Saturday, November 1, 2008

Censorship and Savagery

Some time ago, I heard an Indian professor talking with somebody, and
somehow the conversation led to him saying something like this:

"People do not respect our culture. There is a popular American movie
that shows Indians as savages eating monkey brains. This was wrong.
That did not happen. Because of this, that movie is banned in India."

He was referring to the second Indiana Jones movie. This disturbed me
at the time, but I didn't say anything. The incident stuck in my
mind, though, and began to collect thoughts the same way that a spider
web collects bugs and leaves. Here is the result. If I had a quicker
mind and a braver soul, I would have said something like this:

"I don't care if your ancestors ate monkey brains. My ancestors ate
squirrel brains and hog testicles, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

The thing I do care about is the fact that you and your culture would
support censoring this movie. Why do you feel threatened by a
depiction of an evil nobleman in the 1930's eating monkey brains? The
movie portrays the normal Indian people as good. If the depiction of
the palace food is a lie, it is a lie about a dead aristocratic
tradition. How can you interpret this as a slur on your modern

By supporting censorship of something you feel offends you, you are
showing that you do not understand or respect the value of free
expression. Freedom of thought is one of the most fundamental
principles of the ethical system of the modern world.

Savagery is not defined by what you eat or how you amuse yourself. It
is defined by how you react to thoughts and ideas that challenge your
self-image and beliefs. Civilized people react by thinking about the
truth of the matter, and then stating their own thoughts. They
understand that their thoughts might be wrong, so it would be wrong to
use force to impose them. They also trust that the best way to fight
lies is with truth, not with force. Savages, however, react to
anything they do not like by killing the messenger.

Censorship is savagery. It is the use of power to subvert the will of
other human beings, to impose your thoughts on the world by force of
arms. Like many forms of savagery, censorship is often justified in
times of war, when an enemy has initiated deadly force against you and
your survival is at stake. But it cannot be justified for a simple
insult, even if that insult is a lie.

By supporting this censorship, you have revealed yourself to be a
savage and damned your culture in my eyes."

In the process of writing this blog post, I looked up information
about censorship in India. Apparently the ban on the Indy movie was
only temporary, but the Indian government still censors things to this
day. Most of the things it censors are documentaries critical of the
government, but it has also banned things like 'The Satanic Verses'
and 'The Da Vinci Code'. I have no idea why they would ban the latter
one; it only insults Christians. And as far as I know, no Christian
nation ever tried to ban this book. (Requesting that tax dollars not
be used to purchase something is not censorship.)

As I review this blog post, I realize that reading an Ayn Rand novel
is hazardous to your writing style. Nobody talks like that in real
life. But if I wrote a book, my characters would start talking like
this if I did not watch myself.

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