Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why SafeLibraries is Not to be Believed.

I really do feel regret when SafeLibraries claims I am attacking him personally, which means I’ve been feeling regret often of late.  I think this is unfortunate, but also necessary.  The disinformation he produces provides an awful lot of support, at times even impetus, for attempts at censorship, and so that disinformation has to be countered. 

In a recent comment to his article of November 12th, he complained about the remarks I made there.  Speaking in the first person he asked, “I'm IMAGING things? I'm putting words into people's mouths? These are not personal attacks going directly to my mental acuity and innate honesty?”

Well, they do go to his mental acuity and innate honesty.  But they’re not personal attacks. All I did was point out his factual errors.   If his mental acuity and innate honesty are called into question by the factual inaccuracies he presents, that is his fault, not mine.  His position seems to be that I should not be too pointed in revealing his inaccuracies, lest I inadvertently reveal that he is an unreliable source of information.  That is not a reasonable demand.

Having been banned from SafeLibraries’ blog, I am now free to speak my mind without struggling to find the invisible mine field of what he thinks amounts to a personal attack.  I have no doubt that he will consider this entire essay, and several that follow, to be one giant personal attack.  I don’t see it that way.  I’m trying to point out his factual errors.

Let me start with some positives.  SafeLibraries is a smart guy.  He has studied his issues at length, has read widely, and has shown that he can distill information from various sources into a coherent whole.  He has a certain flair for argumentation, indicating a relatively quick wit as well.  I suspect also that in his own way he even has a certain sense of honesty in his work.  It would be easy to dismiss SafeLibraries if he were clearly stupid or an obvious liar.  He is neither of those, and is therefore a force to be reckoned with.

In spite of these positive traits, I find the majority of his blog and web posts to be misleading in the extreme.  This is a compliment to his gift with words, and maybe even to his dedication to whatever his underlying ideology really is, but it is certainly not a compliment to the balance or factuality of the analyses he produces. 

SafeLibraries’ prolific conversion of information into disinformation is based in the variety of “honesty” he seems to work with.  This brand of honesty is not especially unusual, but it is quite dangerous to anyone interested in a facts rather than fantasy. Generally, he tries to ensure each individual statement he makes is true in some sense.  Unfortunately, he is far less concerned with whether or not the sense in which his statement is true has anything to do with the sense that is taken home by the reader.  In other words, the truth value of what he says is different from the truth value of what he communicates.

For example, consider his characterization of Toni Morisson’s book The Bluest Eye.  SafeLibraries has called this the “bestiality book.”  Now, in a certain sense, that is an accurate characterization: the book does contain the word bestiality.  But the idea set in the minds of SafeLibraries’ readers by his statement is that the book is about bestiality, or at least contains significant descriptions of acts of bestiality.  I have read this book and can say with certainty that it contains not the slightest hint of any description or definition of such an act.  It does contain the word bestiality, exactly once.   And this is precisely what I mean about the difference between what he says and what he communicates.  He said the book is a “bestiality book,” and what he said is true, in some sense.   But what he communicated to his reader is that the book contains descriptions of acts of bestiality, and this is completely false. 

That is why I made a big deal recently of his frankly small gaffe in turning a paraphrase of Judith Krug's words into a direct quote.  He knows this violates journalistic and academic principles of writing, and is usually more careful than that.  A similar gaffe occurred in his letter to the Leesburg, Florida, commissioners, when he clearly gave the impression that the US v. ALA Supreme Court decision allowed restrictions on books as well as internet content (it doesn't).   These two examples seem unusual to me because I can’t imagine any interpretative context which allows them to be true in any sense.  That is, they seem to me to be bold-faced lies.  I suspect, however, that I’m missing something.  Somehow, somewhere, in his mind there is a way of interpreting these statements that makes them true in at least one possible sense, however unimaginable that might be to anyone else. 

His verbal shell-games are fast, frequent, and massively misleading, as even a quick review of some his recent article headlines reveals.  Defending the use of The Bluest Eye in high school curricula becomes “Racist ALA Supported Bestiality for Howell, MI, Children Because Author Is Black.”  The firing of circulation desk attendants after a year of interfering in multiple library policies is portrayed as “Librarians Fired for not Pornifying Child.”  A guest article promoting awareness of the commonality of pornography use is twisted into “NCAC Promotes Porn” (whatever that means). 

This general treacherousness with words is not random.  His spin-doctoring is carefully directed to prop up a set of core claims that he is unable to support by more factual means. In the interest of brevity, I have picked the six of these core claims that appear to me to be the most essential to his position:
  1. Local citizens have a legal right to intervene in the detailed operation of their local library, including that they can tell the library what books to buy or not to buy, where books should be shelved, and which books should get warning stickers put on them.

  2. The policies recommended by the American Library Association (ALA), especially those protecting the Free Speech rights of minors, are solely based on an ideology committed to “sexualizing children.”

  3. A “compelling state interest” in protecting children from pornography trumps all Free Speech concerns.

  4. The recognition of “community standards” in the definition of obscenity allows each community to suppress whatever forms of expression it disapproves of.

  5. The 2003 Supreme Court decision known as US v. ALA is a major break with previous decisions on Free Speech, providing sweeping new powers to suppress age-inappropriate materials.

  6. Terms like censorship and banning apply only to pervasive prohibitions by state or federal governments, so the ALA is wrong in claiming any books have been banned in recent years, and nothing SafeLibraries proposes amounts to censorship or banning.

It seems to me that much of the rhetoric on SafeLibraries’ blog and website results from some combination of these claims.  While critical to his position, these are all easily falsified, and falsify them I shall.  For the sake of my readers’ patience, I will split that up into a series of essays to be released over the next several days.