So we are reading the Areopagitica (“He who destroys a good book kills reason itself” yadda yadda) for my Milton class, and I could not help but make a little connection to what Shirky was talking about in his SOPA and PIPA presentation.
A little back story first; Milton’s Areopagitica was written as a speech to the English Parliament that was implementing a nationwide censor system. Basically, before anything was allowed to be published, the original manuscript had to pass by a censor who would decide whether or not it could be allowed to circulate. (Of course that meant that any written work critical of the government would be met with a big fat “Heck No”).
Some people mistake it as a work that is against the banning of books, that’s not true at all, Milton specifically states that he is in full support of the banning of the “bad books”.
However, what he does argue is that there cannot be a preemptive censor of books. The books must be allowed to circulate and to be shared and argued about by the populace, and they themselves would decide what was a good book and what was not.
That’s exactly what I was thinking of when hearing Shirky talk. Right now, the internet is our source of knowledge, it is where we argue, share, and discuss ideas. Is it really a good idea to do anything to stifle those arguments and ideas?
(The answer is a big fat “Heck No”, I think)
PS. Here’s another picture of John Milton, looking smug as ever: