It can't make any difference, but...


Key thoughts on the "banning of books:" As a minor bit of background, let's think about what parents constantly do.

Also, what aunts and uncles constantly do. Also, family friends.

Parents constantly think about the books they give their children. (Also, about the TV shows they let their children watch.)

Parents consider whether the content of some book is appropriate. They also wonder if the book in question is "age appropriate."

Surely, we all understand that parents, uncles and family friends all consider such things. Well sir, school boards make the same decisions for an entire community's kids!

A given school board may decide that the content of some book is inappropriate for their district's curriculum or for their school libraries. They may decide that they like the content some book, but that it isn't age appropriate for some particular grade.

Surely, these points are all perfectly obvious. This brings us to Alex Kingsbury's presentation on the op-ed page of yesterday's New York Times.

As you can see in Kingsbury's tweet, the presentation was granted large display in print editions, right at the top of the op-ed page. As you can see, it appeared beneath this hard-hitting headline:

Only Cowards Ban Books

Only cowards ban books! Kingsbury's piece was given a large display, but it included a very short text. Between the headline and the short text, the presentation included a visual of a QR code.

Here's his presentation, in full, as you can see in his tweet:

Only Cowards Ban Books

[Visual of QR code]

Conservatives are frantically banning books about race, gender, sexuality and American history from public schools, lest students read them and develop empathy for others.

Now Oklahoma is trying to revoke the teaching certificate of an English teacher who shared this QR code with her students. It leads to the Brooklyn Public Library's free online collection of banned books.

Banning books is as un-American as it is futile in the age of the Internet. But censorship still claims victims—authors and readers and the teachers and librarians who would connect them.

We're going to say that there's a great deal of liberal / progressive Otherization on display in that short text. For starters, just notice the way the very short essay starts:

It isn't just that "conservatives" are said to be "banning books from public schools," with no documentation offered. They're said to be frantically banning such books.

This lets us see how unhinged these conservative book-banners are. Also, of course, they're "cowards."

Quickly, the sliming gets worse. Why are these conservatives "frantically banning" these books? Simple! They're afraid that, if public school students read these books, they'll "develop empathy for others!" 

What an astonishing statement! It's also an ugly example of present-day liberal / progressive demonization, in which we liberals keep telling ourselves that we are the good, decent, intelligent people, while these Others are deeply immoral.

For the record, you'll note that Kingsbury cites no example of some school district "banning a book." And by the way, can we simply say this at this point:

Parents haven't "banned a book" if they decide that some book isn't right for their son or daughter. They aren't engaged in "censorship" (see Kingsbury's closing paragraph) if they make some such decision, as parents do all the time.

Similarly, school boards haven't "banned a book" if they decide that some book isn't appropriate for their district's children. They've simply decided that some other books are better.

That said, we liberals love to talk about "book banning." It's one of our favorite moves.

Stating the obvious, the gigantic majority of published books won't appear in some district's curriculum. That will be true in liberal communities and in conservative communities as well. 

That doesn't mean that the books in question have been "banned." It simply means that some other limited number of books have been chosen for inclusion.

Stating the obvious, there are ugly right-wing books few liberals would want in their district's schools. There are books with horrible gender politics. Some books are quite bad about race.

Also stating the obvious, you or your Cousin Jane may disagree with the selections some "conservative" school board makes. But that doesn't mean that the board in question is "banning books," except in the growing fever swamps of our failing liberal brains.

Apparently, Kingsbury disagrees with an alleged attempt by "Oklahoma" to revoke some teacher's certificate because of a piece of conduct he fleetingly describes.

As a general matter, we would always be loath to terminate someone's employment. We'd also be disinclined to publish a sweeping piece of demonization without explaining the basic facts behind the one (1) case of alleged bad judgment to which we make fleeting reference.

Kingbury is surely a good, decent person. That said, his piece is an ugly example of tribal propaganda at a savagely polarized time. 

He makes an ugly, sweeping claim about the frantic and "un-American" way conservatives are now behaving. His explanation for their frantic behavior—they're afraid that kids will become empathetic!—is right up there with calling conservatives "cockroaches."

