Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Suffer the little children


The book has been linked to at least three deaths, and details how to discipline children through such methods as switching babies as young as four months (using ‘a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree’), whipping, pulling their hair while breastfeeding, and striking with a rod, which the authors suggest should be fashioned from a quarter-inch plastic plumbing tube. The rod betrays the biblical inspiration of the method, which was devised by evangelical pastor Michael Pearl and his wife Debi. Cited in proceedings against parents guilty of murder and the subject of several petitions – including one directed at Amazon.com – attempting to limit its circulation, the book is currently available for general loan through the Auckland Libraries system.


To Train Up a Child was first published in 1994, but the library stocks the 2011 edition, so the acquisition must be quite recent. Certainly more recent than the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007. The bill – which removed the defence of ‘reasonable force’ for parents charged with assaulting their children – was passed by overwhelming majority, with opposition outside of Parliament coming from extreme conservative and Christian fringes. Nonetheless, the tension surrounding it was significant, as I witnessed in Autumn of that year when walking past protesters marching on Parliament for the right to continue beating their children, many of whom were also in attendance.


In other words, at the time of its acquisition by Auckland Libraries, the book described practices that were already illegal in New Zealand, having been dragged outside of the grey area that existed before the amendment to the Crimes Act (at least net of police discretion). Indeed, many of them would have been illegal before 2007 as well. Yet the book was acquired and, following protest and a petition by Eileen Joy, the library has so far refused to withdraw it.

In a statement, Regional Collections Manager Louise LaHatte acknowledges that ‘book is divisive and people may find its content offensive’, but cites the principle of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) stating that
libraries, and particularly public libraries, are prime agencies for the dissemination of information. Librarians have a duty to acquire, organise, and provide access to information freely to the communities they serve.
To Train Up a Child – the statement goes on to note – has not been banned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The library will abide by its decisions, but not bow to public pressure.

Which is all very well. Even reassuring, to a point, seeing as I would hate for a conservative Christian group to start a petition for the removal from public collections of the works of the the Marquis de Sade (at least one of which is listed in the Auckland Libraries Catalogue as ‘Indecent unless its circulation is restricted to psychologists or psychiatrists or any adult bona fide student of literature or philosophy’, as per its censorship classification).

However, it seems logical to ask: why was the book acquired in the first place? Did a collections librarian order it by mistake, along with other parenting books? It is catalogued under 284.845, which if I know my Dewey is Christian parenting, so they must have had some idea of the genre. Did a patron request it, then, and did the request override concerns that the library might have had due to the principle of facilitating the free access to information?

Even this best-case scenario elicits more questions: what if our hypothetical patron had requested an as-yet-unclassified book advocating for racial segregation or gender-based discrimination? And yes, I know, most library systems in New Zealand stock Mein Kampf, but we are not talking about a work of historical interest. To Train Up a Child is a guide to child abuse. It has generated some controversy, but it has very limited value as an object of sociological or historical study. Besides, it is catalogued as a parenting aid, albeit of a religious nature. The book is simply meant to do what it says on the cover, and on the label beside its shelf.

Image from the Family First website
Forget about censorship and whether or not the book should be withdrawn from the Auckland Libraries network. Think instead about the shocking levels of child abuse and domestic violence in New Zealand, and consider the images it conjures up: the stereotypes about violence within Māori homes or poor families, versus the right to strike your child ‘as part of good parental correction’. The march I saw in Wellington was white, affluent, Christian. It was the respectable face of a social scourge. So too is the image of a smiling blond boy on the cover of To Train Up a Child soft and reassuring. This, I suspect, is the reason why the Auckland City Library found itself in possession of a book that promotes switching a four month old baby with the sprig of a willow tree. It forgot that it was violence, because we have not yet learned to accept that violence comes with that face.


77 comments:

Matthew Dentith said...

I am going to use this post to basically vent my frustration at the Auckland Library system, who have decided that they won't be getting in a copy of my book because it would be too expensive to replace should a patron mishandle it. I realise that it's probably a matter of priority; my book is an academic publication and thus is not just priced quite highly, and for the same price you could buy three other books. Still, it's frustrating to see the library defend this particular child-rearing manual and know that people have requested my book [1] and been turned away.

1. I haven't requested the book myself; that would be odd, and I'm not in the position to donate a copy to the library, unfortunately.

Giovanni Tiso said...

That is very interesting, considering you're a local author and everything.

Anonymous said...

Matthew,

Does your publishing agreement allow the creation of an e-book version, that can then be licensed to libraries etc.?

Matthew Dentith said...

What ho, Anonymous.

Yes, Palgrave does license ebooks for libraries: http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/10.1057/9781137363169

Graeme Edgeler said...

why was the book acquired in the first place? Did a collections librarian order it by mistake, along with other parenting books? ... Did a patron request it, then, and did the request override concerns that the library might have had due to the principle of facilitating the free access to information?

The New Zealand Herald is on the case (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11424722):

The book has been in the library system since 2012, after a customer request. It has been borrowed 10 times and two people are on a waiting list.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Thank you Graeme, I meant to ask them but it was a last minute post written in the evening.

Anonymous said...

I very much dislike everything about Family First, including their name. How dare they imply that they have the monopoly on putting their families first! I put my family first and I'm a rampant atheist.

judithfursdon said...

It's a child abuse manual, it's been implicated in several deaths, and it's not censorship to tell people to order their own damn copy if they're of the child-abusing persuasion (or the researching child abuse persuasion).

As you point out, there are other books that could have the same arguments made about them, but as far as I know, these historical literary works don't have a step-by-step guide to thrashing children, or abusing babies (BABIES! Four months is so bloody young, what the hell are they thinking?!), or mentally torturing children into artificially and painfully enforced submission.

This book, and some like it, invoke my incandescent rage. Things like this can create damaged children, who can grow up to be adults that have many difficulties adjusting to the world outside the beatings. No child deserves to be hurt like this, and no public institution should be encouraging this outright and blatant abuse.

Anonymous said...

Hi Giovanni,

One of the reasons the online debate around “the book” has been so one-sided is because staff aren’t allowed to comment publicly on it. However you are welcome to republish this anonymously. Firstly a correction – it is not Auckland City Library it is Auckland Libraries. The difference is that AL is a regional library akin to a state library in Australia. It’s the biggest in the Southern hemisphere and is a research library as well as a collection of community libraries, so it has many items of what could be called “the long tail” – ie items of low or specific interest. By research I don’t mean academic research – I mean people volunteering for community groups, for internet think pieces, for blogs, writers of non-academic books, journalists etc. This is where I suspect the initial request for purchase came from, and where the current 19 requests on the book come from. I doubt any of these people are looking for parenting advice or will find the arguments in the book compelling. I disagree that the book isn’t of historical interest. Its no Mein Kampf, but has been subject to a lot of controversy before the petition so its reasonable patrons would want to read the primary text.
AL has a massive collection of parenting advice books kept in the prominent “Parenting” section at nearly every branch. For obvious reasons the catalogers didn’t include this book. A patron looking for Christian parenting books won’t be taken to where this book is shelved; they will be taken to the 200s in the parenting collection. I’m unsure if this book was ever kept on the open shelves and I’m sure it won’t in future. Currently the request queue is several months long so it won’t be something to worry about for a while.
Yes AL has plenty of books advocating racial segregation, in particular the works of local neo-nazi Kerry Bolton. I do have a problem with how AL has catalogued and distributed them.
Dentith’s book is over $150 and the Pearl book is $16. AL needs exceptional reasons to buy a book over $100. In this case we can rely on the university to hold copies of it. AL also provides interloans at below cost for patrons wanting works like Dentith’s. As Palgrave mostly deals with purely academic books public libraries don’t tend to subscribe to it. Many NZ academics licence their works to both Wheelers and Palgrave for this reason.

