The Banality of Evil: Celebrate Banned Books Week

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This week, the American Library Association is celebrating(?) the 25th annual Banned Books Week. In honor of book banners everywhere, and all that they've achieved, the ALA has compiled a few lists of "most challenged" books.

Google is sponsoring a site encouraging us to "explore banned books," mostly greats from the 20th century. Scrolling down the page (which bears a striking ressemblance to the required reading list for Advanced Placement English) it's easy to get angry–the idiots tried to ban 1984 for christsake! But the ALA's list of most challenged books of 2005 somehow fails to stir the same rage in my breast. Harry Potter? Captain Underpants? C'mon, people!

So go celebrate banned books week and the banality of evil: Burn a copy of Captain Underpants. Or read it. Whatever.

NEXT: Bold As Copper

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  1. It is wonderful that the ALA is so concerned about banned books in the United States. They would have a lot more credibility in the matter is they would bother to defend other people’s intellectual freedom like say in Cuba.

    http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org/Recent%20News%202.htm#US%20librarians%20fail%20to%20speak%20out%20for%20oppressed%20peers

  2. I hope that Border’s Books & Music doesn’t have the chutzpah to ‘celebrate’ banned books week, after they cravenly gave in to Islamic thuggery by pulling magazines with copies of the Muhammad cartoons.

  3. John,

    They’re not the Cuban Librarians Association. Why shouldn’t they focus on what people are trying to ban in the US?

  4. well, duh, it’s john. that’s why!

    seriously, john, i love you so long as i can pretend you are a media construct of some sort forced into three dimensional space by the invisible lords of the universe to act as a waysign reading “there but for the grace of me goeth me”

  5. Maybe I’m asking to be flamed, but, if we really believe in government that is responsive and accountable to the citizenry, how much can we argue with someone whose sentiment is, “I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want my tax money paying for books I find objectionable?” Especially when we keep in mind that the public library and public school only have so much money to buy books and so much space to house them. Is saying “I don’t want to pay for those books,” any more sinister than traditional criticisms of government policy, like, “I think welfare payments are too big,” or “I think we spend too much on defense” or whatever?

  6. Mitch, the obvious answer is that the state does not have any business starting and maintaining public libraries. If such a thing as free public lending libraries are valuable enough to the public, they will exist whether they are supported by the government or not. My fiance’s stepmother, a former city head librarian, is all for getting libraries out from under government’s thumb because she sees government as more of a hindrance than a help to the smooth functioning of a library.

  7. a lot of these cases aren’t simply “i don’t want to pay for this” but “the novel 1984 teaches our children bad things cause it mentions sex and stuff.” which is still another question about how much control parents have over school library content and curriculum and how healthy such clearly fucking stupid attitudes are in relation to literature, etc.

  8. dhex,

    So, you think people you disagree with shouldn’t have any say in how the money they pay to the state is spent? You are certain that government officials know better than the people who pay their salaries, the people they, theoretically, serve?

    Most parents probably have some things they don’t want their kids to read, hear about, or see. You think people who don’t want their kids to read the sex scenes in _1984_ are stupid, but what if it was some other book on some other topic? Even if you think anything goes, that there are no books that should not be in the public school or library, somebody has to decide what books go in there, because they don’t have room for every book. Who decides what books go into that space? Do you think that taxpayers and parents have no say at all?

  9. How exactly is this the banality of evil? Seems like a misunderstanding of the term to me.

  10. rickm,

    A pun on “ban”?

  11. Who decides what books go into that space? Do you think that taxpayers and parents have no say at all?

    That would be librarians. Collection development is a serious subject for them. Its goal is to get materials into the collection that people will want to use. That will vary from community to community, but factors such as the circulation of related titles and reviews in professional publications help librarians figure out what will or will not be used. Materials that lie unused for long enough will be removed from circulation in favor of new materials.

    The primary argument about banned books is that you should not determine what she reads. It is perfectly fine for you to say that you will not read book x, and you can prevent your kids from having their own library cards if you are worried about their checking out said book. It is not fine for you to say that no one else in your community should be able to read that book. It does not even matter if a majority of the population does not want other people reading that book, since it only takes a small number of readers to keep a single title in continuous use.

    You don’t want your kids to read Harry Potter? Great. You don’t want my kids to be able to read it? We have a problem here.

    No one in your community wants to read Harry Potter? Then the library should not buy it. That is not banning it, it is just good collection development.

  12. I don’t think an organization that bootlicks Castro and refuses to endorse the Cubian Free Library movement has any credibility to bitch and moan about someone somewhere complaining about books in this country.

  13. Most of these were just banned by librarians.

    _The Koehler Method of Dog Training_ was banned by a whole state (AZ). I still use it. Today it is merely deprecated, mostly by people opposed to trained dogs.

  14. “i love you so long as i can pretend you are a media construct of some sort forced into three dimensional space”

    Like SRT in THX 1138?

  15. Back in the 80s I did a small press comic with a cover featuring a smiling babie’s head emerging from a wet, distended vagina. For some reason this upset a few mothers who found it for sale at the local comic shop. The retailer pulled it.

    Of course, it sold much better once I was able to claim that it was “banned.”

    Click on my name to see the online version.

  16. Whoops. Let’s try that again.

    By the way, NSFW doesn’t begin to cover it…

  17. I’m against censorship in any form, which is why I advocate the privatization of all libraries. It’s not censorship if you remove the gov’t from the equation. Then it’s just business if you don’t carry something that will unduly piss off your customers.

  18. Re: ?why banality?? = (answer) I believe because these are such boring and humdrum book titles?

    I mean, It’s hard to get all excited when the most-banned author in America is @(#*& Judy Blume.

    Where?s Celine? Genet? William Burroughs? Something by Leonard Jeffries about how White People invented AIDS, or something?

    This stuff isnt controversial (or ?AP? English at all) – it?s mostly your standard freshman reading list. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Huxley, JD Salinger, Harper Lee, William Golding. The majority of them (aside from the occasional, ?How to be Gay? textbook, and witches/wizards kids books) are perennial requirements of 9th grade English classes. Trust me = my mom was a 9th grade English teacher for decades, I did it myself for a while.

    I agree entirely with the tone of the post = this list says less about censorship or state control of ideas, and much more about how @#(*$@ boring most of these objections really are. I mean, come on. Judy Blume? I know she was ahead of her time, but come on. We can do better.

    The mention of American Psycho was at least reassuring. *That?s* some quality XXX.

    Also, the list of things used to justify NOT reading something? =

    ?Anti-Ethnic Insensitivity Racism Sexism Homosexuality Nudity Sex Education Sexually Explicit Antii Family Offensive Language Political Viewpoint Religious Viewpoint Unsuited to Age Group Abortion Drugs Occult/Satanism Suicide Violence Inaccurate Other?

    … i mean, when you take all that stuff out… what do you have left, really? I?d never have read a damn thing if it wasn?t for all that stuff. Regular life is too boring! I want blood, guts, sex, profanity, race-hate, anti-establishment ranting, dissolution, vulgarity, gang bangs?. I STARTED reading literature because I was looking for hardcore sex-scenes. My mom caught me reading Proust*and thought I was a 12yr old genius. (*Swann in Love has some scenes with hookers) I?d only been reading one section, repeatedly. I ended up reading the rest because I was fascinated with the characters. Lesson? = ?Come for the Porn ; Stay for the Literature!? Encourage youth reading = put more sex in books.

    Re Mitch =
    “I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want my tax money paying for books I find objectionable?”

    In theory you wouldn?t want libraries at all, right?

    Assuming you find the idea of libraries somewhat compelling, the position that if ?any? of your money is used for libraries, then that gives you have the right to decide what OTHER PEOPLE can or can?t read if they so choose is kind of a stretch.