That said, this is the way the human mind is inclined to work. Our human brains are wired to function this way.

This pattern has played out around the world since the dawn of time. This is the way our brains are wired, even here in our precious blue camps.

For the record, Kingsbury has cited zero examples of anyone "banning a book." What he's done is sell us our latest dose of Otherization on a very familiar wide scale.

Frequently, we humans behave this way, here in our blue tribe too! And as is true all over the world, we liberals have a very hard time seeing this unappealing fact about our own highly fallible group.

In conclusion:

Different people won't always agree about the content of various books. At such times, this is what happens:

Goofus starts to name-call Others. Also, he makes ugly statements about their alleged motives. 

Gallant understands that people will sometimes have reasonable points of view which may actually differ from his!

Why is our tribe so widely disliked, in ways which cost us votes? This is an obvious part of the answer, and this isn't going to stop.

These conservatives today! They're afraid that kids may develop empathy for other people?

As one of the analysts instantly muttered, What ever happened to ours?


  1. We commenters do not like it when liberals are criticized as they are here. Please create a safe blog where we can bathe in the warm fluid of confirmation bias.

    1. Shouldn't you wait until someone actually objects to Somerby's essay?

    2. 2:26,
      Did Biden say some of the commenters don't like to be criticized, because that means each and every commenter doesn't like to be criticized.

    3. Some people get upset when you honestly point out Republican voters only care about bigotry and white supremacy.
      That's something all Americans are going to have to work hard to get over if we want a successful society.

  2. tl;dr
    As usual, we appreciate your hard work in documenting this minuscule portion of the recent liberal atrocities, dear Bob.

    ...but c'mon. What's the point of analyzing brain-dead word-salad dembottery, dear Bob? There must be better things to do.

    It's a short word-salad; just quote it, with a short note, like: "here's another example of the recent liberal atrocities".

    ...just a humble suggestion...

  3. Digby says:

    "It is a time-tested tactic on the right. Practiced and perfected. Gin up fake controversy over anything and everything. From tan suits to sloppy salutes. From Benghazi to emails. Pimp it like hell until the press can’t stop itself from reporting the controversy. Rush Limbaugh built a career on serving up a daily dose of outrage to his listeners until they would go into withdrawal if it stopped. I’ve described the decades-long, Republican phony effort to convince the public there is massive voter fraud as them lobbing smoke bombs into newsrooms. By the time the smoke clears and we discover, yet again, there was never a fire, all the public remembers is they saw smoke and heard someone yelling, “Fire!” Lather, rinse, repeat."

    This story about banning books is more of the same. It isn't the left who is upset about this, but the right, in another of a long series of nothing-burgers designed to deflect and distract from the real wrongdoing of MAGA Republicans.

    Somerby was first hooked by this tactic when it was applied to Al Gore back in 2000, but he doesn't recognize it when the right gins up outrage over banned books. Either that, or he is fully on board with the right's techniques these days.

    1. The Right is single-handedly keeping the fainting couch industry in business.

  4. "For the record, you'll note that Kingsbury cites no example of some school district "banning a book." And by the way, can we simply say this at this point:"

    For the record, wasn't it Somerby who discussed the banning of Toni Morrison's Beloved, not so long ago? Is Somerby really trying to imply that Kingsbury is lying? It was a cornerstone of Youngkin's campaign for governor of Virginia.

    Whatever happened to Somerby's integrity?

  5. "It isn't just that "conservatives" are said to be "banning books from public schools," with no documentation offered. They're said to be frantically banning such books."

    It seems to me that the firing of this teacher demonstrates the truth of this statement, including the "frantically" part.

  6. When someone bans a book (by requesting its removal) from a library or school, they are not just exercising discretion over their own kids' reading, but they are denying the ability of other people's kids to read the book too. That is interference with the rights of others, not simply parenting.

  7. "Goofus starts to name-call Others. Also, he makes ugly statements about their alleged motives.

    Gallant understands that people will sometimes have reasonable points of view which may actually differ from his!"

