Censorship and Salman Rushdie

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Writer and editor Jeri Walker of Wordbank Writing and Editing was kind enough to post an essay of mine today, on censorship and Salman Rushdie.

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What effect does censorship, or the threat of it, have on your writing?

I often find myself holding back for fear of alerting the NSA.

Not really, although maybe I should.

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But I do hold back for fear of offending. For instance, I just visited the beautiful island nation Vanuatu, where alcohol and the local drug kava are OK, but marijuana is considered a devil’s potion, in a class with heroin. Absolutely forbidden. Do I publish a series of essays on the legalization of marijuana in my state and my maybe-maybe-not experience with it? At the risk of offending new friends in Vanuatu who I am also writing about? Or anyone else who considers marijuana evil?

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I also do not want to bring myself to the attention of trolls.

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Profile of internet trolls. See Dark Psychology for more interesting info on the people who spew ugly stuff on the Internet.

Writing on the internet is tricky. People say things to each other they’d never say in person. Is it because we equate public, which everything on the Internet is, with published?

Published means open season for pot shots. I feel free to berate David Brooks or George Will in a way I wouldn’t scold a friend. But when a friend puts something I don’t like on the Internet, is it OK to criticize equally openly? In a series of recent e-mail debates for instance, I wrote that it’s frightening to fight manufacturers of automatic weapons, who in effect “murder for a living,” and was warned by a friend “not to let my hair down” in public.

Censorship?

Some accused Salman Rushdie of writing shocking material for publicity, and blame him for the deaths of people killed or injured because they sold his books. I consider him a hero who paid a price unimaginable to most of us, and I don’t care if he did it for publicity.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

Censorship?

Thank you Jeri for publishing new writers. Hop on over and check out Fatwa and Free Speech

10 comments

  • Words hold power and have changed the world in which we live, generation after generation. May our words hold compassion rather than anger. We live in a complex world that yearns for peaceful outcomes, despite the rhetoric. As you pointed out so eloquently, truth comes in different ways, depending upon where you come from. Another thoughtful post to begin my week!!!

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  • Thank you for a very thoughtful essay. I don’t like the idea of perspective being suppressed, free speech is so important. Don’t censor yourself, the very fact you take time to consider your impact highlights the importance of your voice.

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  • Good points. How free is free? I try to be thoughtful of others and still find a way to represent the truth as I see it. However sometimes that is very difficult. Often I wind up tongue (more accurately keyboard) tied seeking the right words to describe something that strikes an emotional chord. Even when I can’t get something written I feel that the very struggle to find words helps me to understand both the issue and myself better.

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  • Censorship, openess, privacy, how much we reveal or not while writing or painting is an interesting topic. I think as artists and writers we are naturally bolder in writing about ourselves, and it perhaps comes more easily than to others. However, with the internet being the way it is, there is also a consciousness now of what words we print and whose hands those written words might get into. “Fear of offending” is a big topic that I take seriously, especially when writing about other cultures, where things can be misinterpreted and or misunderstood and therefore become unintenionally offensive.

    Peta

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  • This is a really good topic and also goes alongside political correctness, which is another topic of debate in today’s age. Some people suggest we go too far, and there are times when I agree. However the words that we typically used to describe something do have power, it changes our brain and the way we think so it’s by no means a straightforward subject. I would say that I think state censorship is flat out wrong and I feel that this is a freedom that should not be diminished by government. Self-censorship is a personal choice and how much you self-censor is a freedom everyone should have. Ultimately we are always tempered by how we think others will react. And sometimes we do want to get a rise, and that can be healthy every once in awhile. Overall I just think most people put their thought in what they want to say, not how they want to say it, and both are important. I think any conversation can be had, or any topic can be written about if approached in the right way. And sure there will still be people offended, but there are people out there who seem to enjoy it, and why deprive them of that experience? 🙂 In the end I think it is always good to question the things that we just accept as normal or the truth and start asking why? Might there be other ways of looking at this issue? Adding depth and complexity to a subject can only be a good thing in my opinion. 🙂

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    • After participating in an e-mail discussion about political correctness a few weeks ago, I was stunned to discover how big a topic this was at the Republican Convention. It was like a code word, and many of the delegates were using it. I’m sure you know the issues, pros and cons, so I won’t go there. If I’m reading you right, we agree. The state should stay way out of the way and let people blow off steam however they feel the need to, but I’m not at all unhappy about “fighting words doctrine” established by the Supreme Court in the 1940’s. The trick is to keep the “fighting words” category very narrow, very well defined, and civilly—not criminally—enforced.

      You’ve put your finger on the crux of the upheaval that Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter and even the vigilantes at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge have ridden in on. Many, many of us are looking at this outpouring of passionate debate and protest, reading up about behavior, emotion, and discovering on-the-ground ways to study what brain scientists have been trying to tell us for the last forty or so years. You’re right: it’s deep, and it’s complex. The pent-up explosion may lead us to violence, but it could also lead to a break-through in understanding about racism, classicism and power structures. Very grateful, by the way, for Bernie Sander’s courageous campaign, from start to finish. May that energy be channeled productively.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do sometimes worry that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but the variety a views we are exposed to know as a result of the internet is mind-blowing and I believe overall a positive thing. There is a place for the measured response and there is a place for the outraged response. The typical evangelical Christian might not like the atheist being able to now comment on the views they express, and they may never change their mind, but others see it and they now see that there is opposition, when before they might never have even known that there was. In the end there is no race, we are all human and in the long run we will sink or swim together on this planet, and if we are all going to be one global community we are going to have to get to know each other better. That’s going to be rough, because there are a lot of people, who seem to be quite different. And we have media and politics in this country trying to magnify our differences rather than help us see what we have in common. This is why I have tried, for the most part, to center my posts around humanism and focus on our common goals.

        And I agree about Bernie. If Trump were to become President I do feel like all of Bernie’s energy will be lost. The Democratic party will have to move to the right in order to just get a little bit of sanity back into the country. The #neverHillary people love to think that the system is going to magically heal itself by doing a 3rd party vote, but this just doesn’t seem realistic to me. These parties have been around along time…they require a real grass roots effort at all levels of government to actually buck the system, which I do think is corrupt, even if there are number of people in the system who are not. They simply become products of it.

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