Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thoughts on Censorship

I’ve gotten a little worried that over the last two months readers of I am “John Doe” may have gotten caught up in the details of some of the ridiculous and untrue things Butler has said about me and lost sight of the bigger issue. The real issue is that in the original True BU blog I was expressing my opinions (and those of faculty in the School of Music who were too fearful of administrative retaliation to express them themselves) and the Butler administration didn’t like what I had to say. The threatened me for writing what I wrote. They intimidated me for what I wrote. And, ultimately, for about nine months at least, they silenced me. In simple terms, their threats and intimidation were acts of censorship.

So, I did an internet search to see what others had to say about censorship. Rather than comment on each quotation, I want to leave them with you as a package. Read them and think about what the Butler administration has done. Read them and think about the world the Butler administration has attempted to create. And, perhaps most importantly, read them and think about the world you will live in if you sit by and do nothing to stop actions of this sort, in the Butler case or in other cases where people in power attempt to silence those who disagree with them.

(I do want to add a small disclaimer. Although all of the following quotations were found on the internet, I can’t vouch for their authenticity. Regardless of whether every one was actually spoken or written by the person to which it was attributed, each provides important and interesting insight.)

Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself.
It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. - Potter Stewart

Censorship is the height of vanity
. - Martha Graham

I suppose that writers should, in a way, feel flattered by the censorship
laws. They show a primitive fear and dread at the fearful magic of print. - John Mortimer

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen.
- Tommy Smothers

The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.
– John Paul Stevens

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still
. - John Stuart Mill

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
- John Stuart Mill

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
- John Stuart Mill

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.
- Alfred Whitney Griswold

What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.
- Sigmund Freud

Every burned book enlightens the world
. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The paper burns, but the words fly away.
- Akiba ben Joseph

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
- John F. Kennedy

You can cage the singer but not the song.
- Harry Belafonte

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it
. - Voltaire

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. Yet in their hearts there is unspoken - unspeakable! - fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse - a little tiny mouse! -of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.
– Winston Churchill

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
– Noam Chomsky

Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed
. – Benjamin Franklin

And let me end with one that should be near and dear to the heart of Butler’s president, since he is an expert on Oscar Wilde: An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all."


  1. I like the O. Wilde quote--looks like Fong doesn't understand higher ed. administration OR literature! Maybe someday he'll understand the importance of being earnest and see the decay of lying.

  2. I am glad to see you are keeping your sense of humor and exposing the irony in the administration*s justification for proceeding with the internal disciplinary process. You*ve done a great job of pointing up the absurdities and the administration truly looks small, petty and shamelessly defensive. Thanks for the daily blog and I'm sending you good vibes for being able to focus and concentrate on your finals.