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Censorship of Books Is a Slippery Slope and This Shouldn’t Need to Be Said

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A frank discussion about free speech, censorship, and historical context might be at best overdue, at worst, too late; but, in light of a recent incident — a Minnesota public school has now removed two classic pieces of literature from its required reading list — it is grimly apparent Americans have capriciously dismissed from memory what happens after books burn.

Hint: It isn’t pretty. And if the trend continues unhindered by the vociferous outrage even the softest of censorship deserves, yet further rights on a dwindling list will evaporate.

Palliative at best, dangerous at worst, this soothing of piqued nerves in deference to presenting provocative works in a salient context fails the litmus test. For instance, summoning historical circumstances, the current political climate, and instructing topic matter as an admonishment against a return to such thinking would serve students infinitely better in awareness than shunning the rage and abject sadness, the uncomfortability, conjured by the words.

Racial epithets, replete throughout the now-flagged classics, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, made students and parents in Duluth, Minnesota, feel “uncomfortable” — thus, prompting the well-intentioned school district to retire the works to shelves, and off the obligatory course material list.

Uncomfortable.

But that’s the point, scholars, academics, journalists, appreciative laypeople, and a vociferous segment of the internet contend — immersing oneself in difficult subject matter through the relatively safe vehicle of literature is supposed to be uncomfortable.

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Without that intimate literary experience, the empathetic taking-on of various characters’ shoes, if you will, the brutality of history is fated to repeat in an equally unpleasant manner — its selfsame example in the very actions taken by the district.

“Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students,” Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the Duluth district, cited by the Independent, told the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press.

In neglecting to address fundamental reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn remain unquestioned fixtures on required reading lists throughout the U.S. — despite the slurs and wholly uncomfortable subject matter — the conversation about race Cary proffers as necessary will not be candid. By instead capitulating, the Duluth school district failed its job of educating — failed to teach that history is sordidly cyclical, that it often repeats through misplaced but good intentions, and, crucially, that censorship is always a weapon. It failed the penultimate opportunity for that exact discussion.

Worse, officials neglected that censorship is contagious. To Kill a Mockingbird has already come under heavy fire, just across the border, in Wisconsin.

“The Monona Grove School District is reviewing an African-American parent [sic] request to remove the Harper Lee novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from the high school English curriculum,” local columnist and artist, Fabu, writes for Cap Times. “The request, made by Tujama and Jeannine Kameeta, cites 48 racial slurs directed at African-Americans in the book, the fact that no African-American writers are read in the same English curriculum, and the character of Atticus Finch as an example of the ‘white savior’ complex with African-Americans not portrayed as active in their own fight for freedom.

“These parents have a son in the ninth grade at Monona Grove High School. I’d like to thank them for speaking on behalf of their son, and seeking to protect him through this formal petition.”

That latter thought, protection (however well-intentioned), represents the most pervasively pernicious — read: successful — impetus for the banning of books, suppression of art, silencing of music, and censorship of information than arguably any other in the history of humankind. So perilous is the course once soft censorship begins, it should be unfathomable to educators and parents — even as an rare option.

Apart from the oblivious English curriculum devoid of African-American writers — if indeed the case, a matter deserving examination and correction — every concern listed by the Kameetas presents an occasion for Lee’s writing to be taught in modern context, giving the work updated interpretation matching not only a better understanding of the nation’s past mistakes, but one evincing that some progress has been made. Indeed, such lesson plan would also help students of every race see improvement as an ongoing process — that the nation is far from a tolerant, loving place for many — and, imperatively, slipping backward can and does occur.

These lessons, however invaluable, will be lost in a way that pains those who love literature — particularly, for that reason.

None of this, however, addresses the truer motivating factor in the rush to make uncomfortable literature less accessible — to hope it simply vanishes in the rearview mirror along with its era of brazen racism writ large into law, the shame of human slavery before that, and all the evils committed by humans against other humans for baseless reasons throughout the course of history. And that would incontestably be fear.

A word to the unwise.

Torch every book.

Char every page.

Burn every word to ash.

Ideas are incombustible.

And therein lies your real fear.

Author Ellen Hopkins, who penned those lines, has censors pegged — though Duluth et al. aren’t censoring out of cowardice or want of power. This fear does not lack courage.

Rather, this brand of fear spawned from a monster of such scope and magnitude it still lives and breathes, and is thriving, thanks to an administration seemingly nurturing its perpetuation — and that beast, of course, is racism. From its roots in this nation through more recent history, as well as its place in our present — and it’s fast becoming apparent the United States might never confront its shameful and appallingly systemic function of racism head-on — if ever at all.

Obligatory history classes infamously gloss over the topics of slavery, segregation, violence, and genocide — to name but a few glaring deficiencies — in essence, a push to simply forget how horrifically this nation has oppressed, brutalized, and mistreated its minority populations.

Attempting to bury the past, never acknowledging the rawness of wounds nor complicity in wrongs, veritably ensuring those mistakes manifest again, the past living on through generations not taught otherwise. Racism shouldn’t be an inherited ‘trait’ — relegating its ugliness to the dusty corners of a school library will do nothing to stop its continuation. Nothing.

America doesn’t just have a racist past.

Banning books thus damages more than the words they contain ever could — and that’s a most uncomfortable truth, indeed.


Image: CC/Kristin/Flickr

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Awareness

UK Queen’s Statues Torn Down Amid Anger Over Mass Graves for Indigenous Children

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This year may have had one of the most muted Canada Day celebrations, but this didn’t stop Indigenous protesters from making their anger felt – especially in the wake of the discovery of over 1,000 children’s bodies near the residential schools run by the Canadian state and church authorities.

And with churches being likely targeted by arsonists for the crimes of Catholic clergy, protesters are now attacking the symbols of Anglo colonialism – namely, statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

More than 200 children’s bodies were discovered buried in a mass grave in May, with several hundreds more being discovered in June at unmarked gravesites near Indian residential schools in June.

About 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly separated from their families and communities and forced to attend the religious schools which were established in the 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children into the Anglo settler-colonial culture of Canada.

Former students have testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schools. Myriad children died from preventable diseases, as well as in accidents and fires. Others disappeared when trying to escape. The Commission has denounced the schools for institutionalizing child neglect and for being organs of “cultural genocide.”

The discoveries have churned up deep-seated anguish and memories of the suffering visited upon First Nations peoples, with many lashing out at the symbols of colonialism.

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At least seven churches, all but one of which were Catholic, have also come under apparent arson attacks throughout Canada in recent weeks.

In June, a statue of the late Pope John Paul II at a Catholic church in Edmonton was splattered with red paint and red handprints.

On Thursday, July 1, residents in Canada also held organized protests and pulled down the statues of the top figurehead of British colonialism: Queen Elizabeth II, as well as that of her great grandmother, Queen Victoria. Sky News reports that the toppling of the statues was accompanied by the chant, “No Pride in Genocide!”

In Ottawa, protestors gathered en masse at Parliament Hill chanting ”Cancel Canada Day” and ”shame on Canada,” urging an end to the national holiday over the deaths of Indigenous people.

Indigenous groups and Canadian politicians are demanding an apology from the Catholic Church – specifically Pope Francis. The event could take place by year’s end, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, it remains unlikely that the British crown will offer the same amends to Canada’s Indigenous nations who, like many across the globe, suffered greatly in British Colonialism’s worldwide search for riches and glory.

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Awareness

3 Reasons Why Introverts Are Undervalued in Today’s Society

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It’s undeniable that our society favors assertive extroverted personalities with strong communication skills and underestimates the quiet ones. If you are an introvert, you have probably learned it the hard way.

It could be that you felt unseen in the classroom as a child or teen. Or you may have watched your less competent co-workers get a promotion thanks to their social skills.

It feels unfair, but if you think about our society, it makes perfect sense. The consumerist mindset that has become our second nature inevitably affects the way we treat other people. It seems that everything, including our personal qualities and worth as human beings, is translated into some kind of market value.

In other words, to make other people see your worth in personal or professional life, you need to be able to ‘sell yourself’. Yes, this expression alone tells it all.

You need to know how to make a good first impression, say the right things, and be assertive. If you can’t do it, you are perceived as incapable and uninteresting – whether we are talking about a job interview or an informal social gathering.

But it’s not the only reason why introverts are undervalued in our society. Here are a few more:

1. They are less efficient in teamwork

Communication and teamwork skills are required for all kinds of jobs. It seems that without being able to work in a team, it’s impossible to do your job even if your duties don’t involve interaction with clients.

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Introverts are much more efficient when they work on their own and are given a certain extent of independence. They thrive in quiet environments with few distractions and interactions. This is when a quiet person gets the chance to unleash their creative self and make good use of their analytical skills.

Most office jobs don’t give employees this opportunity. Office meetings, group projects, phone calls and all the other attributes of a 9-to-5 job make it almost impossible for an introvert to be productive.

2. They don’t like to be in the spotlight

Sometimes it feels like we are living in a society of attention seekers. Today, you are expected to go public about the most personal matters, such as your relationship and family life.

People share their most intimate thoughts and feelings on social media, post updates about the most trivial events, such as what they had for dinner, and upload countless selfies.

Introverts are among those who still value privacy. They are less likely to showcase their lives online or share the details of their personal affairs with the whole world.

At the same time, the quiet ones don’t like to be in the spotlight at social events. An introvert will never interrupt you. They will listen to you and talk only when they have something important to say. This tendency to avoid attention can be mistaken for insecurity and even a lack of intelligence.

3. They prefer to be real than to be ‘nice’

If you want to make a good impression on others, you are expected to be nice. But what does it mean to be ‘nice’ anyway?

In an introvert’s mind, it equals saying things you don’t mean. Quiet personalities will never bombard you with compliments or say meaningless social pleasantries just to win your fondness. But if an introvert said something nice to you, then be sure that they truly meant it.

Small talk is another component of social relationships most introverts struggle with. To them, it embodies utterly dull, uncomfortable, and pointless conversations they can perfectly do without. For this reason, introverts are often mistakenly believed to hate people.

The truth is that they don’t – they just crave stimulating, meaningful conversations and choose their social circle more carefully than extroverts.

In my book, The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In, I write about the reasons why so many introverts feel inadequate and alienated from other people in today’s society. It all goes down to social expectations this personality type has to deal with from a very early age.

But the good news is that every introvert can overcome the negative effects of these expectations and find the right path in this loud, extroverted world.

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Activism

The Esoteric Meaning Behind Neo’s Interrogation Scene in The Matrix

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More than 20 years old now, The Matrix is recognized by fans across the world as being one of the most brilliant films in history, most notably for its deeper meaning and esoteric philosophy.

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One scene that is particularly intriguing, considering the social climate of today, is Neo’s interrogation by the Agents of the Matrix.

Now, before we dig into the potential hidden meaning here, as I perceive it, and how Neo found himself in this uncomfortable position to begin with, let’s first establish some key points in relation to the overall story line that will help us to appreciate the implications behind this scene a little bit more.

What Does The Character Neo Represent in the Matrix?

Neo in ancient Greek (νέος) means new/young one. This is an important piece of the puzzle to help us understand what the directors of the film are trying to communicate to us. With that said, when we assess Neo’s character in the first film, we find that he is a solitary individual that keeps to himself and is struggling to find deeper meaning in this world by constantly searching the internet.

What Does The Character Morpheus Represent in the Matrix?

Morpheus in Greek mythology is a messenger of the gods. He appears to humans through dreams with the intention of delivering divine Knowledge and Truth. In the Greek mythos, he can appear in almost any form in people’s dreams, which could be because anyone, regardless of race, gender, or outward appearance, can be a messenger of enlightenment and Truth.

The First Matrix Film is About The Beginning of the Journey to Awakening

With the understanding of the deeper meaning behind what Neo and Morpheus’ characters represent in the film, we can now appreciate the intro scene of Neo sleeping (whilst searching for Morpheus) through a different lens of perception and awareness.

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You see, Neo sleeping whilst searching online for Morpheus represents the early stages of the Truth seekers journey — “asleep” but still searching for deeper meaning in life — and hoping to find that meaning by seeking out a “messenger” of higher Knowledge and Truth.

Truth is Terrorism in the Empire of Lies

Through his incessant efforts, Neo begins to get closer and closer to finding the elusive Morpheus. This, however, also attracts the unwanted attention of the Agents in the Matrix, which represent the enforcers of the shadow government of this system. Their job is to ensure that no one exposes what the Matrix really is, and how it turns unsuspecting every day human beings into useful resources that it can use and exploit.

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The Agents proceed to apprehend Neo and interrogate him, where they make it very clear that they’ve been spying on him and keeping meticulous records of his activities, both online and offline, for quite some time now. As we all know very well today, all around the world intelligence agencies are doing exactly that — tracking what we view online and keeping meticulous records on many of our movements.

The agents, however, do not see Neo as being a major threat to the Matrix system, as he is still in the early stages of his awakening and does not know enough to be a major threat. Instead, they offer him a deal where they will be willing to “wipe the slate clean” on his illegal activities online, if Neo will simply help them track down the man they call Morpheus, who they claim is “a known terrorist” that is “considered by many authorities to be the most dangerous man alive”.

