Amazon Won’t Sell Books Framing LGBTQ+ Identities as Mental Illnesses

The following is about a month old, but evidently PG was asleep at the wheel when it first appeared.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon. com Inc. said it recently removed a three-year-old book about transgender issues from its platforms because it decided not to sell books that frame transgender and other sexual identities as mental illnesses.

The company explained its decision in a letter Thursday to Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The senators had written last month to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos requesting an explanation of why “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” was no longer available on Amazon nor on its Kindle and Audible platforms.

“As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” Amazon said in the letter, which was signed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, referring to sexual identities that include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, among others.

“When Harry Became Sally,” written by the conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson, was published in February 2018. The book focuses on a variety of issues including gender identity.

“Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” said Mr. Anderson and Roger Kimball, the publisher of Encounter Books, the New York-based nonprofit that published the book, in a statement Thursday in response to Amazon’s letter.

“There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria,” they added, calling their book “an important contribution” to that conversation. “Amazon is using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and is deceiving its own customers in the process,” they said.

Amazon’s decision comes as the nation’s largest tech platforms are under increased scrutiny regarding the decisions they make over which content is acceptable. The senators, in their letter dated Feb. 24, characterized Amazon’s decision to remove the book as a signal “to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms.”

. . . .

The senators in their letter had also asked Mr. Bezos whether Amazon had changed its content guidelines since 2018. In Thursday’s response, the company said it had indeed changed its guidelines since that year, without providing further details.

Amazon said it provides its customers “with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable.”

“That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content,” Amazon’s Mr. Huseman wrote. “All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer, as do we.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG doesn’t usually post items relating to current politics (Few other than historians and those who read history (like PG) cares much about past politics).

However, Amazon is such a dominant force in the book business that its decisions to remove a book or a class of books from the world’s largest bookstore due to what is, at least in the US, an author’s opinion concerning a political issue which is under continuing discussion and debate between reasonable people will certainly attract attention.

Again, for visitors from outside the US, the senators who sent Amazon the letter are Republicans, generally regarded as conservative. The state of Washington, where Amazon is headquartered, is presumably where those who made the decision concerning the book reside.

Washington is generally regarded as a relatively safe state for the Democratic party. The state has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1984. Both senators have been Democrats for the last twenty years.

Politically, the state is divided by what some call “The Cascade Curtain” referring to the Cascade Mountain range, located east of Seattle and the most populated portions of the state. The Cascades divides largely Democratic western Washington from largely Republican and rural eastern Washington.

Prevailing social attitudes tend to mirror political attitudes in Washington as well.

The technology boom in the Seattle area, lead by Microsoft and Amazon, has generated some very large fortunes while eastern Washington is a lot less prosperous. Average levels of education vary between the two regions as well. The Seattle tech boom also tends to attract a lot of employees who formerly lived much farther east in the US and, as would be expected, the newcomers brought their political opinions with them.

The thing that bothered PG the most about the reported action by Amazon is that it reminded PG of a very disturbing trend, at least in the United States, to “deplatform” those with different political beliefs than those who seek to apply this tactic. Basically, for a college professor, deplatforming may mean being fired. For an author, it may mean being deprived of any way to sell books and, in some cases, earn a living. Another term for the same thing is canceling an individual, essentially making them a societal non-person and the environment that makes this possible is cancel culture.

PG has discussed this phenomenon/strategy here and here.

For PG, deplatforming by those who hold some degree of political, societal or business power is disturbingly similar to the concept of making someone an unperson as first described in George Orwell’s 1984. In that book, an unperson is someone who has been expunged by the state, someone of whom all trace has been erased.

While Amazon is not the state, it is much richer and, some would argue, more powerful than more than a few nation-states.

For example, in 2019, government revenue in The Netherlands totaled 355.96 billion euros, equal to about 423.66 billion US dollars. In 2020, Amazon’s total revenue was 386 billion dollars.

And Amazon doesn’t have to pay for an army, navy or air force.

PG cautions visitors to TPV that this is not a political blog and PG appreciates it when those who disagree with others who have commented do so with courtesy and respect.

26 thoughts on “Amazon Won’t Sell Books Framing LGBTQ+ Identities as Mental Illnesses”

  1. Hi PG,

    I enjoy your take on these issues, and I see the dangers, but I have a different perspective, and I will go a bit sideways from this specific issue.

    Generally speaking, a newspaper does not have to print all letters to the editor. Stores do not have to sell every manufacturer’s shoes. Libraries do not have to stock every book ever published. There is no way around it, there are choices to be made. And just as there is freedom to believe what you want, there is freedom to run your business in ways that support your values or not. Some people desire completely ideologically free business, the free market in different form, which also argues for raping the land, destroying the environment, exploiting workers, etc. in pursuit of nothing but profit. I say all of this only as prelude.

