Shapes of things (27)

In earlier installments of this series we noted Amazon’s suppression of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, by Ryan Anderson. Anderson is the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the founding editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey.

Anderson’s book was published by Encounter Books under the leadership of publisher Roger Kimball. Roger now takes up the story in the Spectator column “Amazon’s book bullying is just the latest act of woke intolerance.”

Roger observes: “Amazon’s behavior is worrisome for a couple of reasons. First, it is worrisome in itself as a public act of intolerance. Second, it is worrisome as the act of a gigantic, near-monopolistic enterprise. Amazon and its subsidiaries control upwards of 80 percent of book sales in this country. They are the elephant in the room, the behemoth on the block, the leviathan to which every intermediary pays obeisance.”

Roger adds this update to the story as we know it so far:

Soon after Amazon’s delisting of When Harry Became Sally was noticed, Sens. Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Mike Braun and Mike Lee wrote a letter to Amazon asking several questions about Amazon’s decision to deep-six the book. Among other things, the senators asked whether Amazon had, as its own policies dictate, informed us of their decision and given us an opportunity to appeal it. In their response, Amazon claimed that they informed our distributor via email the day that the book was removed. Maybe they did. But when we first discovered that When Harry Became Sally had been delisted and asked our distributor about it, the people we spoke with were as surprised as we were. Eventually, multiple inquiries produced the news that Amazon deemed the book to be in violation of its new rules about offensive content and “hate speech.” We are still unclear about when this news was communicated by Amazon to our distributor.

“To our knowledge,” a spokesman for our distributor informed us, “no one received an email notification and Amazon has been unable to provide proof despite repeated requests.” Maybe the senators want to follow up on that.

But in the meantime, how exactly is When Harry Became Sally an instance of “hate speech”? Brief answer: it’s not. More extended answer: “hate speech” is a bogus category wheeled out to forbid or criminal speech that you don’t like.

But in their response to the letter from Messrs Rubio et al., Amazon went a step beyond the language set forth in their content guidelines. Henceforth, the spokesman for Amazon said, online emporium will not “sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

Note the deployment of the verb “frame.” I wonder how many meetings it took for Amazon to come up with that weasel word? Simply as a matter of rhetoric, I admire its encompassing vagueness. But what does it really mean? Ryan Anderson replied that “Nowhere have I ever said or framed LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” This is true. But in the context of Amazon’s interdiction, it signifies nothing. Amazon’s suppression of this one book is just an express stop, a skirmish in a much larger battle.

In their letter to Amazon, Sens. Rubio et al. touch on that larger battle when they ask whether the delisting of When Harry Became Sally was “part of a broader campaign against conservative material and voices on Amazon’s platforms?”

Bingo. Amazon said “No,” of course — “We offer customers across the political spectrum a wide variety of content that includes disparate opinions,” their letter insisted. But this is supremely disingenuous. Sure, you can buy Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic ravings of Louis Farrakhan and many other Tabasco works on Amazon. And as for works that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” you’ll find various works by Sigmund Freud, publications of the American Psychiatric Association, and works by other authors and entities that do just that.

I picked up my copy of Anderson’s book directly from Encounter here.