Sunday, September 28, 2008

The best argument for book banning...

... would be based on science.

Hard data definitively demonstrating a causal link between exposure to a book/ideas/images, which for at least some individuals directly leads to changes in behavior which we as a society would find intolerable/criminal.

(i.e. a causal link was found between exposure to certain ideas, thoughts etc. which for at least some individuals directly lead them to steal, kill, etc).

Now, before I get into this thought a couple of disclaimers:
1. WARNING: This may get your blood boiling.
2. Consider this a devil's advocate argument. I certainly don't necessarily subscribe to any of the following, but I think it's important to discuss it - if nothing else to at least prepare for any challenges that will likely come in this vein (if they haven't already).
3. Book-length treatises (somewhat ironically) could and indeed have been written on this subject, so this hastily-written, undocumented post doesn't pretend to be comprehensive in nature.

OK, back to the argument:
I don't think we are anywhere near conclusive scientific proof to support book banning, filtering etc. (and perhaps a definitive link will never be found) however, if I were out to ban or restrict exposure to material, this is the argument I would use (and it would be backed up by documentation of course):

Reading I've done recently indicates everything we think, do, see, etc creates changes in our brain. Exposure creates or reinforces neural pathways which wire our brain to act in a certain way. This is why repeated practice of a new task makes it easier for us to perform that task.

Yes, you say, but just observing something isn't the same as doing it. Watching someone kill another person in a movie isn't the same as actually killing them.

Well, believe it or not, there seems to be evidence that watching someone committ an act and actually personally committing that act causes the human brain to fire and wire in the same way.

Of course this doesn't mean that repeated observation of any act/image/thought will lead anyone directly to personally perform the observed action, but one might argue it does predispose our brains to fire in the same way in the future when presented similar stimulus, and as a result make us more likely to take that action in the future.

Killing is of course an extreme example, but what about something like cheating? Or something "beneficial" - exposure to charitable acts of giving? Science seems to indicate observing those kinds of acts wires our brains and predisposes the brain to fire in that way in the future, thus making in-kind action more likely.

Thus, the argument would conclude:
Science, as best we can tell, is telling us exposure to information/actions/ideas primes our brains (and of course our children's brains!) to fire and wire in a way that predisposes us to act in that way in the future.

As a result, we must carefully select what we expose ourselves and our children to, and filter/remove this "damaging" material which predisposes us to criminal behavior. (Let's say for the sake of argument, the concern is about exposure to ideas/information which might predispose our brains to criminal behavior.)

End argument. I'll hold off on my thoughts on counter-arguments for now, but what are your thoughts? How would you respond to challenges of your material brought in this vein?