    Somerby has lost the thread and doesn't seem to understand that this is not the issue at all. The issue is that Goofuses are claiming the right to decide what others read, not just to determine their own reading habits (or those of their kids). That is an infringement on the rights of others.

    Notice that labeling his characters Goofus and Gallant is a form of name-calling in which Somerby labels the opinion he disagrees with pejoratively and give the good name to his own opinion. He doesn't bother trying to refute Kingsbury's essay -- he name-calls those who agree with it and defends the conservatives infringes on rights as the good guys because they are being accused of wrongdoing. Somerby never argues the value of restricting the reading behavior of others based on one's own tastes. Never presents a single argument in support of the banners (although he tries to pretend they don't exist, when we all know they do).

  8. If Somerby had been allowed to read Hustler magazine as a boy, he might have gotten married.

    When I was a child, I had Catholic friends and we had several discussions about the Catholic Index -- the books and movies my friends were not allowed to consume. It gave me tips for choosing my own reading and watching.

    Perhaps the right fears that their own kids will use that QR code to find the good stuff, but if the books being banned are simply Beloved and not Tropic of Cancer, they have little to fear.

    I find myself wondering if The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is on the banned list. I suspect it can be found on the bookshelves of every right-wing book banner. The Wizard of Oz and its sequels were not in my public library because the librarians didn't consider them good literature for children. Similarly, pulp novels such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were not included either. Later, attitudes changed and librarians decided that such popular books were gateways to more serious reading and now you can find all kinds of popular series for kids, despite having little literary value.

    Somerby, of course, has no concern about whether parents can assess literary and educational value at all. He knows this is about sex and politics and not education.

  9. "These conservatives today! They're afraid that kids may develop empathy for other people?"

    They are more likely to develop empathy by reading about all kinds of other kids.

    How can Somerby argue that liberals are not respecting diversity of opinions, when it is the conservatives who are doing the banning -- because they don't want their kids exposed to diversity?

    Banning is a lazy substitute for actually supervising your own kids. The problem is that it restricts everyone. No one in this discussion has argued that kids should be forced to read what their parents don't want them to. That is a straw man.

  10. When decisions not to use certain books or materials are not being made for educational reasons but rather for religious, political or ideological reasons, then the books are truly being banned and not merely "unselected" as Somerby suggests.

  11. Somerby keeps putting quote marks around the word banning, as if these books aren’t being banned. He would like to use some more comforting euphemism.

    Let’s check in with the Oklahoma Ministry of Truth (aka department of public education) and its spokesman Ryan Walters, who is the Oklahoma Secretary of Public Education and Republican nominee for state superintendent. This is the subject of Kingsbury’s tweet. Walters says that the teacher at the center of the controversy has provided “access to banned and pornographic material to students.”

    Somerby should feel free to quote from the horse’s mouth and quit explaining away their true intent, which seems to be summed up rather nicely by Walters: “there is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom.”

    Surely Somerby can put some lipstick on that pig.

  12. The local (Florida) Books a Million marketed a shelf of banned books a few months back. From the photo I took of it, included were : Huckleberry Finn, Slaughterhouse Five, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lolita, The Handmaid's Tale, The Kite Runner, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Tom Saywer, Beloved, The Hunger Games, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Maus, Malcolm X, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. The Florida Legislature banned math textbooks from all but one publisher in Texas with close ties to the Republican party. So calling out the cretins involved in this kind of activity might hurt their feelings and alienate them, is that so, Bobby? We are sick and tired of the undereducated snowflakes infiltrating school boards and legislatures who feel quite comfortable imposing their version of a Christian Taliban on the rest of us.

    1. Uh-huh. But certainly To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn were banned by well-meaning activists of dear Bob's liberal tribe, no?

  13. "Quickly, the sliming gets worse."

    Why the defensiveness? It's natural to question the motives of the book burners.

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  15. Women are legally treated as second -class citizens by the Republican Party, and someone who voted for Mike Dukakis called a Republican a mean name.
    Both sides!

  16. Fuck those parents.
    God isn't even real.

  17. The "religion" of evangelicals is still bigotry.