Books can potentially be harmful
It is potentially harmful to talk about books being potentially harmful
A good society would have laws that avoided all potential harm
Drop a copy of websters onto someones head, that'll hurt!
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 08:42 am (UTC)|| |
That was also my first thought...
Wow. I'm the seventh person to answer in exactly the same way.
The first question has to be trivially "yes" - teaching someone how to make ricin or nitroglycerine, especially if done extremely badly (viz the Jolly Roger Cookbook) will get someone killed, which is clearly harmful to them.
The second question is basically one of censorship: when books are decried as potentially harmful, there are calls to ban them. As I'm anti-censorship, I consider that harmful.
The final question is where we resolve the contradiction of the previous two. Anything can be potentially harmful and such an anodyne society would be boring as hell. It's also a question of scope - books can harm a few individuals (usually very stupid ones who, I feel, we could probably be quite happy without) wheras banning them would harm society as a whole. Particularly as it would be a trivial extension for it to be deemed "harmful" for people to hear "lies" about the President/Prime Minister which might affect their voting in the next election...
 - "I'm not saying stupidity should be illegal... just that we should take the safety labels off and let nature take its course."
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 08:43 am (UTC)|| |
Obvious counterexample to your "trivial" yes: if you gave me a book with a ricin recipe in it, nobody would get hurt as a result because I know better than to attempt to manufacture ricin. The harm is a result of bad decisions by the reader, not of the book, in that case.
I have to say that I didn't read this as harmful in the political sense, but in an emotional sense... but thinking about it that's "hurtful", not "harmful". I'm trying to think of harmful books. Okay: a lot of ignorant books on religions such as Christianity and Wicca have vastly misled people about what the religion is about. Ignorant or careless books about sadomasochism or dominance/submission have fostered the belief that those things are unhealthy and dangerous. Ignorance and propaganda causes fear and distrust and hatred. That's harmful. I'd rather have free speech and make good judgement and critical reading a compulsory part of education than start banning things, however.
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 08:57 am (UTC)|| |
Go and work :-) *hugs and good luck*
I had two biology textbooks dropped on my head from a height of four metres when I was about 16.
And? What happened? Was it harmful?
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 09:23 am (UTC)|| |
I really don't like the word "potentially" in the questions. DHMO is potentially harmful. Cycling is potentially harmful. Putting on a pair of trousers is potentially harmful (yes they do record the number of A&E admissions due to getting dressed!).
I think a better set of questions would be:
1) Some books, when read by certain people, are likely to result in harm.
2) It is harmful to try to identify who these people, and what these books are.
3) A good society should have laws to avoid book/people combinations which are likely to result in harm.
I was thinking, laws against potential harm sounds an awful lot like crimethink to me....
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 09:37 am (UTC)|| |
I think the outrage over The Satanic Verses, for example, was far more damaging not only to the principle of free speech but to the Muslim community itself than the book ever was. Rather good book, actually.
Would you call Mein Kampf harmful?
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 09:52 am (UTC)|| |
I don't know, I haven't read it.
I read a story once about a book which contained the Gödel sentence for the human mind (effectively locking all thought and making mental function impossible). Such a book could never exist, but if it could, would we be justified in banning it?
What if brainwashing techniques could be inserted into a book, which caused people to kill?
What if written media could cause people to behave irrationally, angrily, and in a hateful manner?
BURN THE DAILY MAIL!
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 10:37 am (UTC)|| |
A lot of people have already said most of the things I wanted to say.
When something is potentially harmful (and as king_of_wrong
observes, almost everything is), that just means you have to be careful with it. For example, it is potentially
harmful to talk about books being potentially harmful because this can lead (i.e. has led in some past situations) to censorship. But in this very thread we're talking about books being potentially harmful and I'd be incredibly surprised if it led to censorship! This is because we're doing so in a way that avoids the potential harm (by e.g. not being in political power, not being bloody stupid, not drawing overgeneralised conclusions, not seeing "potentially harmful" as a sufficient reason to ban things etc).
Secondly, there's a subtle semantic question about the meaning of "harmful". Not the one about "what is harm" - that's been covered already - but the distinction between causation and responsibility. A book can cause
harm, in the sense that if the book hadn't been present then that harm would not have occurred, but at the same time not be responsible
for that harm because the moral responsibility lies elsewhere. For example, if I write a book which someone decides is evil and then they murder me, it's clearly the case that in the absence of the book the harm wouldn't have occurred - but equally clear that the moral responsibility for the harm lies with the murderer.
