Friday, February 24, 2012

Slippery Slope Part 2: Why Frogs Boil

"The difference between pornography and erotica is time..." -author unknown

When Amazon started banning erotic incest fiction in 2010, one of the things I heard again and again was, “So what? It’s not censorship. Amazon is a private corporation and they have a right to sell whatever they want. They’re not saying these books aren’t allowed to exist – just that they don’t want to sell them. So go buy them somewhere else.”

I also heard a lot of: “This is not censorship.” And: “This is not a free speech issue.”

Now that Paypal has started to target the erotic ebook market, I’m hearing much of the same thing. “Paypal is a private corporation. They have a right to accept what they want. They’re not saying these books aren’t allowed to exist – just that they don’t want to pay for them. So go buy them somewhere else.”

Okay. But where? Because now that Amazon has banned erotic incest FICTION from its site, and Paypal has refused to pay for erotic incest FICTION (and have taken it further too include “pseudo-incest”FICTION)…where is a reader supposed to go read it?

No, this isn’t government censorship. No, this is not a constitutional “free speech” violation.

But it is a form of corporate censorship, and it is a violation of your personal freedom.

Big corporations everywhere are eliminating your choices.They’re doing it quietly with no notice or warning to the public at large. They are starting at the fringe and working their way inward, eliminating the things they can get away with, one at a time.

And like the frog in the pot of boiling water, we sit oblivious until it’s too late.

Oh I know, I’m Chicken Little, the sky is falling, blah blah blah. There’s no such thing as a slippery slope, you say! Slippery slopes are a logical fallacy!

Yes, that is so. But all fallacies can be true sometimes. That’s why they sound so logical to begin with! Like stereotypes, if they didn’t have some truth in them, they wouldn’t exist. Stereotypes are so defined because they’re not always true. (Some Asian people are good at math, but that doesn’t make the stereotype true). The slippery slope is a fallacy only because it doesn’t have to be true,or isn’t always true.

It doesn’t mean it isn’t true…sometimes.

And the problem therein is that you never know when you’re standing on a slippery slope—or sitting in a pot of boiling water—until it’s too late.

While this may not technically be censorship, that doesn’t mean that a decision like Amazon’s, and now Paypal’s, doesn’t have a stifling effect on free speech. It does. Paypal and Amazon are giants in their particular industry. If they are starting to deem things “unacceptable” (and please remember this is in the realm of fiction!)it amounts to de facto censorship, even if it doesn’t technically violate the first amendment.

Cen·sor [sen-ser]noun:

any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.

Amazon has the right to remove books. Paypal has the right not to pay for them. But we don’t have to like it. And you have to start wondering about the slippery slope again. No, this may not be one. But how would we know?

I could be like WalMart’s decision to refuse to sell adult-only video games in its stores. That effectively eliminated any chance of explicit video games making it into the U.S. market. No, it wasn’t a violation of the first amendment, but one corporation had a large enough level of influence to eliminate your choice. That’s disturbing.

In 2007, Verizon attempted to block the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America from using their text messaging services to speak to their supporters. Verizon, like Paypal, fell back on a “policy.” They had a right to enforce a policy that didn’t allow their customers to use their service to communicate “controversial” or “unsavory” messages.

That's very disturbing.

And of course, most recently, the Susan G. Koman Foundation cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, basing its decision on a "policy change."

If corporations have more power than government (and you can argue this if you like, but the evidence is pretty obvious, given the state of things) and they can make decisions like this based entirely in "policies" alone, often made without regard to public safety or opinion, without a checks and balances, without regulation, without any way for the public to weigh in... really, without anything except an eye on the bottom line. Where does that leave you, the consumer?

Take a look at what's happened with Homeland Security since 9/11, at how many freedoms have been taken away from the American people in the name of protecting our safety. Just recently, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. When do you think Americans will get that freedom back? When the war on terror is "over?" When everyone in America is "safe?" When will that be exactly?

It's easy to take away someone's freedom. A stroke of a pen. A policy change. It is far, far more difficult to get that freedom back.

Why do you think there have been so few “obscenity” cases in the US courts in recent years? Because corporate America has taken over the role of censor. Money talks and now corporations censor. They hold the purse strings and they have the control.

