Fake Freedom Lovers and Ethical Hypocrisy


There have been two big stories recently that have called me to question my ethics regarding the freedom of speech in America, but I emerged from my internal debate even more certain of my stance.

Many other people responded more emotionally than rationally, however, leading me to wonder where they really stand and if they’ve thought about the repercussions of the stances they’ve taken and are so vocal about.

The first news story was about an unknown pro-pedophilia ebook that was available for sale on Amazon. The company eventually took it down (after briefly upholding their views about not censoring their catalog, despite public opinion) due to the overwhelming number of complaints and threats.

The second story is about Wikileaks and whether or not Julian Assange should be charged with something for his role in the organization, especially their most recent leak of secret US Embassy cables.

Now, I don’t think you’re going to find many people who support molesting children, and if a vocal few hadn’t made so many loud noises about the ebook being on Amazon it’s doubtful that anyone would ever have purchased a copy (because of all the press, however, it shot up the rankings to become one of the top selling ebooks on the site).

But the topic of the book aside, the fact that good, freedom loving people attacked a bookstore for carrying a product they didn’t agree with is a frickin’ shame.

Where’s the freedom in that?

What’s most appalling is that these same people had the gall to say things like “I’m all about the freedom of speech, but this is just wrong. That book should be removed.”

Oh I get it: the freedom of speech is great, so long as people are saying things that you agree with. What’s the point of having freedom in the first place if you can’t say anything that someone else will disagree with?


As for Julian, the same ethical hypocrisy is being displayed, with people from both sides of America’s political aisle drinking up the government’s official Kool Aid and declaring the head of Wikileaks to be a terrorist who should be imprisoned for putting innocent people in harm’s way.

Come on people, of COURSE the government doesn’t want their hidden documents out in the open; they’re hidden because they’ve got stuff to hide! That’s the whole point!

And as for Hillary Clinton’s comments about the leaks putting people in harm’s way, consider this quote from a recent interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers back in the day:

“That’s a script they roll out every time there’s a leak of any sort. The best justification they can find for secrecy is that lives are at stake. Actually, lives are at stake as a result of silence and lies, which a lot of these leaks reveal. Certainly the same charges were made about the Pentagon Papers and turned out to be quite invalid over the years.”

It’s fun to have a bogeyman to publicly flay, I know, but it’s even more fun to have the freedom to say what you want about what you want.

As soon as we start curtailing the rights of ANYONE, we start to curtail our own rights.

If we ban one book, we ban a lot more books in the future. Maybe your book.

If we silence one whistle-blower, we give the government powers that will allow them to silence future whistle-blowers.

If the government is watching us, shouldn’t we be watching back? We’ll lose that right if we support the government in taking down people like Julian Assange.

Think about long-term consequences and don’t base your opinions on knee-jerk reactions and biased news reporting.

The first step to losing your rights is to take them away from others; don’t let moral revulsion result in ethical hypocrisy.


  1. I’m going to agree to an extent. I agree about Wikileaks but I’m torn between the eBook because it promotes bad behavior, but it is just writing and the only people that will probably read it already have those tendencies. I guess I do agree but Amazon also has the right to do what they want and if that means taking it off the shelves so their customers keep buying then that’s their right. No ones stopping that eBook publisher from selling it themselves.
    That’s the thing about freedom, you can do what you want but people are free to do what they want, even if it means trying to prevent your voice from being heard through them.

    • I totally agree with you Kevin! Freedom is definitely good but to a certain extent i think. You are free to do watever you want as long as it doesn’t affect other people, otherwise where are the boundaries between freedom and bad actions? (such as murder, stealing..etc) You cant be free to do everything you want, otherwise, it would be total anarchy!

      • The trouble with saying ‘freedom to an extent’ is that someone decides where to draw the line, and that means somewhere morality is being turned into law.

        There are countries (like China) where you can’t get on Facbeook or many blogs.

        Is that where we should draw the line?

        There are states in the US where you can’t find Harry Potter in public and school libraries because some people in the area believe it promotes witchcraft.

        Is that where we should draw the line?

        No, if we’re going to have freedom of speech, we need to have absolute freedom of speech. Words can have a major impact, and that’s why they’re so important.

        Should there be laws not to kill people? Of course! But that’s infringing upon someone else’s right to live. By speaking freely you aren’t stopping anyone else from doing the same.

        • “The trouble with saying ‘freedom to an extent’ is that someone decides where to draw the line, and that means somewhere morality is being turned into law.”

          I believe everyone (who isn’t in jail) should have the freedom to do anything they want including putting whatever insane drug into their bodies that they want to do, as long as it doesn’t impede on the rights of others to be free. And yes there is trouble regarding where the line is drawn, but that’s why government exists, and for the sake of the people, why a democracy is good.

          • “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else that has been tried.” -Winston Churchill

            I think you just hit on the head one of the major flaws with the current system, but alas, all the others are worse :)

            • When you live in a society you must give up some rights in exchange of security, right?
              For example, you can’t take vengance for a crimen commited agains you. The police and legal system do it for you. It’s a right you gave up to society.

              So, we are not totally free to do or say what we whant whenever we want. Because we live in a society. And If you like to stay, you need to play betwen the lines and boundaries set to protect all the persons.
              So, if promoting crime it’s not permited, it’s to protect. If you don’t like it you allways have the choice go to the caverns and live in the wild.
              We only can have a decent and organized civilization if we play with rules. If not we are going to anarchy.

              PS: I know, my english is bad… I’m still learning

              • Good point, Apbril. We do face that tradeoff, and I think most of us are willing to stop at a red light in exchange for not being smashed by cars (and being able to live in a society where cars can be produced to begin with!).

