Though Amazon.com quickly decided to pull The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure off its shelves, they continue to sell other books in the same genre. That’s probably not news to most. But take a look at their reported reasoning:

“Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable.”

(Other commenters on the discussion thread linked there confirmed that Amazon had said the same to them, and there is no sign of their repudiating the claim, so it seems credible that this was indeed their answer.)

Amazon has a policy on what they will accept for their digital platform, which makes this statement seem very odd. Perhaps there’s more to their position than this, but if so, CNN does not seem to have uncovered it.

What is censorship, anyway? I always thought the term applied when some controlling authority (government, school administration, etc.) prevented the dissemination of ideas, images, etc. Amazon is powerful, but it’s not a controlling authority. If it doesn’t sell a book it’s preventing nothing. It’s only closing a certain channel, one to which no person or group has any legal or moral right of unrestricted access.

Suppose someone offered Amazon a book on how to construct a radioactive “dirty” bomb, or on how to break into Amazon’s computers and steal their funds. Would they be justified in refusing to sell those books? Where content promotes plainly illegal and harmful activities, there is every reason not to distribute it. As is the case with pedophilia.

So what’s really going on here? Amazon is clearly not guilty of censorship in any legal sense of the term. But it does look as if they are bothered about the censorship connection, and if so, it must be on moral grounds. Indeed, censorship does carry some moral weight: to block someone’s access to speech channels could (in at least some cases) be wrong ethically even if not legally. I could be mistaken about this, but it looks to me like this is how Amazon views the current matter. It appears that access to a speech distribution channel carries more moral weight, for Amazon, than pedophilia does; and that they view blocking distribution channels as more harmful than all the damage wreaked on young children by sexual predation.

Sexual morality is such a featherweight moral issue to many in our culture, it seems almost to have negative weight. Kids are harmed by pedophilia, and companies are harmed by theft. Both harms are weighty matters. One of them is lifted up, though, by a virtual hot-air-balloon emblazoned with the words, “if it’s sexual, let it be.” Is there any other way pedophilia could become so weightless, a lighter offense than telling someone you won’t sell their book?

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