Friday, November 17, 2006


From our friend at work, John Mulligan:

The daily publishing newsletter from had an article on OJ Simpson's If I did it. I was mildly appalled by certain booksellers' opinions on whether or not to carry it. One bookseller on OJ Simpson's If I Did It:

"Do we take a 'stand' on such a book, thereby sending our customers who want to buy it to our competitors? Is this a form of censorship? Or do we make it available without displaying it other than having it on the shelf?" She added, "I'm disturbed to be put in such a position. Freedom of the press notwithstanding, the way they're marketing the book raises huge ethical questions. We all know the publishers are desperate to make money on commercial books, but this takes the cake." Late yesterday, Olson said, the store decided to sell the book but donate proceeds "to Interact, a nonprofit here that shelters battered women and children."

Okay, I have some serious problems with this:

Not selling something is only "censorship" if the vendor is the only vendor to have access to the product, i.e., if their decision dictates the success or failure of that product. But obviously, this vendor does not think that is the case, as her other concern is "sending [their] customers who want to buy it to [their] competitors." If someone wants a product today, the free market is… well… free enough that they can get it anywhere, anytime. Thank you, internet and PayPal.

This is the 'bad' side of the late capitalist market economy. We have so much freedom within the system as a whole, everything is so level, that we make the mistake of thinking ourselves copresent with its totality (was it forty percent of Americans who think they're in the wealthiest 1%?). What we have is freedom, but only if we realize that we don't have the freedom to influence anyone else to an undue degree. Because otherwise, if you feel you have a huge amount of power (I can buy anything I want!), you feel obligated to act in a certain way (if I don't buy this, the economy will suffer!), and so are completely trapped by a false model of the economy and your place within it. Whereas you would really have individual power if you realized the extremely limited horizons of that power: whether or not you support company X, your forty dollars aren't going to sink it or float it, so why not decide which is the moral decision and make yourself a freestanding moral entity?

In this case: OJ's book, definitely an abomination. Honestly, who would want to give any money not simply to him (though apparently he's not getting any of it, it's unclear where it's going), but to the publisher who would profit in such a craven way on the sufferings of other human beings. Because two people did die. And OJ did do it. And playing in hypotheticals effaces them—doesn't kill them, but totally erases their fact from history and places them in a permanent state of limbo.

And finally, aside from the issues of false consciousness, that store is going to make money by trafficking OJ's book—it'll increase traffic to the store, especially if they put it in an out of the way spot, because then people will have to browse for it. And then they'll buy another book. Hypocrisy or stupidity? One is just a moral stupidity.

DON'T BUY OJ'S BOOK. (steal it)


Diana M. Gauvin said...

Heh, check out:

Alexander White said...

How do you think your position on this case affects cases like pro-life pharmacists refusing to provide the morning after pill??

There does seem to be a difference, but it's hard to draw this line, since in both cases we're talking about people selling personally-objectionable material. Since people have a right to read anything they want, just as they have a right to have an abortion and to take the morning after pill, what's the difference?

John M. said...

Okay, so I guess my doctrine would have to be the comfortable liberalism that you can do anything that doesn't keep anyone else from doing anything.
An ideal to be sure, but I think it separates OJ's book from your counterexample: someone would always be out there to sell OJ's book, whereas if you live in Kansas and all the pharmacists refuse to sell the morning after pill, then it's quite possible that to refuse to sell it would be to effectively deny someone that product.
But even that would be covering up the ideological violence I'm willing to be seen done to gunowners, the points at which I'll argue for a cessation of abstention from violence in order to lessen violence: pragmatism towards an ideal.