                That being said, when it comes to speech in a country that purportedly supports the freedom to say what you want, I don’t know that we should be so quick to gag ourselves for unity.

                Firstly, what would that unity be based on? Not speaking what we perceive to be the truth? That would lead to a whole host of problems, not the least of which being afraid to bring up problems with society that could be fixed.

                Secondly, what would you prevent people form saying? No matter what, the standards would be based on some person’s sense of morality, and that means that all of their biases and hangups would become law. Think of the oldest, most conservative person you can and imagine that their opinions about life are suddenly enforceable laws. Yeah, I’m scared too!

                Finally, it’s only by playing outside the lines that we innovate and continue to evolve. Sure, we need to maintain a status quo so that the majority of people can live comfortable lives and not have to take risks, but if we guillotine every trouble-maker out there who says things we don’t want to hear, we wouldn’t have any innovation left. Economists call this ‘brain drain,’ and it happens all the time…in countries where dictators afraid of being overthrown have had their troublemakers executed. Not ideal.

                Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

                Thanks for the comments, and your English is very good!

                • I see this in business every day. Thankfully, I currently work in an environment where opposing/challenging views are encouraged, exactly for the above reason. The guy on top, whether it be in a business, or the government, isn’t necessarily right. If the employees or members of a society is taught to just nod their heads, or have their heads “chopped off” if they speak up, you will stifle not only pure innovation, but also a fundamental security system of the organization/society in question.

        • I think freedom of speech needs to come with a certain discretion. Words can have a major impact and thats why they can be so powerful, but also dangerous.

          Take Hitler, for example. He was given the freedom to express his views with thousands of others. The outcome was not a positive one.

          The problem is that words, books included, influence people. If your words are influencing people negatively (Hitler), than should there be freedom to speak?

          However, I see your point, Colin. Where do we draw the line and who gets to draw it? That’s a judgement call and should probably come down to a democratic opinion. If the majority thinks it’s bad, then the line gets drawn (in the case of the book).

          Freedom of speech is liberating and empowering but also dangerous when influencing negative behaviours. And for that, there needs to be guidelines.

          • The unfortunate thing about democratic opinion is that most people are of very average intelligence (by the nature of ‘average’) and especially in the States are not very well-versed on many different areas of study (so the knowledge required to decide whether something is pornography or literature, for example, might be far out of their reach because they specialized elsewhere).

            I say this as a question than anything, because I don’t know that there IS a good solution, but I do know that I don’t particularly want to live in a world led by average people with middling opinions.


            • I do agree with you on that.

              The other thing is that “average minds” are more pursuable. When faced with strong and influential opinions, good or bad, they can easily be convinced.

              I also don’t know if there is any good solution. Maybe we just need to accept that with freedom of speech comes both positive and negative outcomes. However, if faced with the choice of outright censorship or freedom, I would choose freedom regardless of any negative outcomes.

              • That’s where I am, too.

                The options we have available now (the ones I can think of, at least) are not ideal, and the only way we’ll continue to move forward in pursuit of something more ideal is to increase access to information.

                Those in power will do everything they can to hold on to their power and to get more power (the Iron Law of Oligarchy), so of course the folks in charge now don’t want change to occur…that would mean that their leadership and grip on the reins might come into question.

                We have to keep digging and asking questions, despite the pushback.

              • I think that is the biggest reason for keeping all speech free. (Provided that it doesn’t target specific individuals maliciously – slander etc.).

                I think choosing what should be considered free speech and what should be censored, is a very dangerous path to go down, which history, even current history in respects to nations such as China, has proved can be fatal for those trapped on the wrong side. I don’t think you could ever rely on the majority rules “rule, since the majority isn’t always necessarily right. The majority, as both of you have mentioned, may not have the knowledge that makes them able to make an informed decision.

                Just take Gelileo Galilei, who had to retract his statement that the Earth moved around the Sun, and not vice versa, in fear of his life, because of the “majority”.

                • Some very good points about why the “majority rules” wouldn’t work and I’m convinced now, too.

                  But again, doesn’t having the ability to access free information sometimes bad? What if that information was about how to build a bomb. What if that information was used to then threaten a school?

                  Having free and accessible information requires a lot of responsibility and I don’t think everyone can handle it. So what do you do? Keep all information free knowing that some people will build bombs and become pedophiles or do you sensor it and hope it will prevent bomb and pedophile incidents?

          • Hitler got into power through Germany’s democratic process. The majority in Germany were complicit in the murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals.
            Democracy, rule by majority, doesn’t make something right or wrong. And it definitely doesn’t protect anyone.
            The US government had laws protecting slavery because the majority preferred the existence of the Union over the moral implications of slavery.
            So, who gets to write the guidelines for your life? For what you are allowed to read, support and believe?

            • Very well said, and a very good question.

              Honestly, I tend to swerve toward openness of information because I believe that’s the only way we’ll find something better. To disallow access to certain information will keep us where we’re at, and as your questions illustrate, it’s a very precarious and uncertain ledge we stand on.

            • Ya that is a good point.

              I like to think that I get to write the guidelines for everything I do but it’s probably not always the case. And like you point out, if there was a majority vote, then I would be pretty pissed if it was in opposition to my ability to freedom.

              Maybe it’s the information that needs to stay completely free and open. But what about the actions that follow? If someone did read a persuasive book on pedophilia and committed a dangerous act, I can’t help but think that the person who persuaded them (the author) would in some way get blamed. And then the freedom to speak or write isn’t very free anymore.

