Whitcoulls has caused something of a furore by taking Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life off its shelves. How much should we worry when books start to be censored?

In response to the Christchurch terror attacks, Whitcoulls no longer sells 12 Rules for Life by controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson. It's hard to understand, precisely, what this will achieve. 

I’ve never been able to finish the book myself but that’s more because I found it uninteresting rather than morally repugnant.

(if you subscribe to my updates, I’ll send you my views on Peterson himself).

So the ban probably has more to do with Peterson’s extra-curricular associations rather than his book itself.

Is this an assault on freedom of speech? I don’t think so. I say that despite not a freedom of expression minimalist. Censorship by way of social media-led boycotts are concern me greatly.

But this doesn’t seem to be one of those. As far as I can tell, there’s been no suppressive mob demanding the de-platforming of Peterson by getting retailers to drop his title. This instead appears to be an entirely internal decision made by a private company of its own initiative.

And, while it may be annoying to see the censorious revel in it, let us remember that Whitcoulls is also entitled to freedom of speech and association. That includes the right not to sell books it doesn’t want to sell.

Franky, I doubt many people buying 12 Rules for Life do it on impulse while they are browsing the calendars, novelty gifts and children’s toys that seems to be chain’s main focus anyway.

In our Amazonian age, access to books is simply not something for which New Zealanders’ options are limited. I can’t think of the last time I went to a chain bookstore as the first port of call for a new book. It’s either the Internet or a specialist bookseller (like the outstanding Bruce McKenzie in Palmerston North).

What Whitcoulls has done seems foolish given that the company still sells much more offensive fare by much more offensive authors. I expect the executives who made the decision would struggle to reconcile those inconsistencies if asked to justify them. But imperfect individuals will make imperfect decisions.

With nobody’s liberty really being obstructed and, given that we are barely a week out from one of the country’s darkest days, we have bigger things about which to fret.

You can read more about Liam's wider thoughts on Jordan Peterson, here

Comments (4)

by Lee Churchman on March 22, 2019
Lee Churchman

I'm a University of Toronto alum. My time there intersected with his, although I never came across him personally (the campus is huge and I doubt that he ever had much need to visit the 13th floor Classical Greek section of the Robarts Research Library). 

I do remember him having a TV series on ultra-liberal TVO (Ontario's public television station), which I watched some of. It was his stuff about myth and human nature; fairly interesting, but well out of my intellectual comfort zone. 

Then he went political and now all his ideas are evil and right wing. Go figure. Mind you, he does seem to make a lot of money from it. 

by Nigel on March 22, 2019

Free speech is beside the point here. If the government was threatening to punish Whitcoulls for not stocking the book, free speech or freedom of association would be a defence. It is not a defence to people calling you an idiot when you do something idiotic. That's what is happening to Whitcoulls.

by Brian Easton on March 27, 2019
Brian Easton

I am uncomfortable with a bookshop 'banning' a book. However I have no problems with it not displaying it, keeping such copes it has under the counter and ordering one fior a customer on request. (Some would argue such books should be handed acsross the counter in brown paper wrapping.) Brian.

by Charlie on March 29, 2019

This is just virtue signalling by Whitcoulls and an unintended demonstration of their irrelevance: Because we can still buy it online.



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