Our Point of View
Special Mysterious Book Report No. 8
by John Dwaine McKenna
When we began writing the Mysterious Book Report a little over ten years ago, its purpose was to encourage reading. It’s always been our belief that all of us have the right to read anything in print and then make our own decisions about its veracity, credibility or worth. Now, in what we’re beginning to think of as the Age of Big Tech Tyranny, those rights are being abrogated by some nameless faceless and menacing do-gooders who want to control how we think, by limiting our access to content they don’t like, disagree with, or simply label as ‘radical lies’, then arbitrarily delete the content and ban the writer from the platform. Therefore, it was gratifying to learn of an important document known as The Freedom to Read Statement. It was brought to our attention by Christopher M. Finan, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, (email address is Chris@ncac.org). Mr. Finan’s remarks may be seen by clicking on the following link: https://ncac.org/news/chris-finan-publishers-weekly whose Op-Ed appeared in the May 24, 2021 edition of Publishers Weekly. We think everyone should read it. Here then, is Part I of the Freedom to Read Statement which was written in May 1953 by a group of publishers and librarians who met in Westchester County, NY.
Part II will appear next week and, so far at least, you can read the entire statement by searching the web. As always your comments are welcome at: Johndwainemckenna@gmail.com
The Freedom To Read Statement
The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries. These actions apparently rise from a view that our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals. We, as individuals devoted to reading and as librarians and publishers responsible for disseminating ideas, wish to assert the public interest in the preservation of the freedom to read.
Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad. We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them. We believe they still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression.
These efforts at suppression are related to a larger pattern of pressures being brought against education, the press, art and images, films, broadcast media, and the Internet. The problem is not only one of actual censorship. The shadow of fear cast by these pressures leads, we suspect, to an even larger voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy or unwelcome scrutiny by government officials.
Such pressure toward conformity is perhaps natural to a time of accelerated change. And yet suppression is never more dangerous than in such a time of social tension. Freedom has given the United States the elasticity to endure strain. Freedom keeps open the path of novel and creative solutions, and enables change to come by choice. Every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of our society and leaves it the less able to deal with controversy and difference.
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