Cheers,
XXXXXXX.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Thank you for your comment, and especially for the correction re: City Library vs Auckland Libraries. I note however that the book is listed in the central library non-fiction, not in the basement (which is where Bolton is kept). Are you sure the book is not actually shelved? I would be surprised if Ms Joy found the book in the catalogue, it seems more likely to me that she saw it at the library.

As for Kerry Bolton, yes, his work is there (in some community libraries, such as Mangere, it's in the Maori section!), and I'm not happy it is there, but there is a certain logic to controversial, even very controversial local authors to be kept in a reference section. This book, by contrast, seems entirely redundant. Its controversy value is really quite small outside of the United States. It's also highly doubtful that it has sold anywhere close to the number of copies claimed on the cover.

And yes Matthew's book may cost ten times as much but I could definitely see how it would be worth ten times as much. Particularly if this library system makes claim of being a research facility. Otherwise, why not interloan the Pearls' instead?

Anyway, thank you very much for the comment, I would be interested to hear what people think.

Matthew Dentith said...

Hi, Anonymous (librarian)!

I'm a little curious about this:

"Many NZ academics licence their works to both Wheelers and Palgrave for this reason."

As the author of the book, having signed away my rights to a publisher, I don't see how I can licence the work to Wheelers, so surely you either mean "Wheelers licence the work from Palgrave" or "Palgrave licence the work to Wheelers". The author/academic in this instance isn't able to do this, so I'm hoping you might be able to expand on this.

And, interestingly enough, Wellington City Libraries are apparently getting a copy of the book to go into their non-borrowable reference section, so Wellingtonians, you will be able to read my rather expensive book.[1]

1. I had no part in the pricing of the book and my personal opinion about the price cannot be expressed because it would be in breach of contract.

Dylan Horrocks said...

This book is grotesque, and the beginning and ending of your post suggests that your main intention here is to highlight the awful ideology that drives it, rather than to advocate for a book's removal or banning.

The bulk of your post, however, is much less clear. Although you avoid explicitly supporting the petition to have the book removed, you say things like this:

"Even this best-case scenario elicits more questions: what if our hypothetical patron had requested an as-yet-unclassified book advocating for racial segregation or gender-based discrimination?"

Well, what if they had? There are many such books in the library, and however much I reject the positions such books might take, I would be disturbed if the library refused to acquire a book on what are essentially moral grounds. Libraries did precisely that for many years, and the result was the suppression - above all - of minority voices, dissidents, feminists, queer writers, etc.

In case it isn't already obvious, I think the library is making the right call. In part because the arguments being presented for its removal can be (and in many cases have been) deployed in order to have other, more worthy, books removed or banned.

People who want a more open, less repressive society should be very careful about advocating censorship. Because the struggle for the freedom to express controversial and unpopular views cuts both ways. Calling for censorship of books that we consider dangerous and unhealthy for society does little to affect actual change or to prevent the real harms with which we're concerned; but it makes it significantly easier for the powerful to censor those who challenge them, and for the majority to silence minority voices.

So of course, yes, let's talk about how awful the book is. But I don't support the petition and I'm pleased our library is prepared to resist campaigns to have books removed - even when they're books I find appalling.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Meanwhile, I sure hope the library orders Matthew's book. Maybe if we all put in requests they'll change their minds?

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful post, thank you, Giovanni. Interesting to read the comment from the anonymous AL staffer and to hear their side. I would disagree with you on one thing, Giovanni, and that is this text would have sociological or anthropological value, speaking as a student of anthropology. If I was researching this area, then I would want to read this text. But I agre it shouldn't be available for general loan for the reasons you give in your article.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Dylan:

"So of course, yes, let's talk about how awful the book is. But I don't support the petition and I'm pleased our library is prepared to resist campaigns to have books removed - even when they're books I find appalling."

I didn't address the question of whether the book should be banned from the library because I was more interested in why the library had acquired it in the first place. Frankly, I still am. But so long as you want to go down that road, why doesn't the library acquire *every* book? Isn't selecting which books to shelve a form of censorship? Isn't applying price as a chief criterion, in Matthew's example, a particularly disturbing form of censorship? What *are* the criteria for selection, anyway, and how did the book go through?

You will also be aware that we don't actually have absolute freedom of speech. We censor books, although not pre-emptively (unlike audiovisual material), so it may be that the Pearls can be loaned to all-comers simply because no-one has bothered to ask for a review. If the review comes back against the book, will you still defend it? And if now, why not?

What censorship we do have is actually quite ridiculous. For instance: Sade's Justine is restricted, but if the exact same text is published alongside Philosophy in the Bedroom, the book can be displayed and borrowed freely. And not because the omnibus hasn't been reviewed, either. The Censorship Board actually reviewed *both* and came to two different decisions. It's quite arbitrary and silly.

Finally, freedom of speech is too vague a concept. Call it freedom of opinion, and it might be more helpful. Writing a book arguing for the violent overthrow of the government, fine. It's an opinion. Writing a book detailing how to make a bomb in your garage, presumably, less fine. No?

Follow the line of argument. Writing a book arguing that children should be disciplined through corporal punishment, fine. That's an opinion. Writing a book detailing techniques on how to hurt children more effectively, not fine. This is exactly what that book is. And frankly I think we don't see it because we are still culturally too comfortable with the idea that children are for beating.

So yes, if pressed I would say Auckland Libraries need to get rid of that book at its earliest convenience.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Anon @7:31

"If I was researching this area, then I would want to read this text. But I agre it shouldn't be available for general loan for the reasons you give in your article."

Researchers should have access to anything, including materials banned by the censor. I agree.

Anonymous said...

