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.
Last week, Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, vanished from “the world’s largest bookstore.” The hardbacks, the paperbacks—even the used copies of When Harry Became Sally sold by third-party sellers through Amazon—poof, gone. When questioned by Anderson’s publisher, Amazon lamely pointed to a new policy that permits it to bar “inappropriate and offensive” works and also “hate speech.” It never bothered to offer proof or explain how Anderson’s book ran afoul of these guidelines; it apparently didn’t think it needed to.