Mr. OTC and I were felled by a particularly tenacious flu virus and I’m not even close to being back on my game, but there’s something bothering me so much that I feel like I need to discuss it now, in an abbreviated form. I will throw down hard on this topic in detail and with tons of links when my mind is clear and my home is recovered from a couple of weeks of neglect.
Are you, dear readers, aware that this month Amazon removed from sale over 150 books written on the topic of Holocaust revisionism and denial? If you are aware of it, does it bother you?
News sources state a handful of books were eliminated for sale, but the number is far higher. When I write my examination of what free speech in a genuinely free society means, I will list them all. Interestingly, simply being published by Castle Hill is enough for removal because Amazon removed books Castle Hill publishes that have nothing to do with Holocaust revisionism. Funny, that.
There is a perniciously stupid meme in modern America wherein we state that the only freedom of speech we can expect not to be violated or limited is that which is explicitly granted by the government. The reasoning is Americans can only expect to exercise freedom of speech and press as granted by the government, therefore any cultural or corporate attempts to silence free speech and the press are acceptable in a free society, that this is a form of censorship that is somehow allowable since it is outside the purview of the government. The American left has used this meme, this absolutely false belief, to bolster their attempts to deny work to people whom they consider bad, to contact employers, schools, families and churches of people whom they consider bad, to deny access to ideas they find bad, and now they’ve managed to deny access to an entire school of thought because where Amazon goes so do all the other booksellers.
When you use methods of intimidation to eliminate ideas you find distasteful, you are engaging in censorship. When you pressure booksellers to stop selling books you find distasteful, you are engaging in censorship. Such methods do not violate the Constitution to be sure but they definitely are censorship and censorship is a threat to the principles of democracy that are the very foundation upon which we have built American culture.
The usual gadflies insist that Amazon and other booksellers have the right to limit books they sell. They’re correct. Amazon has that right. But should they use that right, and when they do should they be answerable for what they decide? What does it mean when the largest book seller in the USA can effectively throttle access to large swathes of thought? Books advocating Holocaust denial were removed at the behest of Yad Vashem, and Amazon contacted authors and publishers with the following statement:
We’re contacting you regarding the following book: Book Title Redacted. During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale.
Will it surprise anyone that Amazon did not elaborate on what content guidelines were violated? Shouldn’t the largest seller of books in the United States be willing to explain why it is that after 20 years of selling these books they suddenly did not meet content guidelines? Or are you sanguine with this move because Nazis are bad and Holocaust denial is bad and therefore it’s fine that Amazon and Yad Vashem have decided unilaterally what data you can be trusted to read?
Do you really feel okay having forces who have no idea why you want to read a book telling you that the ideas the book espouses are too dangerous for you to see, therefore they have taken the paternalistic step of ensuring that you don’t become a rabid anti-Semite because you chose to read Arthur Butz?
The people who seem the happiest about this wretched development are those who should oppose it the most. People who are terrified of fascism applaud this measure because to them it is a nail in the coffin to ideologies that feed from antisemitic, fascist beliefs. But censorship is one of the first steps down the slippery slope into authoritarianism and fascists love themselves a book burning.
Because Amazon and other book sellers have decided you are too unreliable to process information, you now have no easy way of countering Holocaust denial because you will not know the meat of the argument and you will not know the references and sources used to reach those conclusions. You have been denied your power of response.
That is what happens in a free society that does not tolerate censorship: we trust our citizens enough to process information for themselves, knowing that presentation of ideas and response to those ideas are the cornerstone of open discourse and that democracy cannot exist without it. Amazon and Yad Vashem think you are a child who cannot judge information for yourself. They think you are such a weak thinker that having access to Holocaust revisionist texts means you will become a vicious anti-Semite. They think that you are too stupid to read an idea and form a response, so they took care of it for you.
That’s how it boils down: a corporation on behalf of a concentrated single interest group has engaged in the ultimate paternalism. They have patted you on the head and told you that you cannot decide for yourself what you think.
Antisemitism is foul. I have no use for it. And I have never read a Holocaust denial that I could not easily refute, though I admit I have not read many. It is undeniable that racism and antisemitism have caused grave problems and that both are offensive. I personally find racism and antisemitism offensive. I find a lot of things offensive.
But that’s the cost of doing business in a free society. You will be offended. Identity politics may have convinced you that you are not expected to endure feeling offended but what they don’t tell you that the cost of never being offended involves censorship and that you have no assurance that your single-interest approach to democracy will not be the next ideology determined too dangerous for the American people to read. Being completely silenced is the ultimate offense. Be offended by that prospect. This isn’t about Holocaust denial, antisemitism or fascism – it’s about who decides what is acceptable and unacceptable for you to think, to read, to say and to believe. The genius of the Constitution is that it prevents any one person from being the decider for all, and an open society finds single interest deciders anathema.
You’re either a whinging child, begging for the government or large corporations to control the dissemination of ideas and man’s independent thought because you cannot tolerate people making decisions about what they read, or you’re an adult who is willing to permit all ideas access to the democratic marketplace, however offensive they may be, remaining engaged in the cultural arguments that promote democracy.
Antisemitism flourishes in a censored society. Democracy cannot exist in a censored society, regardless of who is the censor. Censorship, even if it is not initiated by the government, oils the slippery slope into fascist authoritarianism, fear of which fueled this very bad decision on Amazon’s part.
I do not need Yad Vashem or Jeff Bezos to make decisions about what I read and how I interpret it, nor do I need them to guide me through the moral decisions I make regarding controversial topics. Neither do you.
4 thoughts on “Oiling the Slippery Slope”
I am glad that the Savoy catalog was left untouched by Amazon considering.
Don’t give them any ideas.
I remember back when the OKC bombing dominated the news and there were a lot of stories about The Turner Diaries and whether it should be banned. I worked at an independent bookstore at the time and the manager (an old-school leftist) thought it was important to carry the book and feature it prominently at the point of sale. That kind of censors-be-damned gesture was once common among liberals and libertarians, but it’s very rare these days, Thanks, Anita, for yelling into the void. This is shameful.
My two cents here: http://hooverhog.typepad.com/
Being Liberal is a very different thing today than it was 20 years ago, sadly.
This is another action in a series of worrying ones. I recall when they remotely deleted books remotely on people’s Kindles. That was due to a copyright dispute with the books, but it was still worrying that they could do that with a Kindle. It was part of what kept me from getting one for so long.
I can only hope Amazon will change its mind. Allowing their company to be browbeaten like this doesn’t bode well for the future