Saturday, 31 March 2012

Ed Vaizey - "Let the Bookworms Gnaw His Entrails..."

For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no sur-cease to his Agony till he sink in Dissolution. Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye. 
— Curse Against Book Stealers 
Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona

The curse is pronounced against one who would steal a book. But what more torments might assail one who steals not just a book, but a whole library, or ONE HUNDRED LIBRARIES?

100 libraries have been closed down since the Con Dem "Culture Minister", Ed Vaizey, took office in 2010. As the Government has wielded its axe on public services across the country, our libraries have not been spared. At best, they might hope to survive in a twilight zone of "Information Points", where it is assumed that everyone now has access to the internet and is happy to download stuff to ipads or Kindles. Books? So last six millennia!

Yet this cultural Armageddon comes at a terrible cost and potential threat to our society. Ever since humans first gathered in the cities of Sumeria back around 2,600 BC, libraries have been a hallmark of civilised life, of access to knowledge and of the fostering of learning and citizenship. It was the loss of the great classical era libraries such as that in Alexandria that marked the decline of learning and reason that led to the superstition and persecution of free thinking during the Dark Ages of Europe. And it was the recovery of knowledge in libraries such as those of Islamic Spain and Renaissance Italy that set us on the path to the Enlightenment and the birth of the modern age. And Karl Marx of course constructed his mighty opus Capital on the tables of the British Library.

Cultural tragedy or real estate opportunity? The great
Library of Alexandria burns, c 30BC
But when times are troubled and resources scarce, the ruling class views knowledge as dispensable at best and dangerous at worst. If people know, they will question; and if they question, they might act. And so Mr Vaizey and his ilk, while decrying poor education standards and the collapse of community in their patronising "Broken Britain" strap line, are content to close libraries down in the name of efficiency savings. Google, it seems, is the way forward, copyright of the elite, monitored by their minions.

And so, as we head back to a world of superstition, half-truths and net-powered rumour, let me be the first to dust down the ancient book of curses and gladly heap them upon the brows of the morons who ascribe to themselves the custodianship of our culture.

May the worms bury deep...


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