Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Censorship and Morality vs The Law

So, this morning a shitstorm erupted on Twitter surrounding the fact that Amazon has permitted a self-published Kindle book purporting to be a how-to guide for child molesters to be sold on its site. (I refuse to link to the title of the book because for obvious reasons of not wanting to provide the book any marketing support, however inadvertent.)

My initial response to this book was something along the lines of “OMG, that’s promoting criminal activity, such a thing should not be allowed to be sold, and anyone who ever bought it should be immediately reported to law enforcement authorities.” And then, further reflection (along with input from some very sensible people like Jane Litte of Dear Author and Ron Hogan of of GalleyCat, Beatrice and other place on the internets) talked me down.

Here’s the thing… There’s lot of other books available for sale, both on Amazon and elswhere, that tell people how to do illegal things (and presumably not get caught). The classic one, obviously, is The Anarchist Cookbook, a standby reference for terrorist activity, but my favorite one pointed out to me during the Twitterstorm is titled Hit Man: A Technical Manual for the Independent Contractor. It’s pretty clear from the title that this book purports to train a reader into how to commit a contract killing (and presumably avoid being caught).

What I find interesting is that when this book was brought up, NO ONE called for its immediate removal from Amazon’s catalog. (Or at least no one I saw. I’ll admit, there may be some people in the Twitterverse I actually DON’T follow or converse with who were involved in this discussion.)

So, here’s my question: by what twisted sense of morality is it okay for Amazon to permit sales of a book that might lead someone ot commit MURDER but NOT okay to permit sales of a book that might lead someone to commit child molestation? Now, mind you, I don’t mean to suggest that child molestation is a fine and dandy thing. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and it’s reprehensible to promote it. But on my scale of evils, murder is pretty much the worst crime you can commit. It deprives a person of life. There is nothing WORSE you can do to a human being than that.

And yet, it’s child molestation that gets the most visceral reaction and has people calling for blood. I find that…odd. What is it about this particular offense that gets us more riled up than the prospect inciting murder or terrorism?

Personally, I’ll admit, I would prefer it if Amazon didn’t sell the book in question. But I would also prefer it not to sell Hit Man and videos on how to train a dog to dog fight. I would also prefer it didn’t sell books on how to make gay people straight or anything by Glenn Beck. Unfortunately, however, even Glenn Beck has First Amendment rights.

Maybe you think that’s a joke and that I’m going overboard on the “slippery slope” argument. I mean, there is clearly a difference between a book that promotes/encourages illegal behavior and books that we just don’t like. And yet, I can’t help thinking that the slippery slope IS slippery here. Let’s say we succeed in removing books that are “guides” to illegal behavior. What’s next? Books that provide the same information as these so-called guides, but in the context of a fictional story? What about non-fictional memoirs that describe how the memoirist was seduced by his or her molestor (or that, perhaps, don’t condemn the molestor as roundly as society believes they should)? Where does it end?

I’ve got no good answers, but I know this–anyone who demands the removal of this book from Amazon’s catalog needs to examine why THIS book, in particular, should be banned when others that contain equally dangerous and potentially illegal information should not.


  • Zoe Winters November 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I agree totally on slippery slope. If it was child pornography with PHOTOGRAPHS of children, YES, remove that. That’s against the law and is a violation of children.

    A book stating someone’s opinions (no matter how disgusting)? No. That’s censorship and it’s only a matter of time until, like you say, fiction that doesn’t give the correct PC morals are banned.

  • Cheryl December 10, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    My off-the-top-of-my-head reaction is that if Amazon hadn’t removed it, I might have considered buying it in order to help me educate my kids on how to not be molested. Information itself is neither for good nor for bad; it’s how it’s used.

    I think censoring of any kind feels vaguely ominous, because I strongly associate it with the most notoriously oppressive and violent governments throughout history. Censorship is a powerful form of control and just how powerful it is, is easily underestimated until it’s too late. That’s why the slope is so slippery.

    The only explanation I can think of as to why Amazon would refuse to sell “how to molest kids” and continue to sell “how to be a hit man”, is that they are not facing any prospect of massive negative publicity and loss of revenue for continuing to sell the hit man book. Does a capitalist society ultimately enforce its morality through money?


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