I recently wrote a piece on Banned Book Week. My disdain for censorship of books was tested this week when a brouhaha erupted over a title that Amazon offered for Kindle download. The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct by Philip Greaves II is an apparently self-published book that “offers advice to help pedophiles avoid breaking the law, while still exhibiting love for children.” The book was published on October 28, but apparently escaped notice (as well as a single sale) until this week. Amazon initially declined to pull the book, but relented in the face of public outrage. By some reports some 72 copies were downloaded before the book was pulled from Amazon’s website.
My first thought on reading message board discussions that decried Amazon’s “censorship” was that the company’s action does not constitute censorship. Censorship is widely perceived as involving action by the government to suppress speech or literature. In fact the definition of the word does not specify that the suppression must be government-led. Given that the book is unlikely to find another sales platform – certainly not one so widely used – Amazon’s action could be considered censorship in the broadest sense. However, retailers make decisions every day about what merchandise to carry or not to carry, based on any number of factors. Amazon was not motivated by any desire to suppress Greaves’ book – they simply made a business decision based on the bottom line. Keeping the book would undoubtedly lose them sales, probably many more dollars in sales than downloads of the book could make up for (at least, I would hope so – I’m hoping/guessing that the majority of those 72 downloads were news organizations wanting to see what the book actually said).
So, it’s not censorship in my mind, or if it is, it’s an acceptable type of censorship. But was it necessary or right? Here’s the other point I’ve seen made many times now – Amazon sells many offensive books and many dangerous books. Examples of the former include Mein Kampf; examples of the latter include The Anarchist’s Cookbook. It doesn’t sound (from what I’ve heard) like Greaves’ book is dangerous – it’s not likely to recruit anyone to pedophilia, and it apparently does not advocate the breaking of laws nor give any useful advice on how to get away with such crimes. I suppose that one could argue that any attempt to normalize pedophilic tendencies is inherently dangerous. But, let’s face it, the book’s greatest offense is that its subject matter is abhorrent to decent people. Again, that probably describes a lot of books on Amazon. Even a number that aren’t self-published, but put out by major publishing houses. In the end, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct is the sick, sad product of a sick sad mind.
My conclusion is that I don’t have a problem with Amazon pulling the book, but I’m backing down from my outrage over it even being on the site in the first place, and I guess I would not have had a problem with Amazon holding firm if they had chosen to do so. What do you think?