— When do you stop taking them seriously? It's been a few years for me now. Same with breakthroughs, flashes of insight, and the like. I remember when I would have a little breakthrough, and become very excited, as if this, this new insight, completes me. Now I know. Everything's different now. It all makes sense. I am whole.
When I was in college, all my short stories were about a sensitive, intellectual college guy ending in an epiphany. I remember one–it was called “The Conceptual Analysis of the Term 'Love'”–in which a young man, much like myself, ends up wandering through an old college hall in the process of being remodeled, and has an epiphany while sitting at an old fashioned wooden desk watching asbestos motes in a sunbeam. The epiphany was, what? I don't remember. It had to do with love. Or rather 'love'. I think he runs back to his estranged girlfriend and tells her that he “blorgs” her.
Of course it's all bullshit. Either I was wrong about the ultimate nature of myself and my relationship to the universe, or I wasn't, in which case I made some marginal adjustments and everything was otherwise the same. Why am I talking about this? Well, I just noticed that I never had an epiphany about the basic uselessness of epiphanies. I seem to have just given them up. I suppose its like infatuation. It hits you, but you stop being fooled by it. You just accept it, like indigestion, or enjoy it, like a good movie-musical, knowing it to be orthogonal to your deeper concerns.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

43 thoughts

  1. Book banning seems to only increase the attraction to reading a particular book, so with that in mind I’d ban books that I would want my society to read …
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Catcher in the Rye
    Farenheit 451
    Animal Farm
    Watership Down
    Slaughterhouse Five
    Time enough for Love
    Ender’s Game

  2. Here are some books I’ve read* (or partially read**) and wish I’d never encountered***:
    The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown*
    Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand*
    Liberal Fascism – Jonah Goldberg**
    Quantum Healing – Deepak Chopra**
    Dianetics – L. Ron Hubbard**
    Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole**
    I’m pretty good at forgetting even the books I deeply enjoyed, so this is a really hard exercise. I think I’ll leave it there.
    *** This criterion excludes arguably far more bannable books, e.g., the Left Behind series, Lyndon Larouche’s So, You Wish to Learn All About Economics, Robert James Waller’s Bridges of Madison County, the Bible or the Koran (these last two being actually fascinating to read, given the way history’s panned out), and on and on.

  3. Battlefield Earth? What do you have against pulpy science fiction novels?
    I’d ban books that I think are plausibly dangerous. Turner Diaries and the Anarchist Cookbook. I think there is at least a weak case for the banning of those books, but a case at the very least. Banning books which contain ideas you think are stupid or you simply don’t agree with is silly; I believe John Stuart Mill on that one at least. Books which actively encourage hatred, revolution and violence; I think there is a much better case for banning those.

  4. I agree with redhairing: the effects are radically different depending on whether you are banning from a local library or generally.
    For a local ban: no strong preference.
    For a general ban: Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near.”

  5. Man what is with all the books i like being banned by people? I must have terrible taste. Battlefield Earth, The Singularity is Near, Atlas Shrugged…

  6. I would ban everything ever written by Naomi Klein, Ayn Rand, John Kerry, Francis Fukuyama, Brad de Long, and John McCain. I’d also ban the Book of Mormon.
    Then I’d start hunting down your readers, one IP address at a time….

  7. The DaVinci code. Anyone with a copy would be compelled to read Foucault’s Pendulum.
    Any book titled” Chicken Soup for the xxx Soul”
    Disaster Capitalism-not because I believe that lefty ideas should be suppressed, but because thinking that sloppy should.

  8. I hate counterfactual resistance. I’ll ask my students whether they’d bomb an Afghan village and kill 10,000 innocent people to catch bin Laden. They’ll reply, “I’d use a sniper.”

  9. I would expect the Bible, self-help books and those with a political slant to feature prominently in these comments, but I’d go another way. Textbooks might be popular too, depending on the demographic. However, I see this in a different way.
    I suspect that banning certain types of books would cause the authors to try to spread their ideas through other forms of media, especially at a grassroots level. People would hope to consume more of those ideas (see: the Prohibition). It would also discount the value of unbanned books, because they would be seen as tame or uninspiring. Thus, I would ban books whose ideas I hope would become populist: science and classical liberalism.

