By Dr Stewart Hase
In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 book Farenheit 451, Captain Beatty states that, ‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it, take the shot from the weapon. Breach one man’s mind. Who knows what might be the target of the well-read man’. In this dystopian novel, Beatty is justifying the burning of books.
While Farenheit is a novel, there is a long history of book burning going back centuries.
The burning of books is intended to control knowledge, to prevent free thinking, to make sure everyone thinks the same and an affront to liberalism. Book burning is a political issue, and similarly, the 21st century equivalent is Internet Censorship, which, in a political context, has became a hot topic since the propagation of mistruths became so visible during the Trump Presidency.
There are myriad reasons politicians want to interfere with the distribution of knowledge, not least of which is to avoid scrutiny. But, the most frightening, as highlighted in Farenheit 451 and Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, is the need for complete control of ideology-what we think.
Texas has become the latest State to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools, joining several others that have banned it or thinking of doing so. While Critical Race Theory was conceptualised over 40 years ago it has become a target for politicians as racial tensions have grown, arguably since the murder of George Floyd, and continue to be at flash point across America. Some states have also banned Project 1619 from being taught in schools becoming another target of revisionist conservatives.
There is little doubt that both Critical Race Theory and Project 1619 are ‘in your face’ accounts of the history of slavery and racism in the United States that started with the first slave ship arriving on the shores of Virginia in 1619. Critical Race Theory describes the social construction of racism and how it’s relationship to power, civil rights, advantage and disadvantage. What gets conservatives jumpy is that at the heart of Critical Race Theory is its attack on white supremacism. Critical Theory, in general, is a scholarly approach to research, well understood and accepted in universities around the world. It is less liked by the institutions and ideologies that are scrutinised by it because Critical Theory attempts to unearth who are the beneficiaries of the actions of others, and the institutions in which they reside, who are the disadvantaged and what are the real social, political and economic effects. Institutions are not great fans of Critical Theory because it investigates truth to power.
We should be very concerned about political interference of this type when it comes to school curricula. It is a blatant attempt by conservatives to control what people think and, if not to exactly revise history, to control and suppress it. Along with the events at Capitol Hill, the normalisation of lie telling in the media, legislation to suppress the vote, and divisiveness of American politics, and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots, we should be concerned with the threat to democracy. We may be observing the death of another republic.
And we should be concerned, as well as watchful, here in Australia about the control of knowledge and information. There is a slow but steady shift to the right in democracies across the globe. This shift reflects people’s propensity to seek simple solutions to complex problems that populist right wing politics provides, underpinned by authoritarianism-tell us what to do. Simple explanations such as, it ‘their fault’ (xenophobia and racism) make it easy for the masses to shift responsibility and to stop being curious as we are fed misinformation that helps us explain our world. We are not immune from this in Australia. It simmers just below the surface.
Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.
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