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Burn Baby, Burn October 13, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

To those born in approximately my coming of age (I was perhaps a few years later), that statement has a very specific meaning.  It was the rallying cry of some blacks in the 1960s who felt oppressed by the legacy of racism, supposedly wiped out by Brown Versus the Board of Education, but in reality existing to this day and beyond.  The only way they believed they could achieve practical equality was to burn the existing structures to the ground and start over again.  I don’t personally subscribe to that ideal, but I get the sentiment.

In my coming of age, I read the likes of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  From them, I took away some truths that 45 years later I still consider absolutes.  First, while there are different points of view, there is such a thing as Truth; the current narrative of alternative facts is scary in its acceptance by so many people.

Second, people are both capable and free of making up their own minds.  I am not an Ellen DeGeneres fan by any means, but she spoke truth when she said we can be friends with people who don’t share our views.  Yet she was still pilloried, simply for attending a baseball game with George W. Bush.

Last, we do not burn books.  Ever.  However much we may disagree with them.  I used this YouTube clip in a presentation recently, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where there was a book-burning party in Nazi Berlin.  “We are pilgrims in an unholy land,” said Henry Jones Sr, upon happening upon the event.  This could never ever happen again, right.

Except that it has.  At Georgia Southern University, students have burned the books of author Jennine Capó Crucet, which target a world of white privilege.  Students there disagreed, and showed their disagreement by burning her books.  University officials said these students were exercising their First Amendment rights, and face no retribution.

I’ve not read anything by Crucet.  I may not like her books either, or agree with her premise or conclusions.  But there is a visceral emotion that would prevent me from ever burning them.

The problem is that partisanship and activism have become careers, and many people today aspire to a lifetime of anger against others.  We display our credentials through our hatred, rather than anything we’ve accomplished in life.

Ideas are invaluable.  Once lost, they cannot be replaced.  To wantonly destroy the expression of ideas is against everything I believe.  They may not be your ideas of a lifetime, in which case you can simply shrug and move on.

That’s not to say that all ideas have the same value.  But if we actively hate, we are doing damage not only to ourselves, but also to society.  Think about that before you burn your next book.


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