Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Murdering Knowledge

This past Monday, a huge car bomb devastated the Mutanabi book market in Baghdad. As always, many people were killed and many others wounded, but the larger victim was one you wouldn't normally think about. It was Knowledge.

There is a long and sad history of despots destroying books and works of art they don't think you should read or enjoy. In the lifetime of many readers of this blog, the Nazis burned great heaps of books they found objectionable, many of which were classics of world literature. The Taliban of Afghanistan destroyed books it found un-Islamic (whatever that means). Less destructive but more insidious, in this country religious fundamentalists argue that certain books should be kept out of school libraries because they don't think you should read them.

These people are guilty of murder. They are murdering knowledge, murdering your right to know and experience the world around you, depriving you of the ability to experience the accumulated culture on which our civilization is built.

George M. Trevelyan once said that "Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading." Life is short, libraries and bookstores are huge. How do you distinguish what is worth reading? Who decides what you should read? I maintain that parents (and grandparents - see yesterday's post) should help their children develop the sense of right and wrong, cultural appreciation and - yes - outrage, that lets them decide what is worth reading. And then, encourage them to read everything they can.

My mother was a voracious reader, and she passed that on to us. When Mom passed away nearly six years ago, I inherited much of the huge library she'd accumulated in a long life. Added to the books I'd already purchased but not yet read, and the books I continue to buy almost every day, it means that I'll have to live darned near forever to read them all. But that's fine - because books are a window to other lives and worlds that I might never otherwise experience.

Unfortunately, there are those out there - like the murderers who killed the Mutanabi book market - who would close that window. People who would impose their low concept of culture on the rest of us to create a joyless and sterile world. Don't let them murder knowledge. Don't let anyone dictate what you should read. Make your own decisions.

Life is short. Books help you enjoy and appreciate it. Read all you can.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


No comments: