The Bad Side of History

 

I’ve never cared for the phrase the wrong side of history, perhaps because it is so often invoked by progressives to justify the grinding away of traditions and values of which I approve and that I think we will miss. When invoked as a defense of as-yet unrealized ambitions, it’s presumptuous: who really knows, after all, how history will judge the latest transformative social experiment?

Speculating about future history’s take on our times is always a high-risk endeavor. Just ask Martin Luther King Jr. or Theodor Geisel, if you doubt that. Or Andrew Cuomo, for that matter.

But the regular kind of history, the kind that actually looks back and learns from the past, has something to tell us. And to the extent that everyone who makes any sense at all agrees that slavery is bad, that fascism is bad, and that totalitarianism is bad, we have accumulated enough history to recognize when those bad old things are coming around again.

First, they came for Dr. Seuss, but I wasn’t the most popular children’s author in history whose whimsical illustrated works have charmed and delighted hundreds of millions of children for most of the last century, introducing them to language and rhyming and the joys of reading, so I said nothing.

To hell with that.

Book burning, literally or figuratively, is something fascists do. And that’s what Amazon is doing, Facebook is doing, Twitter is doing, and every other we-can’t-leave-you-free-to-hear-ideas-we-think-are-bad-for-you tech giant is doing when it silences someone it doesn’t like.

Don’t burn books.

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  1. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    • #1
  2. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Henry Racette: the phrase the wrong side of history The Leftist Narrative.

    FIFY.

    On the current Ricochet Podcast the hosts seemed giddy that only 36% of people surveyed thought banning books on Amazon was a good thing.  That seems alarmingly high to me.  It is certainly a majority of Democrats.  There is nothing liberal on the Left these days.

    • #2
  3. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Very neat post. I’m with you on the idea that it takes astoundingly heroic assumptions about the world and one’s own knowledge to declare someone else to be on the wrong side of history. But is it a “…a defense of as-yet unrealized ambitions…” ? Or is it a threat. The more I look at how a lot of journos behave on twitter I think its a threat. They will just declare something to be the case and that opposition to it is “racist, sexists, homophobic” (and on) and then everything they don’t like labeled as “controversial.” 

    But in terms of book burning, I actually have no problem with it. During the Bush admin and early Obama there were people wanted to burn Harry Potter and the Quran. And a lot of people, in my mind, flipped out. Because the actual burning of the book to them was a travesty. And well, it isn’t. Its your book. Do with it what you want. In much the same way, we don’t really freak out when books go out of print even if that makes them exceedingly difficult to find. The real issue you touch on that caught my mind  is that there is an attempt by parties to unilaterally make things verboten. And that is problem. But you don’t need to burn a book to do that. Just cry every-time someone mentions Charles Murray and people will stop citing him. That is also a big problem. 

    • #3
  4. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Goldgeller (View Comment):
    But in terms of book burning, I actually have no problem with it.

    I’m going to ask you to find a little poetry in your soul here, and to see “book burning” as a figurative term for “censorship.”

    [Note: And when I say “find a little poetry in your soul,” that’s a figurative way of saying “be a little less literal and get the point of the post.” I’m not actually asserting that you (nor anyone else) has a soul, poetic or otherwise. That determination is above my pay grade.]

    [Note: “Above my pay grade” is also intended as a figure of speech.]

    • #4
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The calendar is not omnipotent.

    • #5
  6. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):
    But in terms of book burning, I actually have no problem with it.

    I’m going to ask you to find a little poetry in your soul here, and to see “book burning” as a figurative term for “censorship.”

    [Note: And when I say “find a little poetry in your soul,” that’s a figurative way of saying “be a little less literal and get the point of the post.” I’m not actually asserting that you (nor anyone else) has a soul, poetic or otherwise. That determination is above my pay grade.]

    [Note: “Above my pay grade” is also intended as a figure of speech.]

    I’ll take the onus for the post since I wrote it. But I actually addressed both issues.  

    1. Books were physically burned in early 2000s and on and people actually really took surprisingly strong issues about the disposition of one’s own private property, making moral claims about book burning and how it relates to society that weren’t warranted.
    2. I ended the 2nd paragraph addressing the issue of censorship, noting that censorship occurs in a lot of ways other than banning something and tends to be done more frequently through rhetorical means than outright bans. The most common way I’ve encountered it is through people getting very upset that an author is mentioned or cited, raising the cost of citing an author. People do with this Charles Murray and others, for example. You don’t have to pull the book for it to be burned. 
    • #6
  7. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):
    But in terms of book burning, I actually have no problem with it.

    I’m going to ask you to find a little poetry in your soul here, and to see “book burning” as a figurative term for “censorship.”

    [Note: And when I say “find a little poetry in your soul,” that’s a figurative way of saying “be a little less literal and get the point of the post.” I’m not actually asserting that you (nor anyone else) has a soul, poetic or otherwise. That determination is above my pay grade.]

    [Note: “Above my pay grade” is also intended as a figure of speech.]

    I’ll take the onus for the post since I wrote it. But I actually addressed both issues.

    1. Books were physically burned in early 2000s and on and people actually really took surprisingly strong issues about the disposition of one’s own private property, making moral claims about book burning and how it relates to society that weren’t warranted.
    2. I ended the 2nd paragraph addressing the issue of censorship, noting that censorship occurs in a lot of ways other than banning something and tends to be done more frequently through rhetorical means than outright bans. The most common way I’ve encountered it is through people getting very upset that an author is mentioned or cited, raising the cost of citing an author. People do with this Charles Murray and others, for example. You don’t have to pull the book for it to be burned.

    I understand. And I was being playful with your comment, which I thought amusingly literal. (It reminded me of the kind of thing I used to say when I was a young libertarian.)

    I hope — and think — it is obvious that my post is about censorship in a larger context. No books were actually burned in the examples I mentioned (Amazon, Twitter, Facebook), and my final paragraph threw in that “literally or figuratively” in order to make that point especially clear.

     

    • #7
  8. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):
    But in terms of book burning, I actually have no problem with it.

    I’m going to ask you to find a little poetry in your soul here, and to see “book burning” as a figurative term for “censorship.”

    [Note: And when I say “find a little poetry in your soul,” that’s a figurative way of saying “be a little less literal and get the point of the post.” I’m not actually asserting that you (nor anyone else) has a soul, poetic or otherwise. That determination is above my pay grade.]

    [Note: “Above my pay grade” is also intended as a figure of speech.]

    I’ll take the onus for the post since I wrote it. But I actually addressed both issues.

    1. Books were physically burned in early 2000s and on and people actually really took surprisingly strong issues about the disposition of one’s own private property, making moral claims about book burning and how it relates to society that weren’t warranted.
    2. I ended the 2nd paragraph addressing the issue of censorship, noting that censorship occurs in a lot of ways other than banning something and tends to be done more frequently through rhetorical means than outright bans. The most common way I’ve encountered it is through people getting very upset that an author is mentioned or cited, raising the cost of citing an author. People do with this Charles Murray and others, for example. You don’t have to pull the book for it to be burned.

    I understand. And I was being playful with your comment, which I thought amusingly literal. (It reminded me of the kind of thing I used to say when I was a young libertarian.)

    I hope — and think — it is obvious that my post is about censorship in a larger context. No books were actually burned in the examples I mentioned (Amazon, Twitter, Facebook), and my final paragraph threw in that “literally or figuratively” in order to make that point especially clear.

     

    Makes sense!

    • #8
  9. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    I raise this issue not because I think it settles anything merely because it can be raised, but only because it is a point to consider in all this, and I honestly don’t know the best way forward. 

    But I think we all agree that at some point, a bookseller can refuse to sell a certain kind of book. I think we would all agree that a small Christian bookstore, for example, (or even a large one) could refuse to sell books that insult or are otherwise hostile or inimical to Christianity.

    I recognize that perhaps the rule should be different for a huge mega bookseller like Amazon, when they can have such a huge impact on the market, but at what point does a company cross that line and lose control over what they sell?

