Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Moving the Other Direction

So apparently there's been a big online to-do about a book.

I found out about it at the Behler Blog. I love the Behler blog and read it regularly. But in this case, I have to respectfully disagree. I did, in the comments below her disillusionment, and I do now. And this means something to me -- though it's probably like those political comments I'm not supposed to make here in case I make a person radically opposed to my point of view not want to read my stories. But I want to clarify my point anyway. Hopefully without offending anyone, including Lynn, whose points I am disagreeing with. I understand her point and I understand disliking a book so much and thinking it is so wrong that it should not exist. I agree with that part. I wish it had never existed. But it does.

She thinks Amazon should refuse to carry this book.
She was happy her local bookstores refused to have OJ's book in stock.

Now, if you haven't been reading up online and don't know which book I'm talking about -- some random guy self-published a how-to book on pedophilia using Amazon's automatic digital publishing site. It's a horrible thing.

I assume.

There's no way I'm paying money to be sure, but based on the title, it sounds like a really really horrible thing -- and possibly a criminal thing. If it is a criminal thing, I believe it has enough publicity that the correct authorities are looking into it. And that the correct authorities are not Amazon.

Unlike most of the world, I think Amazon should treat it just like they would every other book.

I think Amazon should treat me like an adult that has the ability to make up my own mind and make my own decisions. I think Lynn's local bookstores should have treated their customers like adults, able to think for themselves and make their own decisions. I don't have a problem with them thinking it wouldn't sell in their close-knit community and not stocking it. I have a problem with them taking  a stand against OJ and deciding that their opinion should apply to me.

What is the difference between what they did and the women who destroy library books so their children aren't exposed to something they find objectionable? I don't think any of these people would support those women.

Why should Amazon or the libraries be expected to parent me?

I don't want them to decide what I read.

I don't want them to decide that something shouldn't be available because someone else finds it objectionable. I don't care if that someone is most sane people, including me, as it is in this case, or if it's people who thought OJ was guilty and didn't want him to profit from his murdering ways (possibly also most sane people including me) or if it's the Far Right determined that Harry Potter contains references to witchcraft and is leading children to worship Satan (I suspect fewer sane people fall in this category).

I don't want them to decide what I read. I don't want them to tell me what I should read. I don't want anyone but me to decide what I read. I don't care if even I think there's got to be a whole lot of wrong in this book. It's not anyone's place to decide it for me.

I do not need Amazon to parent me. I do not need my local bookstores to parent me. I do not need the local libraries to parent me. I do not need them to parent my children. That's my job. Taking things off the shelves because there's an angry crowd outside screaming that something is wrong -- is just wrong.

I am an adult. I have the ability to decide that for myself.

Thank you, Amazon, for believing that I have that ability. Thank you, for not deciding for me.

And for the law enforcement officials out there investigating this guy, because I'm sure there are some -- thank you too. Thank you so very very much. Because I don't support this book, I don't support this writer. I do support freedom of speech (even when it's hard -- and believe me, it is hard in this case) and I support Amazon's commitment not to censor the world from me -- even when there are thousands of people out there telling them it's for my own good.


  1. Not to start the flames of war (or fan them) but is it a question of Amazon's censorship or more limitation of liability in a litigious society. If this how-to manual was not printed text but a class, I'm pretty sure the teacher could be held liable for the criminal actions of the students even though the class itself might be considered protected speech. (Hey we were just talking officer...) If the class were conducted under the flag of some college, (in their facility/ listed in their course catalog, etc) that liability may extend to the institution. This is murky water and I'm not a lawyer so I'm sure I will be corrected on the finer points.

    Taken another way, Does Amazon (or bookstore) have the obligation to sell/promote/list everything ever submitted to them no matter the source or content. If we are talking about rights, what about the right of the bookstore or Amazon to simply decide they don't want to carry a book. They are both in the business of selling books and not setting a guiding light or moral compass. Isn't it in the bookstore's best interest to avoid angry mobs at their doors?

    Perhaps your issue is with the angry mob and not the retailer reacting to market pressure. (Angry mobs are a market, especially to farm implement and torch vendors)

  2. That's what the angry mob is saying -- that Amazon will lose business and they'll be shopping elsewhere, but there was an angry mob for Harry Potter too. There was an angry mob for Hush (on both sides of that one). And there was an angry mob when some programmer somewhere clicked the wrong option and all the GLBT books disappeared from Amazon for a few hours. Though some people believe the GLBT lifestyle is a sin and should be banned.

    If you follow book blogs as well as library blogs, you'll find that there are one or two angry mobs each week. Should the bookstores dump every book that develops an angry mob? Should they pick and choose? And if they pick and choose, doesn't that open them up for more liability than simply standing behind the first amendment?

    They didn't choose to publish or promote this book. Someone clicked through a series of menu items and listed their own book. Amazon simply didn't stop them and refuses to kowtow to this angry mob because that leaves them more liable in the future angry mob.

    It's the same as the net neutrality argument. Right now it's looking like the internet providers will win and net neutrality will die. When it does, I look forward to the first lawsuits against the providers. If they sample people's downloads enough to slow stuff down that isn't by their preferred providers, then they're sampling enough to be sued for allowing child porn to cross their lines. Or cyber-bullying.

    If they stay completely neutral, they get to keep some distance from the content. If they play judge on something then they're expected to play judge on everything -- and accept liability when sooner or later they make the wrong decision.

  3. OK, fair enough that Amazon already opened themselves up to be in the position of judge by allowing individually submitted listings and as such may not be able to favor some materials over others. So is Amazon standing up boldly as the protector of free speech or are they cowering before the potential onslaught of lawsuits or both? It is probably not fair to ascribe motivations to a somewhat faceless corporation.

    Is a bookstore (not Amazon) "Bad" for not carrying or pulling the book? By doing so in this free and open market they have not infringed my rights to buy or read the material from another store or directly from the author. I simply can't buy it from them. No problem, I spend my money elsewhere. If in the long run I find that my taste in books diverges from the stock they carry then I will probably stop going there. If a lot of people feel the same way, the store goes out of business. Not so much a moral quandary as a case of market forces. So if I find that my favorite local bookstore has pulled a book because of controversy I don’t blame them really. They are doing what they have to do to remain in business. I reserve my ire for the masses who think that you can erase ideas by burning books.

    You are also right that there will always be angry mobs fomenting about something. Some people even poke the hornet's nest just to get press. For instance, I had never heard of this book in question till you mentioned it. I'll never buy the material but I have to wonder if it is written as a sort of reverse psychology along the lines of The Screwtape Letters i.e. if we know how pedophiles operate we are better equipped to guard our children from them.

  4. I'm not going to stop shopping at Amazon because of this, but I certainly support others' rights to do what they want. No, I don't think they should pull it. They've been accused of censorship before. I seem to remember at one time, they pulled all their gay literature. If they're claiming now that they don't practice censorship, though, I hope that extends to everything. I wonder if amazon carries other books that have been banned like The Anarchist's Cookbook or similar?