K vonKrenner
8 min readApr 10, 2021

--

Book Burning

Cancelling Culture- Here We Go Again

As a world we are with waking up from our pandemic hibernation to welcome finally, Spring. Vaccines are sporadically rolling out waves of sunny hope. Our fingers fly across the internet hovering over the “book-it” button for vacations and travel. We are doing our damndest to forget everything about 2020 as fast as possible. We are hard at work cramming our New Normal into as much as will fit back into the Old Normal box. With a shoe that pinches, we strive to hobble on.

There is a niggling feeling, as we emerge from our pandemic caves to this New World that all is not quite what we had hoped for. The streets steadily filling with traffic are still oddly silent of “normal” society. Social justice protests have diminished to an occasional whisper as murals are whitewashed in the night. The$1600, is a spent memory, student debt remains a dark cloud on the September horizon. Additionally, “at will” work policies are now beating us back into our old offices as remote workers are recalled . That pandemic move may cost you your job if it takes an airplane to commute back in every morning.

Is this morning of our Brave New World as shiny and new as we had hoped? Or, in the night, can we hear the sound of wolves howling? We are facing a state of ‘wokeness” censorship that will cause social and educational destruction rivalling that of the Spanish Inquisition and McCarthyism.

Censorship is not a new terror tool for reforming regimes. Cancelling was busy killing off the opposition as early as 399 BC . Socrates was forced to drink poison for allegedly corrupting youth with his Socratic Method of challenging The Man, through intelligent questions.

Throughout history censorship, has been presented as a benevolent “correction” method for the best interest of the general public. In reality, it is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove, crushing dissenting opinions and/ or debate.

The struggle for artistic freedom of expression and speech is embedded in our history across the world. The concept of free speech was already a heated argument as early as 480 BC by the playwright Euripides.

Knowledge is power. Access and control of that knowledge solidifies the power structures. Censorship and the control of knowledge is deeply tied in with the “printed” word. With the invention of the printing press in 15th century Europe knowledge and more importantly, ideas were suddenly accessible to larger numbers of people. This led to dangerous questions. Questions of morality, power structuring and social norms. Questions challenging authority, demanding answers and at times, leading to revolutions. Writers have been on the run for centuries. Books have been burned for centuries.

Censorship is the “take back control” tool. Sensuously entwined with our best interests and a benevolent helpfulness, it’s poison spreads through populations faster than a Covid virus.

We are invited to be infected with a deadly dose of self-righteousness.

In Western history censorship took on a whole new depth with the introduction of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The Church of Pope Paul IV ordered the first Index of Prohibited Books in 1559 shortly after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci. In effect, crushing the growing Renaissance movement of enlightened art, science and literature.

The last Index of Prohibited Books was issued as recently as 1948, and finally abolished in 1966. We can only imagine now, what knowledge was burned or lost in those “helpful”, reforming purges.

Free speech implies the free expression of ideas. As such, it is always a challenge for power hierarchies and governments on how to manage it. It is the arena of that most powerful question; “why”? It is where people gather to define perceived threats, social morals and their government. It is a swamp of unwashed thoughts simmering with possibilities. A home for idealists, reformists, artists or dissidents. The smelly vagueness of what transforms a dissident into a threat or “terrorist” is the censors greatest power combination of fear factor and, muzzle. Say too much and you can be cancelled, in more ways than one..

Over time, more books have been written, copied, shared and ever more widely disseminated by various methods. Ideas perceived as subversive and dangerous could spread faster and beyond the direct control of governments. Consequently, censorship became more rigid, and punishment more severe. Books, writers and idealists burned not just with the passion of their ideas, but in the hot, deathly flames of censorship.

The 17th and 18th centuries represented a time of reason and a search for reason and humanity. Individual rights, dignity and the definition of liberty became political issues. People talked and, wrote. These enlightened times subsequently created the current foundational human rights law in many countries that have sought to protect “freedom of speech”. The freedom to express differing ideas without punishment.

In 1766 Sweden was the first country to abolish censorship and introduce a law guaranteeing freedom of the press. Denmark/ Norway followed in 1770. In 1787 the United States followed with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. These laws guarantee freedom of speech and the press. They do not guarantee the right to libel, slander or cancel culture. There has been no addendum added that allows for book burning, purging or, selective censorship.

