Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Judging a book

So. Amazon is selling this book:

In case you can't make out the title from this less than optimum quality cover image, it's "The Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure." Subtitle: "A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct."

Ew. Icky book. I won't be reading that one. Moving on.

Except that I can't move on, because my Twitter stream is full of public outrage decrying Amazon's foul and demanding a boycott of the the online selling giant until the offending title is removed. The horror and disgust has gone viral. A few brave dissenters have stepped forward in the name of free speech, but they've been all but burned at the stake by the angry mob.

Yes. I just called you an angry mob. There is a difference between rationally opposing something and getting swept away in a tidal wave of moral righteousness simply because Twitter told you to do so.

If you're someone who saw a tweet, took the time to check the Amazon link, read more than the title of the book in question, and maybe even did a simple Google search to verify the legitimacy of the whole thing, and then decided to retweet your own moral outrage, fine. I have no beef with you.

But if you're someone who saw the bandwagon rushing by and couldn't help but jump aboard head-first without knowing anything more about the book than its title? You who literally judge a book by its cover? I do have a beef with you. Aside from adding to a collective panic that maybe needs to chill out just a little, your kind of reflexive retweeting before research can kill people. KILL PEOPLE! No, I'm not exaggerating. Remember that time we killed Jeff Goldblum?

That said, if you did do your research, it does appear that this book is just as icky on the inside as it is on the outside. The product description reads as follows:
"This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught."
And I could find nothing elsewhere online proving that this was a hoax, or a satirical poke at priests*, or anything else to suggest that Phillip R. Greaves didn't really write a handbook for pedophiles. So you snap judgment folks lucked out and were right after all. (But seriously. Don't do that again. It's not a good idea.)

So now the issue is whether or not Amazon should sell the book. Or, more radically, whether or not the book should be banned altogether. Plenty are calling for a boycott of Amazon until they remove the book from the site; plenty are demanding that the FBI arrest the author and get rid of the book altogether.

And here's where I find myself solidly in the "freedom of speech" camp.

Some have argued that this particular book crosses a moral line, and so freedom of speech shouldn't apply. But I maintain that there are no gradations of freedom of speech; it's either free or it isn't. In order to protect the right, we must be prepared to extend it to all speech, not just that which we agree with or are comfortable with.

"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all." - Oscar Wilde

Who is to decide for all of us what's moral and what isn't? Who is to decide for all of us what crosses the line and what doesn't? Who decides that this book is wrong, but Lolita is right? (Not that I'm comparing Mr. Greaves to Nabokov, but the subject matter makes this the obvious example.) If it were up to me, Fox News would be first on the list to lose its freedom of speech rights. But it's NOT up to me, for precisely that reason. We can't have individuals (or the government) attempting to control what other people hear/see/read/watch, no matter how despicable it may be.

But this is an old argument, and one that's been expressed far better than I'm able, distracted as I am with a sleeping baby spread precariously across my lap. So, boo on censorship; yay on freedom of speech. Moving on.

That said, Amazon refusing to sell the book does not amount to censorship. It amounts to a business decision. Amazon not selling it does not affect the man's right to write it or the public's right to read it. (Though, some would argue, it does affect the public's access to and ability to read it, which is, in effect, censorship. But I don't have time for that debate today.) So I fully support any individual who sees Amazon's decision to sell the book, disagrees with that decision, and decides to boycott Amazon. Lord knows I've boycotted business for much less.

I, for one, will not be boycotting Amazon. In fact, I applaud them for standing their ground on this issue, if that is, in fact what they're doing. I'm actually not so sure that they won't pull it eventually. Despite reported responses from Amazon on discussion threads stating that they "...believe it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable," their own guidelines ban material that is "offensive" (though they don't define what "offensive" is). But, assuming they leave the book to sell, I think it's the right move.

Please don't mistake my support of Amazon as an endorsement of pedophilia. I am a mother. The mere idea of child predators makes me nauseous. But it is my opinion that freedom of speech comes with an implied right to disseminate that speech; otherwise, all we've really been granted is the right to whisper quietly to ourselves in the privacy of our own darkened bedrooms.

*And speaking of satirical pokes at priests, instead of boycotting a retailer selling words you don't like, I wonder how many of you are prepared to boycott an organized religion with a history of engaging in the act, like, for real and shit. Any Amazon-boycotting Catholics out there care to comment?