    The divergent issue is that, in many jurisdictions, including Canada, we have tax exemptions for registered charities as well as allowing them to issue tax receipts for donations that the donor can then deduct from their income tax payable.

    The interesting history of course is that charities were given this “status” because they were doing charitable works that the state didn’t have to then provide. It was almost like “alternative service delivery.” If the charity is providing hot meals, etc., then less demand for the state’s welfare programs (in theory). It’s a broad assumption but the classic explanation for why a state would give a tax deduction for a charitable donation.

    But there’s a catch, or perhaps two…first of all, it has to be a registered charity. It can’t be your Aunt Alice or cousin Bob as your “charity” (unless they’re a dependent, but I digress). Secondly, in almost all jurisdictions, you have to be performing charitable works i.e. clear demonstration of programs on the ground helping people. You can’t be simply a shell corp that doesn’t do anything. It’s a grey area at times, sure, as to what constitutes “help” when it comes to religious orgs like churches offering mainly prayer services, but let’s not quibble on that. They offer a service of some kind to individuals, good enough, can be a charity usually. There’s other reqts but the two main ones are registered AND some sort of service offering.

    In a large number of jurisdictions, some of the orgs have realized that one of their biggest roles that they can play is to advocate on behalf of their clientele when govts make policy. So they’re essentially “lobbying” in the pejorative sense, or doing “policy advocacy” in the generous. Arguing for better mental health services, for example, for the homeless who might not be living on the street if they had more wraparound supports. A job is nice; a job with MH services is more effective. In Canada, the government set a limit that was not rigidly enforced that the advocacy could be no more than 10% of the program i.e. to keep your charitable status, your other programming — the actual service you did — had to be 90% of the funding you spent. Some orgs went to 15% in a given year, few tried to abuse it, it was asked by the sector for 10% back in the early 2000s to let them do SOMETHING advocacy related, and some of the argument was “Hey, we’re doing some of your policy research for you.” Not compelling, but 10% didn’t seem that big a deal, everyone thought it was a good balance.

    About two years ago, a provincial court ruled that limit as unconstitutional. That it was an infringement of their freedom of speech, and couldn’t be upheld. Almost all of the voluntary sector thought the decision was wrong, they agreed 10% was generous, and that it wasn’t restricting their FoS, but they celebrated the win anyway. Now there is no limit. Which means there’s nothing to stop — wait for it — a lobby group registering itself as a charity doing 100% advocacy work on social issues and issuing tax donations to anyone and everyone. Like large corps. But I digress too.

    By contrast, a judge (I think in NY State) had a fantastic alternate approach to a similar case. The judge’s ruling, which I can’t find the link to at the moment, essentially summarized it this way:

    a. Yes the charity has an right to FoS
    b. No the charity doesn’t have a right to have that speech underwritten by the taxpayer.

    I confess, for me, that summary is tantamount to a mic drop. It captures everything perfectly for me. Yes you have a right, no you are not entitled to a specific form you decide on that requires others do give up their rights.

    For politics, it is a giant minefield of course. For something simple like the envt, you could easily see an anti-envt mindset wanting to delist all the pro-environment charities or funding others that agreed with them (which, honestly, it’s the rare govt that would fund organizations that promote the opposite direction they want to go). But the judge said it was narrower than that. If it was political, that’s a separate issue for govts, sure, and unpersons/1984, but if it is what constitutes a charity — 10%/90% service or 0%/100% — that was a govt decision, not a “political” one.

    For me, that is the perfect conclusion. Anyone should have the “right” to write their book. To sell it. To promote their views. But I see no reason why Amazon would have to sell it. Any more than they have to sell textbooks if they don’t want to. No one has a right to have someone in particular represent their book, to have someone in particular edit their book, to have a specific publisher publish the book, to have a specific store sell their book, or to have specific people read their book. They have the right to offer it to agents, editor, publisher, stores and readers…and if they collectively say “No thanks”, no rights were infringed. And if customers complain, the store can listen or not.

    If you want to discuss every publisher getting together to blackball people, that’s a different scenario. Amazon isn’t doing that, it’s saying “go do it somewhere else, that’s not what we’re selling”. If I don’t have to let people with no shirts or no shoes in my store, I’m pretty sure I can not choose to sell something I don’t want to sell.

    I get your desire to protect the Village Common. But Amazon is not the whole Village Common, nor is FB, or Twitter, or anywhere else. Nor is a specific job at a university.

    They are a piece of it, but not more than that. Just as we have always controlled who we elect to represent us and not others, or who we want to help build a soapbox stand.

    We also know what real “lack of voice” looks like for marginalized groups. I find it difficult to feel the same way for those who already have disproportionate power and voice, whose complaint is a perceived lack of voice in one channel they happen to feel entitled to occupy.

    Now I have to go looking for that stupid quote from the Judge. I was sure I used it in an academic paper back in ’04, but I can’t find it now. It annoys me. 🙂


    • Paul – Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      To be clear, I’m not saying that Amazon shouldn’t be free to decide what it will and what it won’t offer for sale in the same manner that the baker in Colorado had the right to decline to make cakes for same-sex weddings.

      What is concerning to me is the larger social development in which it is socially-approved to respond to someone with whom you have a political disagreement by attempting to prevent them from effectively expressing their opinion and punish them in any way possible.

      In the case of some tenured college professors who have held to beliefs and principles they sincerely believe to be correct (and which were widely regarded as correct by a great many other college professors not that long ago) being forced from their jobs by what amounts to a mob of students for whom the proper penalty for disagreeing with their common belief is to lose one’s job and be banished forever from the profession to which the professor has devoted many years of hard work, diligent teaching and which whose labors and talents have benefitted quite a few students over the years.

      I am happy for people who have strong beliefs in favor of the right of those who pursue support the open acknowledgement of LGBQT+ identities should be respected and that those who have those identities should be free to live in peace and be able to support themselves through their hard work and talents. I think deplatformers who try to shut up those advocates on the left are every bit as wrong as those who might attempt to deplatform others who believe LGBQT+ rights should be respected and protected.

      What bothers me the most is the manifestation of any totalitarian impulse to crush another person underfoot and ruin their life due to a personal, political, business, scientific or academic disagreement.

  2. I take no sides on the specific subject being deplatformed though I see deplatforming in general as playing with fire. Bad things lie down that road because, as often stated, “You can control what people say in public but you can’t control what they think or say in private.”

    On this particular subject, though, there is this:
    “When it comes to homosexuality, those who support gay rights don’t often find themselves agreeing with conservative Christians. Advances in biomedical technology, however, should push the two groups to agree that the biological basis for the homosexual orientation is irrelevant. Although their motivations may differ, each side has reasons for promoting the idea that sexual activity is freely chosen behavior.

    Gay rights activists have, of course, been working against this idea for decades. They have been eager to find a genetic, hormonal, or neurological explanation for sexual orientation, which, they believe, will remove any doubt that individuals have no choice about their sexuality”and society will have no choice but to accept their sexual behavior as natural and normal.

    Ironically, such an explanation could have just the opposite effect of what they hope for. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, a prenatal pill used to prevent ambiguous genitalia may reduce the chance that a female with the disorder will be gay. A bioethicist quoted in the story worried that the treatment could lead to “engineering in the womb for sexual orientation.”

    The ability to chemically steer a child’s sexual orientation has become increasingly possible in recent years, with evidence building that homosexuality has biological roots and with advances in the treatment of babies in utero. Prenatal treatment for congenital adrenal hyperplasia is the first to test”unintentionally or not”that potential.
    No one who has followed the trajectory of eugenics-oriented biotechnology will be surprised that one the first targets for manipulation would be sexual orientation. In 2002 Francis Fukuyama speculated that within twenty years we would be able to devise a way for parents to sharply reduce the likelihood that they will give birth to a gay child. Even in a society in which “social norms have become totally accepting of homosexuality,” he argues, most parents would choose the treatment.

    Fukuyama is right. Even if homosexuality were considered a benign trait such as baldness or left-handedness, the majority of parents would opt to have a heterosexual child (“What if we want grandchildren?”).

    But what happens when a homosexual orientation becomes preventable? There is a chance, albeit unlikely, that the orientation will once again be classified”like alcoholism”under the disease model of behavior and considered a treatable condition. It was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and until 1987, ego-dystonic homosexuality was still considered a pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , the bible for mental health professionals.

    More likely the effects of such change will occur privately, behind the doors of the IVF clinic, the obstetrician’s office, and the abortion clinic. Soon after technology made it possible to detect sex and chromosomal abnormalities, it became acceptable to abort baby girls and children with mental retardation. Children that possess the propensity to become gay will join these “less desirables” in being quietly eliminated before birth. ”

    Playing with fire.

    More at the source.

    My own interest is how the matter would play out in space colonies and a human interstellar diaspora.

    • I will add a British perspective. When I was training to become a registered nurse, learning disability nursing was one of the four career choices (adult, mental health, pediatric being the other three).

      With the advent of testing for Down’s syndrome, one of the issues was the ethics of aborting Down’s syndrome children, the choice to do so meant the learning disability community was becoming smaller each year.