    And even once they cross that market share line, is there nothing at all they can refuse to sell? What about something considered truly heinous and disgusting and immoral by 99.9% of people – advocacy for the murder of certain religious groups or whatever.

    Who should be making these decisions and drawing these lines?  

    • #9
  10. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    I raise this issue not because I think it settles anything merely because it can be raised, but only because it is a point to consider in all this, and I honestly don’t know the best way forward.

    But I think we all agree that at some point, a bookseller can refuse to sell a certain kind of book. I think we would all agree that a small Christian bookstore, for example, (or even a large one) could refuse to sell books that insult or are otherwise hostile or inimical to Christianity.

    I recognize that perhaps the rule should be different for a huge mega bookseller like Amazon, when they can have such a huge impact on the market, but at what point does a company cross that line and lose control over what they sell?

    And even once they cross that market share line, is there nothing at all they can refuse to sell? What about something considered truly heinous and disgusting and immoral by 99.9% of people – advocacy for the murder of certain religious groups or whatever.

    Who should be making these decisions and drawing these lines?

    Yes, there is the question of private property rights, free association, etc. I’m not trying to make any assertions about the law, about the monopoly status (or not) of tech giants, or anything like that. I’m responding to something more essential, and quite beside the point of private ownership. At the risk of sounding as if I don’t value and respect private ownership (I most certainly do), I suggest that it is, in this case, a distraction from the larger issue.

    And that issue is the philosophical embrace of censorship as a way of managing “misinformation” for the public’s own good. It is an issue of self-appointed gatekeepers who believe that they are doing the right thing when they suppress ideas they deem harmful and incorrect. I believe this is an ascendant view on the left.

    If I imagined that respect for the right to private property and the control thereof would eventually act as a check on the behavior of those on the left who embrace censorship, I’d probably be less concerned about it. But I think it more likely that people who are enthusiastic about suppressing the free exchange of ideas will also be poor defenders of the free exercise of property rights, and probably quick to embrace an authoritarian model — for the good of the people, of course.

    And then we’ll see so-called “hate speech” regulated, as well as criticism of climate change science, challenges to public health orthodoxy, etc.

    In short: our love of private property rights won’t protect us from people who never respected those rights anyway. The principle of righteous censorship has gained currency with the people who control the (private sector) flow of information, and who used that (private sector) censorship to assist the current government’s rise to power.

    • #10
  11. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    With Dr Seuss’ books, it was the copyright holder that said the books would no longer be for sale. So it was going to be used books only before long. 

    Buying used books is not strictly Amazon. Their prices are usually the highest.

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    When conservatives appeal to history, they’re trying to learn lessons from past experience.

    When liberals appeal to history, they’re arguing from the authority of a future where they assume, for no particular reason, that everyone will agree with them.

    • #12
  13. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Goldgeller (View Comment):
    I’m with you on the idea that it takes astoundingly heroic assumptions about the world and one’s own knowledge to declare someone else to be on the wrong side of history. But is it a “…a defense of as-yet unrealized ambitions…” ? Or is it a threat.

    It’s a cheap rhetorical device intended to claim victory in an argument without having to put forth an actual argument — i.e. Shut up, you stupid, racist, evil bigot!.

    • #13
  14. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    On May 10th 1933 the book burnings in Berlin at Bebelplatz took place. In the square today is an underground installation of bookshelves emptied of books. A plaque reads Heinrich Heine’s prophetic words from 100 years earlier in 1820 “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”

    Heine’s works were among those burned by the nazi students in the square.

    I think this is the most significant and pressing threat to freedom we face today. No fight – or book – is insignificant.

    Great post!

    • #14
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Amazon currently controls 50% of the printed book market and 90% of the electronic market. If that doesn’t meet the criteria of a monopoly I’m not sure anything will.

    But I’m not sure what normal anti-trust action would accomplish. Making Amazon divest Kindle would merely transfer 90% of the market from one conglomerate to another. 

    • #15
  16. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Amazon currently controls 50% of the printed book market and 90% of the electronic market. If that doesn’t meet the criteria of a monopoly I’m not sure anything will.

