Perspectives: Reading old books, an antidote to thought control

Read old books
Read old books | Image composite by Brett Barrett, St. George News

OPINION – We brush and floss our teeth to prevent dental decay. We exercise and eat a balanced diet to strengthen our bodies against disease. But what can we do to fortify our minds against those who seek to direct our thinking?

The need for intellectual preventative maintenance is as necessary today as it’s ever been.

Evidence of politically correct attempts at thought control has taken the form of rewriting Mark Twain’s classic books to inject a more “racially sensitive” dialogue. It is found in school curriculum with the Common Core State Standards call for replacing other classic works of American literature with approved “informational texts.”

It has been felt locally with demands to replace Dixie State College’s alleged racist history with a politically sanitized one in order to satisfy protesters’ calls for their brand of “progress.”

To understand how to protect ourselves from ideological bullying, we must first understand what is meant by political correctness.

Political correctness finds its roots in the dogmatic, party-dominated thinking of Marxism. As Doug Casey explains: “The Soviets had ‘political officers’ to make sure everyone thought — or at least spoke — in approved manners, not America. But political correctness has woven itself into American society over the last generation. We’re not allowed to say anything politically incorrect.”

Modern political correctness is essentially economic Marxism that has been transformed into cultural Marxism. Its goal is to alter all the rules that govern interactions between people and institutions. It is based upon the premise that whatever controls our language also controls our thoughts.

As children we learned, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Now impolite language, ideas, or symbols are viewed as excuses to try and punish anyone who strays beyond currently “approved” thoughts and words.

Punishments for violating political correctness can include being ostracized, sensitivity training upon threat of being fired from a job, and, in places like an airport, it can get you arrested.

With our language, thoughts and symbols in a constant state of flux, no one can be certain exactly where he or she stands in relation to our approved boundaries. This uncertainty is exactly what enables the facilitators of political correctness to wield their power over us.

So how can we stand our ground with confidence?

There are two things that can inoculate us against the effects of those who insist on controlling others. The first is to develop our minds to where we can think critically and independently about the world around us. Political correctness thrives on — and requires — groupthink in order to exist. It asserts that individual identity must be surrendered to the will of the collective, lest someone think or say unapproved opinions.

This is one of the reasons that the guardians of approved thought seek to do away with certain words, ideas and even books. Rewriting Mark Twain, for instance, is akin to chiseling tattoos onto Michelangelo’s David in order to make him more contemporary. Rational individuals understand that each of these works is a masterpiece of its time and should not be revamped to fit our ever-changing fashions.

Likewise, the exclusion of books like “Catcher In the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” and others from Common Core curriculum signals an attempt to control the historical narrative of our society. This requires creating intellectual distance between the storytellers of classical literature and today’s students.

As another way to counter this trend, C.S. Lewis recommended the reading of old books. By reading the classics, we avoid the tendency to become conditioned exclusively by our own time. As Lewis explains, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.”

This is a far cry from the rigid, politically correct mindset of our time that views everything through an ideological filter and then arrogantly concludes that all that came before us was wrong.

When we read old books, we come to recognize that every generation has its unique blind spots, including our own. This enables us to better understand actual history and makes us less inclined to buy into misguided attempts to rewrite it.

It helps to remind us that someday, long from now, others will clearly recognize and comment on our blind spots too. Instead of railing against a quickly receding past, our time is better spent improving on our own shortcomings.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

Read old books
Read old books | Image composite by Brett Barrett, St. George News

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  • Not a "Dixie" fan December 13, 2012 at 10:36 am

    In the Old Testament exists “If a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, he must pay her father 50 shekels of silver and then marry her.” Do you agree with this in today’s society? Also, who favors continuing to slaughter animals as penance for one’s sins? That will get you arrested in today’s society. The New Testament is written differently. More pc? Other changes exist even in more recent religious writs & ideology. Some written claims contested by experts have seemingly disappeared from existence. Were those changes made to appease the pc world or to persuade, influence or to control? Churches even change their names. An example are the name changes from the ‘Church Of Christ’ first established in 1830.

  • Roy J December 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

    As Chesterton recommends, whenever a new book comes out, read an old one. However, nobody dares to read Chesterton anymore, because he uses words like ‘hypocrite’ and ‘jingoism’, and formulates ideas against the servile state…

  • Damie December 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Odd that you’d cite C.S.Lewis. When I was in a conservative Christian school in the early 80’s, he was one of the banned authors at that school (Narnia promoted witchcraft, he was not a real Christian, etc..) The school even had a burning of all books and music that were deemed to be wicked or inspire rebellion in children . It was a well rated Lutheran school, Missouri synod. I’m guessing you’re younger than me if you don’t recall the big conservative push against many classics in past decades. Here’s a list of challenged classics with many examples of conservatives pushing against literature.

    • Roy J December 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      I am having a hard time believing ‘Brideshead Revisited’ got banned for the reasons cited, but they did burn ‘The Lord of the Rings’, so…

  • Freedom December 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Banned reading?

    The defense of historical Christianity (written and oral) was once characterized as “theological pornography that is damaging to the spirit.”

  • BJ Kellogg December 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    We have more “educated” people in this country alive right now than in the entire previous 200 plus years since the founding of America. Everyone—everyone in America has access to literacy. Yet the promise of state mandated education has failed precisely because they neglect critical thinking and instead teach political correctness. Somehow several generations of self-educated people (like Lincoln, Truman et al) managed to achieve greatness–without college. If Americans still knew how to think—logically not emotionally then we would not be in the shape we are in. Reading old books is only a good idea if you having a functioning brain.
    Gotta go my favorite reality show is on TV. . . Oh wait that’s part of the problem isn’t it?

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