“[T]here are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about … things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”

Novelist Philip Pullman, author of the Golden Compass and other stories, was speaking there about the planned closure of nearly half of the 43 public libraries in Oxfordshire.  Similar plans across Britain led a group in one town outside London to borrow all 16,000 books at their local library in less than a week; they intend to return them only after closure plans are decided.  Mr. Pullman could have been talking about publicly funded libraries, parks, forests, roadside rests, art and natural history museums across America, from Maricopa County, Arizona, to Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

According to the Guardian, Mr. Pullman’s speech, “posted online and read some 20,000 times in two days, has been tweeted and retweeted, and hailed as a classic piece of oratory.”  It elicited today a front OpEd page in the New York Times, following national coverage in the UK. From the Guardian: “Philip Pullman’s call to defend libraries resounds around web”.  Mr. Pullman’s message is essential reading here, too, because we face similar draconian cuts, closures and privatizations.  From the Times OpEd:

Mr. Pullman is most brilliant in his attack on what he calls “the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism.” What he registers so forcibly is the fact that a hidebound, conservative approach to deficit reduction creates a social austerity far more harmful than the deficit itself.

True to form, the neocons immediately began slashing at his message. The UK’s culture minster, borrowing from Mark Twain, “caused anger this week by commenting at a Westminster Hall debate on libraries that the “death of the public library service has been greatly exaggerated”.” Given his life’s work, it seems unlikely Mark Twain would have appreciated that his humor was being put to such a perverse use by a minister responsible for protecting his country’s culture.

The reliably conservative Telegraph followed suit.  Its Daniel Knowles, taking a page from David Brooks’ style guide, echoed what we are likely to hear from the neocon media about similar program cuts here.  He labeled Pullman’s speech as “a perfect example of what’s wrong with left wing politics”.

Knowles ignores Pullman’s remarks and the wider loss of  alternate sources of information and social interaction, preferring instead an accountant eye’s view of library “utilization”.  Most damningly, he ignores the combined effects of these and a host of contemplated cuts across UK society.  The government seems bent on doing what late 19th century aristocrats did before they discovered American heiresses like the Vanderbilts.  It is selling off, cutting or attempting to privatize anything not nailed down, including its public forests, something that has been in scarce supply since King John in 1215.

Read Mr. Pullman’s whole speech, reprinted here. It provides necessary context and an antidote to the ideologically and economically driven mismanagement of public assets that were acquired and cared for as part of the common good.

That last phrase sounds almost as quaint as the Geneva Conventions, something we also used to take for granted as a fixed point in the legal landscape.  If we don’t want our commonwealth to follow the Geneva Conventions, put into the dustbin for the convenience of Beltway politicians and their state brethren, we should heed Mr. Pullman’s advice.  Need we put all that at risk, for example, so that the Koch brothers can pass on their multi-billion dollar estates to their heirs untaxed?