So now some redneck preacher-man has decided to revive the long-standing Christian tradition of book burning. Well, Hallelujah! I’ve had a hankering for some barbequed parchment for awhile now. I’ll bring the coleslaw, you bring the offending literature.
The shocking thing is that he’s not burning The Origin of the Species or Planned Parenthood pamphlets, but the Koran. This, to me, indicates a failure to grasp the “my enemy’s enemy” principle of warfare.
Islam is far from the opposite of Christianity. Islam and Christianity are two sides of the same barbaric, mystic coin from a hyperinflated fiat currency set to implode and drag all of us down with it any day now. I hear that faith-based coinage is so devalued, even Charon won’t accept it anymore.
Christianity and Islam’s most powerful enemy is reason, and there’s really not much they can do to fight it. The options are basically the “la, la, la, I can’t hear you,” strategy favored by modern Christians and manifest in movements like “intelligent design” and boycotts of Harry Potter, or the self-destruct approach favored by modern Islamists and Tibetan monks. Neither strategy can really be effective. Their only hope is for people of reason to simply give up for whatever stupid reason (for tolerance, for multiculturalism, for the environment). An unfortunate number seem willing to do this, but we can hold out for awhile yet.
Therefore all the religions, being equal and fundamentally similar in their stupidity, would do well to unite, at least for now. I still don’t think they’d win, but really, it’s their best shot. Christians and Muslims fought each other for hundreds of years, but it was reason that ultimately conquered both. You only send your army out on crusades after you have Galileo securely locked up.
All that aside, the idea of this book burning has sparked some interesting remarks from people on all sides. Our Dear Leader, who was oh-so-concerned about the property rights of the Cordoba Initiative, has basically said that burning the Koran will make many Muslims angry and don’t expect him, the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military ever to exist on Earth, to do anything about the ensuing violence against his subjects, er, citizens. Others have cried that it is wrong to offend a bunch of child-raping, infidel-murdering, women-oppressing, rights-violating, towel-headed, psychopathic savages whose micromanaging imaginary friend prohibits everything fun, from eating bacon to drinking to touching your ass with your right hand (but fucking your nine-year-old wife is A-OK). Then there are the people who think you have the right to burn any book, but that doing so is immoral, the people who are indifferent to the whole ridiculous spectacle, and the people who are ready to burn the Korans, and the mosques, and your little dog too.
The right answer, of course, is the answer that is always the right answer in all human affairs: indifference. But the view I find most puzzling is the “yes you can, but no you shouldn’t” position. The argument is basically that, while you have an absolute right to do what you will with your own property, including burning books, flags, or very small rocks, it is immoral to burn books as books represent ideas, and the proper way to combat an idea is through rational argument.
I have met a number of people in my life who fervently believe that destroying a book in any way, in any context (with the possible exception of a La Boheme situation) is absolutely disgustingly immoral. That’s just about the silliest example of intrinsicism I’ve ever heard. It’s basically saying that books, all books, are holy things that deserve to be enshrined and preserved for all time, merely by virtue of being books.
This view inevitably demands more than merely refraining from destroying books actively. It means you can’t throw a book in the garbage, for example, because you know the garbage ultimately leads to an incinerator. You can’t throw it in the gutter, either, or in a volcano, or feed it to your cat. You have to keep it on your shelf, forever, or pass it on to someone else. The closest you are allowed to come to destroying it is to abandon it in a café or on an airplane, but only if your intention is for some other reader to pick it up and continue the life of the book.
This is just plain foolishness. Human beings throw things away all the time. The measure of civilization is in how much value ends up in the trash. We throw away nutritious food if we don’t like how it tastes. We throw out functional clothing that has gone out of style. We throw away furniture, and hard drives, and Stradivarii (that’s the plural of “Stradivarius,” in case you were wondering). The physical paper and ink of a book are typically worth far less than things we throw away every day. It’s really only the content of the book that can have any value at all, but even there, perhaps especially there, value is far from guaranteed.
Anyone who has never had the experience of finishing a book and thinking “That sure wasn’t worth it,” obviously hasn’t read very much. Some books are just bad. Some are so bad that anyone who keeps them in circulation, whether selling them for 1 cent on Amazon or giving it to a friend or dropping it off at Goodwill, deserves to be shot and the cost of the bullet billed to their family. This certainly includes books with bad ideas whose influence should not be spread further.
People are not nearly so crazy about other forms of the written word. We discard junk mail without a second thought, trash old homework with alacrity, line bird cages with newspapers unhesitatingly, and delete obnoxious comments on blogs without guilt. What is so magical about the same bad writing in a binding and a cover?
Perhaps the Kindle and similar products will finally bring this mentality to an end. I can’t imagine people getting worked up over someone downloading the Koran and then deleting the file. But then people have an endless capacity for getting worked up other nothing, as this incident has demonstrated, so I don’t hold much hope there.
This doesn’t mean that I will be attending any book burnings in the near future. I will no more waste my time preserving worthless literature than I will buying a Koran just to watch it burn. That’s all manner of economic stupid. Which brings me back to my usual “I don’t give a shit” position.*
I understand fully that book burning conjures up unpleasant images of men in red cloaks and funny hats confiscating books that merely point out that 2+2 is 4 and not 8 and using them as tinder to burn heretics alive, but calling book burning immoral because Christians did it is like calling execution by guillotine immoral because of the French Revolution. There needs to be a bit more context before you can make the morality call.
In fact, I’m going to make a pledge. I pledge that when I go home today, I will throw out at least one book that I have clung to irrationally from an abhorrence of destroying books. Maybe several, even. Maybe I will put up a list and all 3 of my readers can vote on which book to destroy and what manner of destruction to use. I’m thinking Dinesh D’Souza will get the Patriot Missile.
*There is, however, one book burning I very much hope to attend in my lifetime. I would love to join an entire generation of young people in throwing the Bibles (or Korans or whatever), that they inherited from their parents, on the pyre, as a dramatic display of our culture finally being free of the stupidity of religion.