Ray Bradbury

Sparkplug’s Arizona correspondent Ted Rushton comments on the recent passing of Ray Bradbury.

“It was a pleasure to burn,” is the opening sentence in ‘Fahrenheit 451.’ 

In his 1953 novel Bradbury warned of the dangers of McCarthyist censorship in America in addition to the Nazi book-burnings of the 1930s.

Unable to afford college, Bradbury educated himself in public libraries, which he regarded as the cornerstones of civilization.  He died last week at age 91, a rare author who loved mechanical technology in general but was suspicious of intellectual technology such as e-books and the Internet.

His warning is as valid now as in 1933 and 1953.  Recently, ‘The Arizona Regressive’ campaigned, along with Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, to ban as “un-American” the teaching of Hispanic history courses in Tucson schools.  They say such courses are as dangerous to Arizona and America as Nazi officials said “un-German literature” was to the exceptionalism of the Third Reich.

The ‘Regressive’ vigorously denies any attempt at censorship, asserting the books once used in the classroom are still available in the library.  By the same reasoning, a ban on home delivery of the ‘Regressive’ isn’t censorship as long as a copy is available in the local library.  Such is the nature of any ban or restriction on items officially deemed harmful, as in “this book is banned because you’re too stupid not to be harmed by its contents or use.”

The list of harmful items continues to grow.  Sixty years ago, California spent twice as much on its universities than its prisons with the result it had the world’s finest university system.  Now the state spends twice as much on prisons as on universities.  It costs five times as much to keep a person in prison than to pay university tuition.  Prison achieves two goals,  it punishes people who use some mild hallucinogenic drugs while legalizing other drugs such as Prozac,  and it keeps the general public dumb enough not to think about the difference.

Bradbury warned against such logic that is imposed in an attempt to create “social cohesion.” 

In ‘Fahrenheit 451’ the chief book burner explains, “Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico.  The people in this book, this play, the TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.”

Books were burned lest they offend anyone.  Likewise, the reasoning of editorial writers at the ‘Regressive,” since teaching Mexican history in Tucson offends them, it must be censored for everyone since no one should be offended in this most perfect of all Arizonas.  Such is the meaning of the First Amendment at the ‘Regressive,’ though “librotrafficantes” are now smuggling books into Tucson from other states.

Bradbury, although not a subscriber to the ‘Regressive,’ was well aware of such hypocrisy.  In a coda added to a 1979 edition to the book, he raged, “For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water conservationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics.  The tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule.”

Bradbury treasured books.  Not because they all expressed the same ideas, but because they challenged his mind with a variety of ideas. Yet, many of his books were dystopias, because he feared losing the diversity that makes America great. 

He will be missed, as any great person is missed.  He will be honored by those who pick up the banner of freedom that he carried for so long.


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