Bobbi Janay said...

This is why, I did not jump on the bandwagon. I am recovering from a cold and in no right mind to research it today.

Chopperpapa said...

Excellent points, however I feel that you have taken the freedom of speech argument out of context. Freedom is speech is designed to give everyone a voice, to state their opinions in a legal and, hopefully, ethical manner.

The author himself, in his tag line, indicates with "perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught" that it is certainly not legal or for most sane individuals moral. From my research he is technically giving advice on how to be a more careful pedophile.

Would the freedom of speech argument still stand if I were to pen a book entitled "Murder and Rape - how to get away with it". While on the surface this seems an obvious answer, but based upon your own argument the publishing of this book would be well within freedom of speech. Yet it condones and supports the rape and murder of individuals.

People could make the argument that Amazon isn't condoning pedophilia by offering the book online. While they may not they are offering an avenue to help perpetuate the travesty and therefore giving other pedophiliacs additional support and guidance.

Additionally, Amazon saw the error of their ways, they pulled the book this morning.

IS is one thing to sell objectionable material it is totally another to sell material that promotes illegal acts.

While not a Catholic, it is easy to forget that religion is practiced by people, none of which are perfect, because priests committed these sexual acts with minors doesn't make the spirit or the message of the faith any less relevant only underscores human frailty both ethically and spiritually.

Martini Mom said...

@Chopperpapa: Thanks for your comment! All of your points are quite valid, and all things I considered while forming my very humble opinion. But I still would've liked Amazon to leave the book up.

Honestly, I think I'm okay with any book, of any subject matter, being written and published, even "Murder and Rape - how to get away with it." I don't like it, but my previous arguments about extending freedom of speech to ALL speech still applies.

Furthermore, reading a book about pedophilia is not going to make someone decide to be a pedophile. One either is or isn't a pedophile. Or, stated another way, if a book is enough to push someone over the edge and into pedophilia, he (or she) would've found a way to justify his (or her) urges and behaviors, with or without the book. It is possible to read words and still be accountable for one's actions.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

Further, I would argue, there are plenty of books/guides/etc. promoting illegal acts. Novels, in particular, can get away with quite a bit under the guise of fiction. Isn't is Still Life with Woodpecker that includes bomb recipes? Perhaps you would argue that there's a difference between fiction and non-fiction, but I would suggest that fiction is just as persuasive, if not more so, than non-fiction. One can not argue the history of literature as a means of social commentary and persuasion; sometimes even outright propaganda.

And I bring up the obvious comparison again: Does reading Lolita not give pedophiles some "tips"? Does it not, at the very least, give pedophiles a sympathetic hero?

As for the question of the Catholic church, I agree with your statement surrounding the imperfection of humans. People of faith make bad decisions, and that does not reflect on their faith so much as themselves. Agreed. However, in a church where systematic cover ups have made an institution of pedophilia, I think we can look beyond the offending priests to the religion itself. So I think my question is still valid. Who is more guilty of condoning pedophilia through their actions: Amazon or the Catholic church? And if you're ready to boycott one, why not the other?

T said...

I didn't jump on the bandwagon because I was stunned. I'm STILL stunned that someone could write a book with such obviousness and gall. But... apparently he had an audience or the book would not have been published, right?

*as I search for book deals*

ANYWAY, another thing that I find so funny (funny weird not funny ha ha) is that pedophilia has been around for CENTURIES. Pfft, even the first Catholics/Romans had their "boys servants" and no one made a big deal about it. No, like you, I am not condoning pedophilia. Or slavery. Or any of the other things we thought were "no big deal" at one time.

I just find it fascinating that we change our minds about what is right or wrong over the course of time. There are things we do TODAY that, who knows, 100 years from now people will say, "Can you BELIEVE they thought that?!"

20somethingmum said...

I'm probably someone who you refer to as "the angry mob"
I think its more that customers of this company are angry at Amazon's lax attitude and their policy which simply ststaes if they find material offensive they wont sell it. There is no list as to what they find offensive. In the only statement they released, before removing the book, they agreed they found it offensive, but others dont so they were selling it. Well, either they find it offensive and they don't sell offensive material, or they do. Needs to be made clearcut.

I've blogged my reasons for feeling that Amazon should be boycotted at, and I ask you read it for yourself. Its not angry mob, its concerned consumer and parent.

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