Imagine a town called Learnerville.
In Learnerville, there is a building. All windows are boarded up and all doors are locked. The building is guarded by armed agents. Inside there are copies of all of Learnerville’s world books. Inside these books, just like in our own reality, there is knowledge. No one is allowed to enter the building, and technically no one in Learnerville is allowed to produce, own, read, or trade books.
The situation is not so bad. The books aren’t that complicated to make, and they’re pretty easy to hide and smuggle. So many Learnervillians still own and enjoy the books. Some will even say that certain books are ubiquitous despite being banned… certainly not all books. Others are nearly impossible to find, and many that can be found are only accessible at extreme cost.
Consequently, the same legal authorities that patrol the building have made aggressive efforts to prevent the production and distribution of books. Vehicles, firearms, a wide variety of gear and armor are all regularly deployed to search, confiscate and eradicate books. Those who produce, own, read or share books are often judged and punished.
Throughout Learnerville live a wide variety of people. Different Learnervillians like books to different degrees, and some residents prefer certain books over others. Some are immensely happy and successful despite their limited access to books. Other Learnervillians struggle earnestly and endure lifetimes of significant hardship and suffering.
In Learnerville, there is a well-known and well-understood relationship between some of the books locked away and some of the struggles endured. Knowledge works like magic, but perhaps slowly and indirectly. Some books can ease pain while others can cure illnesses. Certain books can inspire motivation and passion in the apathetic. Some books can even transport the reader to seemingly alternate realities filled with indescribable fantasy. Therefore, many of the problems the Learner-villians endure can be entirely solved, and others at least a little ameliorated… if only the Learners could study and glean the knowledge contained in certain books.
The saddest and most gruesome feature of this story is that most Learnervillians are complicit in their constriction.
I’m grateful to live in a relatively free society far from Learnerville, where the default reaction to book bans is disgust. From Zamayatin to Orwell to Huxley and many others since and in between, the prohibition and regulation of knowledge, human communication and free expression are seen as the archetypal hallmark of dystopia.
This consensus on book banning, guarded behavior, and controlled speech holds despite a similar common understanding that not all books are good. Many books contain horrible ideas. In the wrong hands, many can be dangerous. And yet, most reasonable people today recognize and fully accept the obvious truism that the overall effects of books are positive. Books should not be banned! Not because they are risk-free, but because their potential benefits obviously outweigh their potential costs.