The Books Are Already Burning

The Books Are Already Burning. By Abigail Shrier.

One hundred and forty-six people in Halifax, Nova Scotia wait on a list to borrow a library book. A question hangs over them: Will activists let them read it?

The book is mine — Irreversible Damage — and it is an investigation of a medical mystery: Why is the number of teenage girls requesting (and obtaining) gender reassignment skyrocketing in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and Europe? In Great Britain, it’s up 4,400% over the last decade.

Since publication, I have faced fierce opposition — not just to the ideas presented, challenged, or explored — but to the publication of the book itself. A top lawyer for the ACLU called for it to be banned. Powerful organizations like GLAAD have lobbied against it and pressured corporations — Target and Amazon among others — to remove Irreversible Damage from their virtual shelves. …

How censorship is done nowadays:

A fresh example presented itself this past week at Science-Based Medicine, which bills itself as “a group blog exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science in medicine.”

On Tuesday, one of the blog’s long-time contributors, Dr. Harriet Hall — a family physician and flight surgeon in the Air Force with dozens of publications to her name — posted a favorable review of my book. …

Within a day, Dr. Hall’s article was flooded with nearly 1,000 comments, mostly, she says, from activists demanding the article be stripped from the site, but also from some readers expressing their appreciation. Angry emails from activists swamped the blog’s editors. Within two days, those editors had given Dr. Hall an ultimatum: retract, rewrite, or allow them to add a disclaimer.

“What surprised me was that my fellow editors attacked me, too. Basically what they said was that my article was not up to my usual standards as far as medicine, science and critical thinking went. And I didn’t feel that I did anything but what I always do. That surprised me,” she told me. Considering the editors’ ultimatum, she elected to have the editors who disagreed add a disclaimer to the website. “I told them I did not want it retracted. And the next thing I knew, they had retracted it.”

Let that sink in: a book review by a respected physician was bullied out of existence in America. …

The dumbing down of public discourse by midwit ideologues:

Public figures who have watched the success of such campaigns — and they are now weekly if not daily — now know they risk their livelihoods by engaging heterodox views. Jordan Peterson, for example, chose to demonetize the interview we did on his YouTube channel to, in his words, “avoid attracting counterproductive attention by jackals who weaponize demonetization.”

It’s not only corporations facing this type of activist pressure. Public libraries now do, too.

Halifax Pride, the annual LGBTQ festival, announced late last month that it would cut ties with the city’s library system over its insistence on carrying Irreversible Damage, calling it “transphobic,” and claiming that it “jeopardizes the safety of trans youth” and “debates the existence of trans people.”

So far, the Halifax Public Libraries have resisted. Their position is straightforward and apolitical: libraries exist to expose the public to the widest array of views, “including those which may be regarded as unorthodox or unpopular with the majority.”

The Halifax Public Libraries tried to compromise with the activists by pasting a note inside the book’s cover, directing readers to a list of “trans-affirming” resources. But the activists were unappeased. No ties with the libraries were restored. They want the book gone from the library and scrubbed from existence. Two copies in a library of nearly 1.2 million volumes are two too many.

Public censure, private support:

Half of Twitter seems to think I’m some sort of demon. But if you read my inbox, you’d think I was popular, awash as I am in secret fan mail and “silent supporter” notes.

Here is an entirely typical example — one of hundreds I’ve received over the last year:

Hi, Mrs. Shrier, I just wanted to drop you a quick note thanking you for your bravery. It might surprise you to know that I work for a prominent progressive politician (obviously I could never express my support for your work publicly). But it should be known that not everyone on the Left has totally lost their mind.

The author turned out to be a senior staffer for a popular 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. But the email itself was a version that I’ve come to expect:  I agree with you, though I couldn’t possibly say so publicly. I have a job to think of, a reputation to uphold, children to put through college, a mortgage to pay, promotions to gun for, a spouse to please, friendships to maintain. All of the trappings of a comfortable life.  …

Professors … have come to hate their jobs — you can’t discuss your own research without trampling on a young generation’s vast neural network of sensitivities. Journalists at our most storied newspapers, TV networks, and literary magazines, even at NPR, write to tell me they liked my book, they agree with it, and to tut-tut the abuse directed at me. They assure me that the horrible accusations — from child predation to white supremacy and transphobia — accusations that will forever live on the internet, blackening my name, are things no one really believes. They wish — wish! — they could say so publicly. …

The fear these silent supporters express is rational. Even the most ordinary comments can get you branded as persona non grata, some flavor of ‘phobe’ or ‘ist.’ Hardly a week goes by without a story of some professor being reprimanded, a starlet losing a job, or a young reality TV figure abjectly apologizing for something he said that was completely obvious and true. Others have faced more profound threats — parents to the custody of their children, journalists and even editors of scientific journals to their physical safety. People I respect have lost livelihoods and marriages. …

Why so few of courage?

Why do so few oppose the pressure, lies, and the corrupting force of these bullying campaigns?

The silent supporters have each performed the same risk-benefit calculation and arrived at the same conclusion: Speaking up isn’t worth it. It could cost a job, reputation, peace and friends — it requires the assumption of risk and a willingness to sacrifice.

And it is easy to justify our silence. We tell ourselves that we are protecting our families by remaining quiet and in the short-term, and we may be. But we are also handing our children over to a culture in which freedom of conscience and expression are drowned out. We are teaching our children that truth shouldn’t be our primary concern — or at least, that truth is negotiable or subordinate to being agreeable. They are learning that it is more important to remain acceptable to the powerful than to be truly free.

Whether or not most people admit it, what keeps them from speaking up in the face of what they know is wrong is fear. Fear not primarily of unemployment, though that is a pressing concern, but fear of ostracism.


We feel real physical pain at being cast out by a social group.

So terrible is this fear and this pain that in ancient Rome, a person sentenced to death could opt for exile instead. The Romans understood that ostracism was a punishment as bad as death. …

Fear of ostracism is rational.

But we are now living in a world in which evolutionary biologists are threatened with losing their platforms for engaging in debate about the source and treatment of a deadly virus; in which prize-winning composers have been professionally ruined for saying arson is bad; in which authors are editing already-published books to placate online mobs. That should scare us far more than losing friends or status.

The feminists pioneered the modern political use of ostracism. (My mother was a leading feminist, so I got early exposure to how they worked.) Now that there are women in politics, there is also more high school girl bitchiness. Turns out ostracism works pretty well to bully opponents into silence.

Of course, organized ostracism for political ends — aka political correctness — stifles technological and political progress. It is the exact opposite of the enlightenment values that allowed humanity to escape from its miserable Malthusian existence in the last three centuries, led by white men. Maybe high-school female-style politics is not the way to make progress in this universe? Perhaps it hampers the group too much? Too many falsehoods cannot be questioned. Politically correct fantasies and superstitions prevent truth and progress from emerging. If so, going woke is a big risk. A new dark age beckons.