Censoring the classics is a ticket to the Dark Ages

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

From Fox News:

Among the most tragic events in human cultural history was the destruction of works from the great library of Alexandria. Blamed on Julius Caesar as well as later Christian and Muslim zealots, the net loss of knowledge from this font of ancient wisdom roughly coincided with what we call the Dark Ages, and we may be repeating history.

From its beginnings one of the great promises of computer technology was the possibility of maintaining a library of all human writing that could not burn, that would neither fade nor wither. The irony, that has not been considered closely enough, is how easily this same technology can revise or fabricate literary and historical classics, which is tantamount to destroying them.

In recent months we have learned that major publishers are using sensitivity editors to censor the works of Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie, PG Wodehouse, and many other classic writers. Forthgoing, all new print and digital versions of their works will reflect the moral sensibilities of the current year, as the originals make their way from used book stores to landfills, never to be seen again.

Make no mistake, this is every bit as much a tragedy as the flames licking through the walls of Egypt’s great library, in fact it might be worse. At least the lost works of Alexandria may rest in eternal peace rather than have their mutilated corpses played like macabre marionettes through the ages.

The goal of preserving human knowledge is being twisted into the goal of reconstructing and rehabilitating human knowledge. It is a kind of imposed, culture-wide forgetfulness of the fact that people ever held beliefs or said things offensive to modern sensibilities.

History may be written by the victors at first, but we are learning that in the age of computers and sensitivity publishing it is rewritten by the aggrieved. But where will this lead us?

What goes dark in a dark age is the past. Things that had been common knowledge in science, history, ethics, legend, erode and disappear, most often replaced with presentist dogma, be it that of the Medieval Catholic Church or the modern priestesses of Wokeness.

Once this process begins it is difficult to slow. As the supposed racism is squeezed out of Jeeves and Wooster, as the founding of America changes from 1776 to 1619, as the N word is removed from Huckleberry Finn, as Queen Elizabeth I becomes trans, a new fabricated history of mankind is wrought.

This new version of events is reinforced by every Chatbot, every digital textbook, every Google search result, and every passing reference in entertainment.

As William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” He means that it is only the past that can give meaning to our present lives and culture, there is nothing else to compare it to.

By imposing present morality on the past we erase the struggles that our ancestors went through to arrive at where we are. Instead of a complex tapestry that can aid us in our own cultural battles and divisions we see a past that does nothing but confirm modern progressive ideology.

Is it any wonder that so many people feel disconnected, desolate, lacking meaning and purpose? There is nothing to strive for.

. . . .

So certain are the arbiters of our present day culture that their beliefs are the only right and just ones that they not only impose them on us, but on the dead as well, leaving no light behind us to guide our way forward. Because there is no forward, there is only now.

Link to the rest at Fox News and thanks to F. for the tip.

11 thoughts on “Censoring the classics is a ticket to the Dark Ages”

  1. Further evidence of penduluum swinging back:


    The sensitives crusade against free speech has apparently impacted the universities bottom lines as the facilitators are switching sides.

    Of note:

    “Harvard Profs. Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras noted in a recent Boston Globe op-ed that, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, from 2014 to 2022 there were 877 attempts to punish scholars “for expression that is, or in public contexts would be, protected by the First Amendment.” Of these, 60% resulted in actual sanctions, “including 114 incidents of censorship and 156 firings (44 of them tenured professors) — more than during the McCarthy era.”

    Also (and in line with the OP):

    “Imposing identity politics on every human interaction, or elevating groupthink over individual freedom of conscience, is the opposite of Enlightenment-era liberalism. And let’s not forget that some of history’s greatest evils occurred when people were viewed primarily as members of groups rather than as individuals.”

    We may have passed peak snowball.

    • We may have passed peak snowball.

      I wish. The only distinction will be the identity of the snowballs.

      <sarcasm> Oh dear, oh my, snowballs would never argue about anything related to “identity” — they’re triggered by that very concept. This is a melting-pot nation: The only identity anyone has, or is allowed to have, is ‘murikan.

      White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant ‘murikan — because if they aren’t already, that’s what everyone wants to be. Even if they only want it subconsciously, we can reeducate them! </sarcasm>

      We’ve got a centuries-long tradition of censorship (look up “Bowdler” and realize that he was doing nothing innovative or new…). We’re slightly more fragmented on its objectives at the moment; those who object have had more success, since the 1960s anyway, in objecting; but it’s very Fiddler on the Roof:† Traditionnnnnnnnnn! (Just because most of the rest of the world is worse is no excuse.)

      † Just because I’m evil, the ethnoreligious implications of citing that particular musical in this context are entirely intentional. And if you don’t like it, perhaps reading Meyer v. Nebraska will prove helpful.

      • Oh, the tribes will find other bones of contention but if things go well, we’ll have a brief respite (ala 9/11) while the external wars rage. If not, we’ll be unable to deal with them. And it’ll really be the end of the High Years.

        Btw, the other day we were debating the end of globalization vis-a-vis China. Today this popped up:


        Contrary to the alarmists fretting about countries like France and Brazil aligning with China and trying to “dedollarize” I welcome their self-immolation. Less dogs, less fleas.

        As long as the US settles its internal squables (if only temporarily) before the guano hits the fan we won’t have to go survivalist.

  2. My understanding is that at least a portion of those who are demanding books be removed from libraries because they contain language that was common and accepted in an earlier time, but which has become objectionable to some portion of the populace today.

    This type of thinking among those who are easily “triggered” by various words or content that was, in earlier times, completely normal and, for many individuals today may be disgusting or offensive must be destroyed or otherwise prevented from being read, heard or discussed by anyone, anywhere.

