Minitruth Publishing

Thursday, January 06, 2011

I have to agree with Ayn Rand that 1984 was an unrealistic novel, but I can't help alluding to it after hearing that a publishing company has decided to scrub the slur, "nigger" (as well as "Injun") from a great American classic that championed racial equality.

Next month, NewSouth Books is issuing a new edition of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Twain's classic depiction of the dehumanization of blacks in the Old South - minus the single word that most effectively makes the point. In its place in the new book will be the word "slave."
I have commented at length on why it is wrong to ban such words -- which, like anything else are not intrinsically bad or good -- from public discourse. Nevertheless, the New York Daily News succinctly explains why this is such a bad move:
[I]ts casual use makes Huck's growing realization that runaway slave Jim is a man, and a superlative one at that, a truly remarkable transformation. Which is why all 219 uses must stay in "Huck Finn."
I grew up in Mississippi just after the Civil Rights era, and the parochial schools I attended were racially integrated. I recall both a time when I was very young and had basically no concept of racial divisions of humanity, and a time, later, when race was, if not the first thing, among the among first things I noticed about a new acquaintance.

By considering my own intellectual development and observing that of others, I concluded long ago that the effects of this word (and others like it) on the young are profound. The frowned-upon and declining -- but still somewhat common use of that term -- played a big part in forming a habit that Rand describes only too well, of "differentiat[ing] between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men."

How? By shifting one's focus from character to appearance, subtly framing what should always be a moral evaluation of an individual human being as, instead, mere identification of someone as a member of a breed. That is a terrible and crippling mental habit that can take decades to root out, and it can affect even those raised by very good parents, like myself. Thanks to them, I was never explicitly a racist, but I still picked up enough of this from others that regretfully have to admit that I used to give race weight in how I initially assessed others.

The following passage dramatizes only too well the kind of process someone has to go through thanks to such terms:
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way.
You need that ugly word to make the point, because anybody can be a slave, and the lesson here is to become able to recognize a fellow human being when you see one.

If your child is ever assigned Huckleberry Finn as a reading assignment, make sure he gets to read the real thing.

-- CAV


Michael said...

Exactly how do you "make that point" if the kids aren't reading the frigging book because of the word? I am not saying that there isn't a case for the original book. But I also acknowledge that people deeply offended by the word would have the right to not read it. Would you prefer forcing them to read it?

The problem is that tens of thousands of other kids are refusing to read the book because of the word and over them you have no control.

Gus Van Horn said...

The solution to your objection is neither force (directed against parents) nor catering to the bigotry masquerading as enlightenment more commonly known as "multiculturalism."

I'll start with just a couple of questions here.

(1) If kids refuse to do their assignments in school, why aren't they being given Fs?

(2) If the parents themselves still don't want their children reading the book, shouldn't they be free to send their children to other schools?

Ironically, and this is part of why I made a point of saying "and others like it" above: Often, the very kids who need this lesson most use these other terms, and have been inculcated with a self-righteous brand of racism themselves.

There are two immediate, but related causes, to this problem. First, public education (by outpricing almost all competition at public expense) deprives many parents of a realistic choice to send their children to schools of which they approve (either to learn the real classic or to avoid reading it), not to mention entrenching leftist pedagogy and indoctrination. Second, why aren't kids being made to do their assignments? Parents aren't making them do the work and F's aren't being handed to them. It is not only not wrong, but appropriate, to use force (be it to restrain them from harming others or to make them learn responsible habits) against children in order to civilize them.

Both immediate causes stem from the philosophically-induced deterioration in our culture, and that Herculean task has to be addressed one small battle at a time to solve either problem and, ultimately, to defend the classics of our civilization, of which Huckleberry Finn is only one in the line of fire.

Don't forget that the pen is mightier than the sword, or allow yourself to become frustrated. Work to understand how ideas shape our culture, work to understand the ones that make our culture superior, and work to spread those ideas or otherwise help those who do.

Michael said...

The only one advocating force is you. I said let people read whatever they want. Not you, you demand that they must read something they find very offensive, because, well because you demand it. You have thrown up about every straw man you can such as claiming this "multiculturialism," when it clear has nothing to do with multiculturialism. Multiculturalism tends to say all cultures are equal. This is clearly saying that all cultures are NOT equal because some cultures violate basic Western values of judging people as individuals, not as members of a race, by treating people with respect, and not intentionally trying to hurt people. Western culture has moved toward respect of people, which is not something you appear to have. You are the multiculturalist here, saying that even flagrantly offensive language should be forced onto school kids by a compulsory educational system.

The school system that you want to use to threaten kids (with Fs which will destroy their careers after schools, or at least harm them) to make kids read the book. In addition your first question shows you are not even paying attention. Kids aren't reading the book at all because it is not being assigned. The purpose of the change was to get the book back into classrooms.

Apprehension over hateful language is not deterioration of civilization but the expansion of it.

As for being free to send their kids to other schools, that is not the case because there are mandatory attendance laws and compulsory taxation depriving parents of the ability to easily pick schools that don't cater to your sort of agenda, disguised as some sort of defense of Western values, but completely misinterpreting Western values.

Gus Van Horn said...

There is a difference between a parent forcing a child to behave and the government forcing an adult to do anything other than to refrain from harming others. I advocate the former and oppose the latter. (Please note that I clearly stated that parents should be free to send their children to schools that don't teach the book. And, again, I advocate abolishing compulsory education and government-run schools.)

You clearly equate multiculturalism with genuine racial tolerance. This is wrong, and I recommend this article as further insight into the difference between the two.

Regarding forcing "flagrantly offensive language" onto "school kids," you are hearing something that you apparently want to hear, rather than grasping my essential point.

I don't advocate strapping a bunch of kids into seats and shouting racial epithets at them until all bases are covered and they're all reduced to tears. The book should clearly be presented in context: "This hateful word used to be very common, and it used to cause white people to treat black people very badly without giving it so much as a second thought. This book shows how terrible that word and similar ones are, and how someone overcame the attitude that went with it." Something along those lines at the least would have to be part of such an introduction.

You object that "Fs .. will ... harm them." And not teaching them things that they object to (without a proper intellectual foundation) will help them?

I disagree that this censored version of the book is really "get[ting] the book back into classrooms." As Mark Twain himself once put it, "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." But I have already attempted to convey why I think "nigger" is the right word for this book already.

mtnrunner2 said...


Good points. The book contains moral lessons set in a certain time in history and should be presented as such by teachers. They can start with the points you made in your original post.

It's not as if Mark Twain were going on Oprah today and talking about n******. It's essentially a snapshot in time.

The Bible contains horrific acts of violence that should offend us all as human beings, for appearing in a text used as moral guidebook. Yet you don't see people asking to have "stoned" changed to "admonished".

Your point about school choice is perfect. Parents should be able to send their children to multiculturalist schools that erase words from classics if they want to, assuming that isn't child abuse ;)

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for your support, as well as for providing that on-point example from the Bible.

Michael said...

I did not equate multiculturialism with racial tolerance. I did not bring it up, you did. Please show me where I mentioned multiculturialism.

There is some difference between a parent "forcing" and a school forcing. But you were the one who wanted the schools to punish kids by flunking them. I presume the parents each make their own decisions on the book and there are plenty who don't want them reading what you wish to cram down their kids throats. Apparently you don't believe in freedom of choice. When you say that kids shouldn't have a choice as to which edition they read, and that they if they don't read the edition they find offensive then they should be flunked, yes, it is you who who is forcing that language on school kids. Your comments about using force were in the context of schools, so either you were irrationally dropping context or are covering your ass now.

It is another example of dropping context when you come up with the silly comment about strapping kids to chairs. Remember what you DID recommend. You said if that the kids should be flunked, period. You showed no concern for what the parents wanted. You simply said if the kids are not reading that edition of the book that they should be flunked. Flunking kids can hold them back, which means another year in the government prison called a school. Flunking kids can keep them out of college. Flunking kids could put some of them into dropping out. Flunking them could have life long consequences depending on the kid and the other circumstances. It is something that you know perfectly well can hurt the child. And you are saying that if they don't read the word nigger, that they should be punished, even if they they can read the same book without that one word. You are so wedded to using the term nigger that you want to strip kids of the choice of reading the other book, and want to punish them if they don't read it. That is using force, and it isn't the parents flunking them. Stop dropping context, it is dishonest.

You disagree that this will put the book back in some classrooms. Fine, what is your evidence? I would be amazed to see what evidence you think you have since the new edition was just printed so it is too early to tell one way or another. But you have already pronounced it a failure, but based on what? I suggest you have no evidence but people with your sort of mind set rarely worry about evidence.

Mo said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you Gus. I think the omission merely takes into account the feelings of a large number of people offended by the use of this vile word. It stirps no one of the right to read the other edition. There is no force involved in offering another choice.

Gribben wanted to see more kids reading Twain. The publisher, Suzanne La Rosa, said she was aware the edition would be provocative but “We were very persuaded by Dr. Gribben’s point of view of what he called the amount of ‘preemptive censorship’ going on at the school level It pained him personally to see… the way that Twain’s novels were being de-listed from curricula across the nation. It became difficult for teachers to engage in discussion about the text when the kids were so uncomfortable with the n-word.”

