For many reasons, traditional publishers are trying to dump controversial books. In this series we will try to unpack some of them.
First, let’s look at what happens when otherwise Correct people are not the favorites of the Cancel mob. Bari Weiss, formerly of the New York Times, asks us to look at a science teacher couple at a regional U.S. university:
Do you remember the names Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying? I wrote one of my earliest New York Times columns about the bravery they displayed as tenured professors — words that do not typically appear in the same sentence — at Evergreen State College. It was 2017 and the professors, both evolutionary biologists, opposed the school’s “Day of Absence,” in which white students were asked to leave campus for the day. You can imagine what followed. For questioning a day of racial segregation wearing the garments of social justice, the pair was smeared as racist. Following serious threats, they left town for a time with their children, lost many of their friends, and, ultimately, resigned their jobs.
But they refused to shut up.Bari Weiss, “The books are already burning” at Substack
Back in February, Amazon, “the world’s largest bookstore,” delisted (a current euphemism for “censored”) Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, a book I had published at Encounter Books in 2018. I wrote about the incident in this space at the time and added a few updates about the censorship business in subsequent weeks. (It wasn’t only Amazon, of course, though they are the gorilla at the book party.)Roger Kimball, “” at Are You Having a Free Speech Emergency? (July 17, 2021)
The publisher’s great cry against the government, has always been, since the printing press was invented, that people wanted to read those books. Whether it was the Bible or something decidedly unbiblical. That was one of the ways freedom of thought got started.
But today, many publishers not only meekly submit to whatever bureaucrats and lobbyists want but bally-hoo in favor of it, without reserve. Journalist Rod Dreher spells that out, writing on behalf of another threatened book, Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage,
Let me remind you that this is the trade association of independent booksellers, yet they believe that simply mentioning a popular book that offends against woke dogma is “a violent incident.” They are abasing themselves FOR MENTIONING A BOOK THAT IS FOR SALE!
These are the same people who squawk on self-righteously about Banned Books Week. They are advocating banning books (“banning” by their standard). You can’t make this up.Rod Dreher, “Hypocritical cant from the American Booksellers Association” at American Greatness (July 15, 2021)
No, we can’t make it up but we might be able to account for some of it. Here are some thoughts:
➤ Relationships with books may have changed. Few people have time to read books today, as opposed to simply buying them. That fact alone may change the relationship between the bookseller and the reader. The reader may need ideas; the buyer just wants a Correct book for the coffee table.
➤ There are other ways to get the information. Until someone shuts down the internet, you can find out what Ryan Anderson and Abigail Shrier have to say about the transgender lobby even if that lobby is raising a hullabaloo about them on the steps of of your local library.
➤ The big problem today is corporate concentration in one single channel, not wittering individual booksellers. Shrier puts it like this, speaking of Amazon, of course:
If you wanted to eliminate disfavored ideas from a society, you’d begin by aggregating most of the world’s books onto a single platform. You’d hope to create a global network of gargantuan warehouses, automated to allow next-day fulfillment of customer desires. If you were wildly successful, your company might one day control five sixths of U.S. book sales and generate a market capitalization that rivals the GDP of Canada.
If you also delivered groceries, clothing, and hardware during a pandemic, and hosted businesses’ websites, too—you might become so integral to people’s lives, they would be hard-pressed to quit you. Customers spoiled by the miracle of having milk and toilet paper delivered same-day to their door would be disinclined to protest as you began eliminating books, especially if it was just a few at a time. You’d have become the hand that feeds them; they’d be smart enough not to bite. Writers themselves might object. But their agents would fall silent; they’d have other clients to think of. Publishers—whose continued viability depends on this central pipeline—would be loath to offer more than token resistance. A momentary stifling of conscience would seem small sacrifice to ensure their other books were spared. Forget the “firemen” from Fahrenheit 451: You needn’t burn forbidden books if people can’t buy them in the first place.Abigail Shrier, “Book Banning in an Age of Amazon” at Substack
You may also wish to read:
Comedy: An endangered art form in the age of rage
In Big Tech World: the journalist as censor, hit man, and snitch. Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship.