In response to a public outcry, Amazon.com has discontinued sales of a book entitled “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct”.
First of all, since Amazon is a private sector company, they have the right to sell or not sell any book they wish. Clearly, your freedom of speech is not a guaranty that what you write will be distributed by others. Furthermore, this is not a First Amendment issue because the government is not involved.
Having said that, free speech advocates have established a long and honorable record of warding off attacks by those who feel the right to free expression should only be extended to those with a socially acceptable message.
Pedophilia is, of course, an issue that evokes instant condemnation and any resistance to instant condemnation is itself instantly and equally condemned. The media, child protection advocates, politicians, and law enforcement have enthusiastically cultivated an environment of stranger danger where children are disappearing by the minute and no child is safe. It’s become a lucrative industry unto itself. Ironically, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated, not by strangers, but by those known or related to the family of the victim.
Overwhelmingly, customer comments condemned the sale of the book:
“It is ILLEGAL to molest children, and for Amazon to promote such is insane. I’m an abuse survivor, and am OUTRAGED Amazon would choose to promote this nonsense. I will not be purchasing anything from your website until this is removed,” one user wrote in a comment echoed by others.
Of course, it’s ludicrous to assume that Amazon is promoting anything merely by selling a book. If that were the basis by which book publishers and sellers operated, no controversial book would see the light of day (at least through a major outlet).
But, there were a few reasoned comments from people who were willing to brave the wrath of the outraged and make a case for why we don’t want an angry mob determining what we can or can’t read:
“While I think 99.9 percent of us object to pedophilia (even though I think this particular book was a publicity stunt/joke), I think we can all agree that we don’t want someone else censoring a subject matter that we may be interested in. Religion, atheism, homosexuality, etc. are some subjects that spring to mind … and they have been censored in the past until we realized that it’s best to let all information in (even if we don’t like some of it), rather than allow some authority or individual decide what we can and can’t know about based on their own opinions or motivations,” one user wrote.
What is most disturbing about cases like this is the rarity of arguments in favor of Amazon selling the book by any entity that relies on free speech. Most bloggers seem to support the outrage against Amazon. Ironically, one blog called SayAnythingBlog.com was quick to praise Amazon for caving to the pressure. Free speech does, after all, include the right to advocate for less free speech. From what I’ve seen, the mainstream press seems to be reporting this without actually joining in the hysteria, which is refreshing after their enthusiastic participation in the crusade against the free speech rights of craigslist.
Finally, if that weren’t enough, there are also some other more speculative theories behind the sale of the book:
But conspiracy theories over the book abound, with commenters citing it as a publicity stunt, a hoax, or perhaps a law enforcement sting.
“People… Relax… This book is obviously promoted by Amazon per request of FBI in order to track down and catch pedophiles. This book is obviously a bait for the sickos that are lurking around out there trying to prey on our children.”
As law enforcement (often in cooperation with ethically challenged sensationalistic media) now depends so heavily on trickery to generate sex crime arrests, it’s not much of a stretch to think that this could have been a ruse.
One final comment about the meaning of the word, censorship. It’s a common refrain by some to angrily proclaim that it is not censorship when a non-governmental entity refuses to distribute, broadcast, sell, or publish offensive material. I find it somewhat stunning that writers, who should know better, would make such such an utterly ignorant assertion. Censorship is censorship regardless of whether it’s done by a private organization or or the government. The difference is that, when the government censors something, it is under threat of prosecution whereas private entities only have the power to refuse to publish, sell, or otherwise distribute something. Censorship advocates can dress it up anyway they like, but in this case, as with the crusade against criagslist, the public, acting as an angry mob, successfully waged a war meant to force private businesses to censor material which those companies believed had a right to exist in a country that supposedly values the free exchange of ideas. That, my friends, is nothing to be proud of.
Hats off to reader Richard for alerting me to this story.