In 2005 a children’s picture book called And Tango Makes Three was published. The story follows two Chinstrap penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo named Roy and Silo. The two penguins hatch and raise a young chick named Tango and make a family.
So far the story seems simple and almost unremarkable. That would be true if it were not for one simple twist in the story. Roy and Silo are both male. Due to this one simple story element, the book has topped the list of controversial and banned books in the United States every year since its release.
Books Can Inspire Creativity
It’s almost cliché to say books have the power to change the world. But I still think this statement is true. After all, the only reason people burn books and make movements to ban them is due to the changes they can cause.
It’s the ideas in books that cause people to fear them and work towards their elimination. But this is exactly the reason you should be reading them. New ideas can lead to better innovation, better ways of doing things and new inventions. The only reason you can read this post on a computer (or mobile phone) is due to a series of ideas that led to their creation.
That’s why it is dangerous to ban controversial books. New ideas have the power to create a better world. When people stifle one book because of an idea they don‘t like, they make it harder for other books to be made. The free flow of new ideas slows down and newer, better ways of doing things grind to a halt.
Transform Yourself With Ideas
Controversial books are the ones that push your perception of the world to new levels. They have the power to make you see things in new ways. Themes expressed in these novels can be both inspirational and heartbreaking. Their controversial nature sparks debate about the world and your place in it.
I can’t help thinking that non-controversial books lack this ability to transform you. If something doesn’t spark at least a little bit of controversy, it probably isn’t saying anything at all. In that case, you’d be dealing with something dull, unchallenging and pointless.
Don’t Ban Books, Read Them
In only a few rare cases would banning actually make sense. One example would be The Anarchist Cookbook which details how to make homemade explosives. In the wrong hands, reading this book could be dangerous and the possible physical harm to others would be risky. However, in many other instances controversy is weak and almost laughable such as the opposition to the Harry Potter books on the grounds that they inspire children into the occult.
In only the rarest of circumstances can books cause serious and unnecessary harm. In 1903 a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published. It reported a global plan for the Jewish community for achieving global domination. Despite the fact that the book was proved outright as fraudulent (and highly plagiarized) both in 1905 and again in 1920, the book went on to become a rallying call for anti-Semitism. Adolf Hitler was a major proponent and even had it taught in German classrooms as a factual document.
Some people might conclude that this justifies banning of books. However, I think this just means more books should be available. Those German students would have looked at the book differently if they had been given the information proving its falsehood.
One conclusion you can make about this book is that just because a book is controversial doesn’t mean it is correct. In fact, many controversial books in history have now been proven to be completely inaccurate. The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-mindedness was published in 1912 and reported to find that mental retardation and learning disabilities were hereditary and significantly contributed to their likelihood of being criminals. Of course, we now know that this isn’t true at all.
It’s About Debate
One of the great things about controversy is that it sparks debate. And rather than being led one way or another by people in the debate, it is better to read the source firsthand and make your own decisions about the material. From there, you can reach your own conclusion and contribute your own ideas. And the more ideas people contribute, the sooner we can discover the truth.
The ability of a few select people banning controversial books so others can’t read them doesn’t make much sense. After all, many of those people must have read the book themselves in order to come to their conclusion. Otherwise they are just basing their opinions on second hand information and you in turn base your opinions on third hand information.
Perhaps banning is just a way to stifle debate on a topic people are uncomfortable with. This might explain why And Tango Makes Three was uncomfortable for many people. It was based on the story of two real-life penguins. Only adding to the controversy is that shortly after the book was released the two real-life penguins split up. Silo went on to find a new partner, this time a female penguin. Let the debating begin.
photo credit: jox.