Ann Althouse* asks a very wise question:
Why not ignore what is worthless? It's a marketplace of ideas. Why are you even browsing the crap?
Ms. Althouse defends the burning of books for no other reason than to annoy liberals; the very idea of a university professor downplaying book-burning (and the implied repression of ideas) is beyond belief. She claims to be upset that some people don't like the idea of burning Korans in the spirit of religious intolerance, and thinks it is intolerant to criticize intolerance.
Good lord. There's an immense difference between burning your own book as a way of saying "I hate this book" — which adds more expression to the marketplace of ideas — and the confiscation and destruction of other people's books — which is about depriving people of access to expression that they want to consume.
This goes back to the conservative complaint that everyone criticizes their intolerance. Why can't they hate Blacks or Muslims or Jews or gays? Why shouldn't they be able to call people names, deny them the same civil rights as everyone else, forbid them to even exist in the public sphere? The intolerant aren't free unless they're free to persecute others without condemnation or criticism.
I find it hard to believe that Niebuhr and hyperventilators like him are big readers of important books, because their minds seem pretty feeble to me. "Torch a book and you at least symbolically deny your fellow men and women that freedom." At least symbolically. Or, to put it another way, i.e., truthfully: You don't deny other people anything. You give them something: the information that is your hatred of a book. And as they "decide for themselves whether what they read has meaning," they can take into account that you hate the book. It's not going to be a very influential piece of information, because you're just some attention whore who burned a book instead of articulating a pithy critique of it.
And therefore Nazi rallies were really the free exchange of ideas. (Although we do hesitate to criticize Althouse's deep and entirely genuine knowledge of attention whoring.)
Yes, conceivably, a private group burning its own books might be intimidating, but that would only be because we have other, much greater reasons to fear that group or the movement it represents. And yes, when you burn a book, you adopt an image associated with the Nazis, but that marginalizes you. We don't cower every time some marginal idiot draws a swastika or does the Hitler salute. You're free to express yourself, but I think lavishing outrage on some nobody empowers him.
Althouse might just have a point. What's the point of spending so much time and outrage on petty, cruel, people driven by hatreds and passions they don't understand?
The answer is pretty obvious. The idiots aren't always marginal and powerless. And everyone is not as eager as Althouse to ignore the threats, lies, and power plays of the far right. Many people realize that the Nazis didn't spring out the ground fully formed and ready to take over the country. When nobody protests the actions of liars, fools and thugs, they grow in power. There must be push-back or the marginal become mainstream. Bush didn't let the country take out their rage on Muslims in America after 9/11. In fact, one of the first things he did was fly Saudis in America out of the country for their safety. He has close business ties to Saudi Arabia and no doubt did not want to do anything to harm those relationships. The right does not have the same constraints on them now and are being actively encouraged to take out their anger and frustrations on convenient scapegoats. Ignoring them would be implicitly giving them permission. But fighting them doesn't seem to be working either.
Althouse doesn't care about the effect of her words. It's fun to take the contrarian position and it gets more attention than doing what is right. To support this idiotic, attention-getting device she must dredge up an idiotic reason--book burning adds to the "marketplace of ideas."
It doesn't matter if a blogger or journalist lies anymore. Megan McArdle and her ilk regularly lie and obfuscate for their corporate paymasters and nothing happens. Some people fight back, but still nothing happens. People spend hours, days, fighting the lies, providing proof, reasoned arguments, facts, logic--and none of it matters. The lies will start all over again the next day. And the liars will get richer, while the people who fight for truth and justice get poorer.
McArdle states that contrary to what Kevin Drum says, insurance companies are raising rates because of health insurance reform. Drum appears in comments to give her the facts. McArdle ignores him and the facts, adding her own sly fact-spinning. "Health insurance companies have relatively thin profit margins, so where, exactly, did they think the money was coming from to provide all these extra services?" They have thin profit margins, but you don't need big profit margins when you take in so much money. Don't tell us that McArdle doesn't understand volume sales.
But what does it matter? Fighting back has no effect. Why waste time, instead of letting the authoritarians continue on their inevitable path of destruction? Will protesting book burning change racist and bigoted minds? Will analyzing the lies of the financial elite and their boot-lickers change government policy? Probably not. Maybe it would be better to just do what most Americans do; ignore the people trying to destroy our country and sit back and enjoy what little money and power we do have. Enjoy our lives instead of getting angry and fighting back. Let it all go and grab as much as we can while we can, drowning our conscience in money and food and tv and alcohol and hatred.
We make decisions on how to live our lives. Why can't we decide to live with lies?