Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘intellectual freedom

I consider myself a fairly open-minded individual. So, when some close-minded asshat decides to accuse me of not being open-minded because I won’t accept his/her baseless claims of sky fairies, creationism, right winger politics, etc. I do find it irritating. You less than bright folks need to figure out that being open-minded means being willing to consider new ideas. It does not mean I have to buy your (often bad) ideas wholeheartedly, nor does it mean acceptance. Once your idea is found wanting, it can be rejected after said consideration. So, in other words, learn some logic.

This video does an excellent job in explaining that, much more eloquently than I could. It needs to be shared with a lot more people, especially those who really need to be watching it.

I wrote a draft previously on this topic here, but as Zuckerberg (Facebook's head honcho) keeps baiting and switching his users, I find there is more to say and consider. This is mostly a small list of items I have been reading recently on the topic that I found interesting and/or relevant. I know this is something that, as a librarian, I need to be concerned about and that I should write about more if for not other reason than to clarify my thoughts and help educated my students. As before, I am not sure what direction to take for more substantial writing. There are a couple of angles or perspectives I want to explore that may be too big for one blog post, but I don't necessarily feel like doing a series. In the meantime, here is the list:

I have a few more clips saved, and I may add some of them here, but this certainly provides a good start.

And the updates start:

  • (Update note: Same day): T. Scott reminds us of the old adage that you don't put something online you do not want to see in the front page of the NYT.  Certainly some good, rational thinking here, but I still think along with a few others that FB is pulling a bait and switch. And while for many people, the option to disconnect is there, I would look back at boyd's piece on FB as utility, meaning it may not be as easy to leave. This is specially so for libraries and other institutions who have made their presences in FB and other social services. Yes, we can have the discussion of "well, maybe they should have not done that," but that train left the station long ago, helped along by a lot of librarians advocating libraries do just that. Still, T. Scott's post is a must-read for the discussion. 
  • (Update note: Same day): And the Krafty Librarian replies to T.Scott above. It may be early to predict, but it is looking like my professional brethren are going with the "it's convenient, so you have to give up your privacy" line of reasoning coupled with the "it's your responsibility in the end." Some of which is true, but then makes it easy to let the big corporate honchos who are abusing our sense of privacy and security off the hook.

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Since Mark Zuckerberg made his infamous remark that privacy is "no longer a social norm," I have wanted to smack him. Seriously, what I have wanted to do is write some kind of post to educate my students on privacy issues online and to warn them that maybe they should not be listening to a guy whose only interest is really his pocketbook. In time, I would like to turn this draft into a longer post, but for now, I am parking some links I think may be useful later. Personally, I am very concerned about my privacy. In the interest of disclosure, I do use Facebook, both personally and for work (I maintain my library's FB page), and I do use all the privacy options available to me there, in spite of Mr. Zuckerberg's persistent tricky changes to get us to loosen up on our privacy options.

I am not sure where I am going with this draft yet, though I know that in addition to discussing some of these things for my students, I would probably add links to things like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that provide good information on online privacy. By the way, realized that International Privacy Day is next week on January 28th. I knew there was a reason I had ordered those materials on privacy from ALA recently. I have my work cut out for me.

Update Note (1/28/10): Here is the post on Privacy Day I wrote for the the library's blog. I did incorporate some of the ideas I was considering in this draft. Looking down the road, I would like to see if we can plan our own set of events for Privacy Day in my campus. This would be for next year. Also, May has Privacy Week (another event). I already have some materials for that, and I doing some planning at the moment for a possible program. Writing the post for Privacy Day now for the library blog served as a way to test the waters, so to speak. I am looking forward to seeing if the posts gets any responses or comments.


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Our big event in September at my workplace was the Banned Books Readout, part of our celebration of Banned Books Week. We have been doing it for seven years, and this would have been my third year doing it. We, namely me, made the decision to cancel the event. And no, it was not due to some picket or protest. In our case it was a combination of certain workplace "politics," which I would rather not discuss now, and a serious case of campus apathy where we just could not get enough readers to read.

