Friday, January 8, 2010

Is There Ever a Good Reason to Burn Books?

According to this story in The Guardian (UK), pensioners in Wales have taken to burning books as a relatively inexpensive and effective heating source for their flats. The author expresses outrage over this practice, implicitly treating all book burning as morally equivalent. It's not clear to me, however, that burning books for heat is as morally repugnant as burning books for violating presumed political, ideological, or moral principles. To suggest otherwise is to presume without warrant that each copy of each book published has an inherent social value that exceeds the cover price, regardless of social circumstances.

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not favor wholesale (or even retail) destruction of books. It would be great if pensioners in Wales could find something else to burn rather than books. All I'm saying is that burning an individual copy of an certain book  - think, for example, of an out-of-date copy of the yellow pages  - is not on the same moral plane as banning, let alone burning, books from libraries because of content deemed inappropriate by a self-appointed (or elected for that matter) committee of social guardians.

Hat tip: Marginal Revolution

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