This is a post about why everyone should burn books. I’m serious about this. I really think it would be good for people. I know that sounds a bit wrong, but bear with me.
“Do you think I could do some Morris Dancing here?” you say to someone in the park.
“It’s a free country,” they say, meaning that they are free to think you’re a twat as much as you being free to dance there.
And it’s a nice thing to say. It feels good. “It’s a free country.” It rolls off the tongue. It reminds you that the secret police aren’t sitting at the next table, or that there is not, as yet, a law against Morris dancing, despite the offence it causes.
“It’s a free country,” you say, even though you’re a sophisticated person who recognises there is no such thing as absolute truth and that ‘freedom’ can’t be strictly defined.
And even though when you walk into work in the morning you switch into work mode. You may be luckier than most people, but for most people work means not being yourself. It means presenting a polished version of yourself for the approval of your superiors and colleagues. Smile sweetly at the boss as he says something particularly moronic. Shut up about the idiocy of the direction your organisation is going in. Or hint at what you think and be frowned down by the person who controls your wage packet. Pretend to agree with your incompetent boss, then do what it takes to get the job done anyway. Put up with the patronising attitudes of managers, or the insulting and arbitrary pissing around with your wages as a temp worker.
In a country full of people who pride themselves on being individuals I find it weird not that people bow to what their superiors want – you’ve got to put food on the table after all – but that no one seems to notice they are required to give up their individuality when they enter the workplace. “You’re the boss,” we think with a shrug, “Even though you’re a bad boss.” But we don’t say what we think, we feel unable to so. And mostly we do what we’re told, like a bunch of little kiddies. We even convince ourselves that disciplining ourselves to follow the boss’s line is the real maturity.
And maybe you think it’s fine, and maybe you think it’s necessary for organisations to work that way (I don’t), but you can’t pride yourself on being such a fucking individual at the same time. That’s 8 hours a day 5 days a week when you shut your mouth and do what you’re told by people who got to their positions through a bunch of decisions and processes so arbitrary you might as well have picked their names out of a hat. In fact they’d probably be better if they were chosen that way because they wouldn’t be so good at licking the arses of the equally incompetent and/or abusive senior management.
So I was thinking about these contradictions while talking to people in Deptford today about the upcoming demonstration on March 26th and was struck by the number of people who wouldn’t even consider going on a demonstration. They didn’t agree with the cuts, but they just didn’t see themselves as the type of people to go on protests. Which is interesting, because in theory we’re free to say and do whatever we want, in practice the idea of expressing that right on the streets seems almost repellent to many people.
The reason for that? Just habit maybe. Because there are certain things you do and certain things you don’t. And let’s not ask too many questions about why. Perhaps that habit got ingrained with some help from an education system that taught us to be passive and workplaces where we can’t speak our minds. But why worry? It’s just not my thing, that’s the point.
Which is why I think everyone should burn books. Because it’s one of those things you just don’t do. The fact that it’s one of those things nice liberal people don’t do is irrelevant. It’s not the done thing so I think you should do it. I mean, yes, book-burning has a history, but if your choice of books to burn is arbitrary, not censorial, and if it deprives no one of reading material, then what harm does it do?
It’s a free country, they say.
Sort of, I say, piling books on the fire, but if you’re going to follow your habits and call it freedom, I’m going to burn books and suggest you do it too. You’ve had a habit of not burning books. By all means choose Dan Brown to burn. By all means raid the boxes of books even charity shops can’t sell and that would have gone for recycling. The point is, after dancing naked (did I mention that bit before?) round a pile of burning books you might choose never to do it again, but at least it won’t be out of habit.
“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.” — Euripides