UPDATED: According to the Washington Post, the offending title is no longer available on Amazon.com. Moreoever, some further digging through the Twitter-sphere reveals that, in fact, the author does have a candid chapter about sexual encounters with children and does provide information on evading detection of illegal sexual conduct. This brings the entire argument below to a grinding halt. A how-to manual, which incites or furthers illegal conduct, is not protected speech. Let this be a reminder that, when wrong, I will gladly 'fess up. (Although, to be honest, I don't know how people had the stomach to pay for this e-book, much less read its entire contents).
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Ok, so let's discuss censorship for a moment. But, before we get there, let's discuss a certain self-published title on Amazon, as well as what it does and does not do, and what it does and does not purport to do.
There is no easy way to get around the title: "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct". The book in no way, form, or fashion advocates or serves as a how to for creepers at NAMBLA, rather, it serves a different purpose; to keep persons with pedophilic tendencies inside the boundaries of the law. That, by definition, would include no pornography involving children, no inducement, no enticement, and no remotely inappropriate behavior. These are very good things, I would think.
What the book does aim to do is to provide boundaries for those sexually attracted to children. This is where the issue gets thornier. By implying that there are boundaries that may or may not cross the line, it does -- arguably -- promote some very borderline, creepy behavior: Behaviors that are perfectly legal, but, on the part of society, are just too close for comfort.
Holy shit! He's not going to defend pedophiles and NAMBLA is he?
No, I'm not. Pedophilia is disgusting, vile, violent and one of the most harmful things that I can imagine which plagues our children and tears the fabric of our society asunder. The interpersonal damages are incalculable, and very real. I've counseled children and adult survivors of childhood sexual and physical trauma. I've seen what it does. Personally, I've had two members of my family who were raped as children (let's call it what it is, shall we?). Some bounce back, others do not. No one deserves it. Moreover, I do not believe in "child love"; besides being an exceptionally derange notion of normative behavior, it is easily of one of the more exploitative attempts to justify manipulation of guileless children.
That said, I am decidedly for the publication of something that will keep pedophiles in line, and establish non-exploitative, non-sexual lines of communication among pedophiles. As the literature plainly shows, pedophilia is one of the most enduring, persistent and difficult to treat mental illnesses out there. Pedophiles often do not seek pre-emptive treatment because of the deserved social stigma. And, even when they offend, and are subsequently caught and punished, they reoffend at staggering rates. Why not set some self-limiting behaviors on the darker impulses, some that come from within? We cannot change one's thought processes or general sexual attractions, however, we can damned sure change the behaviors. At the end of the day, that's what we're all after isn't it?
No, Atticus! WHY?!?!
This finally brings me to the legal part of all this. First of all, Amazon can choose not to publish this book, and it is decidedly not censorship. It is a corporate decision made for the benefit of the bottom line. The First Amendment does not safeguard against private business decisions made by private companies; they remain free to publish what they will, when they will. It's just good ole' fashioned capitalism. However, I highly doubt many people are queuing up to defend the pedophiles here, should that be the case.
No, the greater issue of concern is when our polity, we as individuals, call for pre-emptive bans on sales, and bans on publication, of certain topics which do or might offend us (and, let's be honest, pedophiles are offensive and rank about as low as possible on the social foodchain). Being creepy and legal is within the boundaries of the law. Giving someone a private platform to be legally creepy is also within the boundaries of the law.
What is more harmful then? Operating within the boundaries of the law to hopefully curb destructive tendencies of pedophiles, or society volunteering to curb our own civil rights? What is more violent to our society? Disagreeing with and calling for bans on these materials, or operating within our rights as consumers to not support merchants who provide a platform for unpopular or marginalized opinions?
Aristotle thinks it's a close call, but only because the "unpopular opinion" comes from those who are attracted to children.
So, let's not be mentally lazy; we can't conflate the publication of a disgusting tract with illegal conduct such as sexual assault or child pornography. The issue here is not that the guy wrote a book advocating illegal behavior, or inciting others to engage in illegal behavior, because he didn't. The guy wrote a book in which frankly illegal urges are discussed. Change the subject matter, and pretend it's something else: Like someone discussing their secret desire to steal, or cheat, or lie, or defraud the IRS, or their violent propensities: and, then discusses how others with the same urges can act legally to stay within the boundaries of society. To call for ban-action is to condone mind crime. In America we don't have to like people's thoughts, but we certainly don't preemptively ban those thoughts unless they are furthering, inciting or assisting illegal conduct.
There's no illegal conduct here. There is some disturbing subject matter, which is legal, but not illegality itself. So, what's a pissed off consumer to do? Easy. Don't read the damned thing. Don't buy the damned thing. Don't support Amazon.com. Write letters expressing your ire, and why you will not be patronizing them. Here, I've given you a headstart:
Mr. Jeffrey P. Bezos , Founder, Chairman, Chief Exec. Officer and Pres
Mr. Thomas J. Szkutak ,Chief Financial Officer and Sr. VP
Mr. Diego Piacentini, Sr. VP of International Retail
Ms. Shelley L. Reynolds, Principal Accounting Officer, VP of Worldwide and Controller
Mr. Sebastian J. Gunningham, Sr. VP of Seller Services
Lord knows, Amazon publishes plenty of shit I find vile, violent, repugnant and harmful: The Turner Diaries, Mein Kampf, the "Left Behind" series, Anna Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, Robert Bork, etc. So, I exercise my rights in return: I just don't buy the damned things. It really is that simple.
Everything else is just an angry red howler monkey screeching at an uncaring universe.