New examples of what I talk about in this ramble have popped up since I recorded it. When you read about them, think about the behind-the-scenes picture I talk about here.
Link to the ALA's Freedom to Read statement, mentioned in the ramble: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/freedomreadstatement
Hi, all. Welcome to this episode of The Jaguar’s Heart.
Today, I’m here to stand for Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catch in the Rye… and Dr. Seuss. Because every author—and every person—should be against the burning of books.
I feel it would be a good idea to start this one out by meeting on common ground. Something I think we can all safely agree on is that monopolies are bad. Yes, even capitalists can agree on that one. As Hayek said, “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy.”
Many of you know where I’m going with this, because you’ve been with me long enough to hear me talk about the dangers of Amazon’s control of the book market. I’m not sure about the numbers being bandied about right now because I think they’re inclusive only of publishers’ catalogs/Bookscan results, which would leave out Amazon’s imprints and indie sales. But the current statistic is that Amazon sells 50% of all print books in the US, and around 73% of the ebooks…
Books that Amazon disappears, then, are torched.
The argument most likely to come up when I say that is “but you can still buy them at other retailers,” which takes the point of view of the consumer (and misses the basic economic argument that the more friction you insert into the sales process, the more likely you are to lose the sale). But let’s accept that Amazon refusing to sell a book does not remove it from sale from the consumer viewpoint. Instead, let’s talk about what that removal does from the publisher’s perspective. If half to three quarters of your sales are coming from a single platform, and that platform bans your book, then your income for that title has cratered. For the publisher who paid for that book’s publication, your investment is toast.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of that publisher who has just lost their investment. What do you think you’re going to do in the future when someone proposes a book you think might run afoul of Amazon’s guidelines?
The most powerful—and frightening—effect of Amazon failing to carry a book doesn’t start—or end—with the consumer’s ability to purchase that title. It’s what happens during the processes you don’t see, the ones where people decide which books are published at all, that matters. To rustle up another quote from a smarter person than me, from 1945: “If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. […] The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.”
George Orwell. Unavoidably.
...and now maybe you see where I’m going with Dr. Seuss, and the estate’s pre-emptive self-banning of titles, not for economic reasons, but because of public opinion. The prevailing argument is that “publishers decide not to publish books all the time!” and that this is not an example of cancel culture. But if you’re looking with me at the bigger picture, you’ll see this is a symptom of the disease Orwell identified over 75 years ago… where the censorship begins before the books even reach the consumer. If the Seuss estate had made this decision for some other reason, they wouldn’t have announced it so conspicuously, and at a time when other books are being taken down from retailers because of loud minority opinions. The estate wouldn’t have chosen books mentioned in an academic paper from two years ago (written, I might add, by two people involved in an organization that pushes neoracist children’s books; one would think conflict of interest should have invalidated the results).
But if that’s not sufficient proof that this is a symptom and not a single publisher’s enlightened choice, then I will point out that eBay almost immediately stopped allowing auctions of those “no longer published” books because they violated eBay’s “offensive material policy: listings that promote or glorify hatred, violence, or discrimination.” If this isn’t about cancellation, then the publisher’s choice should not have been reflected, immediately, by a completely different retailer… which isn’t even applying its own standards consistently, because it leaves up auctions of Mein Kampf and other offensive items.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Libraries are now having fights about whether they should keep these books on the shelves. Some number are standing by the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement, which is a powerful one, and I recommend reading it. Others—more than I wish—are removing those books from circulation.
Strange how all these “separate” entities are making the same choice, at the same time, about the same books.
If this were the only example… but it’s not. Josh Hawley’s publisher canceling his contract is another symptom of Orwell’s voluntary censorship. A much smaller conservative publisher picked the book up, but it remains to be seen if retailers will carry it. Books written by sexual behavior researchers like Dr. Soh keep vanishing from major retailers: Amazon, Target, Walmart. On Amazon you can buy a “social justice planner” that says ‘screw TERFs’ (except in stronger language), and of course, the hit song in the US is about the sexual exploitation of men, also using language I won’t repeat. To say these rules are asymmetrical in their application is an understatement.
Completely aside from the fact that a free society should not ban books, and that bad ideas should be fought with good ideas, not censorship, there are other reasons not to ban books. To return to Dr. Seuss, one of the titles being ‘de-listed’ (and now being culled from retailers, many libraries, and resale sites) was the first he published. Historians and scholars of children’s books will no longer have ready access to that title in order to study and put into context the books important to the 20th century… and you can’t talk about children’s books without addressing the influence of Dr. Seuss. Over 600 million copies of his books are in circulation, and he’s had multiple movies and TV specials, and has been translated into over 20 languages… it’s impossible. People will be standing on the shoulders of this giant for generations.
