Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ideas Are Scary Things

Y'know, when the Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, I hated that there even WAS still such an abomination as that group in existence. But I believed that aside from them having the constitutional right to demonstrate, it was also the right thing to do if you're someone who opposes their brand of ignorance. The way to defeat evil is to bring it out from under its rock and let the light of truth get to it. I believed, and still do, that the hearts and minds of good men and women can see right through such hatred, and will reject it.

And when there was an effort in the 40s and 50s to ferret out the Communists in our society and silence them, that was simply wrong. There's probably no one in this country more anti-Communist than I am (they are, after all, possessed of one of the few mindsets that can actually be said to have caused the deaths of far more people than even the monstrous Third Reich), but again, I believe that the better angels of our nature will turn away from the Maos and Castros and Pol Pots of the world when we actually come face to face with their evil.

Y'see, folks, more than just about anything in the world, I believe in free speech. And no, I don't mean just the God-given right to speak ones mind; that's self-evident. No, I'm also talking about the belief that your own opinions have enough weight, substance, and truth to them that you have NO NEED to suppress the thoughts and ideas of your opponents.

I mention all this so that you have some context to the anecdote I'm about to relate.

Tonight I stopped in to our local Barnes and Noble bookstore to browse. While I was there, I walked by a display right up at the front of the store (in front of the info desk) marked "In the News." Ah, I thought, this sounds good. I'm all about topical issues and such. Let's see what they've got.

Well, gang, it's amazing what's in the news these days. There were approximately 45 non-fiction books on top of the table. They included books on how evil and/or incompetent George Bush is, why the war has been such a mistake and was tremendously mishandled, how capitalism is a bad idea, why man-made global warming is a FACT and anyone who says otherwise is either an idiot or a liar paid by corporations, why Barack Obama is the only choice for our next president, why the U.S. is more evil because of Abu Ghrab than islamic extremist are for beheading innocent people, and on and on.

Amazingly, almost everything in the news these days fits one political viewpoint! Imagine!

Of the books on the table, only three had any viewpoint that was not far left of center. One was by George Will. One was a biography of Ronald Reagan (although that was one of the few books on the table I haven't read any part of, so I guess it MIGHT have been critical of Reagan). The last one was a biography of Barry Goldwater (I assume that one was probably positive, as it was co-written by his son, although I guess if I made that same assumption about Mommy Dearest I'd be wrong).

Amazing. Out of 45 books on current politics, only three did not necessarily support a stereotypical liberal viewpoint. Wow, what are the odds, especially given the fact that according to the last couple of presidential elections and just about every poll taken in the last twenty years, this country is divided about 50/50 on almost every major issue.

Was this display a Barnes and Noble corporate decision? I assume not, since they DO carry books with dissenting opinions, and many of them sell VERY WELL. No, the judgment call to set up the display this way was obviously made by one (or maybe a few) of their employees.

So given everything I've said above, how little faith do you have to have in the strength of your beliefs that you are not willing to give the other viewpoints equal time? If, for example, man-made global warming is so obvious and "the debate is over" as Al Gore says, what's the harm in having even ONE book (out of the dozens and dozens in existence) that says the contrary right there alongside the half dozen that claim man-made global warming is a given?

And if you're someone who's reading this and you have the same beliefs as the authors of those 42 books on the table (and I probably agree with some of them, too), how do you feel when you read about something like this? Does it make you happy that folks who believe as you do are willing to stoop to things like this? Or does it make you as incensed as me? And if you had walked by that display tonight like I did, would you have even noticed the imbalance of opinions?

And if you do think it's ok, since it supports your views, ask yourself how you'd feel if it didn't. For example, what if you walked into a Walden Books or a Chapters and you saw a display that said "Opinions on Religion," and when you took a closer look, you realized that almost every book was about how Christianity is the only "correct" religion. Nothing there about Judaism, Islam, Wicca, agnosticism, atheism, nothing. Just "Jesus is the only way TO think" and that's it. You have a problem with that? I sure as hell would.

Ideas that have merit can stand or fall on their own. They should be given that chance, whatever they are. Only cowards need to literally or figuratively shout down their opponents, whether it's people trying to get "The Last Temptation of Christ" taken out of theaters, or college students not allowing a guest speaker to be heard.

Shame on them.


Snorii said...

Don't listen to Troy, his ideas are wrong.

NuclearToast said...

This is why I don't get involved in politics. Then I don't have to think about it when people (such as Troy) bring up meaningful-sounding issues like this.

DerekL said...

And that's the thing Troy - despite supposedly eliminating bias etc. from our society, the reality is much different... Hundreds of random biases have been replaced by a handful of 'approved' ones.

Matt said...

Honestly, you can't really hold a grudge against Barnes and Noble. Liberal views overpopulate network news, and not to make assumptions, but I'd bet you money that most of the Barnes and Noble demographic are liberal. Factor in the fact that Bush has one of the highest disapproval ratings of any American president, and it makes a lot more sense to advertise books bashing Bush, than praising him.

What this comes down to is not a matter of free speech, but a matter of business. Barnes and Noble is targeting their displays at their audience. Sadly, in todays world, people do not want to hear the opinion of others. They want to be assured of their own.


DerekL said...

The 'Barnes and Noble' demographic? That's reaching a bit in order to create a strawman dichotomy.

Troy Hickman said...

I see what you're saying Matt, but I don't think it holds water. If you look at non-fiction book sales, stuff with a non-liberal viewpoint does VERY well (including at Barnes and Noble, which DOES carry those books; they just don't make it as easy for the public to FIND 'em). If it were purely a bottom-line decision from a capitalist point of view (and wouldn't THAT be great?), they'd feature them prominently (and in doing so would increase their customer base beyond the liberal demographic you say they have).

As I said, though, I absolutely DON'T think this is a B&N corporate decision, as I DO believe what they're most interested in is making money. This was a decision by someone, or a small group of someones, at my local store.

And yeah, it's probably equally true in B&N's nation-wide. That doesn't mean I'm saying it's some kind of conspiracy or something, though. As with so much of this stuff, it's not that folks get together in a secret cabal and discuss strategy. It's just that they do it individually all over the place, which ends up having a cumulative, but non-organized, effect.

And it's not even as bad here as it could be. You should see what some of the displays I've seen at bookstores in Canada look like; you'd swear that every author in the world must have the same monolithic view on EVERTHING.

Rip Ford said...

If they were making marketing decisions based on approval ratings, it would make more sense to have a display bashing the liberal POV. You see, as low as Bush's approval ratings are, the Democrat-controlled Congress has even lower ratings. In fact, they are close to hitting single digits which would be a record.

This is undoubtedly a result of political bias of some of the people working in the store. I'm not sure it's a bad thing though. As long as the store still carries a decent selection of books by and for the opposition, I think I'd rather have the bias out in the open where I can see it than have it hidden away

Troy Hickman said...

I was going to make that point about Congress, Rip. The last poll I saw gave them only a 7% approval rating, actually.

Tiehg said...

This is just another form of "bad Capitalism"! The Liberals have taken over your colledge town. People don't read much down here in Kentucky and further into the bible belt. You'll find a better selection of books on Bush and the Christian Faith side by side here, budy.
No wind farms down here!