  10. Deepak Chopra and similar. I have never read his stuff, but my sense is that he’s the reason credulous people keep telling me that this-or-that is similar to quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, or whatever. Also, I would like to see disappear from this earth all books that make claims about the percentage of communication that is nonverbal (more than 90%, etc.) or the percentage of our brains that we use (less than 10%, etc.).

    1. You’re onto something. I’ll add “The Secret”, “Men are from Mars…”, etc. The self-help genre can probably stay but anything based on some sort of ridiculous spirituality or reductionist sexuality is out.

  11. Certainly if I were going to ban books I’d go right ahead and become a petty aesthetic tyrant. I’ve never cared for Anne Tyler. Right behind would be chick lit (Devil Wears Prada, etc) and anything marketed as “young adult”—grow up already and deal with some real prose.
    Then I would set my sights on general woo: The Secret, Chopra, The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Bad pop nonfiction like Louise Brizendine’s The Female Brain and anything by Naomi Klein.
    Oh, and Crime and Punishment. One of my all-time most-hated. “Without God anything is permitted” my a**.

  12. I will defend the right to read bad science fiction to my dying day! (If bad science fiction is banned, only space opera villains will have bad science fiction?)
    I could not but help going after books I feel actually harm the world, either through misinformation that causes people to harm themselves, or by subtracting intelligence from the universe.
    Kevin Trudeau books, and similar completely bogus health books that encourage you to eschew modern medicine and engage in witch doctory instead.
    Naomi Klein and her ilk, who simply lie to support a pre-envisioned dystopian world view that they then want us to act on. Like with Kevin Trudeau books, following their prescriptions for a better world would lead to harm, except in their case, harm on a global scale.
    The IQ of the universe was at least two points higher before Ms. Klein arrived on the scene…

  13. Curious — pretend the instruction was, “Write something offensive.” And you added that beginning philosophy students always refused to write something offensive, but that just showed that they didn’t know how to play ball. Would it then be morally acceptable to write offensive things?

  14. Don Quixote and anything by P.G Wodehouse – how many potential writers have discouraged by the brilliance of these works!

  15. Everything by Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Martin Heidegger, Betty Friedan, Herbert Marcuse, Howard Zinn, and Edward Said.
    Every book with the word “afrocentric” in it’s title that isn’t immediately followed by the word “bullshit”.

  16. I can’t believe no one has mentioned Keynes’ General Theory book. I’d ban that one. Also, I would be on board with banning any book advocating socialism, or any other form of collectivism.

  17. “People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn
    Of course I haven’t read it, but I find those that have extremely annoying.

  18. Where to start, where to start? Ayn Rand, Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Dinesh D’Souza, Lenin, most self-help books, Sophie’s World, anything pop-Buddhist, anything of the Tom Clancy/John Grisham/Sydney Sheldon genre and much much more!
    This has revealed an authoritarian streak in me.

  19. If I had to ban books, I would make up a few authors and titles of books I would WANT written then simply say they were banned. Good Grief, what a conspiracy! People would look everywhere and not find those titles anywhere–how effective was I at banning those books! I would imagine that real authors would write similar books just to cash in on the resulting clamor.
    Golly, this sounds like a great business plan…

  20. I would ban books that are largely inoffensive and very popular. I would do this to spur resistance to the idea of banning books. However, that probably violates your supposition that I favor book-banning.
    But then, I think the “lame” resistance to counterfactuals is not lame at all. It’s usually the counterfactuals that are lame. If you find it annoying that some people don’t respond according to your preferences, then find a different technique.

  21. The Bible, Torah, Koran, and every other book that people use to teach children that there is, as George Carlin put it:
    “an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!”

  22. I think everyone is missing the most obvious crap to ban: worthless politcal tracts written by people like Hannity, Coulter, Moore, O’Reilly, etc. How could anyone propose banning Rand, the Koran, Nietzsche, Cervantes, Keynes, or Dostoevsky before this garbage?

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