    Anyway, that mostly doesn?t really matter in the case of these ?objections? ? the vast majority of complaints are by Parents against Schools ? and not for what?s in the library, but what their kids are specifically asked to read by teachers. The school board then may remove the book from curricula if it decides. But removing them from the school library is I think unconstitutional (Island Trees School District v. Pico )? unless there?s like, sex and perversity in there. Protocols of Elders of Zion = OK / DH Lawrence = Verbotten? Seems silly. I think the whole idea of ?nudity? being a problem for books is hilarious. There are naked people in these books! Hey look guys = ?TITS?. I feel like im at Mardi Gras.

    JG

  19. “So, you think people you disagree with shouldn’t have any say in how the money they pay to the state is spent? You are certain that government officials know better than the people who pay their salaries, the people they, theoretically, serve?”

    no, but i think librarians do.

    plus there’s this great thing that bluenoses of all stripes, liberal and conservative (cathy young nod of the day) but mostly conservatives up in this libizzarbry totally miss out on – you can, say, not fucking read the book. these things aren’t about money, they’re about trying to control information and culture. which is gross, whether it’s done by a parent (to other children and not just their own) or a government, or a parent using the government, etc.

    it would be nice if they just said my timmy can’t read this garbage, the rest of you can burn in hell and we’ll look down from heaven and feel bad for .2 seconds before getting back to the 24 hour jesus party. then everyone’s sort of happy, or at least less upset. parents get to be sanctimonious loonies and everyone else can read the chocolate war or whatever and go back to torturing their classmates.

  20. Zubon,

    I agree when you say, “You don’t want your kids to read Harry Potter? Great. You don’t want my kids to be able to read it? We have a problem here,” but I don’t think that not wanting public resources to go to a certain book is really stopping your kids from reading it, any more than opposing welfare payments is “wanting your kids to starve” or opposing increases in defense expenditures is “hoping terrorists kill you.” I don’t think arguing over what books should be in the public library is any different than arguing over any other government expenditure.

    Most people can name government programs they think are a waste of money, and government programs they think are actually counterproductive or harmful. I don’t think it is somehow beyond the Pale if someone’s list of public expenditures they oppose includes books they think are a waste or are a bad influence. Its small change compared to Social Security or missile defense, but I think it is just as legitimate on a philosophical level.

  21. So, you think people you disagree with shouldn’t have any say in how the money they pay to the state is spent?

    If they are calling for censorship (same said state dictating what I have access too) then yes.

    You are certain that government officials know better than the people who pay their salaries, the people they, theoretically, serve?

    If said government official is a literate, usually educated librarian who works daily with the people who actually go to libraries – you know, the people they, theoretically, serve – then probably. Certainly more than a grandstanding politician, anyway.

    In any case, I have zero problems with public libraries and think most book-banning fools are idiots.

    Earlier this week, when I suggested that having healthier food in public school lunchrooms was not a bad idea, I was told by some of the more intolerant individuals that I should be teaching my children better and monitoring their activities rather than relying on the state to do it.

    Back at ya’. You can’t have it both ways.

    NO ammendment says the state has to provide a library. But the first ammendment says they can’t limit free speech. For me, a state banning books in the public library qualifies as limiting free speech.

    Do you think that taxpayers and parents have no say at all?

    Nobody said that. But the opinions of taxpayers and parents who are ignorant of the material they seek to ban should certainly be given a cross-eyed stare.

    For instance, banning Mark Twain’s anti-racist books because of the N-word is the height of lunatic irony and shouldn’t be tolerated.

  22. Banality of evil

    Evil is launched in the name of common decencies, like protection of the family, care for animals, uplifting of the fatherland.

    That was Hannah Arendt’s point.

    Presumably banned books are in the name of decencies, thus a candidate for launching a machine to carry it out. It didn’t exactly take off as a national movement, though.

    Probably it was the wrong decencies. Sex dies hard.

  23. And I certainly don’t think that a librarian’s decisions are beyond criticism. It is reasonable for the public to be able to judge and influence a public official’s performance.

  24. criticism is one thing; censorship another.

    if you wouldn’t trust the library with some che-worshipping fuck who wants to take a multicultural shit in the card catalog, why would you trust it with mommy minivan, who’s never read a single line of indecent french poetry in her entire life?

  25. I’m with Gilmore; the worst thing about this list is that the challenged books mostly are for the 8-to-12 age group. One would think we’d have something more, oh, inspiring to fight over than Judy Blume. If my son were seeking answers by reading Judy Blume, I think I’d be looking for a shrink for him instead of bothering the librarians.

    As for the existence of libraries, if I really thought that there was a choice between spending the money on libraries or not at all, I might get more exited, but since it’s really a difference between spending the money on libraries or spending it on something of even less usefulness to the general public, I’ll continue to defend the libraries.

  26. which is why I advocate the privatization of all libraries.

    yawn.

    how about the banality of libertarian ideas at times? Libraries are one of the few areas that have been enormously successful in our society. There’s no censorship crisis, no meddling by the state, etc, so I’m not sure the libertarian one-size-fits-all solution is needed here.

    Schools, on the other hand, i’m with you.

    JG

  27. I don’t think government’s failure to fund something can be construed as banning or a violation of the first amendment. Of course, I thought McCain-Feingold was unconstitutional, so I’m not exactly in line with current theories of constitutional law.

  28. I don’t think arguing over what books should be in the public library is any different than arguing over any other government expenditure.

    Completely fair. The point would be that if we take libraries as a given, you leave collection development in the librarians’ hands. Bad collection development is buying books that no one wants to read. Banned Books Week is about people trying to get rid of books that people do want to read, actively thwarting the purpose of libraries while still paying for them.

    There is lots of room to argue that a particular library or librarian is buying books that are inappropriate for the community (some people are bad at their jobs), but the standard for that is whether there is community demand, not whether some vocal members of the community take offense.

    There are also good arguments about whether there should be public libraries and, if so, what their purposes are. In the present context, libraries are a given for most communities. If they are going to exist, freedom is best served by not restricting their contents based on moralistic objections.

    Given the existence of a government welfare system, I would not support excluding non-Christians from it, even if that would mean a smaller system. I take the same approach to non-Christian books. Public systems should not engage in that sort of viewpoint-based discrimination.

  29. I don’t think that not wanting public resources to go to a certain book is really stopping your kids from reading it, any more than opposing welfare payments is “wanting your kids to starve” or opposing increases in defense expenditures is “hoping terrorists kill you.”

    Mitch,

    If “our tax dollars being spent in a way we don’t agree with” were really the impetus behind the people trying to ban these books, I’d agree with you. However, since they don’t seem to have a problem with libraries per se, I think they’re more interested in preventing everyone from seeing what they find objectionable to ensure that their kids can’t either.

  30. dhex,

    I trust neither the Che-lover nor the minivan owner (though I’m not sure what you have against mini-vans); that is why I think neither should be immune from criticism. If we are stuck with public schools and public libraries, as it appears we are, they should be held accountable. I think Proust and Orwell are good choices for having in the public library, but if somebody else thinks they are poor choices, I am going to disagree with them, not claim they are censors or banners or violaters of the 1st Amendment.

  31. I was told by some of the more intolerant individuals that I should be teaching my children better and monitoring their activities rather than relying on the state to do it.

    Back at ya’. You can’t have it both ways.

    I think that you proved exactly why you were wrong on that thread, madpad.

  32. I’m still convinced that a majority of libraries ban “Catcher In the Rye” not for being offensive, but for making great strides in the field of awfulness.

  33. “but if somebody else thinks they are poor choices, I am going to disagree with them, not claim they are censors or banners or violaters of the 1st Amendment.”

    uh, the issue isn’t that they’re saying “hey, this is terrible” it’s that they’re taking ACTIVE STEPS TO REMOVE MATERIALS. it’s hard to get more clear than this, dude.

  34. Mitch =

    “”I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want my tax money paying for books I find objectionable?””

    Mitch, you need to make your point clearer.

    You mean you dont want your tax money to go for books at all. Fair enough.

    If you mean (by your logic), libraries shouldnt make books available that are ‘objectionable’ to ANYONE (because we’re ALL taxpayers, right?)… then you’re basically saying that we need panels of citizen-censors. Whoopee. Thats a great idea.