              I don’t have a good answer for how to get around this issue. I’m just playing a bit of a devils advocate and trying to continue the discussion…

        • I have to admit that you make a point and i see what you mean by where to draw the line. But i do agree with Collin as well, words can have a major impact on some people, the way they think, they act or judge.But maybe it’s totally different as it would be called “persuasion” and each individual is absolutely free to choose or not to be persuaded.I guess it all comes down on what people are gonna believe or not, which rules are they gonna follow, how they gonna behave.

          It’s not like all the people are on the same level of intelligence and just follow their own beliefs tho. Some people like kids are easily ductile. By speaking freely you aren’t stopping anyone else from doing the same.True. But by speaking freely, you might shape someone else thoughts?

          • I would say that’s part of the point, being able to shape other people’s thoughts with words.

            I look at conversation and the exchange of information and ideas as a marketplace, and in a vacuum, the stronger ideas tend to rise to the top.

            Now, the real world (and especially the mainstream media) is not a vacuum, and a lot of what’s most convincing isn’t necessarily the strongest of thoughts, but if we encourage healthy debate and discourage polarization and the closure of minds (the kind of thing that’s happening with the major news organizations, each picking sides because it’s good for ratings), then we may just get something done.

            Say you want a revolution?

            • I have to admit, i had to read the comment at least twice in order to understand the concept, i need to translate that in French! (haha) But i think i see what you mean: like people can absorb all the informations they want/need but after they need to filter what they want to believe or not, am i right? I found it hard sometimes tho, because it happens that you don’t know who or what to believe anymore. Person A is saying this, Person B is saying that, Person C is saying something else…what are the criteria to define who is right from who is wrong? Is there even someone right or wrong? (i hope what i said makes sense, i wish i was a native English speaker, my vocabulary would be wider :/)

          • If someone finds a book that teaches them how to make a deadly poison, and they use that information to murder someone, it isn’t the book’s fault. They would most likely have found another way to kill. In other words, if one’s moral fiber is so that simply reading a book about pedophilia convinces them that its ok to abuse children chances are that person is sick and taking the information out of the equation isn’t going to change that.

    • Thanks for the insight Kevin.

      Keep this in mind, though: there are a LOT of books the promote bad behavior. There are battles in the Bible and dirty words in the dictionary. Should we protest against Amazon until they stop selling those?

      I would say no. Everyone has a right to read what they want or not read what they want, but not to deny others the right to read what they want. The people who protested are trying to do just that.

      If you don’t agree with something that’s being said, don’t listen. You have the freedom of speech, not the right to never be offended.

      • To elaborate on your above thoughts, shouldn’t the bible (at least the old testament), be illegal and removed as well. It definitely has verses in it that is blatantly illegal. For instance:

        In the Bible’s book of Deuteronomy it says that if a man marries a woman and then decides that he hates her, he can claim she wasn’t a virgin when they married. At that point her father must prove she was a virgin. (How is not explained.) If he can’t, then the girl is to be stoned to death at her father’s doorstep.


        If you see a pretty woman among your captives and would like her for a wife, then bring her home and “go in unto her.” Later, if you decide you don’t like her, you can simply “let her go.” (Deuteronomy)

  2. Excellent thoughts! I would have to agree! That whole emotional knee jerk response has gotten us into trouble and will continue to do so, haha. Seems we’ve forgotten to think with our brains! And we’ve forgotten to think from A-Z! More like we take one scenario and just maybe if we’re lucky, get to C! It’s silly. :P


    • Yeah, generally I think if people take a second to cool down and think rationally they respond different than if they just act on the first impulse to come to mind (I do, anyway).

      The trick is convincing people to do so.

  3. I *totally* disagree. If the *government* was banning the book, then that would be a totally different story. The fact is that Amazon *still* has freedom of speech. It has the freedom to sell the book (or not sell the book), and we have the freedom to complain or the freedom to simply not buy from Amazon.

    • It’s true, and I wasn’t calling Amazon to term, but the people who were whining about them selling a book just because they disagreed with it.

      Everyone has the freedom to complain, of course, but what a horrible precedent that sets! Just think if every book that someone was offended by was to be removed from the shelves!

      Instead of complaining and denying other people information they don’t agree with (a very dictatorial approach), they should just keep doing what they were doing before: not buying the book. Then they never have to look at it, think about it or read it, but they won’t be denying other people the right to their own beliefs.

      • “It’s true, and I wasn’t calling Amazon to term, but the people who were whining about them selling a book just because they disagreed with it.”

        I didn’t consider that you weren’t saying Amazon shouldn’t have done it, but that people shouldn’t have whined and pressured Amazon into removing it are wrong. That kind of deflates my argument (new comment thread), since I guess we’re in agreement 100%, then. How silly of me.

    • “I *totally* disagree. If the *government* was banning the book, then that would be a totally different story.”

      If the government banned any book, then I think we’d all be a lot more upset.

    • Agreed.

      I was calling to term the folks who complained to begin with…Amazon of course can do whatever they want (though I wish they would have held out for the principle of the issue, but they are a business, not a group of philosophers).

      The trouble is when people believe that because they don’t like something, no one else should have access to it. THAT’S a big problem, because it infringes upon the rights of others to access information freely.

      The folks who have trouble with the ebook should do the logical thing and not read it.

  4. Put my name on the watchlist, because I am in total agreement here. I think it is appalling that there are talks of going as far as assassinating him by members of the government. The stuff they teach us in school about how our country doesn’t do all the things those “other countries” do is bullshit.

    People need to stop watching the “news” and wake the hell up. Things are not at all what we are being told. The U.S. is about as free as it is in the Matrix movie.

    • I was actually just having this conversation with a Spanish guy who lives in Morocco and a Singaporean chap earlier today.