The First Amendment is regarded by many as the foundation of the comprehensive protection of freedom of expression in Western countries. It has become a guideline to the world, in addition to the statement made by the 1789 French National Assembly:

“The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most precious rights of man; every citizen may therefore speak, write and print freely.” (By the by, France is the same country that gave us our beloved Statue of Liberty in 1885).

In other words, you don’t have to like or agree with what I think, say or, write, but I get to do it anyway. You don’t get to “cancel” me. And, by extension, that includes other forms of “expression” such as art.

So, as we drag ourselves from a mind numbing pandemic sleep into our equitable New World screaming to Cancel Culture and censor books who will stand up, face the firing squad, hold out a flower and ask -“Why”?

Censorship and Cancelling are tools of terror and power. They destroy history and anything a temporary percentage of people find “offensive”. It is a systematic deletion of our souls. How much of our humanity do we lose each time we “purge”? How can we learn from our past if we can’t find it? Why and of what, are we so afraid?

Censorship is primarily a tool of social taboo and ostracisation for speaking out against a popular directive with an alternative opinion. It cannot ever create equity or justice by the mere fact that it seeks to silence intellectual opposition and free speech through a systematic set of socially managed terrorist tactics.

This is most obvious when there is the threat of a major social change in economics or politics. The distraction to redirect this change produces emotionally charged propaganda and, censorship.

The censorship of “free speech” attempts to control the mass audience. The censorship of the press (and journalists) seeks to control the access to knowledge or events. Both are deeply linked in propaganda programs. “Acceptable” deletions or purges are initiated up by emotionally charged issues and at times, back-up by a flood of manufactured news and/or opinions. When our journalists are muzzled and we are denied the neutral facts of a crisis it becomes easy to accept the “legend” of the majority. As the crisis accelerates verbally or, physically it can become a matter of individual survival to “follow the crowd”.

Cancel Culture or the “call-out-culture” is our most current form of tribal ostracism.

In these instances, a targeted opponent is thrust out of their professional or social circles and “dis-connected” via online social media. They are effectively “cancelled” for their opposing opinions. As the practice of “cancelling” spreads by public acceptance it develops even more dark, negative actions and connotations. Any format of perceived oppositional opinion or that which does not align with the current social trend is “cancelled”. Businesses, books, art, history and, people. Those on the receiving end of a self- righteous cancel culture movement can be faced with the consequences of lost reputation, income and society. When the wolves come howling at night, crosses burn on the horizon. Our human history is littered with the bodies of those who stood up to defend the rights of all of us to our opinions and ideas. Why?

Our current cancel culture movement was birthed in the pandemic fear and spilled blood of BLM, Patriot Boys and the Antifa protest clashes of 2020. In the name of justice and equity we are now purging our hearts, minds and history of that which is currently determined to be “racist”. How are we currently defining racism? If by the color of our skins then where is the line drawn of who is black, white or brown? Is this a sound basis to define what is to be categorized as racist and if so, Why?

Of course, it is constitutionally protected to have an opinion. (Note, opinion) However, it is hard to see how the fantastical creatures in Dr. Seuss can be cancelled without cancelling the entire genre of science fiction or fantasy writing. Who faces the pyre next? Mark Twain, Alice in Wonderland, the Illiad, all the Classics of literature? Art? The Mona Lisa? Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”? Where does this end? Is this the final strangled cry of public education and free speech through a “helpful” platform of equity and equality?

Despite the Library Bill of Rights, (the library profession’s interpretation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution), public and school libraries are again facing demands to remove books by groups claiming to represent the interest of parents and new social moral directives. Writers are being silenced, journalists targeted. Numerous newspapers, publishers and broadcasters are being “cancelled”, closed or violently attacked. Why?

History is littered with burning libraries and books. Fires that have left broken fragments of knowledge and history to be pieced together and salvaged. Erasing history does not lead to justice. Cancelling out what is uncomfortable leaves little room for reconciliation or, conversation.

What is there to be afraid of in these books, images and words? Who is so afraid of us or our children having access to history and literature? Without references we are left floundering in yet another dictated version of reality. Books are our windows on progress and, hope. We use them to evaluate and discuss ideas and our understanding and definition of a “good” society. History, art and books are the mapping tools of our humanity. “Where books are burned, in the end people will burn.” (Heinrich Heine).

We are facing a burning moment. If there is an urge to strike the match then it is up to us to ask- Why?

--

--

K vonKrenner

Karin, a writer, traveler & freelance journalist covers the human story around the world. She tends to be in the wrong place at the right time@ kvkrenner.com