    What exactly about books is it do you find ‘objectional’? Is it the way they jump out at you, force their ‘bad ideas’ into your head?

    As I pointed out before – schools, which have curricula – your point holds. Libraries, give it up.

    Basically, you have to make a case for why if a library gets donated ‘the Complete Illustrated Works of Marquis de Sade’, they shouldnt be spending $.05 a year to make it available to anyone who wants to read it.

    Because the library isnt ‘spending’ tons of money on a nonstop smut-hunt. It’s much more an issue about whether anyone like you has a say about whether kids like me can discover literature through pursuit of things-I-knew-were-bad-and-thats-why-I-wanted-them-duh.

    JG

    de Sade? Most libraries in america, you can walk in, and go read a reasonble translation of Justine.

  35. If you mean (by your logic), libraries shouldnt make books available that are ‘objectionable’ to ANYONE (because we’re ALL taxpayers, right?)… then you’re basically saying that we need panels of citizen-censors.

    I’m not saying individual community members should have a veto power over what books the library carries, any more than we junk Social Security or give up on missile defense because one guy says he is against them. A group of citizens opposed to their public library carrying a particular book is just as legit as the ACLU or the NRA, groups that agitate for and against particular government policies. What the public library does should be a subject of public debate, just like what the Congress does, what the EPA does, what the Navy does, etc., is a topic of public debate.

    My argument against public libraries, and for people’s rights to debate how their public library conducts itself, has nothing to do with any personal animosity on my part towards books. In fact, it is very similar to arguments against PBS and NPR. If I said I was against public television, would you ask, “Why are you so scared of Big Bird?” I don’t have anything against Big Bird. I just don’t think I should be financing Big Bird’s career aganist my will. What if I saw a show on PBS and I didn’t care for it? If I wrote to PBS and registered my opinion, would that make me a censor? PBS can only broadcast a limited number of shows; am I a censor if I tell them I don’t want that limited time wasted on Agatha Christie, and would prefer it was spent on a documentary full of killer whales eating seals?

  36. am I a censor if I tell them I don’t want that limited time wasted on Agatha Christie, and would prefer it was spent on a documentary full of killer whales eating seals?

    No, but that has almost no relationship with what people who want to ban certain books are doing. It’s not like these people are arguing that the library should not buy Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix because the money would be better spent on something they prefer. They’re saying that even a donated copy of Harry Potter should be barred from the catalog because they don’t want it there.

  37. I think that you proved exactly why you were wrong on that thread, madpad.

    Are you saying you agree with me on this thread? Hmmm. I was expecting maybe another “people like you” objectivist diatribe.

  38. Mitch’s point is completely fair, with the understanding that the argument is more akin to “I would like CBS to air less reality TV” than to “I think we spend too much on defense.” Your public library values non-shrill feedback on things you would like to see more or less of in the collection. Requests for additions are considered more valuable than requests for removals, since you implicitly would like to see less of everything except what you use.

    Again given that we have a public library with given budget and space restrictions, there are going to be few acceptable reasons to be opposed to a specific title. You can always argue that your interests are being underserved, such that the library should have more Christian fiction, more manga, more picture books in Spanish, whatever. You do not get to pick a specific someone else to be served less on the basis that you do not like the books that they like. There are legitimate “Why are they wasting their money on x?” arguments, but they tend to be either technocratic points about undercirculating items or rhetorical points from the book burners. When your argument sounds a lot like the book burners’, you are burdened with needing to be very clear that you are not that guy. Separate arguments:
    – “Libraries should be privately funded”
    – “Sometimes libraries make mistakes and buy expensive things no one wants”
    – “Content-neutral government funding should only support content I like.”

  39. It’s fine to want to do away with something because it requires tax money and you find it wasteful, non-capitalist, non-free market…whatever.

    Many things like various cabinet posts, numerous idiotic grant programs for museums and art galleries no one wants, and certain municipal and federal programs certainly fit the bill.

    Also laws that curb liberty, benefit others at the expense of property rights, limits to free speech and numerous other laws that butt up against the bill of rights nd the constitution.

    And certainly there are some government programs that could easily be replaced with free enterprise. The postal service comes to mind.

    Many of these things have a strong history and/or philosophical basis which runs counter to good government and productive societies.

    But others – libraries and schools for instance – are often historically very GOOD progams. They reflect the values of a society committed to a learned population. Throughout the world and throughout history, by far, the most productive societies have provided public education. And libraries have provided a central repository for not just books for day-to-day lending but historical information tied to the cities in which they are set up.

    I understand this is not a “libertarian/objectivist” sentiment. No doubt Randian and others will castigate me and label me as one of “those people”. I understand the hatred for collectivism and I understand that much misery in the world has been done under the spirit of “the public good.”

    But that does not, automatically make anything public bad or evil. On the contrary, while the hardcores may not like it, libraries are outstanding examples of exceptions to their rules that have proven their value many times over throughout history.

  40. ….to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical… – Thomas Jefferson, The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom, 1786

    Speaking as someone who is a 20-year+ veteran of retail bookselling, and has dealt with the “Banned Book Week” nonsense more times than I care to relate, I would like to point out a few things. Please adjust your opinion of what I write to account for the whore’s professional disdain for the mere slut. 🙂

    1.) Andrew Carnegie made a huge mistake when he designated government bodies as recipients for his library-supporting largess. He should have demanded that the libraries be established as independent educational institutions, free from government influence. Sure, the same sort of bluenoses that ran small towns back in the day would sit on the libraries’ boards of directors, but by now we would have established a First Amendment-friendly ethic for them. If the local PTL types were in the minority, they could hive off and start a competing one, without feeling that their tax funds would be spent without their input.

    2.) Most so-called “banned” books were merely ‘challenged”, with the challenge being dismissed quickly.

    3.) State-employed librarians, while uncomfortable when being accused of being censors, are certainly gatekeepers to dead-tree media, and increasingly to electronic forms. My local libraries have free internet access and DVDs, VHS tapes and CDs to loan. Why they are in competition with local video stores I’ll never know, but they are. Their professional arrogance can be pretty much to take, too. They are civil servants, not high priests and priestesses of the culture, and ought to remember who pays their paychecks [at gunpoint (standard libertarian disclaimer)].

    4.) Private pressure groups complaining about a store carrying a certain title are considered an attempt to “ban” a book. What rot. Unless the pitchforks and torches come out, or somebody calls in the sheriff, that’s just free speech countering free speech. Are people idiots if they organize a boycott against a store over what it carries? Often, they are, but Amendment One allows for idiocy.

    5.) By instituting compulsory attendance laws and a state near-monopoly on elementary and secondary education, children are forceably exposed to “opinions which.. (their parents)…disbelieve(s)”. Who is the censor there? Moreover, if Missy’s Mom forbids her to read Harry Potter, but her friend Muffy gets it from the city or school library and recounts every “objectionable” idea to her, Missy’s Mom might want to consider home schooling.

    Government run libraries make a big deal out of defending First Amendment rights, but I think they are fundamentally incompatible with real freedom of expression.

    Kevin

  41. Mitch slideth deeper into the rabbit hole =

    A group of citizens opposed to their public library carrying a particular book is just as legit as the ACLU or the NRA groups that agitate for and against particular government policies”

    Well, the problem with that analogy mitch is that THEY ARE NOT EVEN REMOTEY SIMILAR.

    Books in a library are not “Government Policy”. They are just public locations for information storage that people can take advantage of if they so choose.

    As mentioned earlier = “Books in the Library”, Mitch, dont affect you if you dont choose to read them.

    And please dont go back to the the “money” point about the government financing a single book because it’s bogus.

    If you want to say “i dont want my hard earned tax dollars funding extremely cost effective information resources AT ALL” -please go ahead.

    But what you’ve been saying, clearly and repeatedly is, “keep libraries, but people should be able to ban some books”.

    The reason people are disagreeing with you is because this makes no sense at all.

