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Rejecting the Amazon Boycott, Defending Our Kids

amazon boycott

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If you’ve been following the Amazon controversy, you know by now that the company has apparently caved to the demands of angry bloggers and thousands of others who have threatened to boycott the Internet behemoth because they sell a guide for pedophiles.

After initially defending their right to sell The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure yesterday, Amazon appears to have yanked the e-book from their site. My colleague Sierra wrote earlier today that Amazon hasn’t issued an updated statement about their change of heart on the matter. But if you search for the book on Amazon.com, you now get an error message.

I still stand by my opinion that boycotting Amazon over this book is wrong, but I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to defend child molestation, as some commenters suggest. Obviously, nobody here at Babble thinks pedophilia is acceptable in any form.

Believe me, I understand where the moral outrage is coming from. As the mother of two young girls, I feel strongly that we need to do what we can to make the world safe for children. But I also believe in a world where people are free to express their opinions — no matter how distasteful and offensive they may be.

I appreciate most of the feedback I’ve gotten to my initial post defending Amazon. “Amazon has every right to sell and distribute that trash just as it’s our right as consumers to boycott those who distribute and defend such as this,” one commenter rightly points out.

I acknowledge that boycotting can be an effective form of expression in a free market. Certainly, in this case, the mere threat of a boycott seemed to have changed Amazon’s course of action. It’s also true that businesses sometimes take socially responsible stances governments can’t — Whole Foods, for example, prides itself on purchasing food that is “socially responsible” — and Amazon’s decision to pull this book can be viewed as an attempt to prevent consumers from purchasing a product that doesn’t contribute to the collective good.

I also agree with Sierra that Amazon has been inconsistent in enforcing its guidelines for digital content and should draw up clearer guidelines. Those currently in place are incredibly vague and include statements like, “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.” Apparently, they don’t find this guide offensive, which is absurd.

My defense of their initial decision to sell the guide had nothing to do with whether I found it offensive or not. To be clear, I find the idea of a guide for pedophiles sickening and reprehensible.

But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start to remove offensive books, where do you stop? As Sierra points out:

Amazon also carries Mein Kampf, a book written by the worst mass murderer of the 20th Century, advocating a genocide he later carried out. There’s the Anarchist’s Cookbook, if you need to make bombs. Then there’s the 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade, a book which glorifies sexual violence in pornographic detail.

I found the graphically detailed descriptions of incest and child rape in the best-selling Stieg Larsson novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deeply upsetting and offensive, but I wouldn’t suggest that it should be removed from Amazon. Couldn’t pedophiles and other child abusers get ideas from that book?

Also, thinking something and writing about it is very different from acting upon that thought. I’ve been especially troubled by some comments which have suggested that the author of this guide should be arrested. If he had published a book featuring naked photographs of underage children, then I would agree that he should be arrested. But do we live in the sort of country that jails people for writing offensive material?

“Once you accept the premise that ideas are as harmful as actions, you can make an argument to censor pretty much anything,” writes one commenter to Sierra’s post. I couldn’t agree more.

But talking or writing about pedophilia isn’t a crime. If it were, Vladimir Nabokov would have been arrested for Lolita and Stieg Larsson would have been jailed for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s important for us as a society to make a distinction between the written word and the action itself.

Over at The Stir, Kim Conte makes the point that “the law allows people to write material about whatever abhorrent topics they want to. Moreover, the whole point of the new e-book platform is that people can self-publish (mostly) whatever they wish.”

Besides, Amazon has removed this book, but other similar ones remain. In fact, Phillip Greaves, the author of The Pedophile’s Guide, has other books for sale on Amazon, including Our Gardens of Flesh: From the seeds of lust to the harvast of love, which sounds equally repulsive. There’s also Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers, a 2002 paperback which seems to promote pedophilia and prompted earlier calls for a boycott.

Ultimately, what has the boycott accomplished? It has shown that crowd-sourcing censorship works. It has also helped boost sales of this repulsive book.

Yesterday afternoon Greaves, the author of The Pedophile’s Guide, said he had only sold one copy of his book. But after TechCrunch posted on it, it quickly became the 158,221st best-selling Kindle e-books. At one point late Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal it was ranked No. 65 among the most popular paid titles on the Kindle store, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Now that’s really offensive.

photo: iStockphoto.com/bunhill

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