A book which is genuinely responsible
for causing harm (such as one which unambiguously incites racial violence, perhaps) is a very different thing from a book which merely has the potential to be a contributory cause in harm caused by something or someone else. I suspect the former might already be illegal: there are limits to what society will tolerate in terms of free speech when it comes to things like incitement to violence.
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 10:53 am (UTC)|| |
Unlike some of your other readers I wasn't thinking so much of books that tell you how to make bombs or whatever, so much as, say, pro-anorexia or race-hate-inciting books: things that encourage people in potentially harmful ways of thinking. Okay, they're probably not going to convert people who aren't already thinking that way a bit, but they could make someone's beliefs a lot stronger/make them more likely to act on them.
Interesting point. I've definitely heard of people being damaged in this way, losing self-esteem and so on.
What about representation in books? If no books exist portraying certain people who are reading them, could that be harmful? (I think it could certainly be argued that suppressing useful or helpful books is harmful.)
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 11:35 am (UTC)|| |
One might definitely argue that one of the books in The Name of the Rose is harmful, two different ways...
At this point I interject with the point that this debate has raged for centuries and laws do exist. They usually cover these points:
* Literature which is emotionally harmful purely between two people - no restrictions
* Literature which is harmful between three people - where someone's reputation is damaged, there is the law of defamation; where it incites someone to commit crimes against another then the author is deemed an accessory to the crimes
* Literature which is harmful towards society as a whole - depends on the nature of the harm, since sexually perverse stuff used to be much more strictly controlled but is now balanced against the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights), but more extreme cases like inciting people to commit terrorist acts now have specific legislation. At the very bottom end, stuff which is in poor taste usually just has regulatory bodies like the Press Complaints Commission.
The thread which runs through it all, though, is the balancing act of one right (to expression) against another (e.g. privacy, reputation, safety). To ban all forms of expression on the ground that some are potentially harmful is like trying to crack a nut with a nuclear missile.
Which is why my last answer was no - a good society does not have laws which avoid "all potential harm". It has laws which avoid "all potentially very serious harm", yes, but beyond that it can only have laws which avoid "all likely moderate harm" and "all certain minor harm".
Where people tend to disagree is on what is harmful - I find a ban on smacking children to be harmful because when they become adults they are disrespectful and uncontrollable. I find unstable family units to be harmful because it is passed down to the next generation (and anyone who disagrees with me can come out to the slums of Manchester and *then* tell me I'm wrong!) But I also find attitudes like "prison solves everything" harmful because you end up with overcrowded prisons which don't do their jobs properly, and those that do "work" don't always provide the best solution to an offender's problems. In terms of literature, I find most of the tabloid press harmful because of the disturbing effect they have on who forms the next government. But that's not because people aren't entitled to an opinion - it's because normally you can tell when someone is talking crap, but people who read the tabloids take it as gospel because they paid 25p for it.
Anyway, I have work to do.
I generally believe that knowledge is better than ignorance, and almost no books should be banned. Everything is potentially harmful, and plenty of books are fairly likely to be harmful, but in almost all cases I'd say trying to ban them would be worse.
Perhaps a reasonable compromise would be to mandate disclaimers on books, not eliminating people who want to read them, but providing some protection from false or dangerous information.
Warning: Most scientists refute the 'scientific' claims in this book.
Warning: This book is contrary to the bible.
Warning: This book contains satire. It's AGAINST distopias.
Warning: This book is fiction. The history it describes is accurate, but the characters are fictional.
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 03:01 pm (UTC)|| |
This is being tried in Kansas, with disclaimers on textbooks saying "evolution is only a theory". Presumably that sticker itself needs a "Most scientists refute the claims on that sticker" sticker.
You know, I can't believe that we've got this far and no one's mentioned:
*The World's Deadiest Joke from Monte Python
*The Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill
what is Live Journal coming to these days?
|Date:||June 9th, 2005 05:29 pm (UTC)|| |
Not sure about the first question. Dropping things from great heights aside, information can potentially be harmful, as can giving it recognition as something worth publishing for whatever reason, but it hardly seems fair to blame that on the books.
On reflection, maybe I should go and get some more sleep.