The book isn't on the open shelves because its in the request queue (currently 21 requests). It will be months before it is available again, by which time someone will probably transfer it to the basement. It may have been briefly on the open shelves.
The Pearl book isn't avaiable for interloan - thats the reality of being the largest public library in the country. Dentith's book will always be available for ineterloan. I would like to see the decision on his book reviewed as it seems like a book that would reach a general audience - would anyone else like to put in a suggestion for purchase ? http://www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/EN/contactus/Pages/SuggestionforPurchase.aspx If AL does buy it I hope it will be lendable as unlike Wellington a huge number of Aucklanders can't afford to go to the central library and see the reference section.
I think you are understating the pre-petition controversy around the book. An article on it from British tabloid Daily Mail went viral a few years ago. A minor controversy maybe - but then AL only bought one copy instead of the usual 20 or 30.
The cover claim is interesting - it says "625,000" in print. That could mean someone funded it to be given away or sold cheaply in the US, as fundies often do. That's pretty scary to me.
Re Palgrave/Wheelers; apologies I am not the best person to ask about that - I have just been told some NZ academic books are on both platforms and were licenced by the academics themselves. Probably best to ring Wheelers for advice.
-anon.

Anonymous said...

Gio: What makes someone a researcher?

Hopefully another anonymous colleague will come on here to explain the selection process in depth. Its fairly rare for a suggestion for purchase to be turned down. The pricing thing is tricky because publishers, especially self-publishers, can demand anything they want, so its impossible for a library to promise to buy every local book. At which point should libraries say "too much"? $151?

Yes the censorship/rating of books in NZ is absurd. I'm guessing most people here read the Naked Lunch as a teenager but its actually illegal for libraries to lend it to under-18s. However the much raunchier "restored text" is available to all ages.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"The pricing thing is tricky because publishers, especially self-publishers, can demand anything they want, so its impossible for a library to promise to buy every local book. At which point should libraries say "too much"? $151?"

I'm not sure. But at the moment I'm finding it difficult to shake the feeling that this acquisition went like this: A patron suggested the book > The book costs $16 > Let's buy the book. That may be a fiscally sound workflow but you would expect a library (especially a quasi-research one) to make decisions on the value of books in a more sophisticated fashion.

"Gio: What makes someone a researcher?"

It should be possible to establish one's credentials if one works within an institution, but also if one is doing research work independently. The censors routinely refer to "bona fide researchers", but I'm not sure if they have set criteria for that.

Scott Hamilton said...

I agree with the points Dylan Horrocks has made in this thread and on twitter. Giovanni offers a much more sophisticated argument, that deserves to be discussed on its own terms, but most of the people condemning To Train a Child on facebook seem to want it banned simply because it offends them. That troubles me.

If New Zealand's libraries begin to cut books from their shelves because of campaigns by offended patrons, then I fear that will quickly become clear felling zones. I suspect that Paul Moon's This Horrible Practice, which deals problematically with Maori cannibalism, would not last long in the Kaikohe public library, and that James Belich's revisionist histories of the Maori-Pakeha wars would be cleared efficiently from the library shelves of conservative cow towns in the Waikato.

I can imagine opponents and proponents of Nicky Hager starting their own petitions, and some unfortunate librarian being forced to tot up signatures and make the decision least offensive to library patrons.

I suspect that, if they knew their book choices could be vetted and corrected by offended members of the public, then librarians would eventually feel obliged to return to their old practice of self-censorship. In 1929 Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin public libraries banned Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, despite the fact that the book had been cleared for sale in New Zealand by censors, because they feared its gross account of life and death in the trenches of World War One would upset too many patrons. Scores of other important books suffered the same sort of pre-emptive strike in the first three quarters of the twentieth century.

Like the Cantabrians who recently demanded the removal of an offensively anti-Christian T shirt from their museum, the Aucklanders calling for the cutting of How to Train Your Child from their library on the grounds that it is offensive show a misunderstanding of the role that public cultural institutions play in free societies.

Just as a museum does not endorse or denounce the artefacts it exhibits, but rather uses them to tell true stories about humanity and its past, so a library does not endorse or denounce the books it holds, but rather uses them to show something of the range and intensity of opinions held by the human species. Museums and libraries should be sites of debate, where both popular and unpopular ideas can be heard and judged, rather than places that reaffirm the values of a society's majority.

Scott Hamilton said...

cont. from above...

I visited a large library in South Auckland a couple of weeks ago to hear a friend give a talk on Pacific history. While I was waiting for the lecture to begin, I grazed the shelves of the library's Pacific section. Amidst Albert Wendt's novels and Adrienne Kaeppler's homages to Tongan dancers and sculptors I spotted an ugly black and white cover stamped with the words THE PARIHAKA CULT. The book was written by Kerry Bolton, a former member of the New Zealand Fascist League and the National Front, and the author of such classics of contemporary conspiracy theory as The Holocaust: Myth and Reality and The Banking Swindle. Bolton compares the Parihaka protest movement to Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and to the American Civil Rights movement. To most people, such comparisons would seem a compliment, but for Bolton they are meant to show that Te Whiti and Tohu were part of an enormous, centuries-old conspiracy to defraud and demean the white race.

I have personal as well as ideological reasons for disliking Bolton. A few years ago he complained about some references I made to him on Radio New Zealand, and a long, complicated, and well-publicised court case followed. Bolton's complaints against me were eventually dismissed, but I had to waste time and nervous energy helping Radio New Zealand defeat him.

When I saw Bolton's defence of the Aryan race sitting in the middle of the Pacific section of a large library in South Auckland, I had a great desire to pull the book off its shelf, and drop it in the nearest rubbish bin. But I didn't do this, for the same reason that I don't want Auckland libraries to rid itself of the Pearls' equally grotesque book. Both books represent part of the spectrum of opinion in our society, and both were requested by library patrons.

Instead of fearing that our fellow Aucklanders will turn into child abusers or fascists because they encounter To Train Up a Child or The Parihaka Cult, we should have confidence in the ability of our libraries to win the arguments against child abuse and fascism. I don't think that Bolton's beliefs about the inferiority of Polynesian to European culture will impress anyone who encounters Adrienne Kaeppler's meticulous and passionate studies of Tongan carving and dancing, or Albert Wendt's brilliant fusion of Albert Camus and traditional Samoan storytelling.

I hope Auckland's libraries go on offending people.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Giovanni, I can answer one of your questions by saying that I once proudly worked in a bookshop that sold The Anarchist Cookbook, and even bought a copy myself (very useful reference material for a writer!).

As an aside, we also sold The Satanic Verses, despite bookshops being firebombed and having bricks thrown through windows. We even hosted Rushdie on one of his first public appearances (unannounced, for obvious reasons). And when Gerald Conlon gave a talk in our store after being released from prison, it was me and an Australian colleague who searched the 5-story shop for suspicious-looking packages after someone rang in a bomb threat.

So, no, I don't think books should be banned because they're potentially "dangerous," including books that explain how to make a bomb (as the Anarchist Cookbook does in detail). It's especially absurd today, when 10 minutes on Google can find you even more efficient recipes.

