To Be Heard

It’s no longer necessary to burn the books that the tyrant would silence.

red and yellow light illustration

On this day in 1644, John Milton published Aeropagitica, a pamphlet decrying censorship. The following is assembled from ideas and phrases in this text, with an eye toward connecting to the current moment, where a chief concern seems to be censorship through noise, manifesting in ways that that are perhaps beyond what many writers of previous centuries might have imagined.

Let this be a certain testimony. When complaints are freely heard and deeply considered, then is civil liberty attained. 

Deliver us from tyranny, from superstition, and from flattery of idols, including ourselves––and from condemnation of the others we are unprepared still to recognize as ourselves, and from fashionable thinking and unthinking, from those superficial modes of sorting that deny what lives in those depths that frighten so many.

To silence grievance is to smother liberty. No covenant of fidelity can be kept with blind praise. Those upright in judgement know that right judgement is fluid and shared by others, including the unexpected strangers to a given land. Those who honor truth will hear them. Those who honor wisdom will welcome recognition of how it is to be practiced, a daily exercise and never a trophy to fix against a wall like the preserved carcass of a felled animal. 

Books are not dead things. Each contains a potency as active as the soul that delivered it. They may raise armies, yet consider this: to kill a man is to kill a reasonable creature. To kill a book is to kill reason itself. Revolutions of ages do not often recover the loss of truth, rejected. Beware the persecution of living labors.

It is less often the bad books that are silenced. Consider what a scholar celebrates today, those writings that were censored in their time. Also consider the silence of scholars and contemplatives. One might assume, by extension, that the starkest wisdom of our moment is also suppressed. 

The tyrants of our moment don’t need to burn books when they have noise enough to extinguish their voices. They don’t need to take what offends them from public view when they have abundant means already to keep people from reading. They need only propagate the mantras of the moment: speed, efficiency, and the idea that the only truth that matters comes in bullet points, easy to digest. If you paralyze the listening capacities of potential hearers, whomever would you need to silence?

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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