    But I’m not sure what normal anti-trust action would accomplish. Making Amazon divest Kindle would merely transfer 90% of the market from one conglomerate to another.

    While I think legal challenges to censorship are important and worth exploring, I also think it’s important that we step back and talk about censorship as wrong without regard to the private ownership aspect. That is, the suppression of ideas should be condemned, even when people have a legal right to suppress them. Censors should be called out.

    We are in a strange time, when the people one would (perhaps naively) expect to defend the exploration of ideas are suddenly contorting themselves in an effort to put a moral gloss on silencing unapproved expression. Perhaps that’s simply what people with power do: silence dissent. But it’s unseemly, and those who defend censorship should be embarrassed for doing so.

     

    • #16
  17. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    While I think legal challenges to censorship are important and worth exploring, I also think it’s important that we step back and talk about censorship as wrong without regard to the private ownership aspect. That is, the suppression of ideas should be condemned, even when people have a legal right to suppress them. Censors should be called out.

    We are in a strange time, when the people one would (perhaps naively) expect to defend the exploration of ideas are suddenly contorting themselves in an effort to put a moral gloss on silencing unapproved expression. Perhaps that’s simply what people with power do: silence dissent. But it’s unseemly, and those who defend censorship should be embarrassed for doing so.

    I agree.  The scary part isn’t that a corporation or politician tries to censor-they try to do stupid things all the time – it’s that the pushback and outrage aren’t nearly universal.  There is a large percentage of the American people who agree with their moves.  I still can’t quite wrap my head around it but when I try to read the left’s materials they are clear that our system has failed.  I’m not sure who it has failed but they are adamant that capitalism and its supports, the nuclear family in particular, are racist and must be destroyed.  There is no reasoning with the latter as evidence to the contrary is everywhere.  So I think we either have to think of ourselves as the minority and start going full Fahrenheit 451 or we realize we are the majority and start to build a coalition that will fight this censorship using every weapon we have.  

    • #17
  18. Steven Galanis Coolidge
    Steven Galanis
    @Steven Galanis

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    We are in a strange time, when the people one would (perhaps naively) expect to defend the exploration of ideas are suddenly contorting themselves in an effort to put a moral gloss on silencing unapproved expression.

     The discourse of intelligent dissent needs to be raised to a different level, Henry. The gloves need to come off.  American society’s disaffected have been ridiculed far too long in the name of one horribly unbalanced idea after another.  It was sadly tolerable until the wheels of our republic came off. 

    It’s time to take jabs at the perpetrators of these ideas and throw some body blows.  They haven’t seen much “unapproved expression” to silence because the most articulate dissenters are still looking at a mirage of good intentions. 

    • #18
  19. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Steven Galanis (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    We are in a strange time, when the people one would (perhaps naively) expect to defend the exploration of ideas are suddenly contorting themselves in an effort to put a moral gloss on silencing unapproved expression.

    Steven Galanis (View Comment):

    The discourse of intelligent dissent needs to be raised to a different level, Henry. The gloves need to come off. American society’s disaffected have been ridiculed far too long in the name of one horribly unbalanced idea after another. It was sadly tolerable until the wheels of our republic came off.

    It’s time to take jabs at the perpetrators of these ideas and throw some body blows. They haven’t seen much “unapproved expression” to silence because the most articulate dissenters are still looking at a mirage of good intentions.

    Steven, I agree. The challenge is in figuring out how to (figuratively speaking) punch back — and where we should (figuratively speaking) hit.

    My own thinking is that it’s time to be openly reactionary. We tend to treat the word as a pejorative, but I think it’s time to thoughtfully embrace it.

    William F. Buckley famously described a conservative as one who “is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’ ” That was always, by its definition, a holding action, a way of slowing change. We are now considerably further along the progressive road, and merely slowing things down isn’t enough. We have to try to make progress in the other direction, toward things we once had that were better than what we have today.

    That isn’t everything: some things really are better than they were. We have to be selective, and seek to restore things that we can defend and that actually resonate with most Americans. But while we have to be selective, we don’t have to be shy about it.