      There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have skeletons in the closet, and the more we can bring these to light – and make it clear that there will be no more hiding of those skeletons, should you choose to do something wrong – the less it’s likely to happen.

      If we stifle people who try to expose the truth, however, we’re putting all the power in the hands of people who have no reason to do right by us and lots of reasons to take advantage of their power.

  5. Governments around the world need not fear WikiLeaks… after all if they aren’t doing anything wrong then they have nothing to hide ;)

    • Haha, right?

      It’s amazing to me the the only people who are really, truly up in arms about the Wikileaks thing are the governments…and by that I mean pretty much every government on the planet. It’s crazy.

      The people who are pissed are mostly tossing around the same lines being shoveled out by the press (a press, by the way, that has a lot to lose and gain because of Wikileaks, so I imagine they are quite torn on the subject).

  6. The Wikileaks thing is easy for me since it involves the government alone: of course he shouldn’t be charged with anything. Freedom and transparency in government are great things.

    The Amazon thing I go the other way on, however. The people running Amazon, a private business (as in not taking government money like a church or the boy scouts) can decide what they will and won’t sell for whatever reasons they want, and are not subject to the constitution. However, they, as a smartly ran business, are subject to us, the consumer, and any other sources of income. They will do whatever alienates people the least, and judging by the threats and other negative response you said they got, the correct answer was to take it down. It was a business decision, not a freedom or constitutional decision.

  7. Amazon doesn’t have an obligation to carry any product any more than you have to publish every guest post someone submits.

    Every bookstore has hundreds of thousands of books they do not carry. Same with libraries. The decision to not carry something, regardless the reason, has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

    The Amazon case was an issue of property rights, not speech. If everyone in a society decides to shun certain ideas, that isn’t censorship. It is an exercise of choice.

    The right of free speech doesn’t guarantee the right to an audience or a megaphone. It just means you wont get arrested for saying something.

    • I agree, Gary, and as I mentioned to a few commenters above, I wasn’t tsking Amazon, but the people who complained.

      They seem to think that because they don’t agree with something, they should be able to deny others access to that thing. This is what I have a problem with, not Amazon caving to popular demand.

      • I don’t see the complainers as having denied access to the book; they exercised their freedom of speech, Amazon listened to them and made their decision. No one made a decision for anyone else. This is not censorship, this is democracy in action. If you really believe in absolute freedom of speech, then that has to include the people who complained, however much you disagree.

  8. Here’s what I know.

    1. The US government has an agenda to shut down Wikileaks at any cost. This includes finding ways to make Julien Assange disappear, by accusing him of whatever possible by whatever means possible. If they doesn’t work, they will kill him (being, something will happen to him.) Watch, it will happen.

    2. It doesn’t matter. The Internet will find a way for all information to come to light. If something is banned somewhere, it will pop up elsewhere. Information flows so incredibly freely, it cannot be contained by human or machine methods.

    3. The US and foreign media is not allowed to write about Wikileaks in any way that makes sense. There are editors freaking out in newspaper rooms everywhere trying not to make enemies of governments, which is leading to a split in how people view this issue. If you get your information from the newspapers, you will understand it from the perspective of the government. If you get your information from where information flows freely, you will actually understand what Wikileaks is trying to do. Which I believe is making the world a freer place.

  9. I agree!

    With one small point… Amazon is a business, thus they are FREE to do whatever they want. They can keep the book up or down. It doesn’t matter. In the end the made a business decision that it is best for them to take it down, and they did that.

    • It’s true!

      I feel like I should put a qualifier at the end of the post, because a lot of people are hung up on that point (what Amazon decides to sell or not sell), and that wasn’t the issue I was trying to raise here.

      Thanks for the input!

  10. Being for freedom doesn’t mean you tolerate all possible sort of crap.

    If a private company I respect sells a product I find unethical, I don’t even see what it has to do with “free speech” in the decision to either boycott the company or asking the company to take steps to stop selling a book I consider unethical. Just like not wanting to support a company that badly treats their employees doesn’t mean you’re against “freedom” (ie, the freedom of a company to treat their employees like crap).

    Being against free speech is wanting some IDEAS to be censored. A pedophile’s guide is just as devoided of any purpose or ideas like shouting fire in a crowded theater. Unless, of course, one wants to argue that pedophilia is not morally repugnant, in which case there would be a purpose to the book.

    As for Wikileaks, I’m sure a lot of people’s opinion would change once they would see their own private conversations on that website.

    • You definitely have the right to buy or not buy, but to say ‘I want this removed from your shelves because I know what’s right for everyone else’ is taking it a bit far. Just don’t shop with them.

      Most of the people threatening to boycott had never purchased a single thing from Amazon, they were just there for the party. At that point it’s not a matter of voting with your dollars, it’s a matter of trying to force your morality on others by making alternatives unavailable.

      And of course there won’t be many people out there supporting pedophilia, but once you ban that book, what’s next? Some people (not me) would argue that homosexuality is just as bad as pedophilia, so we’d better ban that, too. And hell, some religions are bad for kids, so we should nix those as well. And I’m not a big fan of those Berenstein Bears characters, so send ‘em to the dumpster.

      It’s a very slippery slope when you start banning based on non-quantifiable standards. THAT’S what I’m afraid of, even if I might personally think that the topic of this particular book is repugnant.

      • But, my overall point wasn’t that I agreed with those people (indeed we could argue it’s an overreaction to ask a company to remove a book from their selection when you don’t even shop there), but that I see no contradiction with supporting freedom of speech and taking action against a company you feel is doing something unethical.

