When Jeff Cancelled Ryan

Modern-Day Book Burning by Amazon's Bezos Is All Heat, No Light

Amazon came under some heat this week for quietly pulling Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. As Anderson himself writes at First Things, he was given no notification when the book was pulled, and no reason as to why. And while When Harry Became Sally was certainly written from “a viewpoint,” it was research-backed, did not engage in heated rhetoric, and was praised by many noted scholars and medical professionals alike. “But for a heretic-hunting Left,” Anderson concludes, “none of that matters. . . . It’s about whether you affirm or dissent from the new orthodoxy of gender ideology.” The book, by the way, was first published in 2018, and hit number 3 on the Washington Post’s list of paperback nonfiction books in addition to topping one of Amazon’s own categories. Anderson is a renowned and widely respected scholar, currently the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

This is hardly the first time Amazon has engaged in modern-day book burning. Beginning in 2017, Amazon began pulling revisionist histories of the Holocaust. It has since removed anti-vaccine material, works by a well-known and well-regarded clinical psychologist who helped men overcome unwanted same-sex attraction, Hitler’s Mein Kampf (briefly), and even a self-published eBook by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson that questioned the COVID-19 lockdowns. (Elon Musk actually came to Berenson’s defense on Twitter, before calling for Amazon to be broken up. Two hours later, Amazon emailed Berenson to say the book would be published.) When Abigail Shrier published Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Amazon told her publisher, Regnery, that it would not be permitted to bid on ad space for the book.

But Amazon is wildly inconsistent in the books that it allows for sale. It has banned Anderson, but allows  When Harry Become Sally to remain for sale. It has banned Mein Kampf (and then reinstated it), yet you can still purchase a copy of the first issue Radix, “The Uprooting of European Identity,” edited by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. It refuses to distribute books to help gay men overcome unwanted same-sex attraction, but lists over 10,000 results for the search “being gay.” Yes, there is certainly a leftist ideological bent in its decisions, but Amazon isn’t even consistent in that – hence, some neo-Nazis can stay, but a classic if despicable work that is arguably worth reading (lest history repeat itself) must be pulled.

Under normal circumstances, if a bookseller chooses not to sell a particular book, it should have that prerogative. As Anderson himself admits, if one or two brick-and-mortar stores decided against offering When Harry Became Sally, no great harm done. People who wanted the book could still find it elsewhere. But when a bookseller has done its darnedest to kill off all brick-and-mortar stores, to such effect that it is now responsible for over 83% of all books sold in the U.S. alone, it has become a monopoly engaging in really effective corporate censorship. People who wish to purchase Anderson’s book can still do so, but now face a significant barrier. They can’t go to their local store, because most such stores have been shuttered. They won’t be able to choose from a wide variety of price options, because there’s only one or two online retailers left – the publisher, a few conservative sellers here and there, and Barnes and Noble’s online store (which is, not surprisingly, temporarily out of stock).

One possible solution is to recognize that Amazon is a monopoly that should be broken up. Anderson offers some interesting reflections here:

“In the natural law tradition, there is no single correct economic system. There are, however, certain systems—such as radically individualist philosophical libertarianism and radically collectivist socialism—that are incompatible with the flourishing of human beings and their communities. But between these extremes lie many permissible regimes of property and market relations. Decent governments create and structure various systems of ownership rights and obligations with an eye to what will best serve the common good of their societies, with their particular histories, traditions, and circumstances. Thus, government regulation of the market isn’t inherently wrong.”

But what happens when a government promotes those who despise its “particular histories, traditions, and circumstances”? When there is no common theoretical or spiritual basis for what constitutes “the flourishing of human beings”? What you are left with is an every-man-for-himself approach to morality, in which the most popular ideology of the day dictates what books can be sold. Or, as the biblical author of the Book of Judges put it, a time in which “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

What we have today is an environment perfect for a type of crazed, hysterical, ideologically inconsistent corporate censorship, and it should be resisted.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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