    We were, just a few years ago, better about race than we are now. It’s only in the last ten or fifteen years that we began pretending that skin color matters and should be the basis of public policy. That’s a stupid and ugly policy that should be called out for the racism it is, bluntly and energetically.

    Men and women are different, and it’s only in the past few years that stating that obvious truth has been verboten. But most Americans know it’s true. Most men want to be men; most women want to be women and want men to be men. This is truly a case of a naked Emperor flaunting his stuff in the public square, and most sensible people know it. The idiocy of the trans movement is low hanging fruit. (And I am not responsible for any unintended visuals my phrasing may have invited.)

    Above all, we have to stop caring too much what other people think. I believe Americans are desperate for people who will stand up — like Gina Carano, like Goya, like… like far too few — and be counted. It’s going to be costly for some, but it’s necessary.

    • #19
  20. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    While I think legal challenges to censorship are important and worth exploring, I also think it’s important that we step back and talk about censorship as wrong without regard to the private ownership aspect. That is, the suppression of ideas should be condemned, even when people have a legal right to suppress them. Censors should be called out.

    We are in a strange time, when the people one would (perhaps naively) expect to defend the exploration of ideas are suddenly contorting themselves in an effort to put a moral gloss on silencing unapproved expression. Perhaps that’s simply what people with power do: silence dissent. But it’s unseemly, and those who defend censorship should be embarrassed for doing so.

    I agree. The scary part isn’t that a corporation or politician tries to censor-they try to do stupid things all the time – it’s that the pushback and outrage aren’t nearly universal. There is a large percentage of the American people who agree with their moves. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it but when I try to read the left’s materials they are clear that our system has failed. I’m not sure who it has failed but they are adamant that capitalism and its supports, the nuclear family in particular, are racist and must be destroyed. There is no reasoning with the latter as evidence to the contrary is everywhere. So I think we either have to think of ourselves as the minority and start going full Fahrenheit 451 or we realize we are the majority and start to build a coalition that will fight this censorship using every weapon we have.

    Apparently a coalition is building, launched by Bari Weiss and others, called FAIR as mentioned in this post:  https://ricochet.com/908381/censorship-in-the-digital-age/.   

    • #20
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    I raise this issue not because I think it settles anything merely because it can be raised, but only because it is a point to consider in all this, and I honestly don’t know the best way forward.

    But I think we all agree that at some point, a bookseller can refuse to sell a certain kind of book. I think we would all agree that a small Christian bookstore, for example, (or even a large one) could refuse to sell books that insult or are otherwise hostile or inimical to Christianity.

    I recognize that perhaps the rule should be different for a huge mega bookseller like Amazon, when they can have such a huge impact on the market, but at what point does a company cross that line and lose control over what they sell?

    And even once they cross that market share line, is there nothing at all they can refuse to sell? What about something considered truly heinous and disgusting and immoral by 99.9% of people – advocacy for the murder of certain religious groups or whatever.

    Who should be making these decisions and drawing these lines?

    Amazon is only sort of a bookseller – though that was their main thing early on. They are a distributor for other booksellers and they are deciding (I presume) what those sellers can sell which makes this more coercive than simply opting not to sell. 

    • #21
  22. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    It is my belief that when a group that was kept in some form of bondage, from literal bondage to something as simple as being kept in the shadows and discouraged from speaking openly, they are not especially grateful for the freedom (and why should they be as is theirs by right), or particularly anti-bondage. 

    Everyone learns from being beaten. Mostly they learn what power is, and they can’t wait to use it. Suffering is not actually ennobling. 

    A goodly amount of the liberal coalition perceives themselves as victims and some of them want payback while others are eager to see how that looks because they believe they are ‘allies’ and are thus immune to destruction. 

    • #22
  23. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    TBA (View Comment):

    It is my belief that when a group that was kept in some form of bondage, from literal bondage to something as simple as being kept in the shadows and discouraged from speaking openly, they are not especially grateful for the freedom (and why should they be as is theirs by right), or particularly anti-bondage.

    Everyone learns from being beaten. Mostly they learn what power is, and they can’t wait to use it. Suffering is not actually ennobling.

