All right, I was going to write about something else today, but I stumbled across an e-mail from Mark Coker the Founder of Smashwords in my inbox. For those who don’t know, Smashwords is an independent author ebook publishing site. They serve some 30,000 + authors and help produce a boatload of ebooks. Here’s the problem: Paypal, a subsidiary of Ebay, recently gave Smashwords a surprise ultimatum: remove all titles containing bestiality, incest, or rape, otherwise Paypal will deactivate Smashwords’ paypal account. The problem is, of course, censorship.
Do I support bestiality, incest, or rape? Of course not. But I want writers to have access to the tools they need to tell their stories. To be fair to Paypal, the e-mail I read said nothing about “being shown in a positive light” or not. So, perhaps, Paypal is willing to let negative portrayals of rape, bestiality, and incest pass. If not, however, that is a serious problem. Let’s take rape, for example. Crime novels, where the crime is a rape, would fall under the wide brush of Paypal’s censor. That could seriously decimate the number of crime novels that would be permitted on Smashwords’ site.
But even if Paypal is only against “positive portrayals” of rape, incest and bestiality, I still think they should back off. What about a crime novel about a rapist that tells the story of a rape from the criminal’s point of view? If Paypal is against portrayals of any and all rapes, then this should be censored out. If they are just against “positive portrayals” of rape, then the issue is a little bit muddier. In the context of the entire book, it’s a given that the rape will be viewed negatively. But in the context of the isolated scene, the author will do his or her best to get inside the head of the rapist. Suppose he was abused as a child? That doesn’t justify the crime, of course, but it might soften the tone. I would be hard pressed to imagine a serious “positive portrayal” of rape or bestiality or incest—well, okay, rape I can’t imagine at all, but as Mark Coker himself pointed out, what about all that teenage-werewolf love that’s going on? Is that bestiality? And incest? What if I want to tell a story about the Pharoahs of Egypt? That wouldn’t fly either. The problem is that the lines of demarcation for such things, particularly in fiction, can be very blurry. Trying to prevent one fictional occurrence from happening will likely blot out a great deal of good fiction.
As a general rule legal forms of censorship are a bad idea. Most of the time, the brush is too broad to serve its goals effectively. For myself, as an author, I would never even consider portraying rape, incest, or bestiality in a positive light. But I have, in the background of a character here and there, used rape in the character’s development. And I don’t think I should have to deny myself access to other similar tools if the situation calls for it. I’ll probably never use them. But who knows? If it can occur in reality, it just might occur in fiction.
In the e-mail I received from Mark Coker, the Founder of Smashwords, he said that the push behind the effort was coming from the credit card companies. I don’t know where the financial service companies get the idea that they know enough about literature that they can set themselves up as censors, but that’s the way this is evolving. Anyway, here is a list of links (also provided by Mark Coker of Smashwords) for those of you who wish to let the credit card companies know how you feel about the topic.
Ebay (owns PayPal):
And with that, I bid you adieu.
This seems to be a common theme on a number of web sites I’ve stumbled across. I got nothing else to write about today, so I might as well address it. There are people who, in all seriousness, are asking whether vampires really exist. Take this article, for example. The writer suggests that there is evidence for the existence of real vampires (specifically the similarity in certain vampire-like legends across multiple cultures) and then goes on to argue that since it has not been proven one way or the other, he/she chooses to remain open to the possibility to the extent that he/she takes precautions.
It may be worthwhile to analyze this question objectively. I studied analytical philosophy in college, so I have a better grasp of epistemological concerns than most people. And though the “existence” of a vampire is a metaphysical concern, our knowledge or lack thereof is an epistemological one.
Is it possible that vampires exist? Yes. It is possible. Just… not… bloody… likely! One of the first tenets of rational thinking I learned in philosophy is that you can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove that vampires DON’T exist because the universe is just two vast and varied. Proving they don’t exist would entail somehow being aware of everything happening in all of reality all at once. Human minds are finite. Even when grouped together. There will always be some corner of reality that remains unexplored where the vampire might be hiding. Let me correct myself, though. Some things you can prove don’t exist because they aren’t even thinkable; specifically, contradictions. Contradictions are objects which possess at least two characteristics which effectively negate each other. For example, round squares do not exist. There is no object that is both round and square in the same way at the same time; and no, octagons do not count as a counter-example. Then there is the realm of the silly. Such things might exist if there are no natural bounds on reality and all our scientific “knowledge” is either false or just far too-limited to encompass reality. Traditional vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, fairies, unicorns, and other monsters–they all fall in here. To make it mathematical (although in a somewhat subjective way), we can rank a creatures possibility to exist on a scale where a 0 means the object is known to not exist (a contradiction), and 10 denotes that it most certainly does (your self-awareness), I would put vampires and their like in the region of 1.
So, as I said, vampires may exist, but they just aren’t very likely. You can, of course, play with the definition of the creature. Traditional vampires, also known as nosferatu, are undead. That means they are basically a corpse that has been imbued with a certain echo of life. They were formerly human, transformed into an evil monster by another such creature, and filled with an insatiable lust for human blood. If you stop there, you might be able to find something sort of like that in nature (although I would nix the undead aspect). There are humans who drink blood, some who even think they are vampires, but this is most probably a psychological disorder not a state of being that grants super-cosmic powers. The more powers you add from the traditional myth, the less probable you make finding that creature a reality. Are there creatures who, through innate ability, can control the weather? Probably not. Can transform into mist? Probably not. Can change into a wolf or bat? Probably not. Etc… If there is a common origin to the vampire myth in nature it is unlikely that it resembles our notions of the traditional vampire, except in the most vague, round-a-bout way. With that in mind, I don’t intend to take any precautions against vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, dragons, or any other monster from myth for that matter. Dracula was based on a real man, Vlad Tepes. And though Vlad Tepes was certainly evil, he was just a man, not undead, just a cruel tyrant. Dracula, as vampire, is myth.