Book Burning

I am upset; a little more than upset, actually. My friend Martin J. Clemens of the Paranormal People Blog sent me a link today about a book and document burning in Canada. According to the source, irreplaceable historical and scientific documents were lost forever.

I will not even go into the “reasons” for this action because as I will argue shortly, there are never any real, valid, reasons to do this. When I read the link, as I said, I was upset and decided to write something about it. As I usually do when writing a post, I did some research.

That’s when I got a little more upset.

You see, when I think about book burning, the first thing I think about is the burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria, which was supposed to have gone through several fire incidents during its 300+ years history. I heard about it for the first time when I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. Other book burnings that came to mind where those of the Nazi era, but I did not remember knowing of any others.

Imagine my surprise when I learned of more than one hundred incidents of book burnings!

Historically, books are destroyed by people who do not agree with what those books are saying. The motivations are many and varied, but they usually tend to gravitate around four main themes: Religion, Morality, politics, and Science. Now the first three ones are arguably(well, mainly) a matter of opinion and I do not wish to discuss the merits of my statement.

Science is different. I consider the purposeful destruction of scientific knowledge an unforgivable sin, but that is another matter which I do not want to talk about either.

Before I go on, please be aware of the fact that I am no psychologist or philosopher. Therefore, my opinions are just that, opinions. Take them at what they are. I am sure that there may be flaws in my arguments, my logic or both. I am also sure that I will fail to say many things that need to be said about this and I do not claim that I am the first person to think about this so please bear with me.

I think people (as in humanity) burn books because of low self-esteem.

Yep, I think so; we do not like what we see in ourselves. In very much the same way as a person hides an aspect of his or her personality because of shame, we try to hide what we don’t like about ourselves collectively. All of us have done things that we want to keep secrets; humanity is no exception

I also want to argue that at least at some level, the physical act of book burning is a mere symbol of what we really want to accomplish, the elimination of knowledge. We are essentially trying to make the accusing evidence “go away” so we can feel good about ourselves.

We need to learn to accept our true nature, which in no way means that we should not try to improve such nature. This is another very good reason, probably the only important reason why we should not suppress knowledge, to better ourselves.

All prior knowledge, as embarrassing or shameful as it can be, can help raise us above our mistakes. Of course, it cuts both ways, knowledge can be misused, but it is up to us to at least try not to do that.

The thing is that you love someone, you love that someone unconditionally, warts and all. We must love ourselves enough to be able to learn from our mistakes, real or perceived and put that knowledge to good use.

We must cherish and preserve knowledge, all knowledge. When we try to burn it, we truly are also burning a part of us.


What do you think? Feel free to share this in your favorite social media site. I have a Facebook page, I’d love it if you “like” it… (:-D)…

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  1. There have been plenty of books I do not like, there are also books that are dangerous but the most dangerous thing you could do is to destroy a book.

    A book is the codification of someone else’s ideas and we are fortunate to live in a time and place where ideas can be exchanged so freely and comprehensively. We get to read a lot of stuff and we get to have opinions both positive and supportive as well as negative and critical. There are things to do when you passionately dislike a book namely speak up against what is written (such as in a review on Amazon) or freaking get off your ass and write your own book.

    Even really bad books need to be preserved as primary sources for historical reference.

    The loss of scientific knowledge because of deliberate acts of imposing ignorance upon humanity is grievous beyond words.


  2. Burning a book is a statement about the power of organized information and the fear of those who don’t understand it. In the case of the archive dump, I would imagine there are economic factors involved, though they didn’t mention such in the article. Am I wrong in thinking though, that maintaining such libraries should be, or should have been an opportunity for national pride? Something we Canadian’s need in a most dire fashion.

    All of the political commentary surrounding this event, about this governments pathological fear of science, for instance, are worth discussing, but perhaps at another time. Your thoughts on this mirror my own. There is no circumstance under which knowledge should be destroyed. It is as precious as life in my mind. It’s value is multidimentional, it has a value in it’s capacity for passing on wisdom, but the documents and books also have historical value beyond the information contained in their pages, and some have artistic value on top of it all. Once that’s destroyed, it can never be recovered.

    A sad state of affairs.


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