Our Woke Book Burners

Books are not violence

Today’s Morning Shots comes with a trigger warning. You may encounter ideas you disagree with. But we never promised you a safe space.

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Apparently, we have to remind people about this again:

If all Printers were determind not to print anything till they were sure it would offend no body, there would be very little printed.
― Benjamin Franklin

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
― Ray Bradbury

We’ve devoted a great deal of time lately to discussing illiberalism and authoritarianism, and justifiably so. But we have to recognize that liberalism and free expression face a two-front assault — from the intolerant Left as well as the troglodyte Right.

ICYMI: The other day, the American Booksellers Association donned the sackcloth of wokeness and issued this statement of performative groveling:

The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

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Some background.

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economist and one of the best of 2021 by The Times of London.

Reviewing the book in Commentary, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote:

If you want to understand why suddenly it seems that (mostly) young girls from (mostly) white middle- or upper-class backgrounds (many of whom are in the same friend groups) have decided to start dressing like boys, cutting their hair short, changing their name to a masculine one, and even taking hormones, using chest compressors, and getting themselves surgically altered, you must read Abigail K. Shrier’s urgent new book, Irreversible Damage.

But not surprisingly, this sort of thing triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed . . . and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans. . . . We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, ”is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”

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Under normal circumstances, the American Booksellers Association is very much into free expression and opposed to censorship. They are the sort of people who wear buttons declaring “WE READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Its website still includes this declaration:

But it turns out there are limits to free expression, not just for the ABA, but for many of the nation’s booksellers. This month the ABA sent a mailing to 750 bookstores, which included a copy of the heretical book. Blowback was fierce.

Publishers Weekly reported that the American Booksellers Association was “facing withering criticism from booksellers after walking back its promotion of an anti-trans title to member bookstores.”

Among booksellers . . . there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we're extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we're calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.

Within hours, it issued the fulsome apology. Shrier’s reaction:

Despite the tone of the apology, the wokest of the booksellers were not satisfied. The outraged booksellers “said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence.” Reported Publishers Weekly:

They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors' books at no cost.

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But elsewhere, the reaction to the ABA’s statement was blistering, with much of it focusing on the irony of an organization devoted to selling books apologizing for selling a book.

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This is not a debate over transgenderism but rather a question of whether we can even have a debate at all. It is an objectively ominous moment when the folks who sell books think there are some ideas too dangerous to print . . . or read.

Take note: if you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.

Don’t burn it.

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Quick Hits

How the Party of Reagan Became the Party of Trump

Excellent piece in today’s Bulwark by Brian Stewart: “Conservative and Republican elites mocked the populist revolt in their midst right up until the moment they embraced and enabled it.”

Picture this: In a clash and clang of antagonism toward the Republican establishment, a sizable portion of the base of the party congeals around a vociferous, divisive figure. He has little use for the American conservative creed, with its prudent devotion to preserving liberty by keeping government limited and by giving order and virtue their due. This rambunctious tribune repudiates both the substance and style of the Republican party—for decades the vessel for the conservative program—including its vigorous support for free trade and a decent international order. He professes indifference to the national debt, refusing even to contemplate any cuts in the generosity of big middle-class spending programs like Medicare and Social Security. The party’s inclusive attitude toward ethnic and religious minorities and its palpable respect for immigrants has no claim on him. His speeches infuriate both the Democrats and the GOP establishment, which only cements his bond with the base.

Not Donald Trump in 2016 but Pat Buchanan in 1992.

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