Funny story. Last night I got an email from my friend Maria, who recommended to me her friend’s LibriVox audio recordings for my summer audiobook odyssey. Since it’s as good a place as any, I decided to begin with John Milton’s Areopagitica.
For those of you unfamiliar with Areopagitica,1 Milton wrote it back in 1644. In many ways, the world was different back in 1644: global warming wasn’t as much of an issue back then, the roads were slightly better, and Clint Eastwood had just starred in his first movie. Yet in many ways, the world was very much the same: young kids listened to pop music that drove their parents crazy, celebrities got into tabloid scandals, and short-sighted people wanted to censor books.
Areopagitica is a polemic against the Licensing Order of 1643, which would essentially establish government censorship over all published works. Milton argues passionately and eloquently that such an order is foolish, that censorship is ineffectual and indeed harmful to a free society. He cites the examples of the Greek and Roman societies2 and goes on to extol reading and learning in general.
Now, Milton’s idea of “freedom of speech” was slightly different from what we interpret it to mean today. To Milton, freedom of speech means the freedom to pursue the study of knowledge of the sake of worshipping God. And he wasn’t against burning books after they were decided to be harmful; he just didn’t want books to be censored before being published and judged by a wide audience. Most of Milton’s argument, however, remains valid today: censorship is a bad idea. Books are good.
So why do some people insist on ruining the fun for the rest of us?
See, today I learned that yet another group of people want to burn books. So it’s serendipitous that I’m listening to what we might call an ur-tract—in the English language, at least—against censorship. Milton’s arguments remind me, a bibliophile and staunch opponent of censorship, why we shouldn’t burn our books.
To clarify, if you haven’t read the article, this Christian group wants the right to burn library books. I don’t care if people burn books they‘ve purchased or published themselves. It’s their property, and they have a right to do with it as they please. However, burning library books would be, in my perfect world, a capital crime. Burning a book is a terrible thing:
For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.3
And see, Milton’s a Christian. He’s all about God in this matter. So when I say this is a “Christian group”, I mean it’s a group of people who say they’re Christian (according to the newspaper article anyway). They don’t seem to be acting in a very Christian matter. But whatever; it’s a free country, right?
Well, only as long as you don’t publish “explicit” books, apparently. This group wants to remove a book called Baby Be-Bop because it discusses homosexuality and has some fairly explicit content. I haven’t read the book, so I won’t judge.
The group argues it could be mentally and emotionally damaging to children. I’m not a parent, but maybe I will be one day. And it seems to me that if you consider your child too young to protect himself or herself from “dangerous” material, then you shouldn’t let your child wander around alone in a public space. It’s that simple. I’m not against parents deciding what their children read—I would hope that parents educate their children widely and openly, but ultimately it’s their business. There comes a time, however, when you have to let your child grow up.
For that reason, I find this quotation from the Guardian article particularly laughable and dangerous:
Their suit says that “the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” and that it contains derogatory language that could “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”
It’s one thing to argue that material could be harmful to children. I personally take such claims with scepticism, but I at least understand that they originate from a desire to keep children safe and healthy. All right. But now you want to censor books because they might harm adults? All my life, I grew up believing that to be an adult is to have the ability to do whatever one wants (within reason), including reading whatever I want. The idea that I need a moral “Big Brother” is … well, it’s offensive. It implies I’m not mentally fit to judge what may harm my emotional wellbeing. If that’s the sort of society we want, then it wouldn’t really be free, would it?
Interestingly enough, I came across another free-speech-related article in the book I’ve just finished, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. This from Daniel Gilbert’s “dangerous idea” entitled “The Idea That Ideas Can Be Dangerous”:
We live in a world in which people are censured, demoted, imprisoned, beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That’s the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas. Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude, or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we’re in one. When all the words in our public conversation are fair, good, and true, it’s time to make a run for the fence.
Last week, Iran held national elections in which the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supposedly won the vote by a landslide. Amid accusations of rigging the election, Ahmadinejad’s government has continued to block access to the Internet, to mobile phones, and harshly beat and interrogate rioting protesters. That is what happens when freedom of speech becomes less important than creating a rosy world.
I may not like what you have to say—I may think that you’re an idiot for saying it—but because we live in a free society, because I want to live in a free society, I’ll let you say it. You can shout it from the rooftops. You can shout it because you’re free.
Now that freedom is under attack, not by external forces of terrorists or British pop groups or European soccer stars, but by internal forces who seek to censor, to slash, to burn. They want to suppress what doesn’t fit their picture of a rosy world, to judge you mentally incapable of conducting your life, and rip knowledge—regardless of its quality—from this Earth, driving us back into the dark age of 1644. This is an insidious threat, because it can’t be fought with guns or bombs or tactical nukes.4 To stop this threat, you need to do something far more dangerous: you have to stand up and say “No.”