And that's why I feel arguments like this are mostly political theatre. Banning that stupid book is unlikely to make any meaningful difference. Will it save a life? I suppose it's possible. It's also possible banning American Psycho would prevent one crazy reader from launching a career as a serial killer. Or banning The SCUM Manifesto might save the next Andy Warhol from being shot. Many comic books banned in 1950s and 60s NZ were banned precisely because they were "detailed manuals for violent crime and depravity." That was one of Wertham's main arguments for doing so. Maybe removing those comics from NZ's delicate children saved lives, but I'd be surprised.

In reality, what mostly happens is that books, comics, movies, rap songs become symbols of the things we fear or despise in society. Communism, fascism, immorality, crime, violence, child abuse - whatever we wish we could purge from the real world but can't. We're all upset by the level of violence against children in NZ, and the problem seems so difficult to get rid of. But we can make this book into a symbol of all we hate about child abuse and fundamentalist Christianity and reactionary ideology - and then, once we've clearly identified it as not just a symptom of those things but a cause - then we can wage righteous war on that evil little book and hopefully destroy it, like a ritual sacrifice: a scapegoat.

And we might not have solved the problem of child abuse in real life, or saved any actual children's lives (but who knows? Because no-one can ever know - it's always possible, right?). But we feel better anyway, because we've had our sacrifice, we've enacted our rage and the ritual of punishment and protection has been performed. We did something and the world is a safer place, because that evil book is no longer on the shelf, ready to pollute susceptible minds . It's theatre.

And when someone points out that NZ doesn't have real free speech and that things get censored for stupid reasons, my reaction isn't to demand some kind of equal opportunity censorship (ban the books I hate too!), it's to push against the whole structure of censorship. Because it's all stupid, and it does no good.

I guarantee that in 20 years time, we'll look back on this and it will seem silly. Just like banning de Sade or 1950s crime comics. Hindsight has a wonderful way of revealing the absurdity of our rituals of censorship.

Tom Clare said...

I was a collections librarian in a big city library for several years, and I can say that I could have quite easily bought ‘To train a Child’ in just the way you suspect: “A patron suggested the book > The book costs $16 > Let's buy the book”. It might have been due to oblique advertising copy (it may have been touted as a book on raising children biblically rather than openly saying it was a manual on corporal punishment), but mostly it would have been because I had a large work load, and, unless alarm bells rang, would only spend a small amount of time researching most prospective titles.

I should point out that at that time, when the internet was just becoming ubiquitous, libraries generally held several books on illegal or objectionable activities, such as marijuana cultivation, or the manufacturing of explosives, or spurious pro-racist histories. This was normal and in keeping with public libraries’ ethos of being a repository of information for the whole community — even those we passionately disagreed with.

At the same time I would probably not have bought Matthew Dentith’s book for exactly the reasons the anonymous librarian stated: it’s an academic work, the expensive price reflects that, and since I worked in a university city I could rely on the university library to stock it. Public libraries must put popular works first, ones that we expect to go out regularly, and consider academic titles carefully. The days of giving the public what they ought to be reading are long gone; instead it’s about making available the books that they actually will read and want to read. Of course a large number of requests from the public would have made me give Dentith’s book a second, more considered deliberation…

Dylan Horrocks said...

Also, what Scott said.

Giovanni Tiso said...

@Scott

"most of the people condemning To Train a Child on facebook seem to want it banned simply because it offends them. That troubles me."

They do? See, this bothers me a little, because the library makes that claim in its response, but the petition by Eileen Joy is not about offence at all - she makes a very circumstantial case about what's wrong with the book and why the library shouldn't carry it. This "people are taking offence" thing (see also the book by Richard King) is well patronising and often used to mischaracterise valid arguments.

I can't read people's mind, so I don't know why people want the book banned, but judging from the comments on the Libraries' Facebook page, offence is not their primary concern.

Besides: the book is extremely offensive, so taking offence at it seems a reasonable response. But the argument for banning as reported in the media and articulated by the petition is not based on offence at all.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Valid arguments have been made in this thread, as they always are, against censorship. It's an easy case to make, although it's often slippery. By denying ourselves this objectionable work, we could be denying ourselves this other valuable work that some may find objectionable. But it's a cop out. If we drew better lines (this side of a child abuse handbook; that side of marijuana gardening instructions), which are always by definition contingent on the arguments in the wider society about the underlying issues, I wouldn't have any great problems with the low-level censorship of a library denying a patron's request on the grounds of a book being too vile at this point in our cultural and social history.

I am, in other words, in favour of institutions and the public making judgments of value. Judgments that state that the Satanic Verses is not a dangerous book, but a book that has been made dangerous by fanaticism, and should be defended. Judgments that state that we can probably tolerate the racist pseudohistories and the writings of Kerry Bolton, because extreme views have a place in both politics and scholarship. Judgments that say you know what: if you want this book on how to hurt your child, spend the $16 yourself.

Scott Hamilton said...

I accept that Eileen Joy, and also Giovanni in this post, do not suggest removing the book from the shelves simply because it's offensive.

Eileen Joy writes:

'It is illegal, in New Zealand to treat children thus, it is illegal to hit children in this country. We are not asking for censorship, rather we are asking the public library system to not spend our tax payer dollars on a book which encourages illegal activity'

As I understand her - and I apologise in advance if I misunderstand her - Joy is arguing that a book which advocates illegal behaviour, and indeed explains how to engage in such behaviour, should not be purchased by a public library.

I think it would be disastrous, though, if libraries accepted this principle. It is the same principle that prevented libraries from stocking books by radical thinkers like Marx and Lenin for many decades, and which police used when they raided left-wing booksellers.

As police prosecutors told judges and juries again and again in the 1920s and '30s, when left-wing intellectuals like Sid Scott and Gordon Watson were brought to trial for their literary tastes, Marxist and other radical left-wing thinkers desire the overthrow of capitalist society, and not only advocate but explain the logistics of illegal strikes, sabotage, and armed uprisings.

How could Che Guevara or Amilcar Cabral or even the young, gun-toting Nelson Mandela remain on the shelves of our libraries if the advocacy and description of illegal acts was to be kept out of our libraries? (I think I remember reading a volume of Cabral's writings and finding, in the pages between two rather dull expositions of Marxist theories, instructions on how to use a rocket launcher to shoot down an aeroplane!)

The many classic works of literature that not only advocate but describe the manufacture and use of drugs would also be menaced by the sort of principle that Eileen Joy's statement seems to imply. Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Hunter S Thompson's epic rants, Martin Edmond's tributes to our indigenous mushrooms and cannibas: all would seem to be endangered.

The risk posed by a single copy of the Pearls' demented and easily discredited book seems mild by comparison.





Giovanni Tiso said...

"I think it would be disastrous, though, if libraries accepted this principle. It is the same principle that prevented libraries from stocking books by radical thinkers like Marx and Lenin for many decades, and which police used when they raided left-wing booksellers."

Sedition laws were repealed in 2007, the same year we removed the defence of reasonable force against child abusers.

