Wednesday, June 15, 2005

top ten dumbest top ten lists

Ok, there are really only two lists. It’s been kicking around the sphere for awhile now, but the truly silliest thing I’ve seen in a long time was this list of the top ten most harmful books of all time, put out by Human Events, a conservative newsweekly. It’s not so much that books by Nietzsche and Keynes, as well as the Kinsey Report made the list, or that books by Freud, Darwin, or Mill were runners up. That is certainly silly. But it is the concept itself that is inane. Labeling books as “harmful” is always the first precursor to banning or burning them, with the attendant stifling of independent thought and muffling of free exchange of ideas. What good does putting Mao’s Little Red Book on the list do? How many card-carrying liberals have ever read the thing, or would believe a word of it if they did? I doubt many hippies read it even when they were foolishly waving it around in the ‘60s. The book was symbolic of the communist movement under the tyranny of Mao, which turned out to be one of the worst things to ever befall the long-suffering Chinese people. Do we really need to be told that Mao was a bad guy? Putting the book on the list is also symbolic—it expresses the message: “I’m an idiot.”

That is why I was dismayed to see the normally sensible Kevin Drum formulate a list of his own. Um, dude, the point is not to show that we on the left can be just as closed-minded as conservatives. Hayek’s works may have been used to stymie social programs, but his formulation of the idea that the private market is the most efficient mechanism for communicating information is widely accepted on the left and the right, and was born out by the abject failure of communism. Milton Friedman won the Nobel prize ... putting him on the list is just as silly as putting Keynes on the Human Events list. All Kevin manages to communicate with this list is that he doesn’t like libertarians, racists, or religious extremists. That’s great. At least he managed to resist putting the Bible or the Koran on the list.

Upon seeing the first silly list, I promptly ordered Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” and the “Will to Power” from Amazon. I think now I will get Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” and Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” If everyone read one book a year they disagreed with, the world would be a much better place. Human Events and Washington Monthly, you have inspired me.

4 comments:

you girlfriend said...

do you think there is such a thing as a dangerous book? i think there's a huge, HUGE, gulf between a book that one disagrees with and a book that inflicts a violence--be it a moral, cultural, or political one. maybe both of these lists are silly, but i don't think the concept is entirely. after all, if you don't believe that some ideas stand against everything you believe in, then you believe in nothing passionately. and what is the point of life without that?

Yave said...

I think you miss my point. If you've gotten the impression that I believe in nothing passionately, I must not be conveying very well what's on my mind on this blog.
I'd be fine with a list of harmful books that included Mein Kampf, the Learned Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the KKK book, maybe a few others. But what would be the point of such a list? Who but racists and anti-Semites would disagree that the ideas in those books are harmful? Would you advocate banning the books I listed? I'd say then that the cure is worse than the disease.
The point is that most of the other books on either list, from what I know of them, fall somewhere in the middle ground of acceptable political and social discourse. When you start to cordone off positions that are part of this middle ground, you begin to restrict the freedom to discuss controversial ideas, and by doing so you limit the scope of permissible change. Would I restrict Human Events' right to publish their list of dangerous books? Of course not. Would they restrict my right to read Mein Kampf, if they could? Maybe, and that's what I find troubling.

Michael V. said...

Okay, I agree that these lists are silly and dumb. In fact I would argue that some of the books on the list were beneficial for our society. I am against censorship in general, however I think that there is a definite need for some level of censorship. For example, I recall you mentioning several weeks ago that while watching Sin City that you saw a child with their parents. You continued on that it was not a movie for children. I totally agree that it is not. Although it is a great movie, it's just not appropriate for a mind not mature enough to handle it. My point is that I believe that a rating system for such things as movies, television, video games, magazines and even books is appropriate. We currently have a rating system for video games and movies, but I know of no such rating system for the others. I do not in anyway want to take away any person's right to view material in any of these mediums, but I don't think certain subjects are appropriate for children until they mature enough.

So my question to you is this -- Is it the parents duty to censor material for their children that are not yet ready, or the school's or government's duty? I believe much like Hilary Clinton on this where in her book "It Takes a Village" she makes that point that not only is the parent raising your child, but teachers, church leaders, media and so on are as well... hence it takes a village. I think that if we leave it to the parents alone that it won't happen effectively in some cases. Am I way off on this? Do you think that any form of censorship is wrong?

caos27 said...

This concept of these lists is a silly one. I frown on censorship in any form. It worries me. I agree with Dave about how we would all be better people and the world would be better if we all read or watched something we disagreed with at least once a year.