Pedophilia to us humans is a bit like Kryptonite is to Superman. Have you ever seen any incarnation of Superman where someone approaches him with Kryptonite? He stumbles, usually closes his eyes, sticks his hand out and just flails wildly, trying to crush it or cover it or knock it away.
When you mention the words “pedophile” or “pedophilia” to anyone, their initial response is to immediately swat it away with disgust. You’ll hear that those people should be castrated or murdered. That it’s despicable. That it’s the worst crime possible.
You won’t get any argument from me. Pedophilia is utterly despicable (although not any more despicable than rape, in my opinion – the age of the victim should have no effect on the heinous nature of the crime). It’s a base crime that preys on the innocent, and it’s the nature of this crime that makes people react like idiots whenever pedophilia is mentioned.
Here’s why I’m talking about pedophilia:
CecilyK is a blogger with enough of a voice in the blogosphere that yesterday, when she tweeted about a despicable book that Amazon.com has in its Kindle store – The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure – several thousand people had the chance to witness her outrage. The description for this book states “This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian [sic] rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught.”
After her tweet, the floodgates erupted. Hundreds of people condemned Amazon for allowing the existence of this book on its virtual shelves. To summarize the tweets: “This book should be censored immediately and while we’re at it, the author should be castrated or, even better, put to death. The content was prima facie illegal and how dare Amazon permit it.” I tried to discuss the actual issue: wanting a company to censor an item that may or may not be permitted under the First Amendment, but having any serious type of conversation 140 characters at a time is damn near impossible. I gave up when Cecily said:
People, these are the issues where one must be reasonable. If you’re going to wield your influence like a big, ugly club, it’s irresponsible to do so when you are admittedly irrational about the issue. Inciting a mob based on assumption, a feeling of complete ickiness, and unreasonable thoughts only means that the reactions and actions that result have a high likelihood of being blatantly and completely inappropriate.
I’m not attacking Cecily for getting upset, even if she does have a perpetual chip on her shoulder. It’s understandable to think that a book that advocates any type of sexual activity with a child would be upsetting. You’d have to be a monster NOT to be upset about it. However, I think it’s wrong to demand that Amazon remove it for being illegal or expect that Amazon has a moral obligation to pull the item.
I haven’t read this book. All I know about it is the title, the cover, and the description. It is objectively impossible to make a statement that the book is illegal based on those elements. In order for a author to cross the line so deliberately as to lose his or her right to freedom of expression, the content would have to do more than simply condone an illegal act. For example, Barack Obama’s memoir condones his drug use, which was an illegal act. For this book to be considered speech that is not protected by the first amendment, it must be reasonably apparent that the book itself will incite someone to violence or that the book presents a clear and present danger, or that the book is obscene, which means that in the community writ large, it is pornographic and has no redeeming social value. And without reading it, you cannot make that statement (update: someone bought it and read it, and while it sounds like it discusses illegal activities, it also sounds like it’s discussing legal acts as well and may not be illegal.).
If I, a man who is not a pedophile, was going to write a book to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles who find themselves involved in said situations, I might write content that said the following:
“Don’t touch children. Appreciate their smiles from afar. If you actually love them, do not touch them or approach them in any way so that they can retain the innocence that you love.”
Is that content illegal? It’s still creepy as all fuck, yeah, but is it illegal? The answer, in case you’re still being irrational, is no, and until you can determine explicitly that the content is illegal, you cannot assume that it is.
Other people might argue that Amazon has a moral obligation to remove this book. Bullshit. Amazon has a moral obligation not to remove any book unless it violates the law. There was a huge outcry and call for a boycott two years ago when scores of books were removed, allegedly over a pricing error. Since that point, Amazon’s policies have been refined and revised. Now that it’s a book that you want removed, should they change their policies to become pro-censorship? Absolutely not.
No company should ever use moral obligation as an excuse for censorship. It is too easy to expand the moral obligations until everything is being censored for different reasons. Imagine a fictional murder mystery story where the antagonist rapes and murders a woman. The amount of detail in this hypothetical story is so explicit that it could act as a how-to guide for any potential murderers and rapists. Should this book be removed too? What about a book by a religious sect that explains the proper way to stone a person? Or one that discusses the way to woo and marry a child in a country where child marriage is legal? When does the “moral obligation” stop?
Amazon has standards for books they won’t carry – pornography, for example. If something shows explicit sexual acts, it is not allowed. That’s not a moral stance as much as it is a legal one – given the community standards in some locations, pornography might be illegal there, and Amazon would have to be aware of which communities would consider which properties to be illegal. A standard that states that any books that discusses pedophilia would not be allowed would mean that classic literature like Lolita and books like the Bible would be removed as well. Using a legal standard instead of a moral one is the only way for Amazon to walk a very fine line.
Our society is founded on the concept of freedom. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression. As deplorable as it may be, those freedoms must be present for all citizens and all types of speech, with the limited exceptions that already exist. And unless a type of speech is not protected by the First Amendment, corporations have a moral obligation to protect that speech, not censor it.
In conclusion, for those of you with short attention spans: Pedophilia is deplorable. Thoughts aren’t illegal. Words are only illegal in very specific circumstances. Companies shouldn’t censor products that are legal. And try to understand a situation before reacting irrationally to it.