved its goal through the back door, without torches and pitchforks being shaken outside Westminster.

I have put Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and "Animal Farm" near the top of my (re)reading list. I am currently reading Vernor Vinge's "Ungoverned".

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