    “and for people’s rights to debate”…

    The problem, mitch, is that there IS already plenty of ‘debate’ about how libraries are managed, what represents the most in-demand material etc, and you have every opportunity to influence your local library.. You make it sound like the local library is run by an elite cabal of seditious smut mongers.

    You keep evading the point with this – it’s not about any right to DEBATE being squashed. You can debate all you want.

    It’s about whether “banning books” – i.e. deciding what OTHER PEOPLE can access – is “legit”

    You keep conflating the issue about ‘debate’ with ‘actually censoring’ to make it seem like people wont HEAR your concerns….but thats not the problem it all. We hear you, but you are wrong.

    You sound like the Intelligent Design people, who try to argue “teaching the debate” when in fact they’re distracting people from the fact they have no science, and there is no debate.

    Your stock Libertarian fall-back that, like “schools or NPR or PBS”, because they take pubic money, libraries are ethically compromised, and they shouldnt be deciding what content is or isnt suitable or spending your money on frivolous things that the market does better, yadda yadda….

    Unfortunately Mitch thats just not the case . Libraries arent BROADCASTERS, who make editorial decisions about how to frame content. A library is simply a static repository of vast amounts of information. The library keeps a universe of stuff, and constantly rotates & updates collection based on local DEMAND.. Not what “the man” wants you to see, but what the library is requested to include by it’s users and donors and local schools

    Again = if you think we shouldnt have libraries AT ALL. Fine. Let’s discuss why. But once you say, libraries OK – some books Bad – then thats where your case falls to pieces.

    UNLESS = you actually explain what kind of information is “objectionable”.

    JG

  42. GILMORE:

    Try reframing that as Again = if you think we shouldnt have government libraries AT ALL. Then you will be tuned into the libertarian mindset. I love libraries, but dearly wish they were severed from government.

    Kevin

  43. Again given that we have a public library with given budget and space restrictions, there are going to be few acceptable reasons to be opposed to a specific title

    Disagree with first half.

    Most of the ‘budget and space eating stuff’ in libraries were reference materials. Guess where they all are now. I’ll give you a hint: made of tubes.

    There may be reasons to argue that, “The complete illustrated dictionary of Eskimo” may be less in demand than Danielle Steele’s work…

    but to “oppose” a title for reasons of controversial content (which is exactly what we’re talking about) = it merits inclusion for exactly the reason it’s being “opposed” – It’s controversial work.

    JG

  44. Speaking as someone who is a 20-year+ veteran of retail bookselling…

    …I can completely understand why you dont like the library.

    “dearly wish they were severed from government.”

    OK = WHY???

    Other than “because they *are* government funded”, please.

    As pointed out – libraries are probably the one of the only magnificantly successful government-funded institutions in the history of the country.

    JG

  45. The moral fact of it is the same; you want a library, you pay for it. Taking money from people because you want to read free books is wrong no matter how you slice it; pragmatic concerns aside. You’re going to take money from people who might not ever use the damn things? That doesn’t even begin to make sense. And how do we measure the “success” of libraries, anyway? The number of users? If there’s anything that should be paid for with user fees, it’s libraries.

  46. Most of the ‘budget and space eating stuff’ in libraries were reference materials. Guess where they all are now. I’ll give you a hint: made of tubes.

    That would be one of the good reasons to get rid of a specific book, yes, although fewer than you might think. There are a variety of good print resources that have not gone electronic. I would guesstimate that reference collections still take up about 10% of shelf space, probably somewhat less. I did not see much change in it when libraries went electronic, but that is hardly an objective measure.

    I can’t argue with the Randian. The country’s first libraries were private lending libraries, and we library patrons are another minority being subsidized by the general population. Donate to your local library and reclaim it from government hands!

  47. The moral fact of it is the same; you want a library, you pay for it. Taking money from people because you want to read free books is wrong no matter how you slice it; pragmatic concerns aside.

    I beg to differ.

    Your problem is you think ‘libertarianism’ is some axiom (like ayn rand’s hamhanded psuedophilosphy) that applies the same way in all cases. In this case i dont believe you have a foot to stand on.

    If you resort backwards to some ridiculous thing about how ALL and ANY taxation is ‘theft’, and how if we dont ‘use’ something – anything – it doesnt actually benefit us, then there is no point to discussion. It’s starting with a premise thats false in itself.

    it’s like claiming government shouldnt manage the roadway system, and that we should stop and pay a toll every 5 miles when we pass through one road-contractor’s territory to another. Why pay for roads we dont drive on? It may be consistent with your logic, but it’s pretty fucking stupid when considered next to the upsides of your ‘moral’ posturing.

    its not a moral question. Its an economic question, and one that requires a far more consistent ‘moral’ approach. As in: the most pragmatic approach, the most cost-effective form of achieving the greatest good for the most people. If against this your argument is basically the price of a subsidized library card = so be it.

    If you start with the question as to whether the government should fund ‘any’ kind of national program that – at a cost benefit rate that would make any economist proud – helps people benefit themselves as much as possible without the direction of any institution, using their own intelligence and their own ability and own initiative to become more learned, to be able to self-educate, better themselves without the barriers presented by either the historically private or current public educational institutions… if you say, ‘no’ – it’s not an essential human interest or benefit to society… then forget the following. Everyone should be born as intuitively brilliant as you.

    If you do acknowledge that there is some point to the widespread availability of free information – not just commercially useful information – and that it produces corallary benefits that have massive benefits to a free and pluralistic society, then you’d be hard pressed to propose anything other than a system exactly like whats arisen over the history of public libraries overall since Alexandria, and in the US in the last 200 years particularly.

    JG

  48. OK, so where’s the list of “banned” books over the last few years and the numbers on those? I don’t see that, but I do see a list of “challenged” books and statistics on “challenges”, which means somebody, somewhere complained about some book being in a library.

    Seriously, are people here beating their breasts over crank complaints to libraries? Why?

  49. The moral fact of it is the same; you want a library, you pay for it. Taking money from people because you want to read free books is wrong no matter how you slice it; pragmatic concerns aside. – Ayn Randian

    If you resort backwards to some ridiculous thing about how ALL and ANY taxation is ‘theft’, and how if we dont ‘use’ something – anything – it doesnt actually benefit us, then there is no point to discussion. It’s starting with a premise thats false in itself. – GILMORE

    Calling taxation “theft” may be an unfortunate trope among the various flavors of individualists
    that post here – Libertarian Party types, minarchists, propertarian anarchists, Objectivists, and those of us who take a syncretistic view of politics. The fact still remains that taxes are an non-voluntary economic transaction, by and large. Coercion is involved. Miniminzing coercion in life is usually seen as a Good Thing by our crowd.

    it’s like claiming government shouldnt manage the roadway system,

    Well, it shoudn’t. I’m not so deluded that I think the Feds and the States will be selling the roads anytime soon, but we have seen private turnpikes built and operated, or, in some cases, built and deeded over to the government, and run by contract by private firms.

    and that we should stop and pay a toll every 5 miles when we pass through one road-contractor’s territory to another.

    Methinks you have never driven through Northern Illinois, especially heading out of Chicago. 🙂

    Why pay for roads we dont drive on? It may be consistent with your logic,…

    Why, indeed. Given current technology of the EasyPass variety, there is no reason to.

    its not a moral question. Its an economic question, and one that requires a far more consistent ‘moral’ approach. As in: the most pragmatic approach, the most cost-effective form of achieving the greatest good for the most people. If against this your argument is basically the price of a subsidized library card = so be it.

    Congratulations. You have recapitulated the feud between noble, good and true folks who base
    politics on moral norms, like me, and stinking, evil, pragmatic Utilitarians. Reality check: not
    everybody is a utilitarian, and pulling the U card doesn’t automatically win arguments. Who gets
    to decide what’s for the “greater good” in centalized, non-voluntary systems is only one stumbling block.

    BTW, government libraries aren’t “free.” Just as lunch can be free on the “I eat, you pay” model,
    state-supported libraries have real costs, paid for by the willing and unwilling. I’d free the libraries.
    Make them member-owned, and tell cranks who want to control their content to start collecting
    proxies for the next board election.

