Opinion: Erasing ideas, one thought at a time


Death by a thousand cuts. Lingchi, the Chinese practice of torture and execution until the early 1900s, did exactly what it described. It drew blood from its victims only a little at a time until a tipping point prevented recovery. The objective was to inflict as much pain as possible. Ironically, the medieval practice of bloodletting was functionally similar. It drew blood from its patients only a little at a time until a tipping point prevented recovery. The objective was to balance the bodily humors to heal the sick. Whatever the intention or methodology, the outcome was equally unappealing.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, holds the cliché. So, is the good actor better served to leave well enough alone? Could it be that the real test of moral action is one of intention or perhaps restraint? In a proclaimed effort to “modernize” classic works of literature, censors have taken to removing or rewriting sections or themes determined unilaterally to be potentially offensive to current sensibilities. It is not a new enterprise. It would be hard to image a sovereign or pontiff entirely able to resist the power to “correct” history to better conform with their own agendas. While those aims may have been pure, or not, wouldn’t it be terrific to review the original, unedited text, unfiltered by the changing mores of the millennium?   

We have come to recognize with dread the pyre upon which some of us would throw ideas inconsistent with our own. Most of the world restricts open access to the internet for all, and access to learning for many, usually based upon religion, gender or politics. There is a bonfire in the public square of “wrong” ideology. Could editing authors’ intents turn out to be like burning books — one page at a time?


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