Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 still relevant today?

We are near the 70th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 and I just read it for the first time. I wonder how he could have foreseen so much about our current American culture. In his future dystopian world, Fireman Montag was spraying kerosene to burn homes and books to keep the public emotions in check, so no one would think too much or disturb the public’s happiness level. Imagine what he could have written with recent public news reports of mass school and church shootings, a Swedish 16-year old girl addressing the U.N. on climate change and leading multi-national protest marches, Hollywood actresses buying favors to influence prestigious colleges to admit their children, multiple incidents of women and men accusing powerful people of sexual assaults, some occurring while they were children. Some accusations were denied, but most were believed and addressed by removing the people from their lofty power thrones! Speaking truth to power and finding solutions is still difficult, but is gaining momentum.

Like Professor Faber’s advice to Montag, I believe that we shouldn’t …” ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”  We need to use our resources, including our voices and votes, with courage and conviction. What are the greater unforeseen impacts that may occur if we allow some people to be detained in ICE detention camps because they look suspicious? 

We must continue to evaluate not only the truth of an events facts, but also the potential consequences. For example: How does a child process the fact that there have been shootings in schools similar to their own, where children and teachers died? They have a right to worry about their safety and ask how are their parents and police going to protect them and secure their school. Can we reduce the number of available guns with background checks, prevent many people from buying assault-style rifles and large magazines of bullets that rapidly fire volleys into crowds of people? Can voters support the school district by approving an increase in taxes to installing metal detectors at school entrances? I say yes to all of these small initiatives. 

How can we expect children to do their best studying unless the school is a safe place? We must face the reality of life in the world we live in, regardless of whether we are adults congregating on public transportation, working in multi-story office buildings or children obtaining an education. “We the people” need to demand a safe work and play environment.

I don’t worry about immigrants overrunning our country and changing my way of life or usurping government laws. I do support the rule of law and expect people to obey our laws. Change in government and all other phases of modern life is inevitable. We have a duty to make those changes equitable and just for the governed. If someone disagrees with the current laws, they should work to change them, not resort to a vigilante style of violent action. So like Professor Faber’s advice to Montag: “… don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” This metaphor demonstrates the need for individual responsibility for pitching in to help neighbors fill sand bags, pick up roadside trash, donate to natural disaster victims, and do our best to help individuals and support for the local Mountain Food Banks. 

We need to be involved in our laws and government, if only to inform ourselves about who and what we are voting for in the November general election.  As the former U.S. Senator Sam J. Ervin stated, “If men and women of capacity refuse to take part in politics and government, they condemn themselves, as well as the people, to the punishment of living under bad government.” So we must face ourselves in the mirror as Montag did, decide what we can do to improve our government and the conditions that the least powerful citizens live in, and begin to swim toward that shore.

Pamela Hanson