  50. Taking money from people because you want to read free books is wrong no matter how you slice it

    Right. That’s why libraries were developed. People wanted to read free books so they decided to steal your money to fund this wicked boondoggle.

    Do you every actually think about what you’re writing? Or does it all just get processed automatically through your Anti-Collectivist Objectivist Filter and onto the page?

    Most cities fund libraries because the folks want them. Most folks want them because they are a good idea.

    pragmatic concerns aside. You’re going to take money from people who might not ever use the damn things?

    I’ve called your city rescue department. They told me they’ll refund all of your taxes allocated to emergency services…as long as you promise never to use them.

  51. Kevrob,

    “Congratulations. You have recapitulated the feud between noble, good and true folks who base
    politics on moral norms, like me, and stinking, evil, pragmatic Utilitarians. Reality check: not
    everybody is a utilitarian, and pulling the U card doesn’t automatically win arguments.”

    I am disappointed in you. You are normally one of the people here who recognizes that people on the other side of an issue might have a legitimate reason for their disagreement with you. It is a moral issue, but one that is difficult to crack since people are working from within different systems of ethics.

  52. Who gets to decide what’s for the “greater good” in centalized, non-voluntary systems is only one stumbling block.

    Who indeed. I think…I do…by way of who I (and others) elect to represent us. Sorry it’s not perfect.

    BTW, government libraries aren’t “free.” Just as lunch can be free on the “I eat, you pay” model, state-supported libraries have real costs, paid for by the willing and unwilling.

    No one. Not one single poster on this board. Not anyone. At anytime. Has implied, insinuated, intoned, conveyed or said that “libraries were free.”

    Disagree all you will but don’t lie about what people have said and don’t misrepresent the facts because your angry or desperate.

    The issue is not whether libraries are free. The issue is whether they serve a greater good (God…I think randian’s turning blue) making the costs worth it or if they are evil tax-stealing collectivist institutions.

  53. It is a moral issue, but one that is difficult to crack since people are working from within different systems of ethics.

    That is positively profound.

  54. I am disappointed in you. You are normally one of the people here who recognizes that people on the other side of an issue might have a legitimate reason for their disagreement with you. It is a moral issue, but one that is difficult to crack since people are working from within different systems of ethics. – LeftStream Man

    Wait a second, LSM. Look what I was responding to: If you resort backwards to some ridiculous thing about how ALL and ANY taxation is ‘theft’, and how if we dont ‘use’ something – anything – it doesnt actually benefit us, then there is no point to discussion. It’s starting with a premise thats false in itself. – GILMORE

    GILMORE was claiming the right to dismiss everyone else’s moral premises, like he was the Pope, or Ayn herself. I’m not playing that. I don’t mind having my philosophical principles challenged, but GILMORE was stating an axiom just as rigidly as any doctinaire Objectivist.

    Then there’s this weak attempt: Who indeed. I think…I do…by way of who I (and others) elect to represent us. Sorry it’s not perfect. Well, majoritarianism is only one reason libertarians try to reduce the number of decisions made politically.

    And this: No one…..Has implied, insinuated, intoned, conveyed or said that “libraries were free.

    Other than …some point to the widespread availability of free information…

    And this: I’ve called your city rescue department. They told me they’ll refund all of your taxes allocated to emergency services…as long as you promise never to use them.

    In the town I grew up in, all of those services were run by a volunteer fire department. They even held fundraisers, which were a blast. We did pay taxes for the police and the Coast Guard, but I’m enough of a minarchist to see those as among the last services to be privatized.

    Where’s all this statism coming from, anyway?

    Kevin

  55. Come on, kevrob,

    Whatever our disagreements, you’re a smart person and can tell the difference between a euphemism (widespread availability of free information) for “freely available to everyone” and someone asserting that liraries are free – as in they don’t cost anything. Now you’re just being a hair-splitter.

    If you’re going to be like that about it, what business have you got criticizing anyone for being rigid or statist?

    Incidentally, I was a volunteer firefighter. My time was a blast as well. But we were an adjunct to paid firefighters.

    I live in a city of 1.3 million people spread out over a large region of northeast Florida. An all volunteer force would be impractical. Besides…no one wants it.

    See…ultimately you have to reckon with that. We have firefighters and Emergency Service institutions because citizens want them. We have libraries because people want them. You mentioned before about toll roads. My city waged a long battle to get rid of toll roads. Why? Because most folks down here didn’t like them.

    Don’t take me wrong. Libertarianism has a lot of good ideas. But libertarianism through the lens of Objectivism is a bit like a rigid, fantical cult that attacks any body that doesn’t tow the line. It has a tendency to throw out good ideas because they don’t fit with the construct. How smart is that?

    The more rigid Objectivists can call me liberal/collectivist all they want-despite how ridiculously inaccurate the label may be. Like any fundamentalist, they hate anyone who doesn’t buy into their nonsense and they need to label others to feel good about themselves.

    But when they have a heart attack they’re not fretting over what Ayn Rand would think…they’re calling 911.

  56. Kevrob=

    Congratulations. You have recapitulated the feud between noble, good and true folks who base
    politics on moral norms, like me, and stinking, evil, pragmatic Utilitarians.

    First off, thanks to madpad for pointing out the obvious.

    – you’ve reduced a discussion about specifics to a conflict of first principles, evident on your part, and unstated on mine. You may not know what we share in common because you seek to battle over a minute point on which we disagree, rather than define the issue.

    if you think debate matters at this point, i’m assuming you’ve already abandoned the specific rebuttals i’ve laid out, and backed into your hallowed corner where no amount of real life can ever intercede – regardless of whatever shared opinions we may have. Congratulations on further decreasing my estimation for the ‘principled’ Big L Libertarian types who have chimed in on the topic, as opposed to us filthy ‘pragmatists’…

    [if thats what people who care about what is – who care more about what to *do* to improve the world, as opposed to what it ‘ought to be’.]

    If i’m wrong about whether the system of libraries is effective, show me.

    thanks for the opportunity.

    peace

    JG

  57. GILMORE:
    Try reframing that as = we shouldnt have *government* libraries AT ALL.

    If you please explain to me why a private system is more effective in this case, fine. Go ahead.

    the person who comes to mind whenever i think about libraries is hoffer

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer

    …and me, because i was glad for them.

    JG

  58. GILMORE makes an interesting point.

    If “big L” Libertatians expect to get some truck in this world, they might consider not castigating folks over relatively minor points like whether libraries contribute to overall societal well being…

    …or are evil parasitic institutions designed to steal money so that mediocre minds can read free books.

    I think that point of view is as telling about what some folks actually think of their fellow human beings.

  59. Kevrob=
    but we have seen private turnpikes built and operated, or, in some cases, built and deeded over to the government, and run by contract by private firms.

    indeed. a good thing.

    a halfway point, you might admit? to fit the issue at hand? pragmatic of you.

    JG

  60. whatever, madpad, carry on with your insipid stereotypes about us Objectivists…I don’t really care. Let me know what your moral argument is about this: You want to rent videos, you go to Blockbuster, you pay to rent them. But you want to rent books, suddenly you need to take money from people who never enter the damn library to pay for this. That makes zero sense.

    GILMORE, the fact that you ignored the moral argument and argue about which system is more “effective” (which I asked you to define…what does effective mean to you in this context?)just shows me you have no philosophical ground upon which to stand.

    I don’t give a hoot what you say, detractors of mine, the simple premise of “you want it, you pay for it, without forcing others to do the same” is morally correct.

    Yeah, just try not paying your library taxes sometime and see where that gets you.

  61. GILMORE, the fact that you ignored the moral argument and argue about which system is more “effective” (which I asked you to define…what does effective mean to you in this context?)just shows me you have no philosophical ground upon which to stand.

    ‘system’?

    Mein Herr, i never proposed a system. I was making a case that US libraries, as they have been set up thus far, are highly successful and efficient instutions.

    show me a better way and i will follow.. mein freund.

    Auf Wiedersehen
    JG

    Which, if i look back, you never commented on.