Really, though, I'm not very impressed by these equivalences. They don't prove anything. We do in fact censor books, do we not? So long as we do, stop telling me that banning this one will lead to the banning of the works of Marx (you know: somehow!) and start telling me why you think this book shouldn't be banned on its own (de)merits. Until then, your argument is for eliminating censorship altogether. I'm not wholly unsympathetic to this goal, but it's a different argument.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Maria McMillan responds.

Scott Hamilton said...

Well, to put it more technically, my argument is that librarians should not, when they are considering whether or not to purchase a book, make the fact that it advocates and/or describes illegal activity into a necessary and sufficient grounds for rejection.

That way lies madness, as poor old Lear said.

My problem is not your very justified repulsion from the Pearls' book - I didn't enjoy reading even the wikipedia summary, and I think I'd have nightmares if I tried the whole book - but the way your argument for its removal seems dependent on the implicit acceptance of a new and dangerous principle governing the purchase of library books.

Scott Hamilton said...

PS It's late, and before I slide off into the night I should shamefacedly admit that there's a bloke who looks and talks like me and used to write blog posts in favour of the censorship of fascists, authors of dangerous self-help books, and similar wackos. Back in 2009 this other Scott Hamilton even led a small campaign to keep the wackos out of an Auckland public hall and out of various shops:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/anti-semites-dont-deserve-our-war.html
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/organic-yohurt-tofu-and-neo-nazi.html

I've changed my views about the limits of free speech over the years, partly because I was worried that I might fall foul of the limits I wanted to make for others.

This a good debate about an important subject - a good example, I think, of free speech in action.

Graeme Edgeler said...

Valid arguments have been made in this thread, as they always are, against censorship. It's an easy case to make, although it's often slippery. By denying ourselves this objectionable work, we could be denying ourselves this other valuable work that some may find objectionable. But it's a cop out. If we drew better lines (this side of a child abuse handbook; that side of marijuana gardening instructions)...

Books on growing marijuana are banned, and it's ridiculous. Parliament yesterday debated legislation that will raise the maximum penalties for importing those books to, depending circumstances, 10 or 14 years imprisonment. That's more than the penalty for actually growing marijuana to sell as part of an industrial scale growing operation.

I'm with Dylan. I'm not sure there's anything I would ban without an actual victim.

As for the slippery slope, I know this isn't the point you are making, but I will note that the maximum penalty for the offence of possessing illegal marijuana books began as 1 year in prison. It's about to increase to 14 years.

Dawn said...

Having read the post, all the comments and also Maria McMillian's post, I would say that if anyone wants to indulge in the ILLEGAL activity of child beating and abuse, then I suggest they buy the book on Amazon.

While previous comments talk about the freedom of speech and censorship, shouldn't we consider each case on its own merits. In this case we have a book that advocates child abuse. Read that sentence again. This is not only illegal, it is morally wrong and a violation of a human right. If that isn't a good enough reason for removing (not banning, just choosing not to stock) a book I don't know what isn't. Readers who want to read the book can do so freely by purchasing the book themselves.

Dylan Horrocks said...

This has been a good debate, expanding and clarifying issues and views. I fear I'll have to agree to (strongly) disagree with you, Giovanni, given the very clear position you've outlined.

As I understand it, you're saying that our society bans books, therefore we may as well accept that and focus on advocating for bad books (according to us) banned, and good books (again, according to us) cleared, on a case by case basis.

My view is that having a policy in place that resists censorship across the board is a good thing that protects us all, and that abandoning that policy in order to make what is essentially a symbolic gesture of disapproval of one book is a dangerous move.

What you're suggesting, in practise, is for the library to abandon that policy. Perhaps you would like them to draft a new one, with a list of caveats and exceptions that better reflect your notion of which books you would prefer to see banned from its collection?

But can we be very clear that this is what you are suggesting? Because that policy (which is a national policy of the NZ library association, not merely Auckland) is very clear and simple, and the library cannot do what you are asking without breaching it.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Damn - please forgive typos. Early morning typing on a phone... :-P

Dylan Horrocks said...

One more thing: if you're really so sure this book is a danger to our kids, why don't you submit it to the OFLC? After all, they are NZ's censor, and they have the power to ban it. I might not like it, but that's what the OFLC is for - they are the process established to asess and act on the community's disapproval. That would be far better than trying to make our library act as a censor - a role I would prefer they avoid.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Graeme

Without an actual victim? As defined how? There have three children murdered in the United States by parents who homeschooled their children and were found to be in possession of the book. Short of someone actually bludgeoning a child with the book itself, I'm not sure you could prove if any of them were victims in any straightforward sense.

As for New Zealand, there is no shortage of victims of child abuse. That seems like a good reason to limit the availability of a book of child-beating techniques, regardless of whether or not that book will actually result in more children being hurt (which is unknowable). It sure as shit won't result in *fewer* children being hurt.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Scott

"My problem is not your very justified repulsion from the Pearls' book - I didn't enjoy reading even the wikipedia summary, and I think I'd have nightmares if I tried the whole book - but the way your argument for its removal seems dependent on the implicit acceptance of a new and dangerous principle governing the purchase of library books."

Fair enough. But currently the library doesn't purchase *every* book suggested by its patrons, based on criteria which I believe are not based on price alone. Even if the only criterion were price, it would be problematic I think, if not more. Is that the only value that library administrator apportion to books? Surely not.

Besides, unless Auckland Libraries has an ever expanding stack repository, which very few libraries have, every new book means another book has to go. This is certainly true of the open shelves, on which this one was placed. Libraries cull books all the time because of space reasons. So yes, Matthew's book may be ten time more expensive than the Pearls', but if you purchase it instead of ten other new books, you've saved from removal, sale or destruction nine books that are already there.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Dylan

"My view is that having a policy in place that resists censorship across the board is a good thing that protects us all, and that abandoning that policy in order to make what is essentially a symbolic gesture of disapproval of one book is a dangerous move.

What you're suggesting, in practise, is for the library to abandon that policy. Perhaps you would like them to draft a new one, with a list of caveats and exceptions that better reflect your notion of which books you would prefer to see banned from its collection?"

There's a reason why it wasn't my principal argument: I wanted to shift attention to the book's acquisition to show that a value judgment was made at one point of the process (and I believe it was the wrong one). Now that the library finds itself in possession of the book, things get thornier, and I'm not actually sure if I want them to breach their policy. But I do think this is a healthy discussion to be having, and that the arguments of those who want the book removed have been mischaracterised by the library and by some critics.

That said, yes, if I'm asked to take a position, I say remove the book. It's that bad. And if it creates a precedent, so be it. I'll fight for the next book that someone wants to ban on spurious grounds. I'm not an absolutist on these issues, and I've shown that the library has made questionable value judgments at other points of the chain. So why not make another one, and a better one?

Scott Hamilton said...

Giovanni writes:

'I say remove the book. It's that bad. And if it creates a precedent, so be it. I'll fight for the next book that someone wants to ban on spurious grounds.'

