This past weekend, something ominous and cruel happened on Amazon.com—although it could have been foreseen given the recent ramped-up levels of censorship. With the removal of Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” Amazon openly signaled something to the American public and world.
The digital book-burning has begun; take cover if you’re not a raging leftist.
Anderson’s work approaches transgenderism and offers a scientific and practical perspective on the realities of human nature. On just about the three-year anniversary of its release, which makes this even more bewildering, the book was silently purged from the Amazon web store. Days before it came out in 2018, legacy institutions were out for blood.
“It was attacked twice on the New York Times op-ed page. The Washington Post ran a hit piece on it that they then had to entirely rewrite to fix all their errors. It was obvious the critics hadn’t read the book,” Anderson told The Federalist. “People who have actually read my book discovered that it was a thoughtful and accessible presentation of the state of the scientific, medical, philosophical, and legal debates. Yes, it advances an argument from a certain viewpoint. No, it didn’t get any facts wrong, and it didn’t engage in any name-calling.”
Anderson’s book was also removed briefly from the Apple Books app then re-added. It has been flagged by Twitter as “potentially sensitive content” as of Feb. 23.
Regardless of the left’s horror for Anderson’s viewpoint, “When Harry Became Sally” stood the test of time on Amazon’s website for three years. But it only made sense that it would be canceled by one of the Big Tech oligarchs in 2021.
Since the Capitol breach on Jan. 6—you know, that awful day the left will condemn to justify punishing their political enemies but fail to hold the same standard when it comes to the Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots that transpired for months on end and had a price tag of $2.3 billion—Big Tech has colluded to egregiously silence conservative voices.
After that rampage, Twitter immediately banned President Trump and thousands of other accounts for arbitrary reasons. On Jan. 8, Project Veritas, who was ironically also censored upon leaking footage of Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen discussing Facebook’s algorithms to ban people, posted leaked audio of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey telling his employees about his increased plans for censorship.
Then came Amazon with the removal of Twitter competitor Parler from its web servers, on Jan. 9. Following suit, Apple removed Parler from its App Store, and Google removed it from its Google Play store.
Fast-forward to today. In the past several months, corporations have mobilized like never before to muzzle the political opposition to President Joe Biden and the left.
Amazon has yet to comment on its removal of Anderson’s book, which has received acclaim by scholars at institutions like Princeton University, Harvard University, and Oxford University. It was hailed by John Finnis of Oxford as a “focused, informative, fair-minded, lucid and fact-based guide to just and reasonable policies.”
But no amount of listing of all the obvious merits and intelligence of Anderson’s book, nor of any other conservatives, will change one simple truth. The left does not care, and they are tied to the hip to institutions that want nothing more than to have you sit down and shut up. They want you to play good, like a dog who has been neutered.
“None of that matters,” Anderson said, referring to the acclaim his book has received from across the world. “It’s not about how you say it, it’s not about how rigorously you argue it, it’s not about how charitably you present it. It’s about whether you dissent from a new orthodoxy.”
This very “orthodoxy” and those who espouse it have led us to this moment. A precedent has been set by Amazon in the digital and metaphorical burning of this book. Throughout the history of the world, though, book-burning has been commonplace.
Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang hosted the first-ever recorded state-sponsored book burning in 213 BC. The only books not destroyed were those on divination, astrology, agriculture, and the history of the ancient Qin state of the Zhou dynasty. Everything else went up in flames. So did the estimated 460 scholars who owned the forbidden texts.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the Nazis burned thousands of books at the orders of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. In more than 34 German villages and towns, the party would round up indoctrinated kids and have them toss literature written by Jews and other “enemies” of the regime into burning pits. It became a nationwide social gathering at the German universities—a place to celebrate and destroy the seminal works of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Jack London, and many others.
The conservative who prefers to be a court-jester in the left’s kingdom, the David French type, will say that Amazon’s removal of Anderson’s book is totally different from living under a government that dumps books into fires and represses citizens directly. They will say that all is swell and life is good and la-di-da because corporations can do whatever the heck they want.
But how much longer will so-called conservatives cling to these idealistic sentiments about the private and public square when the outcomes are nearly indistinguishable? What are we to do then, in the eyes of French? Lay down and say “screw it” because of aphorisms about free markets applied to markets that are not at all free?
Above all else, the conservative believes that his rights derive from God. Andrew Klavan made this point in response to French’s horror at the Anderson book ban. French, who cheered on censorship when it wasn’t of his friends, was called out by Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway prior for his hypocritical stance on Big Tech.
“If in reality (where we live) private entities now exist that can render our rights meaningless, that reality has to be addressed. God-given rights trump legalistic theories,” Klavan wrote.
Conservatism is about recognizing this relentless obligation to reason and morality, and God, to work to preserve and hold sacred the inalienable rights God has given all men. And we know in our hearts that digital book burnings, deletions, or bannings—whatever you want to call it—are sure signs of evil.
We are living in an unprecedented time, with an unprecedented amount of power concentrated in the hands of a few major technology companies. It’s time to stop pretending the world has not changed unimaginably. The internet has overhauled civil society.
Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” can be purchased directly from its publisher, Encounter Books.