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Censorship: Policy or Philosophy?

By: Charm Chandler

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2024-01-15

Our critical examinations on book censorship will unlock a generous and infinite amount of questions, so we must remove the veneer of simplicity associated with censorship, and push past ourselves to speak with our disagreers. 


In the domain of library politics, advocates for and against censorship will often use the concept of the child as an argumentative focal point to dictate library policy. Both parties, as I have witnessed across multiple discussion threads virtual and real, direct attention to the semantics that surround the child, which then appears as a combination of agreed-upon abstract words such as “childhood,” “innocence,” and “future”. 


The vague definitions of these words ultimately influence our stance on censorship, using the child as a mechanism that paves the way for future library policy, one that we, in the present, imagine and want to shape. Those earlier three words—childhood, innocence, and future—appear to function as unspoken but agreed-upon metonyms that reveal an undiscussed first question.


Why use the experience of children in discussions of censorship?


Proponents of censorship claim that we are morally obligated to preserve a child’s innocence, often evoking images of an idealized atemporal past and future, that seem to point to imaginary utopic conditions of nostalgia. Here, in their daydreams, a supposed purity will lead to a peaceful, heteronormative society which focuses on structure and tradition. On the other end, those who believe in the liberation of books, claim that the child’s development and understanding of the world hinges on particular genres being made readily accessible, some of which have found a label in the controversial. 


What values do these books introduce to society?


Now, this question, when isolated, can include or exclude the concept of the child, but to have a conversation about censorship without resorting to the imagined past and future of said theoretical child expands the dialogue. This question unfolds a series of other considerations inside of it, such as determining the definition of a value, whom that value is for, why we ought to care about that value, and so forth. 


What could potentially happen, as often as it does in conversation, is a sudden and immediate shift from the topic of censorship to the topic of information theory, which then allows us to speculate what information means, our absorption of it in the everyday mundane, and then contemplate, “What’s the value in that?” Only to follow with regarding speculation as information and value that inform the morals behind censorship. Is it moral to censor any form of information? When conditions make censorship acceptable? What do we base these questions on, if not teachings we have learned that espouse the supremacy of a “good” and decrying an “evil”?


 Critically examining how we base our conclusions on these speculations often involves an introduction with an audience whom we assume to align with our values, and in this case, we often use the child whose values we would want to mimic ours, and so the pointing begins. Dissent weaponizes the sorcery of the image, using the spectacle and grandeur of censorship. 


Now, where can we discuss all of this? When can we bring the child into the conversation? We lack third spaces like the ancient Greek agora where both advocates for and against censorship can gather and discuss their presuppositions, engaging in healthy dialogue. Without a place for casual conversation, the image of a person embodying one side of the argument appears as a political caricature. We must remember that the advocates for and against censorship fight in the tension between order and change, caring about the dissemination of certain information that may affect society as a whole. 


However, the methods both parties use to frame the issue with specific rhetoric determine what they consider valuable to the entirety of the world. Is it children? Children for an idealized future? Is it a mixture of both: valuable information that we categorize as good or evil that we ought to introduce to children, so that they in turn may shape an idealized future? 


As defined by the American Civil Liberties Union, “censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive’, happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others” (ACLU, 2006). If we remember the final few words in the sentence, …imposing their personal political or moral values on others, then we can accuse all parties (myself included) of having forgotten that the censorship debate clings to philosophy, and that to have proper discussions about censorship; we must first acknowledge that our own implicit biases selectively interpret what values are worth introducing to society. 


This, then, introduces the question of why we have these biases, who taught them, and so forth. The issues surrounding censorship will not be solved by passionate pleas about how a child’s innocence must be preserved, or how a child may learn about coexistence with others, but through acts of philosophical discussion that, though difficult, may serve to unlock an answer that everyone may agree to. 


Before we find that answer, we must remind ourselves of the dangers of using idealized nowhere-based cities whose citizens are malleable silent speakers whom we may fight for. Otherwise, we speak on behalf of individuals—such as children—whose voices are still developing a deeper understanding of what censorship is. 




“What Is Censorship?” American Civil Liberties Union, 30 Aug. 2006,

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