But the danger is that, by then, the grounds won't be 'spurious' anymore.

If a principle or precedent is set saying that books which promote and describe illegal activity that has a history of harming people shouldn't be stocked by libraries, then the door is opened for challenges to any number of volumes.

Let me give a couple of examples.

It's not hard to imagine somebody like Colin Craig or Bob McCroskie or the Taxpayers Union issuing a demand that a new edition Mike Haskins' popular Drugs: a user's guide not be purchased by Auckland Public libraries. Haskins' book talks enthusiastically and in detail about how to manufacture and consume various drugs that have, over the years, harmed or killed considerable numbers of people.

Sadie Plant's brilliant book Writing on Drugs does the same thing, in more elegant prose.

It is all too easy to imagine a wave of public opinion building in support of a campaign against these books. Who would want to read them, Colin Craig et al would ask, except meth manufacturers and cannabis growers looking to upskill? And why should public money be spent promoting books that promote illegal and harmful activities?

Although I don't use any illegal drugs, unless you count strong Fijian kava, I am fascinated by the history of hallucinogens and opiates, and by their relationship with creativity in both European and Pacific societies. I've used Plant's book as a reference in some of my writing on Tongan shamanism, art and drug-taking.

I fear, though, that if the principle that a book which advocates and describes illegal and sometimes harmful activity should sit not in a public library were established, then it would be very difficult to resist a campaign against Haskins and Plant's books.

As Dylan said:

'having a policy in place that resists censorship across the board is a good thing that protects us all, and that abandoning that policy in order to make what is essentially a symbolic gesture of disapproval of one book is a dangerous move.'

Giovanni Tiso said...

A number of people warned that if my campaign to get sponsors to withdraw from the Willie and JT radio show were successful and as a result Radio Live pulled the show, conservatives would most assuredly start similar campaigns against progressive broadcasters or writers. Has it actually happened? Not to my knowledge. But my answer then was the same answer I'm going to give you now: I would fight to defend those progressive broadcasters, just as I would fight to defend a book that has value. That's because I welcome these debates.

There is the hypothetical world of no censorship in which every library somehow stocks every book, and the real world in which library stocks are at the whim of collections librarians who - as someone said upthread - may occasionally fail to research a book adequately before buying it. I welcome deeper, more informed, more intelligent discussions than the lazy status quo. If opposing this book is a slippery slope to having more of them, that's fine by me.

Scott Hamilton said...

'I would fight to defend a book that has value'

But what about books that have no value, and yet are desired by our fellow citizens? Kerry Bolton's The Parihaka Cult has, so far as I can tell, no scholarly, literary, or entertainment value. It's not even valuable as a political document, because Bolton is an isolated crank with relatively few co-thinkers.

Bolton's book is not only devoid of positive values - it has many negative values. It promotes racial bigotry and a demonstrably false view of the past, for example.

And yet someone wants to read Bolton's book. A patron, or more likely a small number of patrons, of Auckland public libraries requested that the book be bought. These people presumably think the book has value. I wish they didn't, but they do.

And that's good enough for me. I have to accept that a section of the population shares Bolton's worldview, and wants to read his book. They, too, should be represented in the library. If I ever bump into one of his supporters in the library reading the Parihaka Cult I'll have a vigorous argument with that person. But I won't complain about the library stocking the book he is reading.

A library has to be a place where books representing very different worldviews and values jostle and contest one another. Budget shortfalls and limited shelf space notwithstanding, we need to defend the presence in libraries of books that we consider valueless, as well as those that we think valuable.

Giovanni Tiso said...

A book detailing techniques on how to most effectively hurt children aged four months and up is not a contribution to diversity of opinion. Stop defending Kerry Bolton and start defending this book.

Anonymous said...

It;'s not only in the US that kids are dying under parenting regimes such as the the one advocated in this vile book:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11426386

Matthew Dentith said...

I've been trying to work out how to wade into the censorship debate, in part because I'm curious as to why this conversation has gone the way of debating censorship rather than the question of why this particular book was purchased and placed on the open shelves. After all, you don't need to be a fan of censorship to ask why this book was purchased. The censorship argument seems to rely on "This book was purchased and thus we can't get rid of it". However, the questions being raised about this book are questions about how and why it was acquired in the first place.

If we phrase the question not around "Why shouldn't a library buy this book?" (to which the answer is "There are other books it could have bought", finessed with discussion about limited shelf space and small acquisition budgets) but instead "What processes lead to this book being purchased and put on the open shelves?" (which is, as far as I can tell, the argument of the people complaining about the book), you get an interesting story. It's a story about processes and it doesn't need to reflect upon questions of censorship. Rather, it is a story about the processes by which libraries acquire (and also dispose of) books.

After all, using my book as an example, books get requested by patrons all the time and do not get purchased. That isn't censorship. Sometimes it is the terrible economics of publishing.

Also, sometimes books get purchased but are only made available as desk copies, which is a pain for some researchers, but also isn't censorship per se.

Some books are made available only to particular researchers (which is sometimes censorship but often due to preservation).

Libraries have to make these decisions all the time, and most of the time purchasing decisions balance out issues of "How often will this get lent?", "How easy is it to replace this book?" and, and I suspect this is a crucial part, "How valuable is this book to our collection?"

That last question is, of course, the rub. Does Auckland Library need this book in its collection? I.e. Is it a book which adds value to the library? You can answer this question by reference to cultural value, research value, monetary value (I suppose). Giving a book value might imply censorship in some cases, but given the arguments in support of its acquisition have been about its value to researchers, etc., why could Auckland Libraries apply the same standard they have to my book, and say "We don't need to own it; you can always interloan it from elsewhere?"

Personally, I think Gio's claim that someone just bought the book because it was requested and it happened to be cheap is likely the reason it was purchased. It's probably unfair to expect large libraries with relatively small staff to research every acquisition. However, I think we can now ask questions as to whether this book should be on the open shelves.

I am curious, though; if the story the other day had gone something like this, would we have an issue?

'Auckland Libraries investigated the book request and decided that given the controversial nature of the title, they would not be purchasing it. "Patrons who want to read it can always interloan it from another library," the head of Acquisitions said.'

Dylan Horrocks said...

Giovanni, I feel like Scott and I are defending the idea of a structured policy that prevents the library being repeatedly forced into censorship fights. Whereas you see it as an ongoing battle, and you'll fight for the books you support and oppose the ones you don't.

I can tell you that when the library withdrew Lost Girls, and we pushed for them to restore it to the collection, the fact of that policy was absolutely central to the debate within the library. Without it, I'm not sure we'd have been able to have a debate at all.

Giovanni Tiso said...

But the book was withdrawn in spite of the policy. And there was a debate. And the debate was won.

I agree with Matthew (and with myself in the post I suppose): that we should simply accept that the book will be there forever in order to save other books from the chop is a dissatisfying answer. Why is the book there? Why can't we argue that this is different from the case of Lost Girls? If public collections also serve the function of facilitating debate on what information should be in a public collection, isn't that a good thing?