      • There is a somewhat similar debate among the deaf concerning cochlear implants for children. As artificial vision impants improve we can expect similar debates among the blind. All come down to the defibition of what is biologically normal for whom.
        Much of the strongest objection to cochlear implants has come from within the Deaf community, some of whom are pre-lingually Deaf people whose first language is a sign language. For some in the Deaf community, cochlear implants are an affront to their culture, which, as they view it, is a minority threatened by the hearing majority.[7] This is an old problem for the Deaf community, going back as far as the 18th century with the argument of manualism vs. oralism. This is consistent with medicalisation and the standardisation of the “normal” body in the 19th century, when differences between normal and abnormal began to be debated.[33] It is important to consider the sociocultural context, particularly in regards to the Deaf community, which considers itself to possess its own unique language and culture.[34] This accounts for the cochlear implant being seen as an affront to their culture, as many do not believe that deafness is something that needs to be cured. However, it has also been argued that this does not necessarily have to be the case: the cochlear implant can act as a tool deaf people can use to access the “hearing world” without losing their Deaf identity.[34]

        It is believed by some that cochlear implants for congenitally deaf children are most effective when implanted at a young age.[35] However evidence shows that Deaf children who sign well do better academically. Thus specialists recommend that all Deaf children should learn sign language from birth.[36] Deaf culture critics also point out that the cochlear implant and the subsequent therapy often become the focus of the child’s identity at the expense of language acquisition and ease of communication in sign language and Deaf identity. They believe that measuring a child’s success only by their mastery of speech will lead to a poor self-image as “disabled” (because the implants do not produce normal hearing) rather than having the healthy self-concept of a proudly Deaf person.[37]

        Children with cochlear implants are more likely to be educated orally, in the standard fashion, and without access to sign language and are often isolated from other deaf children and from sign language.[38] Cochlear implants have been one of the technological and social factors implicated in the decline of sign languages in the developed world.[39] Some Deaf activists have labeled the widespread implantation of children as “cultural genocide”.[40]

        As the trend for cochlear implants in children grows, Deaf-community advocates have tried to counter the “either or” formulation of oralism vs manualism with a “both and” or “bilingual-bicultural”[41] approach; some schools are now successfully integrating cochlear implants with sign language in their educational programs.[42]”

        • What “affronts” me is those who are affronted by other people’s free choice. Particularly when they do things to remove that free choice from others, because they would not make that choice. Apparently, if you are born with it – whatever “it” is, you must stick with that for the rest of your life. Myself, I refuse to live with only being able to see clearly less than two feet in front of my nose; I will continue to choose to correct that with lenses.

          Now, there is a somewhat gray area where children – or others who are not able to make an adult free choice for themselves. I have views on that; based, however, on the current state of treatments for those defects (and just what is a real defect, as you so well noted).

  3. Back in the early days of self-publishing, we thought it was great that Amazon was cutting out all of the middlemen standing between writers and readers. Agents, editors, marketing departments, distributors, big-box chain stores all demanding a slice of the pie, leaving little left for the people who actually made the pie—the writers.

    But we never actually cut out the middlemen entirely. Instead, we replaced them with a different middleman: Amazon. In doing so, we concentrating all of the roles the old middlemen played—and with it, we also concentrated all of that power. Which was fine, so long as Amazon was truly the “everything store.” But now, it’s becoming the “everything except those _______ store.” Everything except those books. Everything except those ideas. Everything except those people.

    This isn’t going to end with the transgender issue. It ends with separate parallel societies—an Amazon-equivalent for liberals and an Amazon-equivalent for conservatives—until the parallel societies diverge. That’s the point at which gulags and concentration camps begin to become fashionable again.

    • The end state for the supporters of Critical Race Theory is post-colonial Lebanon, where everything in the country was allocated by tribal quota. And we all saw what that led to: civil war and external domination.

      Divide and conquer politics and short-term thinking with no regard for long-term consequences is a prescription for disaster in any field. More so in heterogeneous societies. Examples abound.

      I’m generally optimistic about the long term but the near term…?
      Survivalism is starting to look quite attractive. 😉

      • Can’t agree with this cause-and-effect statement, Felix. Which is rather the point: We can disagree; and that cause-and-effect statement, however incorrect I think it is, is nothing like That Book that was created by the Tsarist secret police (name usually anglicized as “Cheka”) and that I’m carefully not naming so that PV doesn’t show up on certain searches (in English, the title usually includes the word “Elders”). Refusing to carry that particular book is a wise decision by any bookseller not also carrying an extensive line of white sheets. Whether books framing LGBTQ+ as “mental illness” (and the headline is a bit deceptive) are like that book is open to debate… until one reads them. (Censorship without having actually examined the material is abhorent; and that’s different from refusal to engage in business without having examined the merchandise.)

        Lebanon was going to devolve into civil war because its boundaries were drawn by people sitting in private London clubs with no knowledge whatsoever of tribal and other distributions in the region, nor understanding of its history under the Ottomans. (Sort of like the Palestine Mandate.) To steal an SNL line, “It was born without a spine. It was only a matter of time.”: The colonial history was enough, as was the method by which it was decolonialized (if that’s even a valid description for “part of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years that fell under Franco-British rule for three decades”). Lebanon isn’t quite as bad as Persia/Iran, but it’s the same set of awful principles.

        • I’m aware of the Czarist book.
          (Also the much more profitable fraud book about the environmentalist Indian chief that generated by the white sheet group. They’re not all idiots.)

          And yes, we can disagree on any thing.
          Different points of view are accepted for consideration.

          My point of view is that Lebanon was organized by cultural “tribes” in the broader, if not quite literal sense; with a different President for each side, dividing the country into different disconnected camps, always at odds, and instead of trying to build a unifying national identity they emphasized the differences, especially when approtioning power, jobs, and resources. Inevitably they ended up with a christian militia, a muslim milititia, and since they were marginalized, a druze militia. A powder keg waiting for outsiders to light the match. Which they did.

          I see no difference between the social partition being imposed by european outsiders or self-inflicted. The difference makes no practical difference once the bullets and molotovs start flying. Do note tbat plenty of other societies were left just as messed up by the colonialists and they actually tried to build a common national identity.

          I see the same trends here with the demand for different rules for different folks and government largesse for some, not others. (The USDA just announced a program of debt relief for farmers but only *certain* farmers; not by need but by race. At columbia University they organized multiple only graduation ceremonies, segregated by race and sexual inclination. In Seattle last year they organized “diversity training” for government employees that told staffers to recuse promotions if offered so they might go to POCs, as they put it. Lots more. Verified by local sources not the suspect ones, too.)

          What concerns me is the tin-eared absolutist certainty that the sins of the past *must* be made up for by the present and only by apportioning largesse by government action using solely tribal criteria.

          Balkanizing society is not going to lead to harmony.
          Demonizing dissenters is not going to lead to willing buy in.
          Humans of any breed don’t think like that.

          Taking from Peter to pay Paul while making sure Peter knows you’re doing it is not going to make Peter like it. He might stay grudgingly quiet for a while.
          But such a state of affairs is not going to last.

          The WaPo had a report in June 2019 about a suburban skinhead 20-something from a multigeneration liberal family. His mother’s best friend and his “aunt” growing up is jewish. And like so many supremacists he insisted he didn’t hate others. But unlike actual racists, his story backed him up. The profile they presented was of an average B-grade student with no special interest or clique in high school. Not a goth, artist, athlete, gay, or female, or nerd; no “special” group had a place for him. No close friends, much less a girlfriend. He didn’t do drugs or get into trouble. He just…coasted.
          Come graduation he got no racial preferences, no scholarship, no career path. (That one is on the public schools.)
          He ended up on a low end job, saving to maybe pay his way to community college or technical training. And there he met a guy who told him tgere was notgubg wrong with him. That it was okay to be white. Just that.
          They offered him a place to belong when nobody else would.
          And no those were not nice folks.
          But they gave him a path: he started exercising, lost weight, got buf. Even got a girlfriend. And he shaved his head, and ended up an apprentice skinhead. A gofer, really.
          By default.

          I don’t think his story is unique.
          And I don’t think it’ll have a good ending.
          Not for him and not for the country.

          Actions breed reactions.
          And for all the focus on the past there is darn little attention being paid to the future by the IdiotPoliticians™ of the gerontocracy.

          I expect another MacVeigh to pop up any day now. Maybe a lot more than one. Because people will only let themselves be pushed around so much and there is a pretty big minority out there drawing up *their* list of grievances and if the game is going to be defined by riots and violence they can play that game too until they too get some of that government largesse that’s been buying votes.

          Like I said, I don’t see a future of unicorns and fuzzy bunnies headed our way.
          And that’s without factoring Xi’s China or Putin lighting a match.

  4. I recently supported the losing union drive at the Amazon Alabama warehouse, and will probably do the same the next time there is an election. This is the first time in my life I have ever done something like that. I will oppose unions everywhere else.

    I will argue all day that Amazon has a right to sell whatever it wants. Likewise, I will do the same supporting my opposition to Amazon.

    But, I figure Amazon’s overall social benefit has passed the inflection point of the commercial Laffer Curve. Time to oppose them just as any other activity on the downward side of that curve.

