As many of you by now know, Paypal recently demanded that Smashwords remove certain genres of books from their stocks by threat of shutting down business with them. This is a most unfortunate and unacceptable act for various reasons.
First of all, Paypal is an incredibly powerful financial institution, a monopoly of sorts, that has so finely woven its business practices with Smashwords’ that for Smashwords to pull out of it now would mean almost certain financial ruin. To this end, Paypal holds all of the cards, far too much power, and can therefore dictate what another company – a company built on the desire to share words – does and does not do. Because of this, they have taken freedom of choice and freedom of speech out of Smashwords’ hands (and all of its authors’ hands as well).
Secondly, Paypal is acting on a double standard of the absolute worst kind. It has required the removal of genres that sometimes feature rape (often consensual), incest, and the like. By this ruling, Paypal ought to be requiring the removal of many mainstream fiction books as well… such as Shakespeare’s works, Flowers in the Attic, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – and even the Holy Bible. But is Paypal requiring the removal of all books that feature rape or incest? No. It has made a misinformed, high-brow and faulty judgement by choosing to pick on erotica, in which these sub-themes are often carried out by consenting adults (and read by knowing, consenting adults as well).
However, the main reason this “blackmail” is a fallacy is by far the worst reason. And that’s that this is censorship, pure and simple.
There are those out there who could contend that as a business, Paypal possesses the right to buy and sell whatever it chooses. However, let’s look at this through a clearer set of eyes, shall we? What would the free world say if a black man was turned away at the door of a business with a sign advertising that it was “now hiring” simply because of the color of his skin? We might not immediately harken back to the days of slavery. After all, no one is chaining that man up… are they? By the same token, no one is chaining up the authors whose books have had to be removed… right?
But the intelligent mind knows that censorship does not need to originate in the author’s office or at the keyboard of his or her computer. It is not a padlock placed on his or her word processor. It is not a set of bars through which the author must peek. A writer can write whatever he or she wants and has almost always been allowed to do so as long as the ability to write was granted at all. But what good is a set of words if no one can read them? Censorship arises when these words are kept from the reading public through various means: book burnings, threats to TV stations or radio stations, a cutting off of funds through “blackmailing,” and so forth. No one told Theodore that he couldn’t write The Lorax. No one locked him up for penning those words. They simply prevented the entire state of California from getting their hands on the book. This was censorship. And I contend that there is no virtual difference between a book that has never been read – and a book that has never been written.
Censorship in any form is unacceptable. In a free world, it is up to the individual what he or she reads, watches, listens to, and speaks. For a higher power to take this ability out of the hands of the individual is autocratic and dangerous. In the act of book burnings, it is obvious and glamorous and therefore fortunate because it riles people up and calls for counter-actions of an effective degree. But in this act, in what Paypal is doing, it is conniving, underhanded, and dare I say it – it is a gateway wrong. When one entity is allowed to decide for another what he or she will read, it has taken away a fundamental freedom of humanity. The right to choose. If we allow this, we are taking the first slippery step of a backsliding that will see us into the dark ages of government dictated emotion and intelligence – which is, of course, not intelligent at all.