The next day’s session of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference at this years Edinburgh Book Festival considered the topic of Censorship.
An account of the session can be read here.
An archive of the video recordings from the conference is here.
Patrick Ness’ keynote speech focussed on self-censorship, forced on writers through the exposure of a modern connected world and a secular society. A few of my thoughts from attending the session:
The irony is that while we have a more connected and exposed world, the same communicative mechanisms also distribute the extreme material often censored. For example, Google and YouTube have got to show more Adsense and How neo-Nazis may be making money from YouTube advertising.
The question is one of morality. writers tend to self censor because they have decent sensibilities but others are not so controlled in what they publish, and that may be the point. Writers are initially writing to get published, so we have to please the editor. Self publishing has no such boss.
Therefore, Ness’ concerns about self censoring to avoid offence is a necessary hypocrisy, if it is on anything other than personal knowledge sensu Jackie Kay’s point on memoirs at 1:24:30 in this video of the day’s proceedings (I make a cheeky cameo at 1:39) when there is an extent of extreme material already available via the internet and other sources.
The effect of swamping ourselves with undesirable, censorable material is that all we are left with is a personal moderation, one that is informed by biology via the psychology of decency.
This is an evolutionary development of behavioural psychology attuned to the natural threats to our survival that we encounter within our environment (e.g., infection from rotting meat, therefore a detest of cadavers). We are revolted by certain things for good reason, they set off alarms in our psyche, but moderating ourselves purely to avoid offence when the offending material is freely available elsewhere serves no evolutionary purpose (beyond maintaining cohesion in communities, where there are likely stronger forces at play).