You may have heard by now about the Kindle book, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure, that was posted on Amazon, greeted with mass outrage, and subsequently removed by Amazon. My first thought hearing this was: Damn, self-publishing doesn’t need this. Though with self-publishing, this kind of thing is inevitable, as self-publishers can post anything and everything they want, this doesn’t help the stigma that self-publishers are putting out the worst writing available. There is no argument against this: of all the published work out in the world, self-published writing likely comprises the worst of it.
That said, the instant call to boycott Amazon doesn’t make sense – any more than you should boycott Twitter for offensive tweets or Blogger for offensive blogs, of which there are probably thousands. The difference, however, is that Amazon is taking a cut of the profit – and so while this is self-publishing, Amazon is technically the publisher. They are advocating what they place online. But instantly calling for a boycott when a free posting service posts something offensive is really not understanding how these services work. So long as Amazon takes appropriate action, the outrage is not necessarily founded. Here are Amazon’s terms for content.
Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with some examples of prohibited content:
Pornography and hard-core material that depicts graphic sexual acts.
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of Titles sold on our site.
Titles sold through the Digital Text Platform Program must adhere to all applicable laws. Some Titles that may not be sold include any Titles which may lead to the production of an illegal item or illegal activity.
So this book clearly violates these terms. I’m normally a great advocate of free speech, but I don’t entirely see this as a free speech argument. The book is advocating illegal behavior, and I don’t entirely buy this contrarian take.
Are we, as intelligent adults, really suggesting that other less intelligent adults who have until now never so much as considered the idea of molesting a child are going to download a copy of ‘the Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct’ and think to themselves “by golly, this pedophile stuff sounds like fun – I think I’ll give it a try?”. Surely not. If we’re concerned that a book glamourising man-child love is going to bring about the downfall of society then we’d better demand the removal of Lolita too. At least Nabokov could spell.
The problem is that more and more books like this could make pedophilia seem normal. And, yes, some people might see that as an invitation. In this context, the Lolita argument doesn’t apply at all. Why? Because Lolita is a work of fiction. Mein Kampf has necessary historical interest. And while that book is full of vile anti-semitism, there’s a difference between this and a how-to manual for murdering people. The only slippery slope I see with Amazon’s decision to nix this book is that there won’t be any more how-to books for pedophilia. And, frankly, that’s fine. Because pedophilia is the vilest thing imaginable.
You could make the argument that this sets a precedent where other how to books about illegal behavior could also be banned. For instance, how to roll a joint. Still, I don’t see the slippery slope. Because we’re talking about pedophilia, which has no value whatsoever, or a guy smoking a joint in his backyard. These things are different. You could make another argument – maybe a talented writer writes a fake “how to” book for pedophilia as an intellectual exercise into how the pedophile’s mind works. That’s fine – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. What separates this book from a book like that is not just the provocative title, but that it’s plainly bad. Some examples of “bad” aren’t entirely subjective.
Do I think that this book shouldn’t be published whatsoever? No – there are companies like Loompanics that publish how to books about breaking into homes, how to capture a human, how to make illegal fireworks, etc. – all, by the way, sold by Amazon, where Amazon is taking a cut of the profit. If a publisher is willing to take on the legal ramifications for publishing that kind of work, that’s their prerogative. But Amazon itself isn’t a publisher with an overall mission – so it’s well within their right to remove a book that they find offensive, with or without outrage. I hope this doesn’t lead to censorship of books that shouldn’t be censored. But if it means removing a how to book about rape – frankly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the author.