Dylan Horrocks said...

Also, I would genuinely like to hear your answer to my question: why not submit The Awful Book (as Mike Dickison called it on twitter) to the OFLC?

It's not something I'd support myself, but I'm even less a fan of you trying to turn the library into some kind of official censor. At least the OFLC is already that (and has the mandate, time and resources to make such judgements - in stark contrast to our public libraries).

Scott Hamilton said...

'Stop defending Kerry Bolton and start defending this book.'

I hope I'm not defending the contents of either book, but rather defending the right of library patrons to request them and libraries to stock them.

And I defend these rights precisely because I lack any sympathy at all for Kerry Bolton or the Pearls.




Giovanni Tiso said...

"Also, I would genuinely like to hear your answer to my question: why not submit The Awful Book (as Mike Dickison called it on twitter) to the OFLC?"

I am not interested in doing that for the same reason I wasn't interested in reporting Willie and JT to the broadcasting standards authority. I don't consider the OFLC a very useful organisation. As evidenced by the two identical texts of Sade's Justine - one censored, one not - they don't strike me as reliable arbiter of anything much. I prefer to be having this conversation, and for the public to lobby a public organisation in a reasoned fashion.

Dylan Horrocks said...

"But the book was withdrawn in spite of the policy. And there was a debate. And the debate was won."

Yes, there was a debate BECAUSE the policy was there. The library had arguably broken their policy and we pointed this out. That is why the debate occurred (rather than them simply saying "we decided it was inappropriate. Tough luck."). That's why, in the end, Lost Girls is back in their collection.

I'm not sure what your point is, Giovanni. You seem to be saying "sure there's a policy - so what? In the real world, we just fight it out case by case." I'm trying to tell you that the fight only happened in the case of Lost Girls because the policy is there, and when we argued that it had been breached, the library sought to find a resolution. It's an important policy. It's not just ineffectual window dressing on a Hobbesian battleground where the status of a controversial book is determined by the strength of each public campaign.

Dylan Horrocks said...

(P.S. Blogger just asked me to type "I perve" to prove I'm not a robot. I think they're listening to our conversation...)

Graeme Edgeler said...

A number of people warned that if my campaign to get sponsors to withdraw from the Willie and JT radio show were successful and as a result Radio Live pulled the show, conservatives would most assuredly start similar campaigns against progressive broadcasters or writers.

I suspect I was one of them. I certainly didn't think it would happen any time soon, at least successfully.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Well, it hasn't happened at all, successfully or otherwise. But let's keep waiting for the slope to start slipping by all means.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Dylan

"I'm not sure what your point is, Giovanni. You seem to be saying "sure there's a policy - so what? In the real world, we just fight it out case by case." I'm trying to tell you that the fight only happened in the case of Lost Girls because the policy is there, and when we argued that it had been breached, the library sought to find a resolution. It's an important policy. It's not just ineffectual window dressing on a Hobbesian battleground where the status of a controversial book is determined by the strength of each public campaign."

I think trusting in institutional mechanisms is actually worse. Come to think of it, so long as you don't like the book, why don't you report it to the OFLC? The library has sworn to abide by its decision. Policy-wise, everything would be spic span and the process would win.

Me, I'm more interested in how we got to the place where a library can't get rid of a book it shouldn't have acquired in the first place. Their mischaracterisation of Ms Joy has "taking offence" and their officious appeal to the policy are not things I find especially helpful to the debate. But you're the one who shifted it to the censorship outcome. I was always focussed on the other argument, which is the policy of acquisition. The library obviously doesn't buy *everything*. So how do they act, and are we allowed to criticise them?

Anonymous said...

Librarians can scream “we’re against censorship” til we’re blue in the face, but there is a selection and deselection process. Scott brings up a good example with “Uncensored” magazine which his blog posts have helped keep off library shelves. There is a lot more scrutiny over magazine purchases than books as they are an ongoing expense.

> So yes, if pressed I would say Auckland Libraries need to get rid of that book at its earliest convenience.

If by earliest convenience, you mean “after the queue is finished and people have stopped talking about it”; then sure thing. Libraries are always deciding whether or not to keep “last copies”, which is arguably a form of censorship. However removing it immediately will set off an upstoppable juggernaut of books being removed. The censorship policy wouldn’t be based on ideas contained in the above post; it would be based on the complaints of every concerned resident who wrote to their councillor or library.

Re: Bolton; actually a great many copies of Bolton and Doutre books have been “removed” by patrons. I don’t think those books should have ever been put in the Maori section.

Dentith: its not available for interloan.

In general I would like to the public service to be more open about internal processes, so it would great if a library buyer could explain this process here in a little more depth.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Well, Giovanni, if you think the OFLC is a waste of time, and would prefer to lobby the public library, then I don't know that there's much point in continuing to argue with you.

The OFLC could actually restrict access to this book in NZ. If you genuinely believe it's dangerous, that would make sense.

Lobbying the library, on the other hand, can achieve little more than a symbolic gesture - but in doing so, it obliges the library to change its anti-censorship policy (or break it, which is effectively the same thing).

We have a fundamental disagreement about the role of public libraries. I care very much that they resist censorship as far as possible. You seem to want them to make censorship part of their core business. I'm not going to debate the minutiae of how they go about that, or which particular books they should ban or otherwise.

I'm sorry, but this is starting to feel to me like little more than political theatre. I'm going to go away and focus on making new books before I say something intemperate.

Giovanni Tiso said...

We have shifted the debate to the one you wanted to have, instead of the argument I made in the post. Sorry if it wasn't done to your satisfaction.

But I'm still mildly interested why you would not report the book to the censor yourself (assuming you don't want to).

Dylan Horrocks said...

Hmm. I just saw your comment Giovanni, that posted while I was typing.

So, one last thing: as I understand it (from chatting with librarians), the library's policy has been to purchase all requested books, unless the price is too high, or their budget has run out. I assume there are other considerations that come into it, and maybe our anonymous librarian can clarify.

The question of social usefulness or undesirability shouldn't come into it, and as I understand it, their policy agrees with me.

That's why I wasn't that concerned with the question of why the book was acquired in the first place. Also, I think there are many legitimate reasons for the library to hold a book about which there is controversial debate internationally. If it wasn't in their collection already, this very public discussion would be a compelling reason to order it.

For that matter, I can guarantee the publicity surrounding the petition and endless blog and social media posts will have sold a heap of copies and earned its authors a few royalties. In case the situation doesn't feel ironic enough already.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"I can guarantee the publicity surrounding the petition and endless blog and social media posts will have sold a heap of copies and earned its authors a few royalties"

I wouldn't be so sure. In fact according to data the book has sold a mere five thousand copies in the last several years, rather belying the claim on the cover.

Dylan Horrocks said...

