John Locke was an English philosopher and political theorist. His ideas about freedom greatly influenced America’s founding fathers and are reflected in the Declaration of Independence.
Yet, Locke believed in a kind of censorship, a self-directed control of what we read, see, and hear. He said: “The reading of bad books is not only standing still, but going backwards (and he that has his head filled with wrong notions is much more at a distance from the truth than he that is perfectly ignorant).”
Here’s another John Locke quotation: “The discipline of desire is the background of character.” The discipline of desire requires a self-censorship of the ideas and images that stir up harmful, unjust, or morally wrong desires.
Nowadays, our society is flooded with pictures and words that stir up self-harming desires. The absence of self-censorship (frequently called “viewer discretion“) is causing much harm in our society. For example, our out of control desire for food has led us to devour to the point of an “obesity epidemic.” Runaway desire for sex regardless of the consequences, has led to millions of fatherless children, millions of children killed in the womb, untold heartbreak, and the spread of dangerous diseases. And the free spending desire for homes with mortgages that we can’t afford led to our current financial crisis.
John Baptist de la Salle is quoted as saying: “The reading of bad books fills the imagination with bad thoughts. Through the mind the poison passes, and there begets ruin.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up the need for self-directed censorship by writing: “Books are the best things, well used; abused, among the worst.” The same can be said for TV, movies, the internet, texting, video games.
If we won’t use the tool of self-directed censorship and control the ideas and information consumed by our mind, then the poison in today’s media and society will sweep us into much self-inflicted misery both as individuals and as a society.