wo man Bücher verbrennt,
verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.
-Almansor (1820), by Henirich Heine, as transcribed on The Empty Library memorial, Berlin, Germany
Roughly translated, the line translates: "It was but a prelude; Where they burn books, the will soon burn men."
One can ban a book, censor a voice, de-platform a speaker, cancel an opinion... but all one merely does is slow the ways for the idea to spread and grow... but that does not kill the idea. If you believe an idea is a weed, then you must kill it at the root... the place where the seed of an idea found fertile soil to grow. The very minds that let it take hold and spread out. The book merely carries the seeds of ideas to the soil where it will take hold.
Killing an idea is harder than it seems. Watch the film "V for Vendetta" in which Evey, the protagonist of the story encounters three people who brag about their defiant rejection of the government line that ideas are wrong. While only the titular V calls his by the name, but the characters of V, Gordon, and Valerie all share with Evey their "Shadow Gallary"... a hidden collection of art that the government tried to censor... Art that Evey understands the meaning and either already appreciates OR is taught to appreciate and through which she learns to appreciate the person who keep it or made it. And more importantly that to those who keep the art, the reasons they keep it are not for the reasons the government is dangerous. V keeps his Shadow Gallary because he believes that he is reclaiming that which had been censored... that by keeping it in a place of appreciation, it preserves it for those who will survive him, no matter how small. For him, he appreciates the works because, as he says "Individuals make art" and he asserts that there are no individuals when one is told what to think. Thus, art for him proves that the value of an individual is worth the fight.
The lesson is summed up when Gordon shows Evey his "shadow gallary"
Gordon: Cost me more than this house, but no matter how bad I feel it always cheers me up.
Evey: What is that?
Gordon: It's a copy of the Koran, 14th century.
Evey: Are you a Muslim?
Gordon: No, I'm in television.
Evey: But why would you keep it?
Gordon: I don't have to be Muslim to find the images beautiful, it's poetry moving.
Here, Gordon sees a value in a holy scripture that was placed on the ban list... But for religious reasons. He appreciates the effort of someone who he does not know, who was so moved by the importance of the ideas, that he spent countless years of his life to hand write a copy of the text, each character a painstaking work of art in and of itself so that the knowledge could find it's way to a man who 700 years in the future, who would spend more money to possess it than he did on the building to house it, and as Evey sees forbidden art that speaks to Gordon's more carnal desires it becomes apperent that the man who now owns a book that expressly forbids his sexual preference for other men, that the Koran, for Gordon, does not have a religious importance, but an artistic one. He might not value everything the words say, but he values the way they are said... The art is apparent, even if it's message may not always be agreeable. For Gordon, his Shadow Gallery is the one place were he is free to be himself and express his interests that society may not enjoy. As a television personality, he is forced to keep up certain appearences. He makes passes at the young girls on his show's cast and crew so that nobody will suspect that he is gay... an offense for which we learn is punishable by death.
Our final Shadow Gallery is presented to us by Valerie. And it's the only one that Evey observes without it's owner present... and it's the smallest by far, occupying the space of a mouse hole in a wall of a prison cell, hidden to the guards, but visible for an inmate fresh from a brutal intterogation, tortured, and tossed into the cell as if no more than trash... and in too much pain to climb onto their cot... and audience that Valerie wants to see the small piece of art.
I know there's no way I can convince you this is not one of their tricks, but I don't care, I am me. My name is Valerie, I don't think I'll live much longer and I wanted to tell someone about my life. This is the only autobiography I'll ever write, and god, I'm writing it on toilet paper.
Valerie tells her story, about how she came to be an inmate in the prison and the "crime" for which she was arrested for her in hand written script on a dirty piece of dirty toilet people and concludes this might be the last thing she ever does, but the most important. She doesn't know if it will ever be found... let alone by someone who will appreciate it, but she refuses to let the government totally kill her in a cell. To whit of her conclusion:
It wasn't long till they came for me. It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years, I had roses, and apologized to no one. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An Inch, it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.
Evey read the words during her stay many times as it was the only thing she had to keep her from the torture of the cells... and when she was finally given the chance to die by firing squad or save herself and give up V, she chose to not give the guard the single inch of her she had left.
As the film soon after reveals, Evey was never in threat or danger of her life. The prison was staged, by V, to test her... to see if she would break. Evey was in V's Shadow Gallary the entire time. As she was rightfully upset, she decides to leave and sets out on her own. But, later into the film, Evey returns just before the final conflict. She gives the piece of toilet paper back to V... she explains that in her reflection, the most real and convincing thing that V did that made her believe the experience. It's then when V drops the bomb shell: He didn't write the note. And he leads Evey to a secret room... His real shadow gallery, in which there hangs movie posters and promotional material for films all of which included the actress Valarie Page in the cast list. V explains that Evey believed the letter was real because Valarie Page was real... and she did write the letter... and with her last act, she gave it to the inmate in the next cell over... who did read it and did escape... the toilet paper that gave Evey the strength to choose to die defying the government's lies, knowing that no one would know she chose to save herself and turn V over was the same letter that inspire V to begin his defiance of the government. He lived through his prison sentence because of the words and ideas that the government believed they had destroyed... they lived on... and even if V dies in his attempt... he had already won... because the idea now lived on through Evey.
It is here where books are important. Ideas are planted in the minds where they bloom... but their true power is that the don't live soley where the spring forth... one may kill a man for his ideals... but books ensure that the man still lives... you can only kill an idea with a better idea.