    A goodly amount of the liberal coalition perceives themselves as victims and some of them want payback while others are eager to see how that looks because they believe they are ‘allies’ and are thus immune to destruction.

    I’m sure that’s true. I suspect, however, that more of the liberal coalition believe that they are not the victims, but rather that they represent the interests of those who they believe are the victims. And I think they’re probably mistaken in that regard, as most of the erstwhile victims don’t, I think, want the assistance the liberal coalition purports to provide. (The shift of minorities toward Trump in the last election is, I believe, indicative of that.)

    • #23
  24. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    It is my belief that when a group that was kept in some form of bondage, from literal bondage to something as simple as being kept in the shadows and discouraged from speaking openly, they are not especially grateful for the freedom (and why should they be as is theirs by right), or particularly anti-bondage.

    Everyone learns from being beaten. Mostly they learn what power is, and they can’t wait to use it. Suffering is not actually ennobling.

    A goodly amount of the liberal coalition perceives themselves as victims and some of them want payback while others are eager to see how that looks because they believe they are ‘allies’ and are thus immune to destruction.

    I’m sure that’s true. I suspect, however, that more of the liberal coalition believe that they are not the victims, but rather that they represent the interests of those who they believe are the victims. And I think they’re probably mistaken in that regard, as most of the erstwhile victims don’t, I think, want the assistance the liberal coalition purports to provide. (The shift of minorities toward Trump in the last election is, I believe, indicative of that.)

    Good point. This all strikes me as true. I think we are starting to actually see it in many survey measures. The effects are concentrated among, and driven by, white liberals who identify as very liberal.

    I enjoyed Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt” (I have real reservations about parts of it but overall.) Had he tried to use national surveys to identify the concept he wouldn’t have been to until basically the 2010s. But now we are starting to see some semblance of that concept show up in the measures. 

    Okay. So we can see something happening to very liberal white respondants in a variety of survey measures. Why did it take so long? Why did it increase instead of decrease? I don’t know. I feel it stems from the idea that the most liberal white identifiers may have been nursing a growing discontentment over their perceived failure to achieve the policy outcomes that they wanted to achieve (as measured by impacts as opposed to simply passing legislation). I contend it is because most programs centered around government spending/meddling will fail. But it is clear they think differently.

    • #24
  25. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    TBA (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    I raise this issue not because I think it settles anything merely because it can be raised, but only because it is a point to consider in all this, and I honestly don’t know the best way forward.

    But I think we all agree that at some point, a bookseller can refuse to sell a certain kind of book. I think we would all agree that a small Christian bookstore, for example, (or even a large one) could refuse to sell books that insult or are otherwise hostile or inimical to Christianity.

    I recognize that perhaps the rule should be different for a huge mega bookseller like Amazon, when they can have such a huge impact on the market, but at what point does a company cross that line and lose control over what they sell?

    And even once they cross that market share line, is there nothing at all they can refuse to sell? What about something considered truly heinous and disgusting and immoral by 99.9% of people – advocacy for the murder of certain religious groups or whatever.

    Who should be making these decisions and drawing these lines?

    Amazon is only sort of a bookseller – though that was their main thing early on. They are a distributor for other booksellers and they are deciding (I presume) what those sellers can sell which makes this more coercive than simply opting not to sell.

    Abigail Shrier wrote an excellent essay on why Amazon refusing to sell a book is very different than a small bakery refusing to make a particular cake: https://abigailshrier.substack.com/p/book-banning-in-an-age-of-amazon.  According to her, agents are already taking notice of Amazon’s actions.  “Why publish something so controversial?”    It’s a matter of scale:

    “…Amazon isn’t a neighborhood bakery. Small independent bookstores can (and often do) claim to be in the business of promoting a certain kind of speech. There are Christian bookstores and feminist bookstores and everything in between. And forcing such stores to sell books they don’t like would compromise the owners’ free-speech rights by forcing them to engage in what is arguably a form of compelled speech. But Amazon operates on a vast scale. Scale is the difference between homicide and genocide, a pickpocket and Bernie Madoff.”

