Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Freedom to Read is Freedom to Live
Books - glorious books. We often take for granted our ability to walk into a book store or library and acquire pretty much any title we wish. At various points in history, and in other parts of the world, others have not been as fortunate. If we live in a society of censorship and inability to access resources we want and need, this affects our quality of life. It affects our freedom not only to read, but our freedom to be full, functioning citizens. Freedom to Read Week recently concluded. As a closing speaker, the Edmonton Public Library brought in David Barsamian, host of Alternative Radio to speak on March 3. Barsamian spoke about the importance of language when trying to discuss and influence the political scene. Barsamian began his talk about speaking a bit about the robocall scandal that has come to light in recent weeks. He followed that up by pointing out that people tend to know more about what is going on in the world of sports rather than politics.It reminded me of an in-joke between myself and a few friends. "How was the game?" we would ask each other, with sarcasm, whenever we pretended to imitate what we considered to be a citizen oblivious of current events. David then spent some time talking about what libraries mean to him. He claims that they literally saved his life, as he described his parents as "country bumpkins" who were ignorant of literature and history. He found his own learning endeavours more fruitful than from formal education, describing schools as "holding pens" and "daycare centre" (especially the younger grades). Taking a fair amount of time discussing books that influenced him, Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm were quoted numerous times. He also spoke about language and memory, citing the state control of learning through what he called "inverted language." As an example, he used an editorial from the Calgary Herald referring to the Alberta tarsands with the much sanitized term "oilsands. This manipulation of language can also be described as "greenwashing" and "astroturfing." He emphasized the need for the correct terms to be used (like "capitalism" instead of "free market," and "imperialism" instead of "foreign policy" as other examples). Referring to the U.S. as the "United States of Amnesia," Barsamian warned against the use of the passive voice because it avoids responsibility. For example, "Bombs were launched" - but by who? He recommended that all writers read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and referred to many journalists as simply "agents of mass distraction" and "lapdogs with laptops." Another warning was the citizens are vulnerable if they cannot break down terms of propaganda and see through "coded language." "We have neighbourhoods - we have strongholds," for example. He also explained how "stupidity is constructed" through such means as getting people to believe things through constant repetition. Barsamian also explained the history and definition of propaganda, discussing the father of the term, Edward Bernays, before talking more about censorship. David Barsamian's talk reinforced my belief in citizens educating themselves by seeking out alternative forms of news and communications rather than mainstream media, and to really think about the messages that bombard us during day to day life. It was also a reminder to head to your local library and read as much as you can on topics that are important. Other than sports, that is. To view all of the videos of David Barsamian's talk that I filmed, click here.