Does the ACLU Want to Ban My Book?

From The Wall Street Journal:

I never thought book banning would be respectable in America, much less that I’d be the target, but here we are. Last Thursday Target stopped selling my book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” in response to two Twitter complaints.

One read: “In 2016, @Target, you released a statement affirming your support for transgender customers. @AskTarget why you’re selling a book notorious for its harmful rhetoric against us. Historically, harmful products have been pulled from this shelf, and this should be, too.”

The other: “I think the transcommunity deserves a response from @AskTarget @Target as to why they’re selling this book about ‘the transgender epidemic sweeping the country.’ ”

That’s a caricature of my view. I think mature adults should have the freedom to undergo medical transition. But teenagers are another matter. Social contagions exist, and teen girls are particularly susceptible to them. The book takes a hard look at whether the sudden spike in transgender identification among teen girls is yet another social contagion to befall girls who, in another era, might have fallen prey to anorexia or bulimia.

Many transgender adults, including some I interviewed for the book, agree that teen girls are undergoing medical transition too fast with too little oversight. Others disagree and have written books. Amid a sea of material unskeptically promoting medical transition for teenage girls, there’s one book that investigates this phenomenon and urges caution. That is the book the activists seek to suppress.

“Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans,” Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted Friday. “I think of all the times & ways I was told my transness wasn’t real & the daily toll it takes. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.” Then: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: “I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.”

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

PG is reflexively opposed to banning books or any form of expressive speech on the basis of its content except for a small group of carefully-delimited topics. Photos of adults having sexual relations with children would be one of those exceptions.

From a legal standpoint, the Constitution is a document that creates a national government, grants it certain rights and, via the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) limits the government’s exercise of its powers in some specified ways.

Target is not, of course, a government entity. As a commercial retailer, Target is free to decide what products it will sell and what products it will not sell.

The ACLU or any other group or individual is free to communicate its opinions about any book. Reviewers do that very thing, likely at least tens of thousands of times each day, on Amazon and other online bookstores, on websites, blogs, Twitter, etc.

That said, PG has concerns about the growing trend in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) to silence those with whom some groups disagree. Pressuring a retailer (like Target or Amazon) to remove a book from its retail offering is, in effect, silencing or partially-silencing (“deplatforming” is another term) that book’s author.

While the United States Constitution protects the freedom of individuals or groups of individuals to speak, write, etc., their beliefs, it also protects the rights of those who believe otherwise to object to those beliefs, including the right to say that books or other writings that include such objectionable writings should not be stocked or sold by Target or another commercial or non-profit entity.

That said, one of the purposes of the First Amendment to the Constitution that protects free speech is to encourage discussion, writings, even arguments, concerning just about anything. The unstated assumption is that such activities are important for the discovery, discussion, analysis, understanding and, in some cases, resolution of issues that may impact the welfare of individuals, groups and the nation as a whole.

The Preamble to the US Constitution explains the purpose of the specific designation of rights, powers, structures, etc., set forth in the document:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The expressed intent of the authors of the Constitution was to create a structure of government that, among other things, would “insure domestic Tranquility.”

PG will note that there are many places in the United States that do not presently comport with his understanding of “domestic tranquility.”

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention that created the document:

“Someone shouted out, ‘Doctor [Franklin], what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?’

To which Franklin supposedly responded: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’”

The Washington Post published a short article in December, 2019, about the origin and various accounts of the wording in the oft-repeated quote.

The Post concluded that the most-likely version of the quote was a response to a question from Elizabeth Willing Powel, a prominent society figure and the wife of Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Powel. Ms. and Mr. Powel had hosted the convention delegates and their wives at their home for various social occasions while the convention was deliberating the Constitution.

Instead of the question being put to Franklin on the street, it was more likely to have been asked by Ms. Powel, a woman known for her wit and knowledge, when Franklin entered a room in her house.

“Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic” replied the Doctor “if you can keep it.”

To which Ms. Powel is reported to have said, “And why not keep it?”

The Post article doesn’t include any information about what Franklin’s answer to the second question was.

PG does suggest that keeping a republic is an ongoing task and domestic tranquility will make that task easier.

24 thoughts on “Does the ACLU Want to Ban My Book?”