Ideally students should be able to understand that Twain’s use of the N-word was within a cultural/time context. But we don’t live in an ideal word. We still live in a world where the Klan exists, where the N-word is thrown about with the INTENT of inflicting pain, where racism still rears its very ugly head. It is hard for us to hear these offensive words without relating them to our own experiences.

Gus Van Horn said...

Michael, I am not going to bother answering your comment because you plainly have made up your mind to evade every single point I have made, both in the post itself and in answer to your questions.

Good day.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think the effort is well-intentioned, but it will be ineffective. The strength of the writing is compromised by the substitution, and an educational system that can't produce students who can understand that the word, however painful, was being used for their sakes has failed them in many other ways already.

Nevertheless, thank you for your comment.


Trevor said...

don't you think you are preserving the status quo Gus ( preserving the authority of the extant structures ) by insisting that the literature not be changed. I mean the original edition is and will remain available.


Gus Van Horn said...

The original (and, therefore effective) edition will remain available, but...

(1) Don't expect me to be a fan of it for the above reasons.

(2) Our state-run education system remains deficient at educating children, powerful enough to ban the book -- or teach from this new edition -- on a large scale, and busy helping a generation forget that their civilization is great and why that is. This episode is just the most recent example of how socialized education is ruining our society.

I fully support New South's right to publish garbage if it wants, but don't expect me to pretend it smells like roses.

madmax said...


I think the essence of this rewrite of Mark Twain's book is the Left's subjectivism. To a Leftist there is no absolute reality. Reality conforms to the wishes of the perceiver, object conforms to subject. Also, for a Leftist, feelings are paramount (and intentions). So, since the N-word brings up bad feelings then we will rewrite great works of fiction in order to trigger bad emotions.

But this is just so much anti-intellectual tripe. A full appreciation of why racism is wrong, and therefore why the N-word is wrong, can only be achieved by understanding what racism is and its history. It is crucially important for children to read Twain in the original so as competent teachers can explain the conditions of the 19th century and how the racist elements have been for the most part eliminated. (Explaining to them the evils of modern day multiculturalism's racism would be even harder and is perhaps more necessary.) Education does not consist of putting the "I wish" over the "it is" or the "it was".

The fact that this book is being rewritten the way it is coupled with Leftist reactions to those who object to it, like the commenter Michael who in typical knee-jerk Leftist fashion assumed you to be a racist because you favor the original, just reminds me of the destructive nature of the core Leftist philosophic components: epistemological skepticism, social subjectivism and moral relativism. The Left is just a train-wreck of nihilism.

Gus Van Horn said...

Probably the fact that I said I was from Mississippi put him over the edge, and caused him to reach the convenient conclusion that I must, therefore, be an ignorant, racist hick: That would excuse him from having to give anything I might have to say a second thought.

That said, I think your analysis of why the book was re-written (and Michael's reaction to it) are on the mark.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, a few comments. Michael writes, "I am not saying that there isn't a case for the original book. But I also acknowledge that people deeply offended by the word would have the right to not read it."

What is the case for the original book, as you (Gus) have made it? Essentially that the original is superior to the watered-down version in a certain educational context. This can be argued on its merits, but the fact that it's an educational context means that educational criteria are foremost, and an important part of education is grappling seriously with ideas as such, no matter how abhorrent or offensive we find them. If this goal is to be evaded precisely to avoid offense, to that extent it is a blow against true education. (Which is a good starting point for arguing that public financing of education and the concomitant insistence as public policy on offending no one, no matter how stupid, vicious, or ignorant in the long run must destroy true education, which is a secondary issue in this whole foofaraw.)

"You are the multiculturalist here, saying that even flagrantly offensive language should be forced onto school kids by a compulsory educational system."

Rather, the offensive language presumably is "forced" on children by the very nature of systematic education--but systematic education is for most children at most times a use of force against their druthers anyway. (As I indicated above, the question of offending against taxpayers' beliefs is a different issue.) The need for children of a certain age to read such language in a book assigned in class is an essentially educational issue: Should children learn literature at all, and why? Should high school children study American literature throughout its history, and to what level of detail? What is the purpose in their reading Huckleberry Finn rather than any other book from the American literary heritage?

"Apprehension over hateful language is not deterioration of civilization but the expansion of it."

Actually, learning that hateful language is not physically harmful, training oneself so that reactions to mere words are thoughtful and measured, and coming to the point that language is a subject of consideration rather than an unexamined input are true measures of the expansion of one's degree of civilization--and the extent to which an educational system inculcates this is, I would say, a prime measure of the degree of civilization its civilization possesses.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for taking the time to make these thoughtful points, particularly the first.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,
I thought you might like Roger Ebert's take on this issue. And the fact that the Left went completely nuts.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...

That was quite good! Thanks for pointing it out here.