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?


just me said...

Book bans are wrong. People should read what they want. Get over yourself your not protecting anyone.

smarter than just you said...

Don't be an idiot, he said multiple times that those aren't his views, only that that is the best argument that someone who DID want to ban a book could use.

Madi said...

I agree with Smarter Than You. Also, I would just like to add that you clearly aren't in a position to argue against someone who definitely did their research when you can't even use the correct type of 'you're' in an argument.

Anonymous said...

I like how you used scientific evidence, though the inconclusive "seems like" does not quite help that argument. I was thinking that it's pretty near impossible to completely shelter anyone's brain from being exposed to negative acts, which are going to happen nomatter what. Why bother trying to shut up the authors when "damaging" material is happening in real life?

Anonymous said...

My argument is that books that tear someone down should not be taught in government run public schools. I'm sorry, but forcing a developing, easily influenced child to read something that goes against his morals or is offensive or desensitizing in any way should not be forced upon a student at the threat of a grade. Schools are meant to build someone up with learning; books containing obscenity hinder that process of growth and maturation. I just think that there are other books that aren't offensive or explicit and still have literary merit. It's not a teacher's duty to expose a student to obscenity and teach them why it should be tolerated; it's their duty to teach them to think, form their own opinions, and interpret literature for themselves. Explicity and obscenity in a novel exposes developing adolescents to mature topics from which they may misinterpret fantasy for reality. We are much more influenced by media than you think (just look at the cinema's influence on body-image, or pornography's influence on sexual intimacy); there exists a subtle and undetectable power in media that unconsciously sways our opinions and encourages an unreal understanding.

I don't think government has the right to force students to read obscene books in public schools in the same way I don't believe the government has the right to ban books from an entire population -- there exists too much government power when they can force you to read or to not read a book. I'm not saying don't read the books, I'm just saying don't force me to read them with you.