I didn’t really say much on the issue per se because I haven’t really made up my own mind yet. However, given the responses to the issue… I am more convinced than ever that Singaporeans, or even Asians in general, are utterly incapable of reasoned democratic discourse.
What we have are merely righteous posturing, exaggerated principles, hyperbole and hysterical outcries.
First, the fact is that we do censor inappropriate literature in Singapore. Our government does outright ban Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” which we believe would be detrimental to the cohesion of the nation. Rightly or wrongly is another thing, but it isn’t an unprecedented policy. Furthermore, the banning of books isn’t an unreasonable policy either. We certainly monitor and censure Jihadist materials advocating violent overthrow of the commonwealth in favour of an Islamic theocracy. Not all information is equally privileged, especially those materials which would be detrimental to the healthy functioning of the commonwealth. The invocation of all encompassing abstract principles of freedom of press or speech or whatever (again, not something consistently applied by the mob anyway) is essentially meaningless as no principle is ever absolutely applied except in a libertarian utopia.
Secondly, people who can’t see a difference between the books banned and other traditional fairy tales quite simply do not possess the literary qualifications to judge on the relative merits of the books. The one who cannot see the difference between a violent big bad wolf being punished in the end and behaviour which contradicts human flourishing being celebrated and legitimised, or the difference between Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids and the three penguins…. should quite frankly go back to school and retake their literature classes. The sheer existence of gristly content is not the point. The point is the narrative structure and the “moral of the story” taught to children.
One would in fact have a better case for censuring the Bible since it does occasionally seem to legitimise child sacrifice and genocide. I have no problems at all removing the Bible from the children’s section or declaring that the Bible is not literature suitable for children and that only more sanitised presentations of it should be allowed for children until they are old enough to read the Bible in its original form. As it is, I think maybe the ban of the books from the public library is a bit hasty and that a better solution maybe simply to relegate it to the closed section or reference section or adult section or something.
Finally, the comparisons of the book banned from the library to book burning and censorship is simply ludicrous. The books are merely removed from the public library; it is not banned in Singapore in the same way as The Satanic Verses. People who cannot see a qualitative difference between books bought and funded by public money and books banned… should not be allowed to comment on public policy. Obviously books bought and funded by public money should be subjected to a much higher standard than what books which are simply allowed into a country which is the private business of individuals to decide to buy.
As I said, may be our public library removing the books is a hasty decision. But what I can certainly gather from this incident however is that most people lack the sense of proportion and nuance necessary to discuss political issues.
Democracy is just so stupid.
All right politicised mobs! Let’s fight to defend the following literature in our public libraries! Wholesome materials for the kids! Freedom of speech or something something.
Yes, for all mouth breathers, I know that the book is actually about a boy who comes from a broken home, has been abused by his uncle, develops homosexual feelings, but then later on seeks for help to overcome it, etc. Thus, the “moral of the story” isn’t aimed at legitimising pederasty but how to overcome it. Regardless, the point which I am trying to illustrate still holds, if there were such a book attempting to legitimise pederasty and portrays the boy as happy and satisfied with his uncle’s love, we would want it to be censored. Freedom of press or speech doesn’t mean we simply allow anything to be placed in our libraries. Even this book with a “good” moral of the story provokes caution in us. So just imagine the story book where the boy has an entirely satisfied look on his face and is immensely happy with this pederasty act and everyone is just totally cool with it.
John Stuart Mill, the pioneer of this way of thinking, had all sorts of devices for reclassifying harms as non-harms. By his lights, the corruption of mores which safeguard human flourishing is not harm; seduction to evil is not harm; insult is not harm; conduct by which a person destroys his abilities to fulfill his obligations to others is not harm; and the risk of harm, distributed in such a way that we do not know on whom the sword will fall, is not harm either.
– J. Budziszewski]