    If one person in a class of 50 is triggered, then no one else in the class should be permitted to hear or discuss the objectionable material and the teacher/professor who was so careless as to present the triggering information should be punished by some official educational body, which punishment may include termination of employment or forced resignation.

    In some of the cases I’ve read about, the reasonable man/woman/person (used for centuries as a legal standard) would not have been triggered or deeply offended, but one or a small group finding something offensive is adequate reason for punishment.

    • Absolutism.
      No room for nuance or questions. Or humor.
      The lowest common denominator must rule. Comply. Or else.
      (Except when the same approach is applied to them. “Sow the wind…”)

      They like to paint themselves as victims blissfully unaware that their tactics can and will boomerang on them and make them true victims eventually. With no sympathy headed their way.

      (Just ask the dishwater peddlers. Sales down 25% in two weeks–competitors up by more. Worse: off 50% in restaurants and bars. Some folks are still buying their cheap booze but *not in public*. *That* movement has legs.)

    • I’ve been trying to understand what has been going on by turning it into Story, and I think that I’m finally getting a grasp of things.

      Think about all of this as:

      – Religious fanatics imposing their beliefs on the rest of the population.

      That may sound harsh, or that I’m painting with too broad a brush, but when you see events as clashes of “religions” it all comes together.

      We know how to deal with “religions” and their conflicts, but it requires that we see them as “religions”, not simply someone expressing their personal opinion.

      You cannot argue with someone’s religious belief. As far as they are concerned anyone who does not believe as they do is evil and must be destroyed.

      – That’s why there is “Separation of Church and State”.

      Three central concepts were derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and religious liberty encompasses all religions.

      You impose limits and demand respect for the other person’s beliefs, but you cannot impose your beliefs on others.

      – That’s why many of these people do not support the First Amendment, because they want to force you to believe.

      Look at any interview on YouTube and the clash is obvious when put in the context of “religion”.

      BTW, There would never have been a “Cold War” if people had simply realized that Communism was a “religion”.

  3. You know, there is a simple solution here. But it’s one that requires an actual investment by publishers seeking to republish classics:

    Include two or three short, credible, essays describing the problems-perceived-on-the-date-of-republication. Because those essays, too, could well be subject to later revision/perception as problematic; if you want a great example, there are US editions of 1984 from the ’70s, slightly updated in the early ’80s, that include a long explanatory/excusatory essay by Irving Howe that itself is — if anything — more of a problem than any of the problems in the novel itself.

    Those essays should not attempt to excuse works as “of their time”; they should explain “we wouldn’t write this this way now because we now know/believe x that the author didn’t.”

    Here’s a somewhat-less-emotionally-charged example. Clauswitz’s Vom Kriege (usually translated as “On War,” which is better than “About War” but still misses a simultaneous involvement-with-immediate-detachment sense that doesn’t translate) is silent regarding the propriety of the methods involved. There’s no consideration of civilian casualties, “collateral damage,” the law of war (either as we think of it today or as understood during the Napoleonic era that formed Clausewitz’s own experiences), distinctions between “private” and “state” properties and objectives, and perhaps most disturbingly any sense of distinction between “rulers” and “populace.” One need not try to rewrite Clausewitz to formally theorize about asymmetric warfare considerations to include a 1500-word preface essay that points out the blind spots — if nothing else, the mere awareness that “a company of infantry formed of Russian peasants in 1943 was probably not aligned with, and should not have been treated as, an extension of Joe the Georgian Stalin’s politics and personal ambitions.” And this makes a difference: One of the factors in the early-1943 problems the German armed forces had was inability to see this distinction as something for consideration, strategically or tactically. (The less said about “Iraq” the better.)

    Don’t censor. Add context — not what to think, or how to interpret, but limits that a contemporary reader approaching the work for the first time might not know of.

  4. Perhaps we should teach our children hoe to understand history changes values? Thinking and debating skills, with a side-order of stoicism to understand being overwhelmed by emotional distress from learning that the history of mankind can be bloody.

    You know, education.

  5. Maybe it’s just me, but this sure seems like whiney nonsense. What’s happening with the Dahl and Seuss estates has nothing in common with the destruction of the library of Alexandria. Good grief! No books are actually being destroyed. It’s my understanding that in the case of the Dahl books, they’re even going to continue publishing the original texts as well as the bowdlerized versions.

    We live in a world in which the old and new commingle in databases. I cannot agree that old, racist texts should be marketed the same as less racist ones. It strikes me as a ridiculous position to say it would be okay to put up “Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs” next to Dora the Explorer in a Netflix cartoon queue.

    • Ah, yes, hyperbole to make a point…

      Unless it is with the knowledge – and approval – of the author, NO book should be edited (other than to correct spelling, grammar in non-dialogue portions, or true archaisms). They should stand – or fall – on their own merits.

      I find much of Toni Morrisson’s books quite offensive. But they should NEVER be edited in the future to satisfy my “sensitivities,” just because the social pendulum has swung to “my” side of the clock.

      • It swung a bit more as Spielberg openly took sides:


        “The film’s original theatrical cut includes a scene of officers chasing young children while carrying firearms. Spielberg edited the guns out for the 2002 release and replaced them with walkie talkies.

        “That was a mistake,” Spielberg said during a master class at the Time 100 Summit. “I never should have done that. ET is a product of its era.

        “No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through.”

        He added: “I should have never messed with the archives of my own work, and I don’t recommend anyone do that.

        “All our movies are a kind of a signpost of where we were when we made them, what the world was like and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there. So I really regret having that out there.” ”

        Now to see if he restores the bowlerized scenes.

        I look forward to the day Disney owns up to, restores, and rereleases SONG OF THE SOUTH.

Comments are closed.