Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath & George W. Bush

When I was in the sixth grade my mom handed me a copy of The Grapes Of Wrath to read, and I was turned on to real literature from the salt of the earth. This was in 1949 and we lived about 40 miles from the Salinas Valley. In fact, before we moved to Santa Cruz, our whole family spent the summer picking grapes in the San Juaquine Valley while my dad was between jobs as a Chevrolet automobile mechanic. Needless to mention I loved the writing of Steinbeck and went on to read Of Mice And Men along with many other of his books. Mom was an avid reader and always had boxes of paperbacks. If anyone had told me that Steinbecks literature would be banned from public libraries I wouldn't have believed it.

Anyway, George W. Bush, who is planning his own Presidential Library, has cut funding to many of our public libraries. In particular, the library in Salinas where it is said that he got some of his early exposure to the power of literature.

Whacking Libraries

By Jim Hightower, AlterNet

In the depths of the Great Depression, not a single public library in America closed its doors. Banks went under, farmers went bankrupt, millions of people were out of work and out of luck—but the American public clung to its libraries, not only because of their inherent value to our society, but also because they are symbols of community strength and hope.

How lame, then, to see public officials today—from George W. Bush to city council members—reaching for the budget axe to whack library funding, forcing branches to close, valuable services to be eliminated, and hours to be cut. In a time of unprecedented wealth in America, in a time when governments dump billions of taxpayer dollars into corporate subsidies and boondoggles, our so-called leaders are failing the people by going after these true public treasures.

Check out Salinas, Calif.—a hard hit working-class city which is now the largest population in America without a public library. Ironically, this is the hometown of John Steinbeck, the prize-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath and other powerful works that chronicled the human spirit during the Depression years. Steinbeck knew that literature has the power to elevate the spirit and help people rise above difficult times, and it is said that he got some of his early exposure to the power of literature at the Salinas library.

Since Steinbeck's day, Salinas expanded to three branch libraries, one named after him. But now, all three have been closed by the city council, which is facing large budget deficits. This move shuts out the 1,900 people a day who count on the library for books, literacy courses, internet access, after-school programs and other services. Also, nearly three dozen employees have been shown the door.

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
- On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Book Burning

According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BC, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the freedom of speech, unifying all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.

Beginning in 213 BC, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Si's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to burning.

Li Si proposed that all histories in the imperial archives except those written by the Qin historians be burned; that the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and works by scholars of different schools be handed in to the local authorities for burning; that anyone discussing these two particular books be executed; that those using ancient examples to satirize contemporary politics be put to death, along with their families; that authorities who failed to report cases that came to their attention were equally guilty; and that those who had not burned the listed books within 30 days of the decree were to be banished to the north as convicts working on building the Great Wall. The only books to be spared in the destruction were books on medicine, agriculture and divination.

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