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Berkeley professor calls for book burnings

After receiving backlash for her comments, Dr. Lavery took to Twitter to insist that the comments were ironic.

Noah David Alter Toronto
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An English professor at the University of California, Berkeley called upon her Twitter audience to steal copies of Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier for the purpose of burning them.

"I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier's book and burn it on a pyre," said Dr. Grace Lavery, a self-described "thug prof," "octopus-f**ker," and "demon."

The book, bearing the full title Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, discusses the supposed boost in social status which accompanies coming out as transgender among some social groups, often with the support of online "influencers," educators, and mental health professionals, and the author's belief that such a trend is tremendously harmful for girls and young women.

The book has been the subject of much controversy, with online reviews seemingly polarized between five stars and one star. The book was also briefly banned from Target due to complaints from gender activists, but the book was reinstated after an uproar from supporters of freedom of speech.

After receiving backlash for her comments, Dr. Lavery took to Twitter to insist that the comments were ironic. "Twitter over-rewards literalism and punishes ambiguity," the professor noted. "If you think I was sincerely encouraging people to burn books, I suggest you look around and see how many books were actually burned. Either my words weren’t taken seriously [because] I was misunderstood, or they were meant not to be taken seriously."

Despite her insistence that she was merely being ironic when she called upon her followers to steal and burn the book, Dr. Lavery followed up her clarification with an argument for why burning Shrier's book would not actually comparable to historical book burnings anyway.

Book burnings have long been considered a symbol of authoritarian thought, symbolizing the suppression and destruction of information instead of debating and discussing ideas. Other historical book burnings include the burning of Aztec and Maya manuscripts by Spanish colonists, the burning of Jewish texts by Medieval Christian authorities, and the burning of books disapproved by the Communist Party of China during Mao Zedong's cultural revolution. Scholars have noted that book burnings often precede, or are an element of, cultural genocide.

According to Dr. Lavery, burning Shrier's book would simply be an act of burning a commodity. A single copy of Shrier's book does not contain unique information as there are thousands of copies of the book available otherwise. She contrasted it to the Hirschfield book burnings, whereby the Nazis burned hundreds of books discussing gender and sexuality. According to Shrier, these books were unique copies as opposed to commodities, and the book burnings therefore constituted a genuine destruction of information rather than a purely symbolic act.

The Nazis, however, committed many book burnings, including books which have been mass-produced, including books which were written by Jews, liberals, and socialists.

Dr. Lavery also argued that book burnings committed by individuals are fundamentally different than book burnings committed by the state, and that "the burning of the official texts of the ruling class" can be considered an act of "liberation."

Dr. Lavery contemplated whether book burnings represent burning people, stating "perhaps they would," but argued that those who are concerned about it do not seem to care that [people] are already being destroyed by the state," although she did not provide a specific example. She additionally claimed that the US government is far more likely to commit book burnings than she is, pointing to a book burning enforced by the Food and Drug Administration in 1956, although Lavery claimed the books were burned by the CIA.

Lavery finished off her Twitter thread by calling 1984 and Fahrenheit451 "bullsh*t," and asking her audience to read "better dystopian fiction."

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