Disclaimer: The author writes as Guy Montag, the protagonist of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451. Any opinions expressed herein are at least somewhat reflective of this fact and not necessarily reflective of clay or TPS.
“It was a pleasure to burn.” Books, that is. For those who know me, you will remember that I used to be a fireman, though not in the traditional sense of the word. I burned books, novels, encyclopedias, anthologies, fictions, biographies, you name it. They all shared one common trait: they were deemed offensive and illegal. In short, I have gotten closer to “cancel culture” than anyone, and although my situation is certainly an extreme of what today’s progressives push for, what I learned in my story, Fahrenheit 451, still holds importance in today’s America.
To begin, what did I learn that led me to betray my fellow firemen and bring a book home with me in the first place? Ultimately, the question I grew to ask myself was this: who decides which books get banned, who decides the standard? This can then be broken down into two more questions, namely who can get these books banned and why are they motivated to give the axe to particular books. In the case of my former employers, they wished to keep a particular order, one which prevented anger and discomfort. How justified is this thinking, really?
The most recent wave of strikes was the discontinuation of 6 Dr. Seuss books, including titles such as I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo. Though I myself haven’t gotten an opportunity to look at these books, since they have been illegal for quite some time in my world, people who want them gone claim they have racist imagery of minorities, specifically those of Chinese and African descent. Let’s assume that this content is enough for firemen to burn these books to ashes. This sets a standard that any book expressing racist ideas should also be burned, regardless of any other value they may have. That means that works such as Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s call to begin his anti-Semitic genocide, and Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters, George Fitzhugh’s painting of the superiority of a slave-based, white-dominated society, should have certainly been cancelled by now. It seems that the same people who wiped Seuss’s books off of Amazon and eBay completely forgot about these objectively worse examples of racism. In fact, Amazon stopped selling Mein Kampf on March 16 to cover up this hypocrisy, only to begin sales again the next day. Imagine Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra! burning in my world before A defence of Negro slavery, as it exists in the United States, by Matthew Estes, suffered the same fate.
Despite the foundation for this particular wave of cancelling being a bit arbitrary, is cancelling anything the right thing to do? In my opinion, nothing should be banned, since every book offers some sort of value to society. In books that should never be cancelled, such as classics like The Great Gatsby, a piece of history and culture can be commemorated on paper forever. With works like this left for future generations, my world will never touch modern America, a world where books can only be remembered. Religious or philosophical books can offer advice and ideas to the world, which supports freedom of speech and religion. Political commentary, a popular target for cancelling, can give a warning to future politicians and voters, like George Orwell’s novels. Books like the ones Dr. Seuss wrote are mostly harmless and are a fun staple among children’s stories, while little concrete evidence suggest that they indoctrinate their readers with racism. Finally, the books I mentioned earlier as the ones that should be the first to go, pages that actually were meant to install terrible, racist ideas in people’s heads, provide a standard for what is wrong. They should be recognized as wrong – cancelling them erases a valuable bad example we ought to condemn and avoid. Even though I once burned books, I have realized that every word in every book holds some value, and cancelling can only limit freedom and thought.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury