Rod Miller: Books! - Or – Johannes Gutenberg For The Humanity Hall Of Fame

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "If you think books will corrupt your kids’ minds, be a better parent. If you think that reading Mein Kampf will turn Junior into a Nazi, or Das Kapital will turn Sis commie, then do a better job of teaching them to be Americans."

Rod Miller

June 02, 20234 min read

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Whether you like books or not, we all owe a profound debt to Johannes Gutenberg for liberating the human mind from myth and superstition. Deal with that fact.

When Gutenberg first invented movable type and the printing press, in the mid-Fifteenth Century, there were a total of zero printed books on Earth. Fifty years later, there were more than twenty million books in print. 

Now there are zillions in every language on the planet. In the parlance of our time, books went viral and humankind was the beneficiary.

In the millennia prior to Gutenberg’s gizmo, books were laboriously copied by hand by cloistered monks. Ergo, they were available only to those with enough dough to afford them, folks like the theocratic elites of the Holy Roman Empire – the Church.

And they were written in Latin, the lingua franca of the religious aristocracy. Even if a common person could afford a book, it was written in a language she or he couldn’t understand. Consequently, the clergy could wave a book around during religious services and say, “You are a slave of the Church and the Crown, thus sayeth the Lord”.

Nobody could argue, because they couldn’t afford the book nor understand it. The words of the clergy were the only game in town.

Gutenberg broke that chain when he invented a process whereby books could be afforded by the common man, and understood because they were written in his vernacular language. The hold that Rome had on the western world was broken.

Books propelled mankind forward from the Dark Ages. Books ushered in the Renaissance and the Reformation, the flowering of human intellect. Then came the Age of Reason, and ultimately the Age of Revolution when humans threw off the yoke of religious empires in favor of individual self-expression.

If you are a United States citizen, include yourself among the list of those so blessed. Deal with that fact as well.

As should be expected, books have been attacked as heretical poison by elitists who wanted to keep Everyman under the royal thumb. Books have been vilified by the old orders that crumbled under the advance of human reason.

Here’s where I clue you that books, of themselves, are neutral, apolitical and without moral judgment. Between their covers are found noting more than the thoughts of humanity. If you are offended by what you read in a book, don’t blame the paper. Blame another human whose thoughts set your hair on fire.

If a group of folks clutch their pearls over certain books and tell the rest of us that those offensive tomes should be burned, banned or otherwise diminished, they are saying that the human thoughts expressed within shouldn’t see the light of day.

They would feel right at home in the Dark Ages before books.

To be sure, there is no universal political opinion that all human thoughts are “good”. And, since books are articulations of human thought, not all books are “good”. But each book is a step along the path of humanity resisting being told what to think. Deal with that, too.

Now, about kids. If you think books will corrupt your kids’ minds, be a better parent. If you think that reading “Mein Kampf” will turn Junior into a Nazi, or “Das Kapital” will turn Sis commie, then do a better job of teaching them to be Americans. Maybe read “Wealth of Nations” to them at bedtime.

If you believe that school library books will sexualize your offspring, I’m here to testify that adolescents don’t need books to make ‘em horny. Their hot, young blood is all they need to get that done. Again, be a better parent, Proverbs 22:6.

As for me, my Humanity Hall of Fame ballot will be cast for Johannes Gutenberg. He has freed more human minds, democratized more human knowledge and scared the crap out of more theocratic despots than anyone in the field. Gutenberg did nothing more than give us all choices about what to think.

The choices are ours and ours alone.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist