Paying attention to world affairs can take all your time. In fact, for those who study foreign affairs, it practically does. I’ve been struggling with the fact that you can’t be lazy in a democracy. I know that’s true—we must constantly be vigilant of governments turning evil (with a wink)—and yet we each have our own lives to look after. Trying to balance this teeter-totter, I noticed a Washington Post story lately about library officials in China burning books. Said books challenge government ideology and are being destroyed. We’ve seen this before. Nazis burned books, and Republicans would certainly like to. Even further back in history Medieval thinking led to the destruction of what would now likely be invaluable tomes. There is biblical precedent, of course. Read Acts 19 if you need a refresher.
Book burners now do their deed for its symbolic value. We live in an age of Kindles and Nooks and books online. Not as many are printed as there used to be, but the smell of burning plastic doesn’t convey the same pathos. Besides, you can just whip out your synced phone and continue reading. Those of us who’ve committed our lives to reading find this symbolic gesture heinous. Yes, there are books that offend us. I’ve read more than one that I wish I hadn’t. I have, however, no inkling to burn them. Books represent our attempts to increase knowledge. Fiction or non matters not. Those who write have something to say, and surveys reveal that many adults really would like to write a book. As a symbol, there’s nothing like it. I suspect that’s why burning them makes such an impact.
The western world is struggling to understand China. One of the largest investors in both Africa and South America, China is building foreign relations just as the Trump administration is jettisoning them. Many well-informed Americans don’t realize just how long and how well China has been making connections through financial investment. Sounds like a very capitalist thing to do. That librarians should burn books seems an odd form of theater in such a scenario. Governments that can’t take criticism are autocracies. I know few donkeys that would state any one of their party is really a saint. That’s GOP territory. At least we haven’t started book burnings on the White House lawn. As we turn our gaze to the east, or, depending on your perspective, to the west, we do have to wonder just how long it will be before we do.