Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why Can't I Have my Cake and Eat it Too?

We would all like to have a magical cake, one we can eat whenever we want but is never used up. A lovely dream, but most of us recognize that such a thing is impossible in any practical reality.

Not so the WBC4SL and the CCLU, who are trying both to have and to eat their cake.

How are the WBC4SL and the CCLU eating their cake? They're eating their cake by the simple fact of living within the modern world. They live in the United States in the 21st century, a pluralistic society with unprecedented levels of diversity. They have jobs, go to the market, watch television, and otherwise engage with a wide variety of people, many quite unlike the members of the WBC4SL and CCLU, all day and every day.

Within our society there are smaller groups that choose some degree of isolation. Convents and monasteries are extreme examples of places where people go when they choose not to live worldly lives, and instead to close themselves off with like-minded others. There are many other levels of isolation, though, like Amish communities, communes, cooperatives, and the like, where members interact mostly with their own kind, although they have some degree of contact with the outside world.

The WBC4SL and the CCLU aren't like those isolated communities. They interact every day with the complexity and diversity of American life. That's a choice.

But the WBC4SL and CCLU want to have their cake as well as eat it. They expect to interact with diverse America yet be unaffected by it. They want to go to the same office and same grocery store as every body else, maybe even to the same library, without every encountering the differences around them. They're like monks after the monastery has burned down, who are now dashing about the blaring city streets screaming at everyone, "don't lead me into temptation," "don't show me anything I don't approve of," and "Oh you worldly people are vile!"

They're trying to have their cake and eat it too by imposing labels and restrictions at the West Bend Library. They want to send their kids to the library, a public place, but at the same time guarantee that their kids won't find anything that contradicts WBC4SL values. Bad enough, but it's actually far worse than that. The WBC4SL wants to turn every librarian into a WBC4SL parent, deciding which patrons can access which materials using WBC4SL standards. They're trying to make public space an extension of their private universe.

It wouldn't be enough for them to enter a cloister. They'd rather take every body else with them by building a wall around the whole town of West Bend. Have they ever read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and did they like it?

Most of us realize we have to live in a society that includes people with values different from our own. But then again, most of us realize we can't have our cake and eat it too.

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