  5. I wrote about this at length here:

    Here’s the relevant paragraph from that:

    “The argument most likely to come up when I say that is “but you can still buy them at other retailers,” which takes the point of view of the consumer (and misses the basic economic argument that the more friction you insert into the sales process, the more likely you are to lose the sale). But let’s accept that Amazon refusing to sell a book does not remove it from sale from the consumer viewpoint. Instead, let’s talk about what that removal does from the publisher’s perspective. If half to three quarters of your sales are coming from a single platform, and that platform bans your book, then your income for that title has cratered. For the publisher who paid for that book’s publication, your investment is toast.

    Imagine yourself in the shoes of that publisher who has just lost their investment. What do you think you’re going to do in the future when someone proposes a book you think might run afoul of Amazon’s guidelines?

    The most powerful—and frightening—effect of Amazon failing to carry a book doesn’t start—or end—with the consumer’s ability to purchase that title. It’s what happens during the processes you don’t see, the ones where people decide which books are published at all, that matters. To rustle up another quote from a smarter person than me, from 1945: “If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. […] The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.”

  6. The real question is:
    Why can a person’s declaration that he/she is “Really” a different sex not be questioned? What makes such a denial of simple, biological reality so beyond debate?
    If a person of one race arbitrarily decided that he was REALLY another, we would – rightly, I believe – call that person mistaken, deluded, and/or psychologically disturbed.
    Why is race immutable, while sex is not?
    To ask these questions is not hate; it is merely a reflection of the reality that declaring an untruth with sufficient fervor does not make it so.
    The second consideration – which When Harry Became Sally brings up – is that vulnerable children are often caught up in this charade. Those who do become swept up in the fashionable pretense are often those who are autistic or have emotional/mental issues.
    Are there people who are “intersex”?
    Technically, no. They can always be placed in either male (possession of at least 1 Y chromosome) or female (only X chromosomes) categories.
    A few of the people whose exterior is ambiguous can be given latitude about their presentation and legal gender. For example, a male without external testes or penis might – and has, in some cases – be determined to be female at birth. These are often called “women without a vagina” – not so, but easy to see how that happens. For these few, hormone therapy, and legal designation as a sex they are not would seem to be the best solution. That legal designation would be in the category of “legal fiction” – something that is not true, but we agree to pretend that it is.
    For many of the M2F transitions that are actively sought, these are men of middle age, who have played around with cross-dressing for some time. They persuade themselves that ‘transitioning’ would make everything right.
    They are highly deluded. Both because, like that Deputy Secretary of HHS just recently installed, they are quite unconvincing women, and because only a true nutcase would not realize that middle-aged WOMEN are a glut on the dating/marriage market. For the Not-Women, that group of men that would actively seek him-r are even smaller. And, in case the newly him-r is seeking females for their love connection, I hate to be the one to break it, but Lesbians don’t want D**k. As bottom surgery is quite rare for EITHER type of transition, that would mean him-r is NOT attractive to them.

  7. On free speech and de-plaforming:

    “Thomas’ opinion, which no other justice on the court joined, talked about the unprecedented control “of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties.” And he predicted the court would be forced to address how the law handles large social media platforms. He called threat to free speech a “glaring concern.”

    In the opinion, he addressed the lower court’s ruling that Trump had violated the First Amendment by blocking people from his Twitter account. Instead of Trump violating free speech, Thomas argued that the social media platforms had threatened the First Amendment. He claims the sheer size of the platforms and the power they wield to completely shut down Trump’s account is evidence of their far-reaching power.

    “[I]f the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered,” he wrote, “then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves.”

    He also took aim at Google, which he said “can suppress content by de-indexing or downlisting a search result or by steering users away from certain content by manually altering autocomplete results.” He said Amazon “can impose cataclysmic consequences on authors by, among other things, blocking a listing.”

    Thomas’ warnings build on arguments he made in a ruling in October that urged the court to narrow its interpretation of Section 230. He suggested the law has been applied too broadly.

    It may be difficult for lawmakers to translate Thomas’ opinion directly into legislation, Hans said. But he added that it’s likely Thomas’ arguments could be used to boost proposals that call for a sort of “Fairness Doctrine” for extremely large technology companies. ”

    The game is afoot.
    The second shoe is unavoidably coming. After that a whole shoe store drops; once you invite the politicians into the game they take it over.

  8. The fundamental problem here is another early SNL favorite: When we’re talking about e-book availability, we’re talking about both free speech rights* and the business judgment of commercial vendors and other actors. That is, both a dessert topping and a floor wax. Choosing which type of Shimmer to stock can’t be about just one of its uses!