  62. OK, GILMORE, a better way would be that if you want to subscribe to a library, you pay for it, without using the power of the state to force others to pay for your preferences.

    If people really (I mean really) want libraries, or emergency services, let them subscribe to them like anything else. Nothing philosophically difficult here.

  63. And roads, ayn?

    tell me about armies later.

    JG

  64. I don’t give a hoot what you say, detractors of mine,

    holy shit, i just read that and nearly peed. very in-character!

    shouldnt engage in internet discussions after evening cocktails.

    JG

  65. My sterotypes about Ojectivists are no more insipid than your sterotypes about me and people like me. And I should point out, YOU are the one that started the sterotyping with the “people like you” crap. I merely perpetuated it to demostrate how unfair and irking it is.

    It’s obvious you’re a smart person. You may not realize it but you go on the attack quite frequently. It’s not pretty and it’s way not effective.

    That you can’t reconcile these relatively small issues because the world doesn’t comport to your point of view is your trip.

    It makes zero sense to you because you choose to adopt an ethical framework with rather rigid notions of morality and capitalism. And you’re not only certain that your way is better, but that the current situation is bad.

    I’m not so rigid. To myself – and others – libraries have proved their value time and again. To ME it makes no sense to chuck something that appears to be benefitting many at a relatively nominal cost.

    I even suggest to you that in an intangible sense, libraries even benefit folks who don’t use them. How? By raising and reinforcing various aspects of our society around commonly understood positives – reading, education, enlightenment, etc.

    Rand introduced a lot of wonderful ideas to the world. She has influenced a great number of people – myself included – to the notions of self worth and individual value outside the constraints of society’s limits.

    But at the end of the day, society is where we all gotta live.

  66. madpad, first of all, let’s clear out the past here; I said that parents like you irk me because you claim that there’s no value to be had from any criticism that comes from non-parents, and I am tired of parents claiming some kind of exceptionally enlightened status. What was especially irritating is that you had no idea whether I was a parent; you assumed I wasn’t because I didn’t have sympathy to your worldview, which was biased on your part.

    I’m not so rigid. To myself – and others – libraries have proved their value time and again.

    The problem with this statement, madpad, is that they have proven their value to you at a cost of liberty to others. You’re essentially adopting a utilitarian framework wherein that which provides value above and beyond what you perceive to be the cost is that which should be perpetuated; I am telling you that the moral cost, the cost in liberty and freedom, is not worth the library. Essentially, if you think that a library is worth the cost, pay for it your own damn self; don’t use the threat of guns and jail to prop up your own choices about what you think is good.

    I even suggest to you that in an intangible sense, libraries even benefit folks who don’t use them. How? By raising and reinforcing various aspects of our society around commonly understood positives – reading, education, enlightenment, etc.

    madpad, I could make this argument about almost every government program out there. think about it. “welfare? well that helps the poor people not rise up against the rich! It’s good for society!”

    “Public schools foster enlightenment, reading, education! Keep them around!” What about the argument that the schools foster nothing but mindless obedience and cookie-cutter solutions?

    And EVEN IF libraries did all you claim they could do, how can you, at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and say you did right by sending some poor sap to jail for failing to pay taxes for a service he never truly uses?

    And pragmatically speaking, if there was any tax-funded service that could easily be converted to the private sector, it would be libraries. Again, witness Blockbuster.

  67. If people…want…emergency services, let them subscribe to them like anything else.

    The easy answer is most people…

    1. DO want access to emergency services
    2. recognize they may go a substantial part of their lives never needing them, thus making a “subscription model” somewhat impractical.
    3. (Most obvious) Do NOT want a situation where their need can be denied for failure subscribe.
    4. (less obvious) Do NOT want to live in a world where OTHER’s needs can be denied for failure to subscribe.

    Additionally, creating a situation where services can be denied creates a new set of problems. And what if someone legitimately subscribes and something goes wrong with the paperwork?

    Are you really content to let a person’s house burn down and/or have people die because they didn’t pay their subscription…or because of a clerical error? ‘Cause that’s really what you’re talking about here.

    It’s admirable that you’re willing to follow the tenents of a philosophy based on reason and rationality to a cumbersome and irrational extreme.

    As for me, I find the city fire station down the street – and a portion of my taxes – to be infintely more rational.

  68. As for me, I find the city fire station down the street – and a portion of my taxes – to be infintely more rational.

    You do; others don’t, and appointing yourself as their guardian to make that decision for them makes you an elitist and paternalistic. You want a fire station, they don’t, but you’ve decided to take away their money because you want it (oh wait, because “society” wants it). I am failing to see that what you believe is nothing more than saying we should ascribe to the will of the majority.

  69. What’s with the piling on AynRandian lately, between the endangered species and now the libraries? I’m a little boggled at the foaming-at-the-mouth responses to what I would have assumed to be fairly standard libertarian positions on private property and tax-funded government services.

    If the assertion that people who like critters should pay for critters, or that those who like books should pay for books, is THAT mind-blowing for people, then I guess H&R is doing its job at airing libertarian dialog, cuz it sure is needed. Down with the sacred cows, I say, and PETA be damned.

  70. Perhaps I erred in being picky about the use of the word “free.” This is why philosophers insist on using univocal definitions in their arguments. Nevertheless, term-shifting between free: “you don’t have to pay for it”, and free: “absent coercion” goes on, and should be guarded against. And the fact remains that when Citizen A uses a library paid for by taxes extracted from Citizen B, who may have been against starting a state-owned library in the first place, there is a loss of freedom. It may be insignificant in some utilitarian’s calculus, but there it is.

    BTW, as a youth I was acquainted with one type of institution that called itself a “free library.” One, in the town next over from where my family lived when I was in college, has this statement on its website:

    The Library is a Free Association Library. The term “Association Library” refers to a library established by a group of private individuals operating as an association; and the term “free” as applied to a library means one that is maintained solely as a public service for the benefit and free use of all the people of the community.

    The present building…., begun in 1924, was officially opened the following year. The money for the building was raised by a subscription drive and through projects such as food and rummage sales. In 1967 an addition of approximately 14,000 square feet was constructed on land that was donated to the library…

    This was NOT a government agency, but a voluntary effort. There is no good political principle that supports allowing the state to operate and fund libraries, anymore than there is one to allow it to do the same regarding: newspapers, publishing houses, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, broadcasting stations or churches. There is one that militates against it: these institutions mold the minds of the citizenry, which in turn is supposed to be in command of the government. Letting the government in on such development risks the introduction of propaganda and indoctrination of the public by the state, in addition to tempting the politically powerful to try to get their hands on these organs of opinion-formation.

    Besides Mr. Jefferson’s objection that I quoted above, I support the independence of these institutions from the state as a bulwark against encroachment on our liberties. As I said before: “Government run libraries….are fundamentally incompatible with real freedom of expression.”

    And, yes, I know Jefferson could be a mad pragmatist when it suited him, as when he proposed state involvement in education. He was Jefferson. He contained multitudes. Didn’t make him right when he ignored his libertarian foundation.

    BTW, madpad, props for eating fire for your neighbors. The county I grew up in, the one with the local VFD’s and that non-governmental “free library” I mentioned, now has almost 2 million people. The world has not ended because all that volunteer effort hasn’t been converted into civil service jobs.

    I could easily contemplate a state-free system of professional and volunteer fire fighting, financed by insurance companies and mortgage lenders requiring their customers to subscribe to one service or another in order to do business with them.

    Kevin

  71. …appointing yourself as their guardian to make that decision for them…

    I didn’t appoint myself anything. Someone else did it all. I just agreed it was probably a good idea because I didn’t like the subscription model. So get your villains right.

    makes you an elitist and paternalistic… no it doesn’t…it makes me lazy and uninterested in challenging the status quo. Big difference.

  72. Thanks for the props, kevrob. As for the all volunteer firefighting force, don’t have enough information for an opinion one way or another. I just don’t like the subscription model Randian (and others) floated. But then I’ve never bought into the “Privatize Everything” capitalist paradise notion of libertarianism.