  1. The trouble is, domestic tranquility may not be compatible with Free Speech/Free Press. China has neither, but is considered a relatively tranquil nation (well, if you ignore the Ughurs, Hong Kong, and other dissidents).

    Many nations choose peace at a horrible price. One of the features of the Weimar Republic and pre-Fascist Italy were that they were beset by revolutionary violence, public disorder, and dissent. The trade they made for peace was a bad one.

    The Left has given no indication that they truly value peace; what they value is the opportunity to silence their ideological enemies. The repression they’ve unleashed on opponents – physical threats, doxxing, getting them fired (even from the company they founded), deplatforming, social media clampdowns – the list goes on and on.

    They’ve had no problem with straightforwardly announcing that they favor limitations on 1st Amendment rights. So, no, I don’t trust their intent.

  2. In 2014 senate democrats voted in favor of a congressional amendment to give congress the power to regulate all political speech. Since it would be enshrined in the Constitution, there would be no recourse against any action they chose.

  3. “Why not keep it?”
    Ask today’s Jacobins…
    …or whatever they’re calling themselves this week.

    The purpose of cancel culture and book banning is incrementalism.
    Start small, gradually increase the silencing of “inconvenient” thoughts.
    Keep it up and soon enough the most radical (and stupid) of ideas becomes the unchallenged, unoficial law of the land.

    So far, it’s working.
    But pendulums swing both ways and actions breed reactions.

  4. This is part of a long History of Business in American, selling “hokum”.

    From the beginning, there have been Snake Oil Salesmen and Medicine Shows, with the inevitable “shills” in the audience.

    – Nowadays, we call them “Trolls”.

    If you read the article about the Michael Moore documentary, Planet of the Humans, and the coordinated attack against it, you will find the same players that have been selling “hokum” to the American people since WWII.

    ‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary
    https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/07/green-billionaires-planet-of-the-humans/

    The various billionaires and Trusts pay to disrupt faith in Science, funding all kinds of bizarre stuff. They need to sow doubt among the public so that when they are taken to court the juries will not trust expert testimony. I suspect that they are the same helping to push the “Trans” activists.

    – If the money dried up, the Trolls would vanish.

    You can see that with the death of Jeffery Epstein.

    He was funding all those bizarre articles about “Transhumanism”. Once he died all of those articles stopped.

    BTW, “Hokum” is another way to say “nonsense”.

  5. I’m going to go full Godwin here; Would people in hindsight ban Mein Kampf? It gave Adolf a platform for his ideas, and was relatively widely read.

    I tend not to want to ban books, for all the obvious reasons, but some books require that they be thrown across the room and then be beaten with a baseball bat.

    The problem, as always, is that we don’t teach enough critical thinking and confrontation management skills.

    • And who decides what books require “that they be thrown across the room and then beaten with a baseball bat”? Do you have objective criteria to apply in making such decisions? Or perhaps just the subjective “I know it when I see it”.

      PG wrote that he is “reflexively opposed to banning books or any form of expressive speech on the basis of its content except for a small group of carefully-delimited topics.” I endorse this view. No matter how low your opinion may be of the intelligence of some, an adult should, with very few exceptions, have few things they cannot read or say.

      I also agree with Felix’s comments. I would observe that in this case things worked out beautifully. A company which took a cowardly and in my view immoral stance in giving in to a censorious minority reversed that decision in the face of justified criticism of that stance. Rational discussion and debate is nearly always the answer. Not de-platforming.

        • If they’re allowed.
          The whole point of freedom of speech is to allow people to clearly state their position and know where they stand.
          A free market of ideas.
          Suppressing public expression is intended to enforce a particular orthodoxy by pretending it is absolute and beyond question, whatever the facts might be. Protectionism of thought.

          It isn’t particularly hard to see where that can lead if allowed to go unchallenged, right? As story fodder, if nothing else… 😉

          • Sorry, but it appears that my comment has elicited responses out of all proportion to its intent.

            Free speech is dependent freedom, but there are always those who exploit the edge case rules forex, inciting violence when other options are available.

            The devil is always in the detail. I hope that provides some clarity about my position?

            • I understood you to say that individuals should be free to decide for themselves. I agree.

