Public education, the Presbyterian scholar and pastor J. Gresham Machen once wrote, is one of the greatest achievements of the modern era. And yet, he warned, "when once it becomes monopolistic, it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised."
Something similar could be said of Big Tech companies and online retailers such as Amazon. Truly, Amazon is a miracle of modern society: same-day delivery, instant streaming, and an endless selection of just about anything one could want. But when the world’s largest online retailer makes itself the arbiter of a new cultural orthodoxy, as it has done in recent days, it quickly becomes one of the most insidious instruments for, yes, tyranny.
Just a few days before the House vote on the Equality Act, which enshrines gender identity into civil rights law as a protected class, Amazon decided it would no longer sell Ryan T. Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, which has been sold on the site since its release in 2019. This decision goes well beyond one book.
In addition to being the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon is currently the United States's largest book retailer, providing 53% of all books sold and 80% of all e-books sold. As Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters, has pointed out, Amazon’s censorship has far-reaching impacts for the publishing industry: "As a direct result of Amazon’s action, many outstanding books will now go unwritten; they will not be commissioned whenever Amazon’s distribution is the slightest bit in doubt."
The reasoning of the new, self-appointed arbiter of cultural orthodoxy is rife with contradictions. Amazon said it removed Anderson’s book because it violates its "Content Guidelines for Books" by framing "LGBTQ+ identity as mental illness." This excuse is used despite the fact that such a statement cannot be found in the book. Moreover, Amazon still sells the fifth edition of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which explicitly describes gender dysphoria as a mental illness. This double standard reveals that Amazon’s recent actions are ideologically driven.
More alarmingly, these recent events reflect the beginning stages of a widespread erosion of freedom of conscience and speech. The erosion of freedom has historically occurred through four types of punishments that get progressively worse in stages. The first is the social marginalization of unpopular or minority views. The second is economic disenfranchisement. The third is legal sanctions, including criminalization. And the fourth is violence.
Amazon’s recent censorship corresponds to the first two stages of this erosion. Mainstream science-based and conservative views on sex, gender, marriage, and embodiment are dubbed "fringe" or dismissed as irrational phobias. Rather than engaging with sincere questions about whether irreversible genital mutilation and radical chemical intervention are moral and medical best practices, especially for children, liberal ideologues simply ostracize dissenters as not "woke" enough.
But those who hold these views are not just ostracized. Amazon’s refusal to sell books similar to Anderson’s goes one step further and takes us into the second stage of freedom erosion by economically disenfranchising those who hold views that Amazon opposes. They are not simply marginalized in society. They are refused basic participation in the market exchange. This disincentivizes writers who can no longer sell their writings and discourages those interested in reading their writings.
Sadly, we are on the precipice of the third stage: legal penalties, including criminalization. The Equality Act would make all who disagree with Amazon and other liberal gender ideological constructs liable to charges of discrimination. Such a move from the Left would make anyone who dissents from its destructive gender ideology an outlaw.
In the past, freedom of thought and speech were valued, pursued, and protected with arduous effort because our forebears had seen the shedding of blood to enforce religious orthodoxies. The U.S. was founded on the promise that the government could not establish a religious orthodoxy. But now, we stand on the precipice of Congress enshrining a secular orthodoxy on gender and sex into law.
The alternative to freedom and peaceful pluralism is persecution. This is where we will be headed if radical progressives have their way.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner