I have this recurring fantasy: a caveman discovers that he can produce drawings of the animals he hunts on the walls of his cave. Excited by the possibilities of his art, energized by the creative act, he produces a drawing–only to have it rubbed angrily off the cave wall by someone in his tribe who declares that the depiction of animal…
I have this recurring fantasy: a caveman discovers that he can produce drawings of the animals he hunts on the walls of his cave. Excited by the possibilities of his art, energized by the creative act, he produces a drawing–only to have it rubbed angrily off the cave wall by someone in his tribe who declares that the depiction of animal genitalia is indecent. The first artist encounters the first censor, and a dynamic is born that is with us still!
Nat Hentoff once said of the human animal that our urge to censor is stronger than our sex drive. Certainly, at the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, we deal daily with the folks who know better than you and me what books we should read, what art we should see, what musical lyrics the government should allow us to hear. Generally, these efforts to “protect” us from ideas or images others deem improper are defended by reference to “community standards.” Of course, if the targeted materials were real!y inconsistent with community standards, we wouldn’t need to censor them, because no one would be reading, buying, listening or downloading.
For those of us who believe that ideas matter, that art is an intensely important activity through which we explore ideas, censorship threatens our most important values. The government that can determine which ideas are worthy of consideration and which are not is a government with power over the most important of all human functions–the power of the intellect.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union exists to defend individuals against improper use of government power. We recognize that freedom can be dangerous–we simply feel that it is far more dangerous to give a majoritarian government the power to decide which ideas are good for us.
In my fantasy, the caveman and his critic take their respective arguments to the leader of the cave clan. The censor insists that he has taken a poll, and that most of the clan agree that the drawing was indecent. “No smut in our cave!” he insists. A lone partisan argues the case for the artist: a society unwilling to consider all ideas will never leave the caves, will never reach the stars. A society willing to be ruled by the fears of the many will be deprived of the genius of the few. The leader considers the arguments, and rules in favor of freedom. Civil liberties are born.