Amazon, which is angling to become the only retailer of anything, anywhere on Earth, has announced that it will no longer sell any book that discusses the possibility that non-standard “gender identities” are symptoms of mental illness. This decision, of course, is merely one of thousands of analogous choices being made by major corporate entities, major government agencies, and major social media lynch mobs, throughout the world today. All these thousands of likeminded and lockstep commandments, aimed at silencing the expression of any opinion deemed morally unacceptable within this week’s progressive vanguard — next week’s vanguard, of course, will similarly condemn many of the ideas and individuals currently wielding the pitchforks for this week’s vanguard — are grounded in two premises shared, usually without reflection, by everyone who assumes the Amazonian position:
Premise 1: Orthodoxy is truth, from which it follows that dissent or disagreement is by definition false.
Premise 2: A world in which unorthodox (dissenting) views were strictly forbidden would be a better world.
To one who accepts these two premises implicitly and without question, all thoughts concerning the potential benefits of open debate or the value of provocative questions evaporate immediately, along with any of the old moral qualms about the danger of silencing or punishing opinions deemed inappropriate by the priests of today’s social orthodoxy.
This is the intellectual base of the progressive political and academic phenomenon that North Americans now cutely dub “cancel culture.” It has other names, of course. In China and North Korea, they call it “the Party.” In the Islamic world, they call it “fundamentalism.” In the schoolyard, they call it “bullying.” In every case, by any name, and in all its localized variations, there is one trait that defines the phenomenon most simply: hatred of rational discourse with its inherent challenge to prove what one believes. Which means hatred of reason itself. Which means hatred of the thinking mind. Which means hatred of the free individual. Which means hatred of human life.
There is nothing new about this phenomenon. Many of the great philosophers experienced it. The medieval religious concept of heresy is another instantiation of it. Shunning, crucifixion, witch-burning, junior high school ostracism, and academic peer review all embody it. All that is new today is the level of practical absolutism in this suffocation of open discourse and civilized dissent that may be realized in the modern technological world, due to the powerful combination of mass communication and universal compulsory schooling. That is to say, what is new is the totalitarianism of the social enforcement of orthodoxy and the collective marginalization of alternative ways of thinking or living.
So we live in the margins. Socrates did. Jesus did. Amazon, a corporate behemoth in spiritual alliance (like most corporate behemoths) with the most unapologetically authoritarian political philosophy in the modern world, is closing its doors to intellectual discourse and moral dissent in any area deemed a challenge to progressive orthodoxy. So be it. That is their choice, and the results will be theirs to live with. Jeff Bezos’ soul is his concern. Yours is yours.