    No mere vendor of speech has a right to any particular commercial platform — not even in the name of the closest-to-the-core free speech. And in this circumstance, the ‘zon is not suppressing speech; it is, at most (and far from efficiently) limiting commercial benefit to certain persons using free speech. On balance, this is not really a good thing: It essentially requires the particular speech at issue to be distributed through noncommercial channels, and thus acts as a silent social-and-economic-class selector on who may make that speech. If the activist proclaiming “S&M is the right of all adult purple hedgehogs” can’t support him or herself from the revenues from writing about those subjects, the only advocates of S&M “for” purple hedgehogs will be independently wealthy and/or otherwise supported advocates — probably friends of Jeffrey Epstein. (Yes, this example is ridiculous on purpose; see the asterisked footnote below.)

    The problem is that the alternative to allowing commercial vendors to choose which speech they will offer is worse. I can guarantee that there’s worse speech out there that will actively harm the advocates of subject X, and if X is guaranteed “full carriage in the marketplace” so will be that other speech. Obvious hate speech like the book I pointed toward Felix above is just obvious; there’s a lot more that’s more subtle, more… Göringlich, already out there, and even more yet to be created. And there’s always the horrible corollary of Rule 34 (“if it exists, someone has created p0rn about it on the ‘net”): If a distinction exists, someone has created hate speech justifying vile consequences on the basis of that distinction, probably has centuries of dubious “historical research” to back up that justification, and quite possibly has a § 503(c)(6) organization dedicated to that justification that will gladly take your “charitable contributions.” (Green hedgehogs, for example, probably resent the focus on purple hedgehogs in the preceding paragraph; and then there are those advocating for the rights of juvenile hedgehogs to participate in “alternative lifestyles.” Like, presumably, the late Mr Epstein.)

    * I am not going to get into the hairiness — or, as the case may be, hairshirtiness — of the “improper motivation for speech” and/or interplay among the various clauses of the First Amendment in ways unforeseen (or even foreseen) by the Founders. It’s an important argument, but there’s no conclusion… and it just distracts in this one.

    • The legality of the matter is irrelevant at this point.

      Under normal conditions Amazon wouldn’t be getting much pushback; they *have* been doing this for ages. Quierly, without pronouncements or posturing. The problem is this case is coming after the Twitter/Facebook/Parler messes and the posturing. Amazon’s case is different from tbe communications platforms are but not in the courts of public opinion and partisanship where the cries of “economics”, and “business practices” are falling on deaf ears. Citing law and precedent isn’t mollifying anybody.

      The broad pronouncement and the posturing is overshadowing the legality of the matter, which is now being debated in moralistic and ethical grounds rather than legalistic terms. Witness Judge Thomas’ flip-flop. What should have been a clearcut matter of limited impact has become a lose-lose cause celebre.

      • I can’t agree with this, Felix, and it’s the premise:

        “The legality of the matter is irrelevant at this point.”

        Leaving aside that this is a highly US-centric viewpoint (just take a look at ‘ and how it treats a substantial proportion of domestic historical materials from 1918–45, for example), it’s not at all irrelevant, because that’s how the argument is being framed. The first thing that those who are as a group shut out of a forum scream is “My First Amendment rights are being violated!” They’re usually wrong in a strictly legal sense* but still arguing from that perspective.

        So it’s far from irrelevant. It’s just not determinative. (And remember: I was subject to Article 88 of the UCMJ for a long time; I know very well indeed about “rights giveaways” and “overreaching against dissent.” Because some elected officials while I was on active duty deserved nothing better than contempt… and, arguably, not expressing that contempt was inconsistent with the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.)

        * Contrary to the broad statements made by those who haven’t studied the details, just being “private property” doesn’t insulate one from First Amendment scrutiny. That probably goes at least quadruple for “private property” otherwise devoted to distributing expression. So it’s only usually wrong, not always wrong.

        • Of course it is now irrelevant. That’s because the law has spoken and we are beyond any discussion of the law. It was relevant until applied. The question has been answered. Now that phase has passed and we are dealing with overall social benefit and cost of legal actions.

          That’s the sphere from which law comes. Social benefit and cost comes before law. So do perfectly legal responses to legal actions. And I agree some politicians deserve contempt. I saw this when I was a stock boy at the local grocery store.

        • I beg to differ.
          I don’t see anybody (here or elsewhere) saying Amazon broke any law.
          (Hence Judge Thomas asking for *new” law.)

          Arguing Amazon has the right to deplatform any book or online customer at AWS is to state the obvious and to wave off questions of whether it was wise to do it or do it when and how they did it, whether they considered the effect on publishers (traditional and Indie) and customers, and whether annoying a major part of the customers and suppliers is worth the gains, if any.

          It’s not as if aligning with the woke is going to appease Sanders and the others calling for antitrust action on any big successful company for the “crime” of being big and successful. Or if driving publishers to reconsider their dependence on Amazon serves their shareholders.