    Some things work better as businesses. Some things don’t. IMHO, fire departments fall into the latter category.

  73. The business/government dualist choice is too limiting. There are all sorts of voluntary non-profit structures that a libertarian can get behind, not to mention hybrids. Example: a “for profit” corporation with a related non-profit foundation that subsidizes services for the indigent.

    Kevin

  74. There are all sorts of voluntary non-profit structures that a libertarian can get behind…

    Why? If it ain’t broke, why do you insist on fixing it. And not matching your philosophical underpinnings doesn’t sufficiently qualify for “broken.”

    I understand your zeal for changing everything over to this Libertarian model. But while I think our country would benefit from more libertarian ideas, I think there are definitely some points where those ideas go to extremes.

    Libertarian antipathy for libraries and fire departments happen to be two fine examples. What is the point of attacking two institutions that have arguably worked fairly well?

    Because you simply think that prohibiting the government from funding them would be better? Either because it allows government to fund something that a handful of folks don’t want (thus robbing them of their liberty) or because it robs someone of the opportunity to create a market-based solution.

    Most of your disagreements have focused on philosophical grounds. But you and Randian haven’t really addressed the practical arguments and examples for or against that I and others have raised. Your arguments have been limited to insisting that they are bad because they don’t match your model.

    You did posit the notion, based on your experience, that volunteer firefighters were the answer. If that works, I’m 100% behind it, though I doubt randian would. Anti-capitalist, altruistic…that sort of stuff.

    From my perspective – to steal a page from the objectivist play book – my enlightened self-interest suggests that public libraries and fire dpartments are pretty good ideas.

  75. I am telling you that the moral cost, the cost in liberty and freedom, is not worth the library.

    I am offering to you that the liberty and freedom are vastly improved by the system of libraries, and can be practically demonstrated as such, as opposed to theorized away.

    JG

  76. GILMORE,

    Mainstream Man said it best regarding different systems of ethics.

    To randian, anything that smacks of taxing someone to provide for a greater good is immoral. Immorality arises (in randian’s view) because any infringement on liberty and freedom – no matter how small – is fundamentally immoral.

    For randian, there is no reconciling to a greater good. That entire concept he is unwilling to view as moral. Why? Because even if the greater good benefits him – and in fact increases the potential for personal capitalist success – the greater good competes with the primacy of individual for resources and expression.

    The fundamental problem you have nailed nicely. While there are many good examples of the advantages of less government, there are few real world examples that support the more extreme applications of randian’s moral absolutism.

    In fact, there is a fine example of a society without public libraries, fire departments and schools; where government is at a minimum and each man succeeds according to his will and mastery of available resources. Ever been to Somalia?

  77. “So, you think people you disagree with shouldn’t have any say in how the money they pay to the state is spent?

    If they are calling for censorship (same said state dictating what I have access too) then yes.”

    Actually, no one is preventing you from buying the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You’re argument doesn’t work. People who want books pulled from libraries essentially object to having them paid for by public money. You can buy the books with your own cash if you wanna read ’em.

  78. You’re argument doesn’t work. People who want books pulled from libraries essentially object to having them paid for by public money.

    Again – this is not true

    http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwlinks/challengesbytype19902000.pdf

    If people wanted ‘books pulled’ – specific books – because they objected to the ‘funding’ – then why bother with libraries at all? They object the content, not the system that’s in place. This is a libertarian invention to create an angle on ‘anti libraryness’ that feels good to them.

  79. Rose,

    In the framework you posit, you are correct. But then I’ve made it clear I do not subscribe to that framework.

    And I was careful in my word choice: “dictating what I have access to.” Currently libraries exist and are legal. The books challenged are also legal. Citing the First Ammendment, I merely asserted that it is not for someone else to deny me access to something that is legal regardless of how they feel about it.

    I will not argue the tight, internal logic of many libertarian absolutists – which is usually impeccable – as it is a zero sum game.

    I, instead, argue the logic of a system that rejects what many consider obvious societal (and historically established) positives – like public libraries – because of a logic game where by absolute individual liberty not only trumps them all but induces followers to find them evil and immoral.

    I’ve never had much patience for absolutists of any stripe who demand complete adherence because they think life can and should be reduced to simple code of conduct.

    I consistently give ground to the value and worth of libertarian and objectivist thought as guiding principles. But I find the absolutist camp silly and insufferable.

  80. Kevrob,

    “Wait a second, LSM. Look what I was responding to:”

    I saw what you were responding to.

    I was just disappointed that your response was to posit that your partner in discourse was somehow evil for being Ultilitarian (and that so are all others who operate under Utilitarian principles).

    It seemed unlike you, as the remainder of the discussion demonstrates.

  81. I’m just sayin’ that if you take the public money out of the equation, the book-banning loonies don’t have a leg to stand on.

    Would they then be targeting their efforts at having books removed from Amazon.com? I guess maybe, but somehow I don’t think they’d have as much of an objection if they didn’t feel the sense of ownership they feel knowing their tax money pays for library books.

  82. I’m just sayin’ that if you take the public money out of the equation…

    That pretty much sums up the libertarian mindset in a nutshell. Not that it’s a bad mindset, mind you.

    No one here argues that removing public money from the equation would certainly solve some problems. But I’m suspicious of the notion that it would solve ALL problems rather just creating a new set of them.

    That case certainly applies for a large number of things that “public money” goes for. But some of us don’t buy into the all-or-nothing thinking behind our fellow poster’s assertions.

    The case that I am (and possibly others are) making is that:

    A. Public money is not an absolute evil.

    B. Asserting that in all cases using public money robs taxed indviduals of liberty and freedom is a bit hystrionic.

    C. Removing public funding – when viewed as a panacea – ignores successes of public funding and ignores the potential problems under the theoretical assumption that a market solution will automatically arise, be better and be more disirable than the one already in place and working fine.

    D. That things done under the idea of public good are NOT universally immoral just because Ayn Rand or the LP thinks they are when they don’t fit an ideologically rigid notion of morality.

    E. That balance is possible between individual liberty and public benefits and that Public Libraries are a good example of just that.

  83. madpad – Word. You hit the nail on the head. Philosophical absolutes are a bad thing, that lead to inflexible and extreme thinking and can lead to fanaticism. That kind of religious adherence to a certain frame of thinking can be downright dangerous.

    Unless it’s Absolut thinking, which I find to be very fuzzy and rather flexible. Cheers!

    It’s much more sensible to treat philosophical systems the way Bruce Lee treated tradition-ridden martial arts: you use what works.

  84. you use what works.

    Damn utilitarian! But I like your Absolut thinking. Marinis on me, everyone.

  85. Sorry…MARTINIS on me.

  86. madpad:

    Perhaps you are skipping posts when you read this thread. You noticed that I had nice things to say about volunteer fire departments. Did you not also notice my similar remarks about what in New York State are called “free association libraries?” My refusal to accept that government ownership is the one, true method for establishing public – in the sense that the public uses it, not that it is governmentally-owned – libraries, is also based on experience. One such library my family belonged to is in continous operation at the same site since 1882. Another in a neighboring town is planning its centennial celebration.

    From a libertarian viewpoint, the burden of proof on whether an activity ought to be subsidized, fully funded or operated by a unit of government is on those proposing such action. Ever since, at least, the Progressive era, an attitude, fueled philosophically by pragmatism, has ignored our country’s traditional liberal (in the original sense) impulses, ignored the principle of subsidiarity, and resorted to government action to avoid the admittedly harder work of developing voluntary institutions. It used to be the case that Americans wouldn’t appeal to the Federal government before they tried to get their state government to act first, and their county, and municipal governments before that. So, also, did people organize voluntary efforts to deal with local problems, and brought in government at any level if the nature of the problem – law enforcement, e.g. – especially called for it. It was such a marker of the American character that Tocqueville remarked on it. We still have voluntary effort, but for many it is secondary to state action, and the private activist group whose only reason for existence is to lobby for tax funds is a bane of modern life. This mindset is a pure reverse of the proper order of things in a free society.