              I thought I was pointing out that it is that freedom to decide that is under attack by a tiny but vocal minority that feels entitled to control what enters the public space. Absent confrontation, that right to decide disappears.

              “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

              • I apologize for being testy, but the comment was in response to feeling nagged to justify myself.

                However, that said my answer was partly disingenuous because only people can throw books across the room and choose to beat them with a baseball bat.

                So, free speech allows people to say whatever they damn well want, but if they say they want to kill you is that still acceptable under free speech?

                I have neither the wit not the wherewithal to suggest a workable solution. Therefore my answer is, I don’t know.

                But there again, I’m content to live in an imperfect world where the only constant is change.

                • The boundaries were settled long ago.
                  Speech is speech and deeds are deeds; with rare exceptions (words that directly lead to action) speech is free.

                  And yes, saying somebody should be killed is allowable. Saying *you* will kill somebody is also allowed but depending on who you threaten you might have to explain yourself to law enforcement.

                  In the 70’s, back when the mainstream media reported everything and didn’t give a free pass to certain people, a Milwaukee councilman said black people should go on overpasses and shoot white people randomly. Nobody took him literally, nobody got shot, nobody shut him up.

                  Freedom of speech is for everybody, *especially* the offensive, or it isn’t for anybody. You don’t need the wisdom of Solomon to appreciate that. Way back when schools in the US taught Civics and Social studies instead of “ethnic studies” kids were taught the full Bill of Rights and how they worked from a young age. Most understood that yelling “fire” in a closed, crowded room is not allowed,but most everytging else that doesn’t directly cause action (Kill all whites!) is to be tolerated.

                  Adults are expected to understand that difference.

                  Now me, if somebody says they want to kill me, preferably in front of witnesses, I would thank them for the warning and act appropriately. I happen to agree that “forewarned is forearmed”. Better to know where you stand than to be blithely unaware.

                • So, free speech allows people to say whatever they damn well want, but if they say they want to kill you is that still acceptable under free speech?

                  Of course. I’d much prefer to know it than not. When Woke, I contend free speech is great unless someone says something I don’t like. You all have an obligation to filter your speech through my feelings.

            • Your position was sufficiently clarified for me when you replied to my previous comment with “the individual decides”. I take this to mean that you support my right to choose as an individual whether or not to read even books which you would consider should be “thrown across the room and then beaten with a baseball bat.”

                • And feeling less testy today…

                  My point is that free speech has always been bound by the rule of law, however informal like the ‘do not shout fire in a crowded theatre.’

                  My interest is not in pedantic arguing over the details, but understanding how ‘edge cases’ are accommodated through law and custom.

                • The bit about fire in the theater is commonly cited. What is ignored is the case that provided that quote from Justice Holmes.

                  It was 1919 Schenck v United States where Schenck was convicted of writing a pamphlet criticizing the WWI draft during wartime. Dissenting ideas printed on paper.

                  In 1969 Brandenburg v Ohio the court ruled, ” “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action,”

                  Footnote #1 of the United States Supreme Court Brandenburg decision is especially interesting given the politically correct forces we see today. I won’t quote it here because I don’t know how PG wants to handle such things.

      • And who decides what books require “that they be thrown across the room and then beaten with a baseball bat”?

        I do. I was once stuck in a small airport with nothing to read and three hours in front of me. A tattered copy of Twilight was on a seat, so I started to read it. After the second time Bella found herself staring across the cafeteria at the vamp, the book took off before my plane.

    • The problem, as always, is that we don’t teach enough critical thinking and confrontation management skills.

      I see the most critical thinking coming from people who were never taught critical thinking. They just learned it like people have for thousands of years. It used to be called common sense.

      • Unfortunately, what you call common sense is uncommon.

        Common sense is taught, like the example of ‘don’t shout fire in a crowded theatre.’

        Will there may be autodidacts who can learn from those around them and reading, most people have to be taught common sense, if only through be raised as a child.

          • Well, some woukd say there is old-fasioned Critical THINKING, aka, knowing how to tell snowjobs from a mile away; and the newer “critical” thinking, aka, post modernist thought, which is really old-fashioned tribalism pretending to be rational.

            The 21st century will weed them out eventually.
            The former is a survival trait, the latter isn’t.

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