At any rate, it pained me to make the decision, but given the lack of interest, I had no choice. What I would like to do now with this post is collect a series of links related to Banned Books Week. This is mostly for reference purposes. We, again namely me, put up a small book display related to Banned Books Week; I will be taking a photo of it for my Flickr at some point.

The links:

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I do know by now that trying to discuss anything with anyone who is tied to a certain belief system, and likely fundamentalist, is pretty much a waste of time. They are not going to change their minds no matter what facts and evidence you present, and more often than not, you end up upset. And yet, to be perfectly honest there are moments when you just have to confront, or at least say something, to people who pretty much espouse evil. Allow me to expand a little on the matter.

In some other social network that I use, a friend of mine posted a link to the recent story that President Obama was going to sign the United Nations' gay rights document. It is a good step, but as we all know, a lot of people would not agree with the notion of gay marriage. My friend ended up getting a long comment stream, which basically became a fiery debate on the issue of gay marriage. I am saying "fiery," but it was more like some people with certain religious values who feel they can pretty much repress anyone else who does not agree with them. I did say my peace, so to speak at one point, but at times I wonder if one is better off not saying anything.

Then I came across this story as I was doing my feeds scan. AmericaBlog pointed to a story about an Anglican bishop in Nigeria who is advocating prison terms for gay people (among other not so nice measures). If you follow the link, you can find the actual document from the bishop. The interesting for me is, if you replace "Africa" and "Nigeria" in the right places with "United States" and "America(n)," it could read like the screed of any fundamentalist, right winger in the United States. But what made me think was what John Aravosis wrote in his post for AmericaBlog,

"At some point, the leadership of the normal wing of the Anglican church had better wake up and realize that by appeasing evil, and bigotry, and hate, they are no better. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he didn't say to stand idly, repeatedly giving your blessing to the evil in your midst. The leaders of the progressive wing of the Anglican church have enabled this nut from Nigeria, and now his hate and bigotry, his evil, is theirs."

At some point, the "normal" people of this nation (and most other nations) better be waking up to the evil in their midst. Bigotry and discrimination, whether justified by politics or religion, are evils, and as such do need to be fought and confronted. For me, this tends to guide my thinking: "
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." By the way, a lot of people attribute the quote to Edmund Burke, but it is not found in his works; it is likely a paraphrase, albeit a good one. When one of the other commenters in my friend's post was all about taking away rights of gay people because his religious views said it was fine, it irked me to say the least. When he pulls the classic rhetoric of "it's not in the Constitution," well, I just want to laugh because at that point I just know the guy is not doing his homework, let alone read not only the Constitution but also other very relevant documents and history as well. Personally, to me, it is a matter of basic human rights and one of common decency. There is a reason there is a separation of church and state, and unlike that fellow's "it's a liberal myth" view (the church-state separation), the reality is that it is there precisely to protect everyone, the majority and the minority. If one takes the time to read the works of the writers of the Constitution, reading past the First Amendment (basis for the idea of separation), one sees that they did indeed intend for said separation. For example:

  • Thomas Jefferson, working on the then new Virginia Constitution, around the same time the U.S. one was getting done: "All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution": freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion." Ooh, did I just see that "freedom from religion" idea that certain person denied existed?
  • Jefferson, further writing in his "Notes on the State of Virginia:" "The legitimate powers of government," he wrote, "extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
  • Jefferson writing to his nephew Peter Carr, in 1787: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear" This may be worth reading in full.
  • A little something on the dangers of the majority oppressing the minority, here is James Madison writing to Thomas Jefferson in a letter of October 1788 as they were working on the Constitution: "Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents."
  • John Adams spoke of equality (granted, it was mostly for white landowners, but we have, thankfully, moved on the broaden the definition of equality) writing to a Dr. Price: "We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society."
  • And this one is pretty clear. It comes from Isaac Backus, "An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty," 1773: "Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state not because they are beneath the interests of the state, but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state."

I could go on with this for longer, but I think we can safely show that the Founding Fathers did intend for there to be a separation of church and state. They just figured that people would be smart enough to know it from things like that First Amendment. When some less well read people say, "we don't know what they intended," a little reading counters that right away. And that is just one example.

