A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.
The purpose of knowledge is to expand one’s mind.
Given the propensity of topics, perspectives and approaches to everything in life, we are surrounded by controversy. But in that controversy lies our freedom, for without conflicting opinion, we are in the rut of life, subject to the opinion of whomever is making the rules.
The truth about Freedom of Speech is that it is very controversial. Ugly at times. Dangerous at others. But without it, life is subject to domination and the end of free will. True freedom of speech allows for the opportunity for others to come directly out into the open with topics you would never believe, nor wish to hear. And if that sounds horrific to you, what if they were the ones limiting speech and everything that you believe in was forbidden?
Freedom of speech has enabled our country and most of the world to expand our horizons in myriad ways. Our exposure to so many of the things we find fascinating is in actuality, problematic for others on the planet who believe adamantly that we should not be listening, reading, watching, teaching, discussing said topics. If it were up to them, those topics would be off the radar completely.
The press has always been the fourth chamber of our nation’s democracy. When reported factually, the freedom of the press brings us truth and shines a bright spotlight into the dark recesses of our reality that must be viewed and confronted. When opinion poses as factual reporting, the truth is now colored and to the untrained mind, the reality of the world they are living in, changes in material ways. Without freedom of speech, there is only one truth, and that is the truth as dictated by the entity who controls dissemination of information. With freedom of speech, these opinions substitute in favor of truth, and slowly become a world of facts for those who are not determined to discern the difference between editorial/opinion and reported true factual information.
As the discussion diverges into fiction, the opportunity for this distinction of complete freedom of speech can go to extremes. At this point, fictional material can explore the darkest of topics in the most grim manner, leaving any unexacting audience enraged for having been exposed to such ideas. If that mindset is expanded to nonfictional content, and the opportunity to publish anything that is freely expressed (regardless of factual verification) is enabled, then an audience may readily read content that is blatantly untrue, and stands as a tribute to freedom of speech, no matter the cost.
As we contemplate this most delicate balance of true freedom vs. the expression of ideas that we are hostile towards, we hit that very fine membrane between what we know should be able to be expressed vs. that which we believe should not be expressed, ever. At some point, there must be a line. There are countless topics that are too horrific to ever be allowed to be published. So individual nations create laws against the proliferation of such content to curtail access to it from the general public. In our society those topics might be child pornography, human trafficking and similar highly dangerous topics. Yet, you can go on Google and hunt down how to program a specific weapon or bomb and have access to step by step instructions in less than 2 minutes. Another nation may shut down any truth from the outside world, as Russia is attempting to do during this war. Outside opinions may color the opinions of the citizens of that nation and change the course of history. I was in Hong Kong flying to Beijing on the 10th anniversary of Tianamen Square. In Hong Kong, the newspaper headline showed the person standing in front of the tank. In Beijing, there was zero mention of it anywhere.
The truth is sacred, and if, or when you happen upon it, recognize that life is very perceptual and so is truth. We are living in the epic battle for truth this year. With Russia closing its doors on outside discussion of their actions in Ukraine, to Trump’s attorney John Eastman refusing to turn over 37,000 emails to the Jan 6 committee in the House of Representatives. Truth is being manipulated in the most controversial, technologically confusing processes. When the truth disappears and the line between reality and fiction is so intensely confused, we are subject to a huge disruption on a magnitude humanity has never experienced.
So when you hear of books being taken from a library because of their controversial nature, you may feel positive or negative about this idea, as a direct result of your perceptual reality and because of how you see the world. If books that you believe are valuable are being removed, you are offended, and if books that you believe are dangerous are being removed, you feel relieved.
But for true freedom to exist, a truly great library must contain something that would offend everyone.