So stand up. Read the books you want to read, and fight for the right to stock libraries full of any and every book, whether it’s Twilight or Shakespeare, and seek knowledge in all its forms. We live in an age of astounding literacy, with technologies poised to deliver books to our fingertips no matter where we are or what we’re doing. We can have our rosy world and read it in too.
During the summer, I bike to work. I could pretend that this is because I want to be green and stay in shape, but it’s really because I don’t have consistent access to a vehicle. Although it is good exercise, I must admit.
The ride is about twenty minutes one-way. I usually listen to music on my 1 GB iPod Nano. Yeah, that’s right: I haven’t upgraded to the latest model. Shocking, I know. However, this usually means I end up listening to the same music over and over all summer. I suppose I could create weekly mixes or playlists to help keep things fresh, but I‘m just too lazy.
So this year, I’m going to try something different: audiobooks. It furthers my goal of reading more, and it’s much safer than trying to read a book while biking. Rather than purchase audiobooks, I’m going to try Librivox, a crowdsourced repository of public domain audiobooks. I’ve gone ahead and created a shelf at Goodreads to track my summer listening. Now only one thing remains: to what should I listen?
I‘m open to suggestions. I’m considering some Victorian fiction, thinking that it may be less dry if I listen to it rather than read it. Or should I try some non-fiction? If you have some favourite public domain books, especially ones you think would be better in audiobook form, please let me know.
I’m still alive.1
Actually, when all is said and done, the wisdom teeth extraction was Not That Bad. I went in, the assistant hooked me up to various Machines That Go Ping!, gave me some nitrous oxide to relax, then stuck me with an IV. I drifted off to neverneverland. The next thing I know, the assistant is asking me to come lie down on a bed in a little recovery room. I do so and start to read my book. In about five minutes I‘m fully lucid and feeling quite well.
I won’t rub it in, but I had no swelling, no bruising, and no pain. I took a couple of painkillers on Friday but kicked them after Saturday morning. I had pizza—in small bites—for dinner on Friday, although I stuck with yogurt, Jello, and very soft food until Tuesday. My jaw feels a bit different when I chew, but overall it was a painless procedure.2 All that trepidation….
These past few weeks—I‘d like to say almost all of May as well, but I don’t want to be melodramatic here—have been draining. Or maybe it’s just that today was draining and I’m projecting. Nevertheless, the jumbled sequence of one-off events and above-average activity has left me breathless and tired. I need a vacation, but that was my vacation. Next week I start working full time. Yay.
While I could digress now and talk about how I‘m not all that enthusiastic about working full time this summer, there would be no point. It’s going to happen. And my job isn’t bad at all—I just find it difficult to spend eight hours there, especially on the slow days. So I‘m going to focus on the positives. There’s the money, of course. My fellow front desk attendants are nice people, and I’m essentially being paid to hang out with one of them for eight hours.3
Aside from the money, the other big advantage is that I’ll finally have a schedule again. Now, I’m not a creature of routine. My daily routine has constants, true, but I often vary most of my activities. I am, however, a creature of habit. Hence, May and early June’s dense schedule of stress has played havoc with my habits. Even though working full-time eats up my free time, it at least means I can stop worrying that I’ll be asked to work a bingo or take on three extra shifts at the end of the week….
I’m also feeling creatively unfocused as of late. I have plenty of projects on the go, some of which are in danger of becoming brain crack. Every time I try to sit down and work on one, however, my mind turns to the other projects, and I find it hard to accomplish anything. Even writing blog posts feels lacks lustre; I‘ve some ideas for potential posts but very little desire to actually compose them. This isn’t an “I Suck” phase (thankfully) but a “Why Bother?” phase, and my apathy is beginning to annoy me.
Additionally, I seem to be stuck in a passive-receptive mode when it comes to information. There’s an incredible amount of amazing and cool stuff happening in the world outside the Box That Is My Room. So much so that all I can do is absorb it osmotically. My feed subscriptions push hundreds of articles at me, and Twitter and Facebook push a myriad of other interesting items in my direction. It’s not information overload though. I don’t fanatically check my feeds; I read them once or twice a day. Other people just seem to be producing so much, it only strengthens my apathy toward creating my own things. And that’s just a wrong-headed idea, and I know it’s a wrong-headed idea, and I am severely disappointed in myself.4
About the only thing that pushes my buttons right now is reading (as always). I had to order a couple of books for birthday presents, so I took the opportunity to order everything that was in my Chapters shopping cart, even though I still have plenty of books waiting from my last trip to Chapters! And naturally, I had to buy duplicates when I didn’t own the book I was giving away…. Anyway, I placed the order on Sunday, and the first part arrived on Wednesday. I love Chapters.
