Thursday, October 8, 2009

Enemies of Civilization

I'm not going to make any bones about this, today. Evil is common in the world, and it's frequently done by people who honestly believe they're doing good. I see it again and again. The most brazen and galling example of it that's crossed my awareness recently took place in Oak Brook, Illinois, a quiet and wealthy suburb of Chicago. The Daily Herald - "Suburban Chicago's Information Source" - recently covered a conflict between the supporters and opponents of the Oak Brook Public Library.

The face of the anti-library faction appears to be Constantine "Connie" Xinos, who from all appearances could not be any more of an asshole if he tried. "I wanted that kid to lose sleep that night," he was quoted as saying with a grin as he responded to his vitriolic rebuttal to an 11-year-old girl who spoke about how she missed having on-staff librarians to help her.

Oak Brook, according to Xinos, should "stop indulging people in their hobbies ... their little, personal, private wants," and that if people opposed the layoffs of the Oak Brook Public Library staff, they should raise the money themselves. Considering that the median household income in Oak Brook is $146,537, that might not necessarily be a difficult prospect, but that's not the goddamn point. The point is how this is a blatant undermining of the foundation of modern society.

Xinos, according to the article, launched an unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent the construction of the library - and why? Because it costs public money to run. While he's quoted as saying his philosophy is "conservative," his reference to the necessary role of government being "to catch bad guys, put out fires, fix the streets and make sure buildings are sturdy" is more than enough to pin him as a libertarian.

Libertarianism is a philosophy that's particularly strong in the United States, a philosophy which seeks to maximize personal liberty and states that government should have as little responsibility as possible, and that most services other than national defense should be the balliwick of the free market. There's a long libertarian strain in sf; Vernor Vinge has written a few, including "The Ungoverned," a short story in the same universe as Marooned in Realtime, where law enforcement is privatized and individuals can own arsenals usually reserved for militaries. The only issue is that there's very little middle ground in libertarianism, from what I can see - most of its supporters seem to be rabid supporters.

That's fine, in its way, but I draw the line at the health of society. Actively seeking to shut down a library system is not reflective of an interest in the health of society. Libertarianism exists today because our ancestors created a system through which the average person could, at no cost to themselves, learn and educate and enrich themselves. The 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie's most enduring legacy may well be the system of Carnegie libraries, 2,509 libraries built around the world and financed by him, built specifically so that people living in poverty could improve themselves, the way Carnegie himself had gone from poverty to plutocracy.

It may be that attitudes have shifted in the intervening years. A hundred years ago, there was a general appreciation of education in culture, because people knew that it was the road out of poverty - an education made the difference between unskilled ditchdigging labor, say, and far more lucrative professional employment. It's taken far more for granted today, I think, enabling people like Xinos to call for the piecemeal destruction of that enlightening infrastructure while standing atop the pedestal it built.

I don't care what your justification is. If you're actively seeking to shut down a library, not because of budget shortfalls or other sad exigencies but because you just can't sleep at night knowing that people are enlightening themselves on your dime, as far as I concerned you are a villain and an enemy of modern civilization.

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