Something’s Happening Here
Nine o’clock at night is not when I would hope to be online waiting to deliver a message to our local School Board. Yet there I was, sitting at my desk, waiting for my allotted three minutes to address the Board. It was my first attempt to use their newly available ‘virtual testimony’ system. I reflected that, despite the hour, sitting quietly in my home office was more comfortable than sitting for three hours in the actual meeting.
I was motivated to sign up for public testimony when I realized that the Orwellian dilemma sweeping the nation was now at my doorstep — the Thought Police had arrived. Deep consternation festering in the chaotic minds of a vocal minority has detected a threat to our students. This visceral threat is not the availability of tactical assault weapons to any mildly functional psychopath. No, it is the vile, vetted, age-appropriate books in our school libraries. After more than fifty years of researching and implementing age-appropriate curriculums, we now have groups advocating that we scrap that work.
One of the greatest benefits a child can derive from our secondary educational system is the development of independent thinking skills. With these skills, they can navigate the conflicting opinions they will encounter daily as adults. Critical thinking skills allow a person to exercise the freedom of making up their own mind. But intelligent decision-making relies on access to knowledge and information.
The book banners attacking our school and public libraries understand that limiting access to information is an oblique way to hobble the next generation and corral them into a narrow worldview. My task at hand in addressing the School Board was to remind them that should parents want to hobble their own children, then that is their prerogative. But under no circumstances should they be able to police my children’s thoughts.
I observed that the aggressive rhetoric used by some book-banning advocates, including name-calling and fear-mongering, was simply a bullying tactic used in lieu of articulating reasonable arguments to support their cause. Unfortunately, this authoritarian approach to education is more widespread than simply banning books.
Florida Republicans are actively building a legal framework for thought policing, making it a crime to teach the factual history of America. It’s true; the facts are inconvenient for those wanting to limit free thinking. Many of these people advocating banning books and thought control are the same people who fought hard for the “my body my choice” option with regard to masking during COVID and then turned around and fought even harder for the “her body my choice” option with abortion.
We should remind ourselves that thought control is not a mythical concept limited to the realm of literature. It is a real-world activity. We need only look to the Afghan Taliban to see what the active world of thought policing looks like. Many more books are banned than allowed, women’s education is severely restricted, and expressing your thoughts can result in imprisonment or death. You are not allowed to have thoughts that differ from the ruling political class.
While we don’t live under the harsh reality of the Afghan Taliban, it is unnerving to see the rise of an American equivalent, a movement seeking to ensure conformity to the narrow views of a minority. Some legislators in Tennessee want to make it illegal for adults to allow a child to see a drag performance. We wouldn’t want children to see adults dressed as the wrong gender. I think you see the picture. Watching Mrs. Doubtfire with your child is a crime.
The freedom to think and make up your own mind is fundamental to the American experience. The natural by-product of free thought should be a society where individuals can differ but still respect each other’s rights. But therein lies the problem. A significant minority of Americans believe that their thoughts reflect what is right and good and then infer that enforcing their thoughts on the rest of society is part of a higher calling.
I have always accepted the wide range of personal beliefs surrounding abortion. I would never dream of telling someone they must have an abortion because I believe they would make a crappy parent. It’s a personal decision. However, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, we have observed that many people have no compunction against demanding the rest of society follow their religious views on the subject. Laws that prevent doctors from discussing the full range of abortion options with pregnant women are nothing more than thought policing — an attempt to enforce conformity of behavior and belief under the penalty of law. Thought policing is grounded in the denial and withholding of facts and knowledge.
If you believe Orwell’s Thought Police are part of a quaint story, you may want to have another look around. We have multiple legislatures around the country experimenting with ways to legally limit people’s access to knowledge and hence their access to free thought. If this disturbs you, then be sure to vote for the future you want. Those in favor of thought policing are certainly voting for what they want.