Here are two interesting literary anecdotes that I recently heard:
One: When George Orwell wrote Animal Farm, he had great difficulty getting it published in the UK in the early 40’s. Why? Because Animal Farm was a pretty scathing satire of Soviet Russia, and Russia was Britain’s ally at the moment against the Axis forces.
This so incensed Orwell (who himself was, ironically, sympathetic to socialist ideas) that he wrote an embittered preface to the book decrying the squashing of free speech in Britain. (The fact that the link above points to a Russian web address makes me happy.)
This is a 20th-century example of how censorship of ideas that are considered “inappropriate” is not always done at the state level. The gatekeepers of society will do the black-lining themselves.
Two: And now, a 21st-century example: when science fiction author Nick Cole used the concept of abortion as the motivation for a group of sentient robots to turn against humanity in his novel, the editor at HarperVoyager (a division of Harper Collins) was so shocked and “deeply offended” that they removed the novel from production. Cole was told that, if he did not change the motivation for the villains of his novel so that it did not involve the concept of abortion, his novel essentially wouldn’t be published. Cole responded by taking his novel to Amazon and self-publishing there. Yay freedom of the press! (And this isn’t an endorsement of the novel–I haven’t read it, or anything else by Cole. I’m just telling the story.)
Here’s where I’m struggling with this: as a conservative Christian, I don’t like the idea of publishers trying to silence ideas that are politically or culturally taboo…when they’re ideas I might endorse. However, if we change the content under discussion to something I personally find morally offensive or profane, I have to confess I would be more amenable to the “responsibility of publishers to protect the public good.”
And one could rightly ask the question: Do I think a private business should be allowed to make decisions about those with whom it will or will not do business, based on the deeply-held beliefs of the company culture? Can I be consistent in holding such a position?
Maybe what I’m getting at is this: in all these issues of moral conscience and public policy, we need to consider if we’re being consistent, or if we’re just supporting the position that benefits us the most, no matter how it contradicts our other “strongly-held beliefs.” (If you want, you can hash all that out in the comments, with the usual conditions in place.)
I wonder if the truth is that we all like the rules of the farm as long as we’re the pig on the ladder with the paintbrush.