Wow, life’s been busy of late. Good busy, on the whole. It starts with the fact my sleep patterns are finally returning to normal. It’s really awesome sleeping more than four hours a night. Writing and editing continue to happen. Oh, and the household has been invaded by two more cats for a couple of weeks, giving us a bonded pair of Siamese (the invaders), BratCat, DemonCat, and the poor dog Bentley. Now when the cats do zoomies through the house at three in the morning, you Really know it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the visiting cats. They’ve been with us before and are really chill. But adding two more to the mix takes getting used to, especially with the kitten. It’s especially “fun” when their zoomies during the night include running over my bed–and me. Fortunately, that’s only happened a couple of times.
Now on to the title of this post.
I read an article this morning out of Harvard that had me doing a double-take. That bastion of liberal thinking is finally taking a hard look at a current trend and realizing something has to change. Well, to be honest, 100 of its professors are. Specifically, these professors have joined together on the “new Council on Academic Freedom, banding together to protect free speech on the Ivy League campus.”
Here is one of the factors behind this new stance:
A 2023 survey conducted in collaboration with College Pulse found that only 27% of Harvard students thought shouting down a speaker on campus was never acceptable, while 26% said it’s at least occasionally permissible to use violence to stop speech on campus.
What really worried the professors is the 26% who said it is permissible at times to use violence to stop campus speech.
These professors assert the committee is non-partisan and at least one of them talks about the “tyranny of a very vocal minority” being the cause of so much of the assault on free speech on college campuses.
What made this article stand out to me was how it could also be applied the writing world. Specifically, I saw a post yesterday or the day before that discussed how Apple and other online retailers are condemning Amazon because it isn’t “curating” the books being sold on its platform. Now, I’ll admit I didn’t read the entire thing. I tend to avoid reading things that have me wanting to wall plant my laptop. That’s especially true before coffee when my control isn’t as good as after coffee.
The basic point of the post was that Amazon isn’t being a good Big Brother and protecting its innocent reading customers by refusing to expose them to ideas and stories that don’t meet a certain standard. Of course, that standard isn’t detailed in depth, which is concerning in itself.
It also reminded me of a time some years ago when Kobo decided to purge its platform of books with “inappropriate” covers. The guidelines were vague to say the least. Worse, there was no real way to appeal the removal of your book if you got caught up in the purge–as I did. One morning, one of my books was there on sale and the next it was gone. I couldn’t even change the cover and get it put back up. I was one of many authors who left Kobo at the time.
As for the cover they had issues with, it was for Wedding Bell Blues. The cover at the time showed a wedding cake, the silhouette of a woman in a wedding gown and a gun with blood drops. It was not realistic but it also wasn’t graphic novel graphic. But it fell afoul of their too risque (or whatever) rule.
And we’re supposed to WANT Kobo, Apple, etc., to “curate” what books are allowed on their platforms. That is their right. Their sandbox and their rules. But I don’t have to sell through them if I don’t want to and I certainly don’t have to buy through them. I would also suggest they look at the debacle FB has been facing over the last few years with their “curated” platform where it is shown time and again their bots have targeted a specific political mindset and where the appeal process is so inept as to be non-existent.
Anyway. . . if I don’t get off my soapbox, I will be up there all day. So I’ll just end with this: Good for those Harvard professors. Here’s hoping other colleges follow suit. It is time to remember Free Speech is something to protect and cherish, not erode into nothingness. As for the rest of it, I’ll just sit back and remind the booksellers of the importance of Free Speech. As long as a book doesn’t violate the law, who cares what’s between the covers. Leave it up to the reader to decide what they want to read or not read. It isn’t the bookseller’s job to act in loco parentis to determine what is “appropriate” for their readers.
Of course, there is a caveat to that. A religious bookseller shouldn’t be forced to sell a book that goes against their beliefs, etc. But in a time when we see voices being silenced in publishing because they don’t fall in lockstep with the right political or social stance, it worries me when booksellers (like publishers) start talking about basically censoring (yes, I know only the government can “censor”) books on their platform.
Stepping off my soap box. I mean it this time. Really.
For a change of pace, check out my Substack later today. I’ll be releasing another chapter in Surtr’s Fury.
Featured image created using Midjourney AI.