Dictating the World to the Rest of Us

This represents less of a movement than the Jackass movies — albeit mildly less adolescent and significantly less influential — but it is somewhat emblematic of a certain way of thinking: As noted by Bobbie Johnson’s Guardian-related blog, some blogger in California (I think) has taken it upon himself to recategorize books that stores have placed in the science section:

Four copies of (Michael Behe’s) The Edge of Evolution were discovered once more in the science section.
I flip a copy and read the back. Here’s the beginning of the first quote from the back cover: “Until the past decade and the genomics revolution, Darwin’s theory rested on indirect evidence and reasonable speculation…” (Dr. Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences). That’s not true! I am emboldened by this bare-faced lie from this well-respected elderly chemist, pick up all four copies, and stroll upstairs.
Now, I aim for accuracy in my recategorization, and I was still slightly mad at the lies on the back cover (read the “Editorial Reviews” at Amazon for a sampling), so I sought out the most appropriate section of the store:
Behe’s lie-covered volume now rightly resides in the Religious Fiction section (click on the image to see the label). A job well done.

The act itself is little more than a prank, causing mild difficulties to the stores and customers who might seek to find these books, and it’s only fair to note that the blogger also moved Chris Hitchens’s latest anti-religious screed, so embarking on a counter-crusade would be a bit of an overreaction. But a slice of the discussion on Johnson’s blog brings out a bit of a scent that permeates the science/religion battle. Writes one commenter:

That´s the suppression of free speech, and not rationalisation.

Replies another:

I disagree. To burn or ban the book is against free speech. To move it to a section more appropriate to its contents is librarianship.

I suppose the latter commenter might have a point if the librarian-vandal had informed the employees of the store about the books’ new locations. In unilaterally removing them from the shelf on which others will expect to find them, however, he is, indeed, suppressing free speech in a way not unlike unplugging the microphone of somebody speaking at a legitimate rally.

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Murf
Murf
13 years ago

I read the article and comments just this morning. I guess I haven’t been switched on to catch it early. It was my hope to leave this comment on the Guardian site, but comments are closed. I agree with your analysis that it is a form of censorship. Admittedly it doesn’t rise to the level of book burning, but if your average patron can’t find his desired selection in a bookstore, they are unlikely to look through numerous sections on the chance it is refiled. Of course, there is always Amazon.com, but it still causes problems. One of these is the chance of a casual browswer being accidentally exposed to, and thus interested in, a title they happen upon is almost zero. I do a lot of my shopping in book stores. It is usually after sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi, working, researching, etc. Browsing books is a form of relaxation, and I buy hundreds that I happen across in the aisles When I know what I want, I buy it online usually, or if I am engaged in a mass book buy. What no one seems to mention is what this vandalism (minor though it may be) does to an as yet uncredited victim: the bookstore. I can definitively state this because (other than being a lifelong serious bookstore customer and librarian assistant working my way through high school) I have a son who works at a Borders in the UK to make his own way through university. It is an usurpation of the bookstore’s private property rights to recategorize books. The vandals have no right disturbing the property of others, especially if they have no interest in buying the items. Furthermore, the aim of this activity is to make it harder for others to find… Read more »

Murf
Murf
13 years ago

I read the article and comments just this morning. I guess I haven’t been switched on to catch it early. It was my hope to leave this comment on the Guardian site, but comments are closed. I agree with your analysis that it is a form of censorship. Admittedly it doesn’t rise to the level of book burning, but if your average patron can’t find his desired selection in a bookstore, they are unlikely to look through numerous sections on the chance it is refiled. Of course, there is always Amazon.com, but it still causes problems. One of these is the chance of a casual browswer being accidentally exposed to, and thus interested in, a title they happen upon is almost zero. I do a lot of my shopping in book stores. It is usually after sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi, working, researching, etc. Browsing books is a form of relaxation, and I buy hundreds that I happen across in the aisles When I know what I want, I buy it online usually, or if I am engaged in a mass book buy. What no one seems to mention is what this vandalism (minor though it may be) does to an as yet uncredited victim: the bookstore. I can definitively state this because (other than being a lifelong serious bookstore customer and librarian assistant working my way through high school) I have a son who works at a Borders in the UK to make his own way through university. It is an usurpation of the bookstore’s private property rights to recategorize books. The vandals have no right disturbing the property of others, especially if they have no interest in buying the items. Furthermore, the aim of this activity is to make it harder for others to find… Read more »

Noted Skeptic
Noted Skeptic
13 years ago

I don’t have a radio show, so I think I can get away with what I’m about to say. Bookstores, aside from being the workplace of choice for various “alternative” life forms, (including those with a penchant for creative piercing placements and unnatural hair colors), tend to be run and staffed by liberals.
That being said, I wanted to talk about my own sort of bookstore-disobedience: I’ve noticed that books that support liberal themes or books written by liberals often get special treatment in terms of display. While most books are placed in the ordinary spine-facing-out position, booksellers often place the popular liberal books with their covers in full view.
Whenever I have the occasion to do it, I’ll place an Ann Coulter in front of Michael Moore , or cover Al Gore with Byron York. When I have a little extra time I’ll reorganize the books so only conservative books are facing out.
Since its lazy liberals working there, my arrangements usually last a while.
Its fun and doesn’t really take up too much time.

Marty
Marty
13 years ago

Same here skeptic. I often make changed to the Popular Non-fiction display at my local library. The liberal bias of the staffers is all too obvious — I do my part to provide balance.
Only once have i ever “buried” a book 😉

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