Even if it has been a while since you read Fahrenheit 451, you might remember Ray Bradburys classic for its portrayal of a dystopian future in which an authoritarian government burns books.
Read Fahrenheit 451 again to discover why people wanted their tyrannical government to burn books. Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, yet the parallels to todays social climate for censorship are haunting.
Bradburys protagonist is Guy Montag, who, like all firemen in Bradburys future, burns books.
In Bradburys dystopia, firemen became custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors.
Todays mainstream and social media are custodians of our peace of mind as they filter out conflicting theory and thought. Captain Beatty is Montags boss. Beatty explained, If you dont want a man unhappy politically, dont give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.
If you dont want people debating questions such as Covid-19 policy, Beatty has the ticket: Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of facts they feel stuffed, but absolutely brilliant with information. Then theyll feel theyre thinking, theyll get a sense of motion without moving.
Today, millions listen daily to reports of case counts of Covid-19. Like Bradbury predicted, listeners can recite the numbers but have no context to make sense of the numbers. Many have little idea that important scientists and doctors have advocated alternatives to lockdowns that could save lives and abate catastrophic impacts on economies. As in Bradburys world, many are working tirelessly to disparage and censor alternative views.
After Montag questions his role as a book burner, he recites Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold to neighbors. His neighbors were shocked at the feelings the poem provoked. One cries out, Silly words, silly words, silly awful hurting words Why do people want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, youve got to tease people with stuff like that!
Incredibly, Bradbury anticipated todays social climate where people claim censorship is justified because someone hurt their feelings.
Beatty explains a dominant social norm justifying censorship: Do not offend minorities. Bradbury is clear; minorities meant practically everyone:
Dont step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.
Pretending you can stay happy all the time was another social norm driving popular demand for censorship in Fahrenheit 451. Beatty explains,
[Censorship] didnt come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.
In Bradburys dystopia, to consider conflicting theories makes for unhappiness, so Beatty lauds the firemans mission and justifies censorship:
The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is were the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dyke. Hold steady. Dont let the torrent of melancholy and dreary philosophy drown our world. We depend on you. I dont think you realize how important you are, we are, to our happy world as it stands now.