Oh, and I wouldn't submit it to the OFLC because I don't want it banned. Or removed from the library. I'd be delighted to have it ignored, mind you.

But I'll bow out now. Have the conversation you intended to have, and I'll go do other things. Next time we see each other, we can hash it out over a beer (or not).

Anonymous said...

Re: Maria's comments on cataloging. This may seem absurd but part of that catalog entry appears to be copied from another library, and the more detailed entry is provided by an external provider (who will soon be dumped). Adding “child abuse” as a subject heading is problematic, but AL could probably add a warning to the catalog entry, as could the external provider (@aquabrowser). No-one asked for this on the AL facebook page, but it could be worthwhile writing to AL and aquabroswer asking for one.

There are an inordinately larger number of books being published now than there were 20 years ago so most catalog descriptions come straight from the publishers.

Matthew Dentith said...

Yeah, the "All publicity is good publicity" argument has never been true. Gordon Ramsay has publicity galore and yet his book sales are fairly abysmal compared to his peers.

Dylan Horrocks said...

FYI, the OFLC just tweeted this: "The Chief Censor has granted leave for controversial book #ToTrainUpAChild to be classified."

https://twitter.com/NZOFLC/status/583055465715634176

Chris Trotter said...

A fascinating debate.

Congratulations to Dylan and Scott.

Giovanni - I think you are a much more dangerous person than the authors of "To Train Up A Child".

Giovanni Tiso said...

I know, Chris. You made those feelings quite clear when you compared me to the murderers of the Cathars for arguing that maybe rape apology should have less of a place on our airwaves.

Russell Brown said...

As far as I'm aware, Chris, no children have died as a result of Giovanni Tiso publishing a blog. The same, sadly, cannot be said of the author of this book.

I don't think this is simply a matter of the book being offensive to some people, or somehow socially undesirable. In general, there is no right to not be offended.

But it seems pertinent that this book is literally an instruction manual – and that people who apparently followed its instructions have killed and injured their children. There are no circumstances in which it is acceptable to hit a six month old baby with an instrument, and yet this book offers instruction in doing exactly that.

I'm not entirely sure of my position on this – the banning of speech is undesirable per se. But it seems only honest to acknowledge exactly what this book is when we discuss it.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"I'm not entirely sure of my position on this – the banning of speech is undesirable per se. But it seems only honest to acknowledge exactly what this book is when we discuss it."

I'm not entirely sure either, I took a position on the banning issue because I was pressed for one in the comments and it seemed honest to comply. To be told that this makes me worse than an advocate of child abuse is... let's say "galling".

Anonymous said...

>I think you are a much more dangerous person than the authors of "To Train Up A Child".

FFs, is that what passes for humour around here?

Giovanni Tiso said...

No, I believe Chris is quite serious.

Kay said...

"To Train Up A Child" is not the only objectionable parenting guide held by Auckland Libraries. Search their catalogue for author "Ezzo" and you'll find a series of 10 books by Gary Ezzo, an American evangelical Christian whose controversial parenting methods have been condemned by pediatricians in the US.

http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/110170/Babywise_The_Most_Controversial_Parenting

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Becoming_Baby_Wise

Anonymous said...

It turns out there are a number of AL staff and managers reading these comments - maybe some more would like to practice some of that open-access-to-information librarians are so proud of. There's been some good questions raised above; such as why did the press release talk about "offense caused"? Was it a pre-prepared release and had no-one actually read the petition? Since other libraries are patting AL on the back for not censoring, how can we argue not buying the local anti-semitic "Uncensored" magazine isn't censorship? There have been a lot of suggestions for purchase for it and its reasonably priced. Does AL really buy every suggested book under a certain cost? "To Train up a Child" hasn't been re-ordered despite being way over the request-to-copies-held ratio. Was this a deliberate decision? Isn't making someone wait six months for a book a form of censorship? Why does AL have so many Ezzo books and why are they still in the parenting collection? They're much more likely to lead to child abuse than the single Pearl book AL carries.

Long time reader said...

This is not directly relevant, but it's amusing:

"On another note, Michael [Pearl] is an inductee into the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame and holds several world titles, including Gold Cup winner of 2008-9, long distance thrower of the year with a record all time high of hitting a four inch target at 63 feet, and he is the undisputed best tomahawk thrower of 2009, holding the world title. When he is not teaching the Bible or speaking to audiences on how to have a good marriage and obedient children he is teaching kids how to stick a bull's eye with a knife or hawk."

http://search.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/?q=to%20train%20up%20a%20child&refx=&uilang=en

Anonymous said...

Result!

http://www.elgar.govt.nz/record=b2999085~S1

Giovanni Tiso said...

That's great!

James Robb said...

Coming to this discussion late (unfortunately, because I think it is very interesting and important.) It seems to me that a large part of the disagreement arises from Giovanni’s statement that “we censor books.”
I disagree with this statement. It is not “we” who censors books, but “they.” In a class-divided society, it is the ruling class who censors books – through their control of the institutions of that society, including both the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) and the library system – and only the ruling class.
The wave of popular mobilisations that swept this country from the 1970s to the 1990s – against the Vietnam War, against apartheid, for trade union rights, for abortion rights, for Maori land rights, for gay rights, and others – these demonstrations won broader democratic rights, and sharply curtailed the powers of censorship the ruling class was able to exercise, as a kind of by-product. One of these by-products was the ‘anti-censorship’ policies that public libraries adopted, which various contributors have mentioned. These are gains worth defending, for sure. As state and ruling class control over the availability of literature and films receded, the role of popular opinion in determining these things – our influence – grew in the same proportion.
I recall back in the 1980s or 1990s when feminists organised demonstrations outside shops renting pornographic videos, they didn’t win universal approval, even among those who detest pornography, because some saw in these demonstrations the ‘thin end of the wedge of censorship.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. These demonstrations struck a blow against censorship, by further limiting capitalist control over what videos were available (including by ‘market forces’). By advancing the public discussion on the oppressive character of pornography, they extended our influence over what is available. After a quarter-century, I think we can say that it did not lead to tighter censorship of videos by the state. It was the exact opposite of the pro-censorship campaigns of Patricia Bartlett and the Society for the Protection of Community Standards a decade or two earlier, even though on the face of it both were “against pornography.”
I see Giovanni’s discussion around this book in the same light (and likewise, his campaign to have Willie and JT removed). To view it as unwittingly opening the door to state censorship is misguided. It is aimed at further limiting the powers of censorship exercised by the libraries (their moral and economic discretion in book purchases). Should some reactionary pro-censorship book-banning campaign be launched in future (and this is by no means excluded) it will find no new openings here. But in any case, a lot depends on that little word "we."

Anonymous said...

If this book is filed under 284.845, it would seem to have been miscatalogued. 284 covers Protestant denominations of Continental origin & related body. The authors of this book are from Tennessee. Surely it should fall under 285, Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches centered in America, & Congregational churches.

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