Sunday Reflections: Seven Words
When The Teen was four years old, she became inexplicably sick. I will never forget when on the fifth or sixth day in a row we saw a new doctor and he said to my, “I think I know what she has. I need you to put her in the car and take her straight to Children’s hospital. Do not even stop to go home and get clothes. But first, we have to do a test on her heart to make sure she will be okay to transport.”
I sat there stunned and terrified.
Our child had Kawasaki Disease. We went immediately to Children’s Hospital where they hooked her up to a machine that spent the next 24 hours cleaning her blood. We spent the next year having periodic EKG’s to make sure the disease didn’t damage her heart.
Today she is a living and thriving 15-year-old thanks to evidence-based science. She is my love, my light, my joy, and I have science to thank for it.
According to recent reports, in the past few days the President of the United States of America told the CDC that they could not use any of the 7 words I mention at the beginning of this post. The words were banned by the executive branch of our government.
The CDC is a scientific organization whose job it is to help keep the citizens of the United States healthy and thriving. They study diseases. They compile data. The use that information to help guide research, influence policy, and maintain the health and well being of the citizens of the United States of America. It is an organization that is steeped in the world of science, and the President of the United States has just banned them from using the terms evidence-based and science-based. HE WANTS TO PREVENT A SCIENCE-BASED PART OF OUR GOVERNMENT FROM USING THE TERM EVIDENCE-BASED AND SCIENCE-BASED.
I know, love, value and care for no less than 5 people who are transgender. Some of these are the teens I serve in my library and some of them are beloved children of beloved friends who are regular and welcomed guests into my home. They live with the constant discussion of them as something less than human permeating our cultural conversations. They are growing up with the full knowledge that a large portion of the world sees them as less than human and wants to deny them basic human rights. They understand the threats that they face daily. This weekend their identity was banned from the United States government, their existence was erased and declared vulgar and offensive. The government is trying to erase their very existence. We’ve seen this before and we should not stand for it.
A large portion of the community in which I serve is vulnerable. They live in extreme poverty. Their health care is being threatened. They live daily with food insecurity. They don’t have access to the technology and tools they need to support themselves and their families in the ways that many of us take for granted. They are, in every sense of the word, vulnerable. And they depend on so-called entitlements to try and exist. These entitlements are the only means many of them will have to raise themselves out of poverty, if they can manage to maintain a daily existence.
In the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, they burn books. The government burns books because they understand that knowledge is power. Those without knowledge have less power and are easier to control and manipulate. That is part of the reason that the ancient Catholic church wanted to keep the Bible in Latin only; they wanted power.
“We have everything we need to be happy but we aren’t happy. Something is missing…
It is not books you need, it’s some of the things that are in books. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
― Ray Bradbury,
In the novel 1984 by George Orwell the government systematically tries to manipulate thought by controlling the access to information.
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
― George Orwell,
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
― George Orwell,
In the YA series The Blood of Eden by Julia Kagawa, it is vampires that rule the land, and they do so by outlawing reading and burning all the books.
“Words define us,’ Mom continued, as I struggled to make my clumsy marks look like her elegant script. ‘We must protect our knowledge and pass it on whenever we can. If we are ever to become a society again, we must teach others how to remain human.”
― Julie Kagawa,
Every good novelist knows that one of the first steps to a authoritarian government is to control language, thought and knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you want power, you have to control the information. You have to shape it to your will. You have to control the narrative.
In 2017 America, no one would wake up one day and say we’re going to ban all the books. They would have to start slowly and systematically. They would start by constantly demeaning the free press and trying to instill a fear and lack of faith in the press. Then they would try and make protest and free speech illegal. Then they would ban words.
Not all the words, not at first.
But slowly, they would ban the words.
Then they’ll ban the books.
Our government is already trying to ban people.
Now, by all accounts, they are banning words.
As someone who believes in the power of words and recognizes the value of information and access to that information, this news terrifies me in a way I have never before been frightened in the United States. I do not recognize my government. I do not feel served and protected by it. I am afraid. And yes, I know it is a sign of my privilege that I was able to be unafraid in ways that many marginalized groups have never been.
I am no historian and am the first to admit that history has never been my favorite subject. I do not read tons of historical fiction (although I read tons of Dystopians, which is handy in this scenario). I can’t help but think some very dark days of history are starting to repeat themselves and I am afraid.
If you, like me, are afraid of the implications of this 7-word ban, I have some recommended reading lists to share with you. If you don’t understand why I’m afraid, you should definitely read these recommended books. But read them quickly, because time feels like it is running out.
The Steps of Authoritarianism
- Systematic efforts to intimidate the media
- Building a government media or network
- Politicizing the civil service, military, National Guard, or the domestic security agencies
- Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents
- Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents
- Stacking the Supreme Court
- Enforcing the law for only one side
- Rigging the system
- Demonizing the opposition
- (source: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/27/top-10-signs-of-creeping-authoritarianism-revisited/)
And if you are a public librarian, like me, now more than ever we must be passionate about our call to protect our patrons, to promote access to authoritative information, and to stand against censorship. The time has always been now, the time will always be now, but the time is most definitely now.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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