So that’s a scholarly reason. Another reason not to ban books is because without access to books from earlier periods in history we can’t understand the cultural context of the eras in which they were published. It’s a bizarre new trend, one I can only attribute to how poorly modern generations are educated, to assume that the past should be judged as if the people in it adhered to the standards of the present, a view that robs the past of its context, its lessons, and its alienness. Every period in history is defined by its particular perspective, and without primary sources, any conclusions you draw about it and its people are flawed.
Without that context, you can’t properly understand your own period in history, either: not the warnings and mistakes, nor the changes, or the progress. How can you see how far you’ve come if you’ve deleted all references to where you were? The extent to which we are doomed to repeat the past is linked to our decision to erase the evidence… so strongly that I have to wonder if that’s not the point. If what we really want is to recreate the atrocities of the past for those who believe they might reap the benefits, and escape the consequences. I have sad news for those people: they will be the first against the wall. They always are.
Book burning, then, isn’t always literal. And it’s never something to be proud of. People who insist that what we’re seeing is the march of history toward enlightenment are failing to notice the more sinister things going on in the backdrop. To return to older and wiser voices, I bring you this quote from a classic written in 1953: “It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.”
What else? Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451.
Anyway, that’s all I got. Thanks for listening to this rebel heart. Jaguar out.
A little comedy today, at least in the link. Transcript follows.
Hi, all. Welcome to this episode of The Jaguar’s Heart.
A while back I was introduced to a comedy sketch about Cuban coffee by a Mexican comedian, Gabriel Iglesias. ( The sketch begins with him greeting all his fellow Latinos and then backing up to say ‘but we’re all different, aren’t we’ which is a segue into a demonstration of how different Hispanics speak Spanish.
It is hilarious. First, because I am a Spanish speaker and a linguistics hobbyist, and his portrayal of various accents resonated with my experiences in trying to make sense of them myself… Not always easy, since from culture to culture, slang and accent are often totally different (and sometimes grammar! Spaniards use a grammatical construct that has died out in many other Spanish-speaking countries, the plural “you.”)
I also loved it because the Cuban coffee part is real. I grew up with Cubans. I know how we are....
One of the most common things I hear (and say) right now is "the asymmetry is the story." Here's one about how none of us are innocent of the sins we hate in others.
Hi, all. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Jaguar’s Heart.
It’s been weeks since the Baen’s Bar incident and I’m still thinking about it... because the longer I do, the more I feel, overwhelmingly, that it’s obvious that the problem is deeper than “this forum was saying stuff that offended us.” We have to back up to the glaring fact that people on opposite sides no longer consider each other human. Nothing I say will matter because the people disagreeing with me don’t think I’m human. They have denied my humanity; they have not bothered to listen to my beliefs, or have fake-listened to them in that way that people do when they’re so ready to prove you wrong that they’re only using your speech to provide talking points for their own ideas.
We have forgotten how to listen.
Increasingly, we have also ...
Update about art/writing stuff... sorry if I sound a little hoarse, it's allergy season. Here's the transcript:
Hi, y’all. Something different this week, but important, because I feel I owe my patrons and long-time supporters some insight into the inside of this artist’s head. It’s been about two months since I committed to reforming my career, and about one since I embarked on the primary vehicle for that reform (the audio rambles here on Locals), and I’ve produced three of those and written scripts for another two, so I feel like I’m slowly finding my way into a groove.
Is it helping? That part, I don’t know.
There’s a lot of stuff that appalls me right now. The news is full of symptoms of a disease I feel people are missing because they’re too busy debating the details, and how the details (alone and taken out of context) aren’t as alarming as alarmists are making them look. Maybe it’s because I have relatives who were victims of a real revolution, and who are connected with a community ...
Should be done with this sketch in the next couple of days, then I can paint.
I am finally on the back-end of my sinus infection, so here's where we are!
Still a bit sick, but soldiering on (if very slowly). One of the things I want to do as I organize my new studio is do a better job of cataloging and making available images people have requested... pretty huge task, but I can't keep putting it off.
I'd like to find a better vendor than zazzle though, which has all right quality but a HORRIBLE back-end experience. If anyone has any recs, I'm all for it.
Anyway, here's the first piece from a series of five I did in 2000ish. A print (https://www.zazzle.com/nature_mankind_poster-228221845360815323), and a mug (https://www.zazzle.com/nature_mankind_mug-168206700560682800) are available.
Join other Jaguar fans and friends in this interactive community! You'll get news, musings, bits of what I'm working on, and some of my rambling about my beliefs and the ethics of art/writing in troubled times. You'll be able to share your thoughts with posts that the whole community can see, and we'll have live chats and it'll be fun!
The rules for my Livejournal and my Discord server apply here as well. You can read them at length at http://mcahogarth.org/the-jaguarholt-discord-server/, but they can be distilled to: "be civil, no profanity/NSFW stuff, and stay on topic."