And Amazon has that kind of power. So does Paypal.

When a giant retailer like Amazon eliminates something from their store or when the largest online payment system in the world (Paypal)decides they don’t want to pay for something, it suddenly becomes less profitable to produce those “offensive” products at all. Now it doesn’t just effect people who shop at Amazon or use Paypal.

Now the decision of one corporation has reshaped the entire (arguably) free market.

These huge corporations have now limited your choices. And you probably didn’t even know it.

Censorship is about judging something – a book, a movie, a TV show – on content. Yes, it’s legal. It’s not against the first amendment.But customers don’t like it.

And we don’t have to stand for it either.

Corporations are exerting greater and greater control over society, and without regulation, the only force that could obligate them to be consistent is the market. A business doesn’t have a moral compass. Its bottom line is the almighty dollar alone. Companies can currently create whatever ambiguous rules and policies they want and apply them as arbitrarily as they want.

Without a backlash in the marketplace – why wouldn’t they?

Because the truth is, while the constitution protects free speech, corporations control it. They say what’s allowed and what isn’t. They tell you what you can read, what you can purchase, what you can think. But we don’t notice. We’re the frogs in the water.

Remember when Amazon decided to remove WikiLeaks? That happened just before they decided to remove erotic incest from their site.Apparently, both of them are bad for us. Oh, and don’t forget, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal decided to stop facilitating donations to WikiLeaks as well, right around the same time. Coincidence? Hmm…

Corporations continue to have a huge influence over what we can or can’t access. Yes, the constitution limits government. They have to go through the legal system if they want to limit our access to material. But corporations aren’t bound by that document. Lucky them. Too bad for us.

They can censor speech without warning and without penalty.And they can do it secretly, without your knowledge. How would you know, after all?

The only recourse a consumer has today is a boycott. It’s a consumer’s right - no, duty - to tell a corporation when they think they’ve gone too far, because every corporation needs you, the consumer, to make the money they so covet. So yes, you have a duty, as a consumer, to stand up - not just for yourself,but for your neighbor as well.

Even if you don’t like his taste in music,literature or movies.

Yes, even if you personally find it reprehensible, or indefensible.

Because who do you think is reading this “unacceptable” material? Perverts? Psychos? Pedophiles?

No. For the most part, they’re your neighbors. The same ones who watch “Hostel” (labeled by some as “torture porn”) and read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” (Rape themes anyone?) They aren’t people who go around doing illegal things – at least not anymore than anyone else in the rest of the world.

But if you won’t stand up for your neighbor’s freedom, how can you expect him to stand up for yours?

If public consensus is any indication, half of the people are "not caring" themselves toward an Orwellian world for their grandchildren that they themselves might not even recognize.

And the other half are cheering the elimination of such “icky” and “distasteful” subjects.

Neither of them realize they could very well be standing on a slippery slope. Or sitting in a pot of boiling water with the temperature on the rise.

And they all continue not to notice.

Because as Lucas captured so perfectly, whether it's giant corporations or evil emperors deciding what is best for the safety and security of society as a whole:

-Selena Kitt


  1. First they came for the erotica authors,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't an erotica author.

    Then they came for the romance authors,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a romance author.

    Then they came for the paranormal authors,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a paranormal author.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    1. That is to say, I completely agree with you. And those who don't care about this -- you should. Because they're going to come for you too one day.

    2. I just found a stack of my PURCHASED books with the words Forced delisted, replacing the tittled. I bought these books. Are they now going to remove the content. Surely that's a legal violation I could make a law suit out of.

  2. Excellent points once again, Selena. I would rather not stand by and applaud as my liberties and freedoms are dictated by someone else.

  3. I really hate when I am right about certain things. A number of years ago I published several books on eBookAd, a website similar to Smashwords. The site closed abruptly, reportedly shut down by Paypal because eBookAd was selling adult material. According to Internet rumors, Paypal seized the website’s funds. (They have since reopened, yet I don’t believe they use Paypal.)