So why does this even make me wonder? Well besides the fact that I have no tolerance for bigots who use their beliefs to justify all sorts of atrocious behavior, being a librarian means I am an educator. And I am someone who takes the role of educating others seriously. Quotes like the one found in Boston's Public Library,


Maybe I am wondering due to my recent readings on library neutrality. Or maybe sometimes people of reason do have to say something. Sure, people may hold different opinions, and they have the right to express them. But at the end of the day, when they try to pass their opinion as facts, and they try to use them justify their bigotry, then that has to be confronted. If you tolerate it and accomodate it, it is just going along with something that is wrong. It is easy to simply go along on the false logic that, if you go along now, they may be nice to you next time. The hard act, and the just one, is to speak up and shoot down the bigotry.

Anyhow, food for thought.

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I often describe myself as someone with a "live and let live" attitude. If there is something I can't tolerate it is oppressive and pushy people who think their rights, and only their rights and views, are the only valid ones and are more than happy to trample on everybody else. I am looking at a lot of you religious fundamentalist nuts out there and their enabling brethren for example. I honestly do not care what it is you practice or preach as long as you keep it to yourself and don't try to convert me, or worse, to give up my rights and freedoms because your big fairy in the sky tells you to. Guess what? I don't have a big fairy in the sky telling me to do it, so please, keep it to yourself. I will be happy to mind my own business in the meantime. Is it really that hard to respect the rights of others and get others to respect mine? I don't have all the answers, but J.D. Tucille considers it in his post on "you respect my rights and I will respect yours." From the post:

"It comes down to the same thing: When liberty is under attack, everybody is at risk. But that's not what the politicians and inspectors and tax collectors and police officers say, of course. No, they're all too happy to tell you that the queers next door are a threat to your way of life, or that the gun nuts are a public danger, or that the tax dodgers are greedy and not doing their fair share, or the store keepers are running amuck without entangling red tape, or that the pot heads are lazy parasites who will corrupt your kids.

But once the politicians and inspectors and tax collectors and police officers are done with the queers, they'll happily shift their sights to the gun nuts, then to the tax dodgers, the store keepers, and then the pot heads, and …

Where were you planning to hide? Forget about it. Because you're some kind of menace, too, and you'll be fresh out of allies if you don't realize that the freedom of people you don't care very much about is just as important as your own."

This is what a lot of people do not get, and it is the reason that I believe quite firmly in defending the rights of others. Because in the long run, if you do not, when the oppressors come after me, there will be no one left to help defend me. In a way, it is a matter of self-interest to me. You help me out, and I will help you out. And I may not agree with a lot of stuff, but I do agree with their right to express it (again, as long as you are not trying to impose it on me, go wild). At one point, my father and I were talking, and he wondered out loud how come his boys turned away from the religion they were raised with. For the record, I was raised Roman Catholic, and I am no longer practicing. In fact, I am happily going along as a spiritual but not religious person. He was fairly mellow, saying he was not going to ask me why, that it was my thing, but it made me think. And at the end of the day, this is certainly one of the issues that convinced me to get away from religion and seek my own path: that more often than not religion is more interested in suppressing the rights of others in order to carry out whatever their agenda is; in extreme cases, they do things like what the Catholic Church recently did in Brazil in relation to a young 9 year old girl getting raped. Pharyngula has been following the story, and I have to say, it is definitely a fine illustration of what I have been saying. What they don't get is that they will be a threat to someone as well down the road, and then who will they be allied with when the oppressors come around for them?

Just one of the things I keep in mind now and then. 

Oh, and by the way, that Examiner site where the article comes from looks interesting. I may have to take a look around.

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Graphic novels is one of the formats I enjoy reading. I read manga, comics, graphic novels, etc. I happen to think that we could be providing some examples of the genre to our college students in the library both for recreation as well as for academic interest. These are links to some items I have seen on the topic, mostly about how to justify such a collection.

I may be adding items to this post as I find them.

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May 2020


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