        I consider that I support freedom of speech, but I don’t think, for example, that the Westboro Baptist Church should have the right to “harass” people during funerals. We all draw a line at some point, and even though the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” metaphor is overused, it perfectly illustrates the point that a line has to be drawn.

        Pedophilia is illegal. It has negatively affected millions of lives. Even most pedophiles admit that what they’re doing is wrong but that they can’t help it. Given that, I don’t even see it as a controversial claim to say that it’s unethical to sell a book about pedophilia. I just can’t see how you can reach the same conclusion about homosexuality for example, even if one is personally against it. It’s not illegal, most homosexuals don’t consider they’re doing something wrong, etc. There’s nothing unethical about selling books about it, even if some people might think homosexuality is immoral.

        • I definitely see your point, but it still comes down to who should decide where that line is?

          You say that you can’t see how anyone could compare homosexuality to pedophilia, and I agree, but MANY people see it otherwise. Gay marriage isn’t legal in most of the US, and in some states sodomy is illegal. Does that mean a book about gay marriage or anal sex should be illegal? That line is SO blurry, even though it may seem clear to any one individual (based on their own opinions).

  11. One of the first things striking me in these comments regards how many people are imagining this to be first EVER book to contain information regarding a practice that is illegal.
    What about websites that instruct you on the creation of Napalm? Or videogames that allow you to play out murderous fantasies? (I’m a video game supporter in this realm, there is no conclusive study to support….god this will have to be a blog post or something)
    Either way, the world is rife with material that is disagreeable but my view is that Free speech must = Free Speech and nothing less.
    You don’t support that product? Don’t support that product. I think the Jersey Shore is far more damaging than this product will ever be because it reaches an extended population. Thus I don’t watch it.

    • Great point!

      There are LOTS of books that I think these very same people would find repugnant if they knew they existed, but they don’t, so there’s no outcry. This ebook they’re so upset about was out for a while before anyone noticed it, too, and it was only because of a handful of mom-blogs ranting about it that anyone even realized it was there.

      The point is that if you don’t like it, you don’t need to buy it and it won’t impact your world one little bitty bit.

      If someone is a pedophile then they don’t need a book to do what they’re going to do, and trying to act as if you are the supreme moral being and capable of deciding what is right for everyone won’t change a thing.

      Quick story:

      Something like this came up back when I worked at an independent bookstore in high school.

      The book in question, however, was the Anarchist Cookbook, which provides instructions on how to make bombs, sawed-off shotguns, etc. It wasn’t something we had on the shelf, but someone special ordered it, and not everyone who worked there agreed that we should sell it to the guy who ordered it.

      But at the end of the day if someone wants information they’ll get it, and though it would have been perfect fine for the boss to say ‘no way, you’ll have to get it elsewhere,’ what would that have achieved? She may have felt better about herself, but it would have been false moral superiority.

      • Anarchist Cookbook! That’s the one I was thinking about.
        As you said, people will get what they’re looking for. If it’s not printed there will be someone who knows it personally, if they don’t they have all of this *gestures towards the internet*
        “Censor that!” some might say.
        Yes, yes you would say that, Chairman.
        I don’t like when people throw around “If we censor one thing we become communists” but it is the first step towards restricting the very thing that makes freedom freedom.
        So many now influential texts were once considered evil, demonic, immoral etc. I’m not defending the merits of this particular book but if we limit this book then it becomes easier to limit the next great but controversial work. It’s like a supreme court precedent.

  12. “If the government is watching us, shouldn’t we be watching back?” This reminds me of the very famous saying “Who watches the watchmen?” I believe everyone is allowed their secrets because our deepest secrets may mean nothing to other people; well unless you’re a government body then everybody seems to care because it’s like a celebrity scandal.
    The whole “I respect freedom of speech and opinions, except yours” is a whole other can of worms. People should be free to express their opinions whether or not people object to them. Yes the book may be a touchy subject for most people but it doesn’t change the fact that people with those tendencies exist.

    • Well said.

      And I agree that secrets are touchy, but governments aren’t people, and the people involved in governments have the power over life and death for millions or billions of other people…I don’t think they should have the kinds of secrets that are being revealed by these leaks. No checks and balances, there.

  13. Amazon carries books that justify other sexual crimes as alternative sexuality like the enslavement of women. But because their titles are more subtle no on called for their removal. A bunch of parents saw the title and became reactionaries calling for blood. Amazon did what any mainstream co. facing a boycott before their biggest season of the year: they caved. Dissapointing, but not surprizing.

    The Wiki leaks issue is different. It all comes down to whether or not the information was obtained illegally. If it was, he should be prosecuted. Not because he shared embarrassing info about the gov, but because he broke the law. It is ethically hypocritical to excuse the illegal publishing of private docs when anyone would seek some kind of justice if they found out their personal info (credit cards, social, or even private email) was compromised.

    • Good point on both topics.

      What we have with this Amazon story is one group getting all riled up over something that wouldn’t have impacted them had someone not been looking for something to get riled up about.

      I would like your thoughts on this, in regards to the Wikileaks case: if there are legalities on the books that keep whistleblowers from being able to do their job, would it still be morally justifiable to arrest Assange if he fell short of meeting those standards?

      • It’s hard for me not to make a value judgment based on the importance of the information. Some of the recent leaks were eye opening, others felt like the international equivalent of BCCing your boss in an email conversation where one of your co-workers complains about his bad breath. I really want to defend whistle blowers for the sake of transparency. But I also fear a flood of superficial information. It’s not an easy question.

        • Definitely a tough question, and that’s why I’m thrilled people are open to discussing it :)

          I would say that despite the flood of superfluous info, more information is almost always better.