    When I first published on Smashwords, I wrote the site’s owner, asking how they intended to deal with the Paypal issue and erotic. The site’s owner didn’t feel it was an issue, as they have a wide rage of books.
    Well, after Paypal’s recent bout of censorship, I started surfing around on other blogs and see folks speculating that Smashwords is the next on the hit list.
    I really really would rather be proven wrong.

    Time for the market to correct itself. We need an entrepreneur with enough financial and tech savvy to be the next Paypal, yet one that doesn’t censor. Anyone out there want to fill a need and make a lot of money? This is it. After all, sex sells. We just need someone to step up and help facilitate online purchases without making personal judgments.

  4. The problem is, there IS risk in selling *some* adult material. Webcam sites, porn subscription sites, pay-per-view sites, etc. Mostly because the chargeback rates are high.

    But what I can't understand is lumping ebooks in with those. What is the average ebook chargeback rate? It's got to be less than 1%. I know it is on our site!

    I think it's a poor business decision.

  5. Smashwords was hit. I just received the email.

  6. Yes. Mark fought really hard. I'm just sick about it.

  7. If there is risk in selling adult stuff (and, say, MasterCard lumps erotica e-books with that), that risk exists because some individual purchasers fail to admit to what they bought. Everything else is business: tossing the cost into the lap of the next corporation down the ladder. Assuming that those purchasers lie because of shame, then the only morality in question is the morality of the purchasers' communities (really: us, in the collective). Or it may be that the purchaser is ashamed because of how he thinks his community would respond and he may be wrong, in which case morality's not involved at all.

    Perhaps erotica e-books should be separated from other adult stuff. Perhaps e-books aren't risky. Even then, what we've got isn't really censorship. It's just a company setting proper business-based rules for a group of products and mistakenly classifying a specific product as part of that group.

    Consider: someone owns a stadium and rents the use of the stadium per day. He's got an opening for this Sunday. Monday-thru-Saturday are booked by A. A also wants Sunday, but so does A's enemy and opposing viewpoint, B. A offers $1000 and B offers $500. The owner accepts A's offer. The result is stifled free speech. But what's the alternative? Does the owner have to lose $500? Does the government (do we) have to pay $501?

    Corporations also aren't all-powerful. They exist (in most jurisdictions) pursuant to statutes. If the statute disappears, the corporations don't exist. Likewise, the statute tells the corporations what they must, may and cannot do. Boycotting a corporation is one valid option; but so is lobbying the government to amend those incorporating statutes. Legislators could decide tomorrow that all corporations must sell incest erotica; and, if they don't, they'll pay massive fines. Obviously, that won't happen. It's silly. It's also uncomfortable, because it's the government suddenly dictating content. But substitute "pro-government pamphlets" for "incest erotica" and it's been done.

    Ultimately, I think the only desirable solution is to create an environment in which erotica (or whatever) isn't taboo. The community won't care, the purchaser won't be ashamed, the credit card companies won't start passing on the extra costs because those costs won't exist. Talk to your government rep? Maybe. Boycott the corporation? Possibly. Talk to your neighbour? Absolutely. Any corporation worth its salt will sell you erotica if it's in the corporate interest. Making erotica publicly acceptable makes the sale of it that much more profitable.

    Just my two cents.

  8. It seems that Paypal is selectively applying its standards.

    As you know, Anne Rice's "Beauty Trilogy" violates every single one of Paypal's new policy except bestiality. A quick Google search reveals that many, many sites continue to sell these books through Paypal:

    The list could go on and on. I fully expect Paypal to shut down these sites within the next 24 hours. Don't you?

    While we're at it, Rice's books also clearly violate Amazon's standards, including that of pedophilia (or ephebophilia if we're splitting hairs), yet they continue to sell her books.

    I do hope someone notifies these companies, don't you?

  9. Actually, there is an incident of bestiality in one of that trilogy-an incident when Beauty was restrained, butter applied to her and a nearby cat became interested.

  10. I'm really liking "boycott" idea, and looked up other payment gateways, and found these:

    Alert Pay
    Quantum Gateway
    Google Checkout

    Does any one else have any other sites to suggest? Recommendations?

  11. I myself have just been banned by Amazon Kindle for publishing my little book:

    We must stand up and fight!

    Sign my petition!