          Limiting debate to legal issues is as useful as limiting it to pure dollars and cents; neither looks at the full picture and the full range of consequences. *How* and *when* a deed is carried out is at least as important as what is done, often far more.

          For starters, compare the debate generated by the current blanket banning of the entire category to the book-by-book banning of hundreds of books on other subjects of varying degrees of controversy ranging from climate change, abortion, and Holocaust denial, among others.

          Legality is but the minimum standard of behavior a society can expect (other than “getting away with it). Higher standards exist and are typically more flexible and constantly evolving which is why laws get overriden, ignored, or repealed.

          Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is automatically good and proper. just as being profitable doesn’t mean it is sensible.
          Morality and Ethics have something to say too.

          This debate resides in those spheres not in legalisms.

  9. Just an aside:

    Friday I drove the 30 miles to Pecos to get my vaccination. The single shot J&J. Pecos is a small town East of Santa Fe. We all lined up outside the high school gym, waiting for the local fire truck to get back from dealing with a roll over, so everything was running late.

    There was a mix of people, young and old. The older set did not have computers at home. Their daughters set up the appointments using their smart phones.

    I was mentioning to some that I was born in 1956, in Silver City. That I remember the whole town lining up to take the Polio vaccine. One lady mentioned that she was born just outside of Silver City and still had a family home there. I paused a moment and said, New Mexico is such a small town. Every one agreed. Here we were, in small town Northern NM yet two people born in the same small town in Southern NM were standing beside each other. It summed everything all up.

    All the discussion on this thread is about concerns that most of the people standing in line to get our shot would have no clue about. The people on this thread are one of the small group that is even aware of this stuff going on. Keep that in mind.

    When I first saw this thread, I thought of the centuries of law where being “Gay” was a crime punishable by prison or being forced to take estrogen and become female. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing come to mind. What was once a crime, now is not.

    Sadly the pendulum has swung too far and they are no longer allowed to say, wait, think about what you are asking be done to your body.

    Here is an interview about the book “Irreversible Damage”, to give some context about the bizarre wave of young girls “transitioning” to males without anyone allowed to say, stop and think.

    The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast – Season 4 Episode 11: Abigail Shrier

    • The people on this thread are one of the small group that is even aware of this stuff going on. Keep that in mind.

      The larger question of the effect of big tech companies on society is very much a widespread topic of discussion. Lots of people are interested in this stuff. It’s hardly limited to a book blog.

  10. This catfight is just a portent of things to come and no, it’s not limited to books and book blogs.
    The entire economy is remaking itself around the principles of frictionless transmission of ideas, services, and products. A lot of the barriers to entry and to growth are disappearing.

    We are entering an age of scale, and not just in tech.
    Most of the near term developments in most industries require scale, which is Amazon’s calling card. But they’re not alone. Things that were only doable by small local or regional operations are going to be displaced by larger, more efficient operations. Often national. Transnational.

    Where the media gripes over what the tech companies do themselves they’re mostly missing what tech enables others to do. (Think Uber vs Taxis, food kit services, the retail apocalypse, the withering of theater chains.) The pandemic has juiced ongoing trends so that things that would have emerged slowly are exploding sooner.

    Scale isn’t just about company size but also about reach; the ability of an operation to expand its market without growing the company. Indie, inc, STEAM, and Etsy are just two examples of enablers out there. Over in gaming, one of the biggest ongoing phenomenons is a PC game called VALHEIM developed by a tiny company of *five* guys. In a couple of weeks they accrued a base of millions of gamers and the game hasn’t formally released.

    Over on consoles, a recent top seller is called FALCONEER, developed by exactly *one* guy. It goes toe to toe with the output of the biggest game publishers. It is enabled in part by the business model of Microsoft’s GAMEPASS subscription service that pays upfront to feature the game, from day one. With $20M subscribers paying as much as $15 a month, MS can pay the bulk of the development cost of the game, leaving retail sales as alnost pure profit. GAMEPASS grows, the developer grows, everybody wins. Except other platforms tied to exclusivity and blockbusters.

    Youtube is built on tiny teams, often one person, offering up interesting content for ad support and “passing the hat” through Patreon and bringing in large revenue streams. Like this unlikely example:

    And the giants aren’t going away so the question of how to deal with the new era can’t be settled by preventing big companies from growing, trying to break them up, or hampering them with regulations and taxes. The changes are coming; either society accepts it and plans for it or there will be more “apocalypses” and catfights all over.

    Looking at just one aspect of one area isn’t going to get the job done. The same principles underlying one area (say books) are at play all over. Simplistic approaches (Big is evil. Controversial is bad. Destroy them!) aren’t going to work and will serve no one. Life is complicated and getting more so.

    • If there were a Like or Upvote here, I’d be clicking for this comment. Consider it clicked.

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