          Our technology is getting better and better at helping us filter for relevant content, and though it could be argued that there is an implied bias with this kind of tech, tapping into a population as a whole and smart software can allow us to quickly organize the world and all the information we have about it (look at Wikipedia, for example: it’s not perfect by any means, but what an amazing source of information!).

  14. It’s hard when people, myself included, have such strong emotions toward one side or another. It makes it difficult to see rationally to the point that it almost feels physical.

    Like when you just have to pull your hand away from the fire when you touch it.

    Pre-rendered emotions or not, I have to agree with the taking-a-step-back-and-cooling-down idea. That and learning as much as you can about the issue before ultimatums are made can help too.

    • Amen.

      And that’s my main point here. Whatever conclusion you end up coming to, it will likely be a whole hell of a lot better if you take a second to cool down and think ‘is that thought I just had rational?’

    • Great conclusion! I find myself, when reacting to issues like the book, as well as more everyday mundane issues that could cause my blood pressure to sky rocket, it definitely helps using the taking-a-step-back-and-cooling-down idea. Even though I’m not Buddhist, or not even religious, I find myself frequently in need of finding my inner Lama.

  15. Hey Colin.

    In regard to WikiLeaks. I feel torn between two points of view.

    On one hand, I think it’s admirable that Assange is trying to call out the corruption of governments around the world. On the other hand, I don’t think we are ENTITLED, to know every little thing the government does. I’m not saying we should be kept in the dark about what the government is really doing behind our back, but I don’t think they have to explain situations that the average citizen may be too unqualified to understand.

    We “elected”our government officials for a reason (the case of that being a joke is another story.) I find it funny that there’s outrage about the US talking behind other countries back, when if we were to look into own daily routine the majority of us would be guilty as well. As one other diplomat told Hilary Clinton “We said far worse things about you.”

    WikiLeaks is much bigger than we understand. The age of transparency is here and won’t be dying anytime soon. So the question is. How far is too far?

    Again, I’m not completely set on either perspective. It’s been an exciting past few days as I’ve continued to develop my own personal beliefs.

    • I’m glad to hear you’re keeping an open mind as things develop. I’m doing the same, and I’m hoping that others are too. If we become too married to a set of beliefs and shut out other possibilities, there’s no point to have access to information in the first place.

      Though it’s true that we ostensibly elect a government for the same reason that offices have managers: so that the rank and file don’t have to worry about the big picture and can focus on their little part of the world.

      That being said, I think having that information available if we want it i going to be vital for our future development. If only a small group of people control all the information, those are the people with all the power, and I think power should be more distributed (from an evolution standpoint so that different ideas have an equal opportunity to take root, but also because it keeps the system from corrupting quite so easily).

      Further, if you take a look at the office/manage model, it clearly isn’t the ideal solution and more and more businesses are finding that by empowering their workers they are getting far better results.

      The same can be true with the government. If more people are empowered with information – capable of reading and using it if they want or ignoring it and going about their day – then we have a lot more opportunities to innovate and grow.

      Cutting off the flow of information leads to stagnation. Making information free leads to opportunity.

      I know which I prefer.

  16. Governments have a tendency to try and grow their reach. It’s simply the nature of those who seek power.

    Citizens have a responsibility to resist this growth – for the good of the country in which they live.

  17. Hi Colin. I am one of those who wanted to burn Amazon on the stakes for selling a book about pedophilia. In as much as people who practise pedophilia are adjudged criminals because they are abusing the right of children’, then books which are pro-pedophilia should be viewed as criminal too since the contents – pictures of naked children abuse the rights of those kids too. Amazon had a social if not legal responsibility not to promote such perversion.
    On Assange, people complain about their govt intruding their privacy through interception of messages, wiring of homes. If the SS does it and we scream invasion of privacy why is it now okay when a civilian does it to the govt? Its either are for invasion of privacy or against it.
    I don’t support criminalisation of what he is doing, but I really think he is acting like a rebellious teenager. I would spank him if i were his mom.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ginger.

      I’ve got a question for you: does this mean that books that talk about murder should also be banned?

      Or how about TV shows? Dexter is a really popular show (that is derived from a series of books) and the main character is a serial killer who only kills other serial killers. It’s fiction, of course, but it is fairly pro-murder. Should we take it off the schedule?

      To say ‘this is pedophilia, so it’s different’ doesn’t make sense because if we pick and choose where ‘freedom of speech’ applies, it’s no longer freedom. It’s one person or group of people telling everyone else what their morality should be, and THAT is wrong.

      On the topic of Assange, I would argue that a government has power over the lives of its people, and therefore the people making these life and death decisions should be held accountable for their actions.

      In the States we once had a fairly strong set of checks and balances to make sure that nothing too hairy went down, but those checks and balances have proven to be largely decorative for the past 60 years or so (and likely even before that), so if this is the only way we have to keep the government from setting up prison camps and the like, I’m all for it.

      Already word has leaked out about innocent people who have been killed by the government and then had their killings covered up by the people at the top. Should we just say ‘it’s okay, keep it hidden, just don’t spy on my conversations about who I’m dating and why I hate my boss’?

      I say no.

      • Yeah, I did think about books about murder and South Park’s murderous school kids as I wrote the comment :).
        You make a point.

    • Also: though I have a lot of respect for Assange and what he’s doing professionally, I have no idea about what’s going down in his personal life.

      Be careful how you punish him if you meet him, because he might actually like it :)

  18. WikiLeaks is one of the most powerful tools of democracy to come along in my lifetime. Actually, I can’t name another tool except maybe the book, “How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World” by Harry Browne.
    Unfortunately, most Americans don’t want freedom. They want comfort and will gladly trade their freedom for a feeling of comfort.
    We disagreed partially on the Amazon thing in our Twitter convo, but only because I thought using the word censorship conflated the real debate of a business’ (and business owners) rights.