Of course, there’s so many books I read and not enough time in which to read them! I’m coming across more and more interesting books that I mark as to-read; it’s staggering. Thus I feel a soul-wrenching, pent-up desire to devour literature at an awesome and terrifying rate. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
I’ve always been an avid reader, but over the past couple of years my passion has only intensified. Part of this is due to Goodreads, of course, but it’s not the sole culprit. I’m not sure why else though. Maybe as I‘ve matured, I’ve started to pursue my interests in a more organized, systematic fashion (and Goodreads facilitates this for my reading). As a result, knowing that I have a plan, knowing that there’s all these books I want to read now, makes me more eager to read as much as possible. Maybe I’ve always been this crazy and my friends were just too afraid to tell me, lest I murder them in their sleep by inflicting a thousand tiny papercuts. I’d never do that, of course!5
Suggestions for how to focus my creativity are welcome, but I’m not interested in GTD evangelization here. My projects are not to-do style endeavours—although I have tried keeping track of them with to-do lists. Aim more toward the area around reconciling your desire to devote time to creating stuff with your desire to drink prodigious amounts of tea while reading books by the truckload.6
- [ 1 ] Although chances are equally good I’m just a component of a massive set of equations which we happen to perceive as the Universe.
- [ 2 ] Aside from the part where I give them a substantial chunk of money, of course.
- [ 3 ] It’s dangerous to get into that mindset, though. I’m actually being paid to work, not socialize.
- [ 4 ] Bad Ben! Don’t make me use the newspaper!
- [ 5 ] I’d hire ninjas to inflict the thousand tiny papercuts.
- [ 6 ] If someone ever installs vending machines that serve “tea and a book”, I will be doomed.
I intended to post this two days ago, but somehow never got around to it. You know you need to blog more when your grandparents remark on your inactivity. So let’s do this!
The past few weeks have been, for the most part, uneventful (and that’s good). I worked a bit more than I would like, but there’s not much to be done. I’ve tried to use all the free time I have as wisely as possible, mostly reading. Now that the snow is gone—even though the frost warnings are not—I like to sit outside the front of the house on the nice days.
Having finished playing Mass Effect a second time, I tried playing Tomb Raider: Anniversary again. Unfortunately, the controls continued to frustrate me as I fell back into the rythym of “No, Lara, jump that way—oh, and you died.” So I tried Tomb Raider: Legend instead. While it’s the same engine, the levels are shorter and more varied, so I’m less frustrated with it.
I’m greatly anticipating Mass Effect 2, and a few days ago I saw the trailer for Assassin’s Creed 2. I enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed, although the story was somewhat weak, and the second one looks like it will be worth picking up eventually. Video games remain a side hobby, however.
Not too much happening in June, but it is a month of firsts for me. This Friday, I’ll be getting my wisdom teeth out (for the first and, logically, only time). Then a couple of weeks after that, I’ll be attending a wedding—my second wedding ever and my first wedding as an adult. So we’ll see how that goes.
Rogers released the HTC Dream and HTC Magic on June 2, the two headsets currently using Google Android. Those of you who aren’t into technology can safely skip this next paragraph; suffice it to say, I find Google Android sexy.
The Apple iPhone indubitably revolutionized the way we see smartphones. Where the BlackBerry and Palm were function, the iPhone was all about design—after all, it’s Apple. Unfortunately, Apple is starting to use its reputation for innovative design (i.e., its coolness) to sell uncool products. Because the iPhone is sort of like the North Korea of smartphones, in that Apple has control of what’s sold through its apps store and ultimately what’s on your phone. That’s why I find Google Android so appealing. Anyone with the coding skills can write Android apps and distribute them to anyone with an Android-powered phone. Thus, you can have all the functionality of an iPhone without any of its draconian drawbacks. The major disadvantage, of course, is that you risk the scorn of all your friends who are slaves to the Big Mac—er, Apple.
So the prospect of getting a Google-powered smartphone is extremely tempting. Yet I‘m not willing to become a slave to Rogers. I don’t need a smartphone. It would be nice to be able to check my email or update my calendar from anywhere, but honestly, I don’t get that much email, and my calendar seldom changes. If the plans were less expensive and Rogers were less evil, I’d jump at this opportunity in a second. Fortunately, I just have to wait until tomorrow, and mobile phone prices will be the least of my concerns.
Yes, tomorrow I get my wisdom teeth out. I’m nervous; I’ve never had any procedure like this done before—and would like to avoid them in the future, naturally. My wisdom teeth are fully grown in, and they don’t cause me any pain, so I’m hoping that means the surgery will go as smoothly as such things can go and my convalescence will be short. We shall see.
An interesting week lies ahead of me.