    My personal version of subsidiarity includes these creatures, with varying levels of my approval:

    * Organizations with no government involvement.
    * Those with private ownership, that contract with government to provide a service or product, but have other customers, patrons, etc.
    * “Independent” corporations set up to provide a service under government grant of monopoly or special privilege. e.g.: public utilities.
    * Private organizations whose main business is supplying services to governments. [Defense contractors, road building cos.]
    * Organizations with private and governmental arms. (ex: Cornell and Syracuse Universities are both private, but host specialized state colleges on their campuses.)
    * Ostensibly private organizations whose governance and funding are so inextricably intertwined with the state that they might as well be part of the civil service.
    * Government agencies that, for PR reasons, play down their public natures. [e.g.: The University of State at Foo City (formerly Foo City State Normal School) changes its name to Foo University, and removes all but the most obscure references to its being a state school from its website and brochures.]

    Public/private partnership is a continuum, and while I much prefer the “zero involvement” point on the line, I’ll take a movement towards my end from the “Total State Monopoly” extreme. That’s why I support school choice, frex. This doesn’t deny that less ideological people may agree with me for perfectly practical reasons. The local school choice plan in our state would never have passed without one legislative champion who is a traditional lefty Democrat on just about every other issue. Her disgust with the rotten educations that poor, minority children were being provided by the state monopoly convinced her to give a market-oriented reform a try. One hoped that the success of said reform would get her thinking about similar reliance on the market in other areas. Alas, we hoped in vain.

    I resist the progressive impulse to provide various services through governmental, not private, structures, because I think such reliance on government damages the character of a free people, and would continue to do so even if I thought the government agencies actually provided supposed benefits that private ones do not. Sometimes a feature is actually a bug.

    LeftStream:

    I’m surprised that my opponents haven’t twigged to my perhaps inartful use of sarcasm when I wrote … noble, good and true folks who base politics on moral norms, like me, and stinking, evil, pragmatic Utilitarians. That ought to teach me to skip the emoticons. 🙂 Some may disbelieve my demurral, and suspect me of ass-covering and backpedaling. So be it.

    No, I don’t think all utilitarians are evil. If there were a Hell, I wouldn’t expect J.S. Mill to be suffering there. (Godwin and Nixon, on the other hand…. And Jeremy Bentham did dream up the panopticon….) But even Bentham once said It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual. And I don’t mind a consequentialist argument to convince someone who doesn’t share my philosophical roots to back a public policy position that I favor. Heck, Mises was fond of arguments from utility. But this is still true:

    Reality check: not everybody is a utilitarian, and pulling the U card doesn’t automatically win arguments. Who gets to decide what’s for the “greater good” in centralized, non-voluntary systems is only one stumbling block.

    Pragmatists often depend on the planted assumption of greater utility to try to win arguments, and I’m not willing to let them get away with that magic trick.

    Kevin

  87. Rob…the utilitarianism dig was a joke. Though I appreciate your edification on a mindset I know little of. I’m a scout leader for my oldest son’s den – fourth graders as well. “Right tool” is appropo.

    kevrob…I haven’t skipped you posts at all. And I’ve been delighted by our shared enthusiasm for volunteerism, firefighters et al. You’ve been a refreshing read compared to randian’s rather snarling approach. Takes all kinds, I guess.

    I, too, see “Public/private partnership is a continuum,” though I’m not so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Once a solution has proved itself in the marketplace – like public libraries and municipal fire department – I don’t see value in willy nilly chucking it for solely idealogical reasons.

    You wisely point out, “From a libertarian viewpoint, the burden of proof…is on those proposing such action.”

    Well said and bravo. But ours is not a libertarian world. To change minds and changes others way of life “the burden of proof…also, is on those proposing such action.”

    A currently popular liberal comic (whose name escapes me) imparted a valuable piece of advice he was given by a fellow comic after he was almost attacked by a conservative audience when he slammed Bush. It went something like this: “Dude…you’ve got to walk them to the edge. If you do it right, they’ll follow you.”

    I have been a real jerk…in life and on this board, I’m ashamed to say. But I am trying to change. I am trying to be better at walking folks to the edge. I applaud you for doing same.

    You also make some good points about how we got here. We could go round and round all day and we would likely agree more often than not.

    In any case, this thread has been a unique delight. Hope we do it agian sometime after we’ve moved past this one.

  88. Thanks, madpad.

    Herewith, some practical objections to governments owning and operating public libraries.

    1.) Cost. In the city where I live the libraries keep cutting hours. The complaint is that the city is strapped for cash. A private alternative would not necessarily be as heavily staffed by full-time, unionized employees with civil service protections and the usual suite of expensive fringe benefits. Construction and repair of facilities are expensive, too, as they have to conform to the local equivalent of the federal Davis-Bacon Act, or to that same law if they receive federal funds. There is also duplication of services, as sites that could be closed to save money often are kept open in order to satisfy political factions.

    2.) Security. The public libraries have frequent problems with loitering and abuse of facilities. Anyone remember that case in Morristown, NJ where public library had to write rules to keep a fellow who eschewed bathing from bothering other patrons with his odors and other attentions? He made a federal case out of it, even if he eventually lost. A private library wouldn’t have had half the trouble enforcing its rules.

    3.) Independence. If the taxpayers aren’t paying for a library, it isn’t subject to censorship via public, often budgetary, pressure. It will have to deal with the same from its own donors, but if a group is so displeased with how the place is run, they can start their own operation.

    4.) Unfair competition. Why should I pay taxes so the local library can lend DVDs and VHS tapes that local video stores stock? They are having enough trouble competing with Netflix and downloaded video as it is. Educational and specialty items that the stores don’t carry make some kind of sense, but why carry general entertainment videos any well-stocked rental store has? I frequently see patrons checking out stacks of videos and CDs, often to the exclusion of books, that nobody could watch or listen to before they were due back. Perhaps there is some illicit copying going on? The U.S. doesn’t have “public lending right” for books or other items, as the U.K. does, so the author doesn’t make even a nickel when a patron borrows something he produced.

    Early in the 20th century there were many private reading rooms that lent popular new books for a fee, often set up by booksellers. Libraries in those days avoided most new fiction, preferring to stock the classics. Our town’s major independent bookstore started as a lending library tucked into the corner of a hair salon, back in 1927. Once the libraries got into the game of lending hot new books, the private option was rendered uneconomic. Of course, now libraries here charge a fee to borrow bestsellers, erasing any pretense of disdain for filthy commerce.

    5.) Unintended consequences. People use the children’s room at the library as an impromptu daycare center, dumping their kids on the librarians while they go shopping or run errands. Street people camp out in the reading areas, monopolizing the resources for hours. Free time on computers with internet access is used for frivolous purposes. Months ago my hard drive was knocked out, and I had to check my email at the local library. Some patrons were using the computer stations for research, job hunting, resume writing – just what you’d expect they would be doing. Others were gambling online, playing games, or looking at pictures of Cute Naked Humans -or nearly naked ones – all without any privacy screens set up. Not exactly what the voters had in mind, I expect. At least they had a second bank of workstations in the kids’ room, presumably with blocks on sites their parents would object to. The equipment was better than I ever saw at the cyber-cafe I used to frequent before I bought my own machine, the software was the latest, and the internet connection faster than I can afford. Said cafe has since closed, sadly. The library is a nice backstop when your PC crashes, but they don’t have bagels and green tea.

    None of that behavior would be tolerated at the libraries owned by my (private) alma mater. Theoretically, a private library could set its rules for patrons as strict or as loose as its ownership pleased. A government body is precluded from setting some rules that might be considered Bill of Rights violations. I agree that they have to respect the BoR, but that does make it harder to control a facility.

    Kevin

  89. madpad =

    B. Asserting that in all cases using public money robs taxed indviduals of liberty and freedom is a bit hystrionic.

    It is. But its also just a flawed, shotgun approach because it doesnt start with the case in question, and consider the various reasons for why it evolved from private to public in the first place.

    JG

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