This represents that the single greatest threat to this manipulative system — which is overwhelmingly ruled by deception and exploitation — is any messenger of higher Knowledge and Truth that can potentially awaken those who are still “asleep” to what the proverbial Matrix really is. In fact, one could argue this sort of power struggle has been going on for thousands of years, and is possibly why Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth” by the ruling class more than 2,000 years ago and subsequently sentenced to death; or why Fred Hampton was assassinated by government authorities in 1969; or, in more recent history, why civilians that were peacefully protesting against Wall Street and the bankers for their part in destroying the world economy in 2008, were targeted by the FBI and even labelled as potential “domestic terrorists“.

Simply put, Truth is terrorism in the empire of lies.

Imaginary Rights

Neo, still being somewhat naïve and unbegun in his journey, rejects the Agent’s offer and demands he get a phone call because “I know my rights!”

To this, Agent Smith retorts, “tell me Mr. Anderson, what good is a phone call if you’re unable to speak?”, which results in Neo’s mouth warping in the most eerie of ways.

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This scene represents a lesson that all genuine Truth seekers eventually come to learn — this system is not concerned with human rights nor is it concerned with upholding authentic justice. Instead, it inculcates these beliefs and misperceptions into our minds from a very young age, because it serves to help legitimize its unnecessary existence in the eyes of the unsuspecting public and indoctrinate us as to why we think we need it. But in reality, our government guaranteed “rights” can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

In relation to current events, for example, many thousands of people worldwide have been arrested for violating curfew orders; In one Indian state, civilians were told they must take selfies every hour and send it to the authorities to prove that they are staying indoors; in South Africa, some have been fined for not wearing masks while driving their cars; In Boston in the United States, people have even been told that they will be fined if they walk “the wrong direction” down the street; Homeless people in France have reportedly been fined for not staying indoors; Some people have been arrested for attending funerals of loved ones because it violated lockdown orders; Others (including doctors and scientists) have had their right to freedom of speech censored online; In Australia, a pregnant woman was actually arrested in her home for facebook posts that encouraged protesting against the lockdown; According to the International Labor Organization, tens of millions are being pushed into unemployment; and travel all around the world has been severely restricted by these authorities who have taken it upon themselves to be the rulers of this planet by dictating what the rest of us can and cannot do. Whether you agree with these policies or not, these things cannot logically be called “rights” since they are so very easily violated and taken away from us.

We Must Start With the Imagination

There are many other examples that demonstrate how our government given “rights” are more of a comforting illusion than an actual reality, such as the CIA’s secretive Black Site torture programs, which have been done in cooperation with other intelligence agencies and authorities throughout the world. In these programs, people have been kidnapped — without any legal criminal charge or trial — and then taken to undisclosed secret locations where many of them are tortured for many months on end, in ways that are considered to be in violation of international law and basic human rights. The CIA, of course, simply claims they are suspected terrorists. In 2014, however, a Senate Intelligence Committee Report found that at least 26 of the people that were kidnapped and tortured were actually “wrongfully detained”.

Wake Up Neo — You Are the One

Fortunately, Neo manages to escape this unthinkable situation without any serious injury or harm. Soon after, he is contacted by Morpheus, where he is told that he was very lucky that the Agents underestimated his great potential and spared him, because if the Agents had known the great secret that Morpheus knows, then Neo would probably be dead.

Confused by the obvious strangeness of everything taking place, Neo asks Morpheus what the hell is going on, and what exactly is he talking about?? Without hesitation, Morpheus replies to him, “You are the one Neo — You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I have spent my entire life looking for you.”

This is perhaps the most important lesson the new Truth seeker must eventually come to learn — We are the ones we have been waiting for to change this corrupt world my friends; and we must stop looking for heroes and human leaders to absolve us of this very serious responsibility. Instead, we must all take on the role of Morpheus — which is to awaken as many Neo’s (new minds) as we possibly can, whilst also taking on the role that represents the journey of Neo, by challenging ourselves to become the best version of who we authentically are.

By doing this, we will help to awaken and unleash the unique creative forces of each individual’s problem solving imagination; and we will also find unity in our shared struggle against the injustices, and corruption, of this inhumane system which invariably exploits us all.

If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?

Written by Gavin Nascimento, Founder of aNewKindOfHuman.com

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