Banned Books


It was surprisingly challenging to come up with a book to write about for Banned Books Week – not because it’s difficult to find suitable books, but for quite the opposite reason!

The number of books that have been banned or found themselves on the wrong end of censorship is staggering – and that’s just counting the ones on the American and UK library lists. Worldwide, there must be hundreds of works that for one reason or another have fallen foul of the establishment. Everything from Shakespeare and classic works, through to children’s favourites have caused raised hackles including, most ironically, Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit451′ – the main theme of which is the censorship of books!

With so many to choose from, selecting just one proved impossible; so, I’ve chosen two very different novels – although both deal with the same subject, albeit from differing perspectives. I think that both also have relevance to Second Life, since both deal with the question of society and moral codes.

William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a disturbing and believable account of a group of young boys, marooned on an island when their plane crashes. Faced with the reality of surviving in an alien environment, without the stabilising influence of adults, the boys define their own version of society. The initial team spirit, practicality and concern for the weaker among them degenerates into tribalism, superstition and ‘survival of the fittest’, with horrifying and shocking outcomes. Anarchy reigns supreme and the voice of reason falls victim to resentment, marginalisation and, ultimately, is overwhelmed.

In contrast, in ‘Brave New World’, Aldous Huxley presents us with his nightmare vision of a world so rigidly governed and orchestrated that freedom of choice effectively no longer exists. Absolute control over morality, birth, life and death falls to the state – one’s role in life is predetermined in the test tube, societal norms are indoctrinated from birth and enforced through state manipulation of consumerism, drugs, procreation and religion. The rights of the individual are unimportant; people are resources, whose purpose in life is to be productive, to consume and to be shared for the common good.

I found it interesting that, along with some of the usual reasons that novels have been banned – sex, profanity, racism and political inference – Lord of the Flies was also challenged on the grounds that it was “demoralizing in as much as it implies that man is little more than an animal”. This statement seems to suggest that, even in the most novel of circumstances, human nature is capable of adhering to a higher moral code, rather than descending into anarchy and bestial behaviour – a sentiment that is expressed in the book; voiced by the naval officer at its conclusion, when the boys are rescued. Anyone who witnessed the events of the recent riots in the UK will know that this is not so.

The book has resonance with some aspects of Second Life – in many ways, the virtual world is isolated from society in general and its residents have free reign to create their own worlds, complete with moral and ethical codes that may deviate from those of the real world. Unsurprisingly, it is not difficult to find examples of tribalism, controlling and manipulative behaviour and even superstition in Second Life, however it is rare to come across outright organised anarchic behaviour. Certainly we’ll find the odd griefer and example of antisocial activity from time to time, but these are in the minority and rarely cause any real concern. On the face of it, there seems no real reason why Second Life society remains stable and manages to avoid the descent into anarchy and destruction – something that, in real life, we’re unable to guarantee in every circumstance.

I think there’s a simple reason for the anomaly – although Second Life is in effect an ‘island’, it is still connected to the mainland of the real world through our real presence. Neither are we prisoners in Second Life, we have the freedom to leave whenever we wish and the freedom to go wherever we want on the Grid at any time. In this way, we are constantly exposed to diversity and change, and our awareness of ‘community’ develops. Unlike the boys, left alone to their own devices and having to fend for themselves, as best they can – we are never alone and are unlikely to lose touch with the wider community of Second Life: A community which nurtures and sustains us, but also provides a point of reference and stability whenever we may need it.

Turning to Brave New World, there are many synergies to be found between the challenges raised against the book and Second Life society. However, for the sake of brevity, I intend to consider just one – perhaps an unusual choice, too!

Brave New World received numerous bannings for its portrayal of sexuality – specifically, the way in which it depicted promiscuity and sex with no need for commitment. Only the most blinkered of individuals would fail to recognise the parallels that exist in Second Life – and, although we may choose to disassociate ourselves from such things, or simply ignore them, we must acknowledge that many of the behaviours that the novel has been criticised for are not only rife in Second Life, but tolerated and encouraged.

In the book, such things were endorsed and proliferated through teaching, religion and the guidance of the state. The picture in Second Life is somewhat less straightforward, although I’d suggest that the position maintained by the Lindens on the subject is allied to the position of the state in the book. Of course, it is nowhere near as explicit as in the novel – Linden Lab would never blatantly endorse promiscuity or deviant practices, however, by failing to set any particular standards, (other than those required by law), and even allowing land to be specifically designated for ‘adult’ use, it could be argued that the Lindens are willing, at the very least, to turn a blind eye to activities that some residents may consider immoral and unacceptable. Personally, I proffer no opinion here, other than to suggest that if questions of morality can be used to justify the banning of books, who is to say the same premise cannot also be extended to the banning of virtual environments?

Two books -two extremes of society… but where exactly does Second Life fit in?

One Response

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  1. Pay
    Pay September 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm |

    Thanks for such a thoughtful response to my challenge! It’s a privilege to be on the same team with you, Shauna, and everyone else.

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