Thursday, March 1, 2012

Less Sex, More Violence: Moral Hypocrisy and Corporate Blackmail in Paypal Versus Smashwords

On Februray 27th, news came out that Paypal was demanding that many booksellers, including one of the largest independent distributors, Smashwords, remove certain types of erotic content.
Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, had no choice but to comply, since Paypal is one of their main financial processing companies. He contacted authors with material that might fit into the threatened category, all in the Erotica genre. He had this to say:

"We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world... Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That's not fair. If you're going to push the limits, push the limits of great writing, not the limits of legality."

There was such a negative backlash to this news of corporate censorship (or corporate blackmail) that Paypal began to soften or at least, partially rethink its position.

As the author of the article, Nate Hoffelder, smartly points out:
"Why the revision? Well, over the weekend a number of people pointed out that Paypal’s ban would extend far beyond the reaches of this one genre. For example, it would include Woody Allen biography, history books, and even the Bible. There’s also a not so short list of works of literature which would fall under the banhammer as well (The Color Purple, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, just to name 2).
I’m not going to argue that Paypal’s actions are wrong; I did that in my last post. But I do want to point out what a slippery slope this was and how poorly conceived it was. Whoever initially came up with this ban didn’t look beyond their personal distaste for the topic."

So, you can’t censor erotica without censoring the Bible (which is full of rape, killing, mass murder, sex with paranormal entities, etc.). Well, I damn well don’t want to censor the Bible. And I don’t want to censor other books that may offend certain people’s sensibilities. And as an author, I don’t want to have to censor what I write. If what I’ve written has cultural worth, it will hopefully be read and appreciated by those who need or want to read it. If not, it will fade into oblivion (unfortunately, even the good works can).

The fear and repulsion toward the sex impulse in our culture that divides most people against themselves and creates so much guilt and shame can be traced, at least partially, to the stern, pleasure-hating, militant, Puritan ancestors that had influence in the founding of this country. This is the group that, as Gore Vidal points out, was kicked out of England not because they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs, but because they were not allowed to persecute others for their beliefs.

This strange moral hypocrisy lingers to this day. It's okay to be "entertained" by murder, torture, serial killing, war and other horrid violence, but sex is a "taboo" subject. That's what this is really about. A free sexual attitude threatens societal control and cuts down on productivity. And according to the twisted Puritan idea, sexual pleasure is, at best, a necessary evil. More likely, it is a tool of the Devil.
But those in control of our society need it to be pro-violence to make all of our military escapades not only acceptable, but heroic, whatever the real intent. Again, as Vidal once said: “The sexual attitudes of any given society are the result of political decisions.” (

I have a story, Sick Day, from The Romantic Adventures ofJack & Dora, where the husband ties up his wife, partly with sexual intent (I won’t say exactly why, as it would give away the plot). The public, that does much stranger things in private, needs to be protected from that? In fact, the people claiming to want to protect the public probably do stranger things in private than that. But reading about soldiers blowing people’s heads off and serial killers cutting out people’s organs and eating them with fava beans is just good entertainment?

The more you repress and push down a powerful, natural impulse (and sex is probably the big number one), the more it will grow in the underground and sprout up in a far more twisted, unhealthy form. Historically, in societies where sexuality was a much more open part of day-to-day life, there is almost no evidence of what we think of today as pornography.

If you're really interested in where the Western attitudes toward sex come from, see one of the best books ever written on this subject: Eros Denied. It was written in the 1960s by Wayland Young, a respected British Lord and member of the European Parliament, of the Western European Union, and a NATO Parliamentarian. This book will not only open your eyes about the source of our sexual attitudes, it will also take you on a fascinating journey through art and cultural history.

If you want to sign the petition, standing against Paypal’s demand for censorship, click here.

A final thought. Is Paypal’s decision motivated by some sense of morality? Is it motivated by a desire to protect the public? Or, is it motivated by a desire to protect their professional reputation in order to not lose bigger financially support (bigger than their profits from processing erotica)? The concern for commerce in our culture overrides all other concerns. In my next blog post, I will discuss the devastating affect this has on our lives, and our sex lives in particular.

Happy uncensored reading!

Robert Szeles
(pronounced saylesh)


  1. Sorry, but I don't concede that what they are doing is all that crazy. The choices they have made are good ones before more books get twisted any worse than they already are.

    Example is Janet Jackson pushing the envelope. This was no accident, and when there was a large public outcry, the "Let's see how far we can take it" folks backed down. As a matter of fact, the next day a popular soap was about to throw back the sheets on an actress, and display full frontal nudity - and they decided they better back off too.

    You see in my opinion instead of society becoming better it is headed straight for the gutter. For the sake of our children, a bit of modesty should still be enforced. Laws are for our own good and not for our destruction.