    • Yeah, I remember that convo, and I remember you making a strong argument, though we were kind of arguing different things :)

      I think you’re right, that Americans are largely looking for comfort over freedom. You can take away all of our rights, but until you remove our ability to see movies when we want and buy lots of appliances on the cheap, we likely won’t notice (on a large scale, anyway).

      Taking the word ‘censorship’ out of the equation, it sounds like we both take issue with staunching the flow of information to the public, and I think the more people who feel this way the better (then the folks who are doing the staunching will be less likely to get away with it)!

  19. I agree that we all have the choice to decide what kind of energy we fill our lives with, and that if we are against something morally we can make the personal choice to stay away from it. The thing about children is they cannot protect themselves. They do not have the ability or maturity to do that and they completely rely on adults to protect them. Many children do not have adults in their lives who are capable of doing that for one reason or another. When you have children you understand that it truly does take a village to raise a child. As a society we have an obligation to protect our children. A company selling books about harming children who don’t have the ability to protect themselves is very disheartening. All children deserve love. They don’t all get it but I hope as human beings we can come together to do our best to protect them from soul ripping harm.

    • I agree that pedophilia is not good for society and is morally reprehensible, but thinking long-term I disagree that just because something like that exists it should be pulled from the shelves.

      The subject-matter of the book aside (it could be about killing babies or blowing up buildings or nuking Milwaukee or any other morally questionable topic as far as I’m concerned), to try and deny access to information – ANY information – to someone else because you have decided that you are the moral arbiter of the world is the wrong choice.

      If we want to protect our children, we need to hand over a world where they will be able to have free access to information so they can make their own choices without be indoctrinated.

      To make a stand on this issue and say ‘well, this is different, so I’m not going to let anyone else see it’ opens up the floodgates so that anyone with any problem with any book will be able to say the same thing and get the same results.

      If that goes down, it won’t be long until there are no books left, and that would hurt our kids a whole lot more than an unknown book that would never have sold a copy, had this whole uproar never taken place.

  20. Excellent post on free speech. This is one of my pet peeves, especially in Canada where I live.

    Here we have ridiculous hate speech laws where if you say anything negative about certain groups it’s considered hate speech and against the law.

    If you want to have free speech it has to be free speech for everyone. I may not agree with someone saying something incredibly racist or whatever but that’s their right to say it and I would defend that right.

    The second you restrict free speech for any reason at all you start down a path that ends with no free speech for anyone.

  21. When I first heard about the pedophilia book on Amazon I was with the angry mob, but then it also happened that I was reading The Reader t the time. Which is a fictional book about a grown woman having sex with a teenage boy. Then I read Let the Right One In which also had implied pedophilia. And then I thought well, if they take the non-fictional book off how long til they come for these books, which are works of art despite (because of?) their subject matter? Then I thought well, if they take this book off for having illegal content what about all the books about marijuana? How dumb would it be to ban those? Then i concurred that Amazon should have left the book and the outcriers should shut up before it became illegal to write books about how the govt is kind of lame.

    Aside from the sex charges, I think Julian Assange is a hero. If they won’t tell us what’s going on then someone needs to. Lives are at stake because of what we don’t know.

  22. Faux outrage makes for poor politics. I find all this slightly amusing considering you delete any comments in which you deem you’ve been criticized.

    • Not sure what you’re referring to: I’ve deleted maybe three comments in the history of this blog, and those were because the commenter wasn’t contributing anything, just blatantly insulting me or another commenter (also called ‘trolling’ in the blogosphere).

      You can accuse if you like, but at least back your story up. What makes you think my outrage is fake? Why WOULDN’T I be outraged?

  23. this is a prime example of the “you can have your freedoms as long as the exercise thereof doesn’t make me uncomfortable…” thing. everybody is comfortable saying whatever they want to say but the minute anybody says or does anything that makes the moral majority uncomfortable, it must be censored or removed or that person put in jail. whatever happened to freedom of speech? keep at it Colin, you rock socks!

  24. I know I’m late to the party, but I’ll just add a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King and be on my way:

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

    Oh, and does anyone think Interpol declaring Assange on their red-list (basically, “most wanted”) on the 30th for his “crimes” in Sweden a little… Oh, I dunno… fishy? The governments of the West are doing whatever they can do bring him down. Pretty sad, really.

  25. You’re exactly right in pointing out that the whole essence of free speech is tolerance of views that we don’t necessarily support; even views that we may find offensive. When you start drawing arbitrary lines based on someone’s standard of what is acceptable, you’re on a slippery slope. Freedom of speech is not about the content of what’s being said; its about our willingness to suspend judgement of other views. The content of those views shouldn’t even enter into the discussion. Either there is absolute freedom of speech, or there is none.

  26. librarians around the world are commending you right now… i ought to know… i’m one them!

  27. I think we need to be careful how we use the word censorship. Our right to free speech is a guarantee that our words will not be censored by the government. The Wikileaks issue falls under that and should be protected by the freedom of speech clause.

    In the case of the pro-pedophilia book, however, it was people – as consumers – using the power of the market and the press to effect a change in a company’s selling practice. This should not be considered censorship, as the government did not get involved so far as I know. Rather, this is another form of free speech and free market practice. A group of strongly motivated people made their outrage felt, which is the way the free market works. It’s all part of the delicate dance democracies have to do to balance competing interests.

    Thanks for the post. This is a fascinating discussion.


    • Colin, I want to start by saying that I usually find your ideas to be right on the money. But I think you’re confusing two different ideas here: the right to freedom from governmental interference, and the right for private parties to make free choices.

      LAH, I agree with that. The Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…” Amazon is a private entity, admittedly a large one, but a private one still. Congress is not involved in this transaction. Nor has this book been “banned”. The author of the pedophile book is still free to approach another outlet, or build his own website to distribute it, or pay to have 50,000 paper copies printed. I would find it far more disturbing if companies like Amazon were compelled to offer books that they did not want to. They have their freedom too.

  28. Great article. The government tells us constantly that in the world we live in, we can’t expect the same level of privacy anymore. Well, US Government, in the world we live in, you can’t expect the same level of secrecy anymore.

  29. On the pedophilia ebook issue:

    It isn’t merely a matter of disagreement on a VIEWpoint, it isn’t merely disagreeing with IDEAS- pedophilia is an ACTION and not just a notion- and a sick and perverted on at. Where there is a direct harm, where there is a target and a victim, where some violence/abuse is concerned- certainly, we should be able to intervene as members of the public to shut down the publication of these sorts of books that encourage/ promote such a perverted twisted practice.

    This violates core/ agreed upon values- we don’t abuse/ molest children. We don’t incite racial hatred. We don’t tolerate sexism and so on and so forth.

    Yes, there is a visceral, emotional reaction- but it’s not unfounded.

    • Actually, just to be technical, child molestation is an action, pedophilia is a preference which *can* but *does not always* lead to an action.
      I have no beef with pedophiles who recognize that their desires are harmful to others and keep ‘em in check, just like I have no beef with the hot-tempered man who recognizes his weakness and *doesn’t* drink because he’s afraid he’ll hit his wife.  Both are making good decisions in the face of a personal challenge.
      This is important, because too often we hear that someone is *attracted* to children and go into attack mode, making it hard for them to get the support and help that they need to AVOID becoming a danger.  
      As for the book – don’t know enough about the content to really have an informed opinion.  Mostly, Amazon is a private company – I respect their right to carry what they want, and I respect every buyer’s right not to buy there if they are offended.  But making a media circus out of it is just silly…for almost everything, actually.

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  31. Concerning the Amazon e-book story, I won’t be so quick to judge people who are protesting something that they oppose. People are free to do so. The author of the pedophile e-book is wasn’t throw in jail. All Amazon did was stop selling the book.

  32. It’s impossible to do effective diplomacy without some level of secrecy. If you tell your best friend a secret of yours, you certainly don’t want him telling the rest of your social group, do you? Well, Julian Assange put a bug in your phone, and sent the conversation to the rest of your friends without your knowledge or permission. Your secret was probably harmless, but Julian doesn’t really care. Now you’ll think twice about sharing another secret with your best friend. And your friends will think twice about sharing secrets with you.

    Without secrecy there is no trust (between friends… or governments). The Wikileaks haven’t turned up any earth-shattering revelations about governments, they’ve just been an embarrassment that will make diplomacy more difficult for the U.S. going forward. Your charge that “they’ve got something hidden because they’ve got stuff to hide” doesn’t take into account that just because something needs to be hidden that doesn’t necessarily mean its malicious; and has the waft of a conspiracy theorist. Bottom line is, governments need to be able to operate with a certain level of secrecy and trust between them. Expecting complete transparency (and thinking its even possible to govern in that state) is just naive.

  33. my issue with your take on the pedophilia book is this: each person’s rights only go as far as the next person’s. the book (from your description) sounds like it is an instruction manual meant explicitly for carrying out heinous crimes. This separates it from, say, a chemistry book that could POTENTIALLY help you blow up a building, but was not expressly intended for that purpose.

    Also, i’d like to remind you that freedom of speech is a governmental principle, and that amazon is a private company. it’s their decision how to carry it out, as long as they do not exceed the letter of the law. i think you’re bussiness man enough to see that pulling the book was a better decision than leaving it their.

    In this circumstance, freedom of speech is actually quite irrelevant. I rather dislike how often people yell “freedom of speech!” in the same way that schoolchildren say, “this is America, I can do whatever I want” after they hit someone else or otherwise misbehave. They’re simply not seeing the whole picture.

  34. Wow, this is a different sort of post than I would have expected from you, but it certainly hits the nail on the head. I am really uncomfortable, personally, with saying that Amazon should keep the pedophilia book, because I disagree with it and I wouldn’t want somebody reading it and getting any ideas. But you’re right, just because I disagree with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the right to be there. I disagree with a lot of stuff that has every right to be on bookshelves and in stores. It’s a sucky part of it, but you have to take the bad with the good. It’s a slippery slope, otherwise. Great post!

  35. I think Amazon has a right to sell or not sell whatever they want. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that Amazon is required to sell every book some dolt writes, it just means that person has the right to write it.

  36. I think Amazon has a right to sell or not sell whatever they want. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that Amazon is required to sell every book some dolt writes, it just means that person has the right to write it.

  37. How bout people calling for assange’s head just one week after that guy from china who is in jail for his opinions was lauded after winning the nobel peace prize. hypocracy thine name is.

  38. Freedom of speech begins at 16. It’s not until then that you can honestly say that a person is old enough to consent to be the article of a sexually themed ebook.

  39. TV or Radio or Books it doesn’t matter. Freedom of speech is Freedom of speech. You don’t have to listen,read or speak about information you don’t agree with. Deterring someone else of their free speech will not change the outcome. It’s the onlookers responsibility to decide whether the onlooker wants to take in the information and also to not take in the information. Please don’t take away freedom to express. Remember you will also be removing yours.

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