    • #25
  26. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    I raise this issue not because I think it settles anything merely because it can be raised, but only because it is a point to consider in all this, and I honestly don’t know the best way forward.

    But I think we all agree that at some point, a bookseller can refuse to sell a certain kind of book. I think we would all agree that a small Christian bookstore, for example, (or even a large one) could refuse to sell books that insult or are otherwise hostile or inimical to Christianity.

    I recognize that perhaps the rule should be different for a huge mega bookseller like Amazon, when they can have such a huge impact on the market, but at what point does a company cross that line and lose control over what they sell?

    And even once they cross that market share line, is there nothing at all they can refuse to sell? What about something considered truly heinous and disgusting and immoral by 99.9% of people – advocacy for the murder of certain religious groups or whatever.

    Who should be making these decisions and drawing these lines?

    Amazon is only sort of a bookseller – though that was their main thing early on. They are a distributor for other booksellers and they are deciding (I presume) what those sellers can sell which makes this more coercive than simply opting not to sell.

    Abigail Shrier wrote an excellent essay on why Amazon refusing to sell a book is very different than a small bakery refusing to make a particular cake: https://abigailshrier.substack.com/p/book-banning-in-an-age-of-amazon. According to her, agents are already taking notice of Amazon’s actions. “Why publish something so controversial?” It’s a matter of scale:

    “…Amazon isn’t a neighborhood bakery. Small independent bookstores can (and often do) claim to be in the business of promoting a certain kind of speech. There are Christian bookstores and feminist bookstores and everything in between. And forcing such stores to sell books they don’t like would compromise the owners’ free-speech rights by forcing them to engage in what is arguably a form of compelled speech. But Amazon operates on a vast scale. Scale is the difference between homicide and genocide, a pickpocket and Bernie Madoff.”

    Such arguments can be made, and perhaps they’re good arguments.

    But what is essential, I think, is that we expose the idea of speech suppression and challenge that. If it isn’t Amazon or Google, it’ll be someone else. It might be the government with anti-hate-speech laws. It’ll be the universities.

    We have to point out that censorship is wrong-minded and un-American. Even legal censorship is un-American. A free people must be able to debate every idea. Offensive speech, unorthodox speech, incorrect speech — speech is speech, and all of it must be defended.

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  27. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Such arguments can be made, and perhaps they’re good arguments.

    But what is essential, I think, is that we expose the idea of speech suppression and challenge that. If it isn’t Amazon or Google, it’ll be someone else. It might be the government with anti-hate-speech laws. It’ll be the universities.

    We have to point out that censorship is wrong-minded and un-American. Even legal censorship is un-American. A free people must be able to debate every idea. Offensive speech, unorthodox speech, incorrect speech — speech is speech, and all of it must be defended.

    Of course.  But many argue that Amazon refusing to list a book is not suppression and it is, of a very serious kind.  Even though a particular book may be able to be obtained elsewhere, how many controversial or conservative books will not be written because they assume Amazon will not list them?  So we have to be prepared to counter that argument when it is offered.

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  28. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    JennaStocker (View Comment):
    On May 10th 1933 the book burnings in Berlin at Bebelplatz took place.

    I thought the book burning scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was chilling.  When Elsa (Allison Doody) walked away crying from witnessing the spectacle, I almost started crying too . . .

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  29. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    I burnt a book once.

    A woman I worked with self published some awful short stories. I bought a couple at the launch to support her but the stories were so bad I didn’t want to inflict them on anyone else so I returned them to nature you might say.

    • #29
  30. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    I burnt a book once.

    A woman I worked with self published some awful short stories. I bought a couple at the launch to support her but the stories were so bad I didn’t want to inflict them on anyone else so I returned them to nature you might say.

    Yes, I’ve burned a few myself — despite the admonition in my post. I subscribed to the Computer Book of the Month club back in 1980. The half-life of a computer book varies quite a lot by title, but there comes a time when a six hundred page tome describing the best way to animate sprites during the vertical blanking interval on an Amiga 500 is no longer… relevant. Then the value of paper as fireplace kindling becomes primary.

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