    Just like movies we need ratings on writing as well. I don't want my young daughter walking by a bookcase with books of this nature being racked up and growing. Now that everyone is declaring themselves a writer, the market will fill up with this GARBAGE -calling it what it is.

    I'm not a prude, but I'm all for drawing lines in the sand. Go so far and stop! Besides they haven't censored any book, but they have now banned a few - I'm glad. This isn't government restraints but free enterprise deciding what sell for them.
    Cheers, Don

    1. Don,

      You seem overly concerned with your daughter's exposure to human sexuality? From your writing it seems she might be old enough to peruse the internet and book store unsupervised. If that's the case, why your serious concern that she might be exposed to content you find objectionable? Do you express the same concerns to authors of violent materials? If your objection is specific to human sexuality, as I suspect it is, then I expect that your fears lie in the idea that your daughter might become "fast" if she is exposed to these concepts.

      Now I am not for exposing children to erotica, soft core, or hard core pornography. All of that is for the purview of adults alone. Just as violent films should not be watched by children.

      But adults access should not be limited just to appease your fears. One day your little girl is going to become sexuality active. If you want her to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life in which she is always treated with respect by her partners. Then you may want to seriously reconsider your position. Because a society that places shame on sex, will also diminish the rights of women. Look at the current attack on birth control as a perfect example. While a society that values all human sexuality is going value human equality.

  2. Don,
    I appreciate you stopping by. I also appreciate your comments and I share your concerns. I also think there's a lot of garbage, though I'm more concerned with the quality being garbage than the subject matter.

    I'm not sure you read my post very carefully. You didn't seem to address many of the major issues I brought up or even the main point of the blog post, which is the moral hypocrisy of our pro-violence, anti-sex culture.

    Talk of drawing the lines in the sand is all well and good, but who does the drawing? You? Me?

    I have absolutely no problem with Janet Jackson showing her breast. Breasts are not something to be ashamed of. For you, perhaps that's a shameful or dirty or unacceptable thing. I don't think it's that, even for a child. We teach them certain body parts are shameful. But perhaps you're objecting to it being used as a marketing device to get attention/make money, in which case I agree with you. In my next blog post, I will address the fact that sex is perverted by its use for commerce.

    I personally have a problem with boxing. And I also have more of a problem with the violence of American football than the silly half time show with Janet Jackson. I have far more problem with military advertisements and killing thousands of people for dubious reasons overseas. Regarding movies, being forced with the choice, I'd rather my children see two people having sex than two people shooting each other full of holes or chopping each other's limbs off. But that's just me. Sex is natural and a primal part of human existence and relationship and one of the greatest pleasures and gifts we have. Violence of human against human is a horrifying, tragic aspect of human existence that should no longer be glorified.

    As for free enterprise, this is anything but that. Paypal is deciding to dictate what a distributor can or can't do. It's not based on free enterprise or the market. If it was, they'd let it continue, because it's obviously something for which there is a demand.

    I agree with you on the concept that material that may not be suitable for minors should be labeled as such. But that already happens. This issue has nothing to do with that.

    I would humbly suggest, perhaps, you read my post again, with a more open mind, less reaction-based and defensive, and you may understand what I was trying to communicate. We can disagree with what is or isn't garbage. But there must be some consistency if there is a call for so-called "morality" and there must also be the understanding that, if you are going to call for restrictions on freedom, the next time, those freedoms may be things that you hold very dear and not just the things you disapprove of.

    "Without freedom there can be no morality." - Carl Jung

    Thanks again. And again, understand I agree with your concerns and respect your opinion. We're all in this together and despite the media propaganda, almost no one is in favor of garbage or cultural decay. We're all trying to figure this out together.


  3. You rush across arguments too quickly and superficially to convince me, and I came in here inclined to already be on your side. Sexual modesty has been around a lot longer than Puritanism, as has the acceptance of violence in public over sexuality in public. Paraphrasing Gore Vidal is not a satisfactory argument. The "The more you repress" paragraph is most perplexing, as the logical conclusion is that if we allow open erotica writing then it'll go away, which in reality is neither plausible nor desired.

    Slow down. Take your time unpacking your thoughts, and see if you can do so without throwing so many bricks. I have no desire to read a follow-up post ranting on the effect these topics may or may not have on our lives; I've heard enough screaming fits about it, and desire reasonable, compassionate thought. If you split up these issues and gave them their due depth, it would create more content and might be more persuasive.

