To ban or not to ban, that is the question. That is something prolific playwright William Shakespeare probably never would have said, but it remains extremely relevant for the modern century. As society grows in depth, books constantly force us to take new perspective on issues we are uncomfortable with. One of the easiest ways to deal with a book is to simply censor it and then forget about the issue. However, this is a weak response to the deeper quandary of how to respond to ideals which stand at odds with the values society holds. Remarkable contingencies should remain the only area where literacy restriction is possible. The only significant time when censorship is permissible should be when it threatens the physical well-being of others. Books that teach people to implement violent acts should be suppressed because they increase the possibility of violent acts, teach the wrong idea of utilizing violence to enact change, and no longer encompass the protection of free expression.
Teaching someone how to commit an illegal act is like placing a gun in the hands of a person who simply has to load it. It allows the facilitation of crimes where normal people would not have had that knowledge. It is often said that people who commit crimes because of violent books would have committed the crimes anyway. While they certainly may have been more predisposed to do so, the possibility of the crime itself is magnified because of the information they received from novels. The work The Anarchist Cookbook is a clear example of admissible censorship. A quick look at www.anarchistcookbook.com shows that when you teach people how to commit crimes, they quickly become more infatuated with the possibility of violence. The Anarchist Textbook not only taught people to commit violent acts, but inspired them to talk about it with others. With the knowledge they receive, people become able to more realistically commit crimes which they could have only thought of beforehand. Crimes have therefore become more likely with the advent of these instructional exposés.
Additionally, books that teach violence as an answer to life’s problems should be discouraged in democratic countries. We are past an age where we need to use violence to accomplish political goals. Violence is sometimes necessary in non-democratic countries because people are systematically abused and unable to influence change through any non-violent means. That is not the case when you have a vote and a platform on which to speak in countries such as the United States. Political participation is executed through governmental systems. Additionally, one has other means of expression. Social media sites and internet forums exist for the purposes of communication. Today’s generation encompasses people who are able to influence their contemporaries in methods previously unthinkable. In the Information Age, any opinion you have can be discussed. The fact you can enact non-violent change means that violent change should be discouraged in society because it promotes extremely unnecessary harm.
Finally, these kinds of novels cannot be protected on the grounds of literary expression. Works of art lose their protection status when they teach people to commit illegal acts. Grounds for this can be found in the United States Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, where the shield of freedom of speech was cast aside when it incited imminent lawless action. This is necessarily a subjective field, so it should be limited to only when an author describes technical details on how to commit an act. The thought of committing a crime, and the philosophical questions which can arise from them, are valuable and not subject to censorship. When a book however acts as a guide for lawless acts, this means it is no longer merely philosophical and instead acts as reality. This narrow focus permits the possibility of censorship while securing the abstract importance of freedom of expression.
Novels can be controversial. They forge the thoughts of our mind and help mold our hearts as we grow up in the 21st century. While the nature of their words can be consistently debated, certain books should be prohibited when they teach people how to commit violent crimes such as rape and murder. Democracy and peace are simultaneously threatened and undervalued when these books are allowed; these novels should not be guaranteed absolution from suppression. In the question of to ban or not to ban, the answer of even unintentional violent instructional books should be the former.
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