    1. Well, John, if I tried to give these topics their due, it would be a 400 page book, which I'm not prepared to write. You certainly shouldn't be looking to a blog post for an in-depth analysis of such things. That's why I included links, including to a great book that you should read if you're interested in the subject, Eros Denied. That will explain the "The more you repress" argument in historical terms. It is explained in psychological terms in the writings of Carl Jung. The more we try to deny or repress our the shadow aspects of our personality, the more they will subconsciously control our lives. Your "logical conclusion" is the thing that is, in reality, not plausible. You're looking to logic to explain the behavior of beings that are driven by emotional, unconscious impulses. The thing you say is "illogical" is shown to be true time and again with human beings.

      I don't claim to be an expert on any of these things. I'm just trying to bring up some ideas and get people to think about these things.

      And, since when has paraphrasing a great thinker not been a satisfactory argument?

      It seems you criticize me for things you've done yourself in your message. You haven't thought it out very well, either, just thrown a bunch of criticism at me.

      As for throwing bricks, I agree with you. I should have waited a couple days before finalizing the piece as I may have been too emotionally involved with what I was saying. Then again, I think you've been rather reactionary and critical of a simple blog post on a very complex, difficult topic.

      Thanks for stopping by. Criticism accepted. I'm still learning how to communicate these ideas in a digestible, understandable manner. It would of course be easier if I just wrote reviews on the latest popular movies, and, I'd get at least 100 times as many hits if I did. And I wouldn't risk criticism. So, I'd be more popular, it would be easier and I wouldn't get raked over the coals. Huh. Why am I doing this?


  4. Great Article , thanks for sharing , I am currently drafting a Romantic Novel . And I am Only Putting it down in Chapter title form as I have the retention to draw on experience through trigger Words . That And the fact that I am still in the research phase of it in my Own Life . LOL ,

    It's best not to rush these topic's as with age comes Vast experience And if I commit too much Time to these projects I will feel That I have missed out on other wonderful oppertunities .

    Sex Is always been Scandalised and the repression of It causes worse and More Degrading situations , But when So many industries and People Profit from Keeping It Taboo there will be little in the way to stop this , Unless People Change their own Outlook .

    I could not believe the Power of Words and Imagination Has over a person when reading such Books , I am all for Mens Mags, Page three's and Other 2D visual stimulation but there is Only so much Knowledge a person can retain from such "Training videos " as I like to Call them. As it will never compare to the Idiosyncratic and often funny Nature of the Real experience .

    When it comes out in 3D I might turn into a complete Hermit . LOL , I signed the petiition , Best of Luck . And I hope those Crickets as I like to call them Have less and less power of Censorship ,As it destroys great works and Authors in the process

    1. Thanks for your comments Ross. I agree, of course with the idea of repression causing more degrading versions of the original impulse. One has to have some understanding of the workings of the human mind (as much as we can) to realize this. Most people actually believe they're going through their lives making rational, logical decisions for rational, logical reasons. Only a person who has come to some sense of Self-Knowledge (what Jung called Individuation) realizes this is a partial, and often complete, fantasy.

      Good luck with the novel. And don't ever become a hermit. As you say, the real thing is a funny, idiosyncratic experience which makes us grow as human beings. And that's why we're here.


  5. Interesting issue. However, from the lay of the land, PayPal probably got pressure from a third party to "disinvest" from their agreement with Smashwords. And to assume the pressure from a "Puritanical" IE, right-wing, group may be jumping the gun. The depiction of sex and sexual act will always create tension on both sides of the "aisle" for lack of better term. Smashwords would be better served to find a payment processor who doesn't try to regulate content and take the short term financial hit, than constantly wonder if the axe will fall somewhere else.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I absolutely agree with you about the third party (or parties).

      And, don't misunderstand (if you did, probably the fault of my communication), I didn't mean to necessarily imply a right-wing group (although they do exist), I was referring to our overall culture, which has been influenced by this historical, religious group. And, the end factor, as I implied, is not one of morality in our culture, but one of commerce. Commerce in our culture will sell out anything including freedom or morality.

      Although the sexual act may create some kind of tension, the question is what kind of tension that is? The tension that it creates in our culture is an unhealthy, reactionary, fear-based, often shame-filled tension. As I mentioned to John above, this is a VERY complex topic that NO ONE really understands completely, if at all. We're all just stumbling in the dark. The cultural anthroplogist Ernest Becker wrote in The Denial of Death that part of our reaction to sexuality is due to the fact that it reminds us of our mortality, death itself. But there are definitely cultures that have dealt with it in a much more healthy way than we are.

      Thanks for your thoughts,

  6. I wanted to post this link for everyone with Mark Coker's (of Smashwords) latest update on the issue.
    You can see, as he points out, that this act of censorship reveals itself to be not just an attack against these taboo subjects, but an attack on sexual expression in books in general by the fact that the ban is only against books in the Erotica category, not in mainstream fiction where these taboo subjects are also dealt with. Please go to the link and take action to stand against this attack on our freedom of expression.

    Thanks for caring,

  7. Very interesting food for thought.