Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ban The Filth! How Censorship Hurts More Than It Helps

How many times have we heard calls to ban this or that, with pleas to think of the children and the harm that may befall them? I'm going to look at the arguments for both sides and examine the merits and demerits in order to explain how I arrived at my current position.


Promoting morality is better for society


As a conservative woman, I subscribe wholeheartedly to the above, indeed, I do my best to promote morality and Christian values everywhere I go, especially online. While I'm here, I'd like to push back on Atheists who declare that any attempt to disown bad actors who claim to be part of our belief system is a "No True Scotsman" logical fallacy by pointing out that, by such logic, I could claim to be Napoleon and they'd have to accept it without question (or evidence!) simply because I'd said so. However, I'm wary of imposing my own views on others because of my experience of others trying to impose their will on me. Promoting morality is fine and dandy; imposing it with the force of law is unacceptable.

Dogmatism


I'm the "wrong" type of Christian because I'm not Evangelical (or variant thereof), nor do I belong to one of the traditional organised hierarchical churches. I'm a moderate, so can't accept the harsh, uncompromising right-wing doctrines of American conservatives, but I'm pretty firm in my own convictions, so I don't subscribe to the "Anything goes" brigade either. While I do believe that morality is absolute, most other people don't, and I accept that. The only person I've got a right to impose my ideas of morality on is me. The authoritarians I argue with don't get that, and since their ideas of morality scare me, I don't want it pushed on me, particularly when they think it's for my own good.

As a control freak, I understand where they're coming from. However, the rough consensus shared between the major right-leaning church groups is not the norm in our society. In the opposite corner, militant Atheists and Progressives bash religion on principle, deriding us for our "Invisible Friend" and trying to dismantle traditions such as swearing on the Bible, etc. So that's not authoritarianism? Okay. Truth is, I won't take it from either side. Those of us who claim to have a firm grip on reality need to accept that all authoritarianism is harmful because it tries to impose alien values on people, often crushing or deriding cherished beliefs. This is not acceptable in any society that claims to be free. Banning religious speech is every bit as censorious as trying to ban the promotion of Atheism, gay rights, or porn.

Free-for all


I'm not a fan of a free-for all hands-off approach to dealing with media content. It's one thing to say parents should parent, but to be honest it's becoming a bit of a luxury these days with even middle income earners reduced to going to food banks to help make ends meet. This is particularly true in countries without socialised healthcare, as this is an additional burden on family finances. With work becoming more of a priority for both parents, childcare is increasingly being outsourced to private childminders - or the state, via schools, who are caught in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Kid falls over. Cuddle kid to comfort him? Only if you want to have your life wrecked by accusations of abuse. Don't cuddle to protect your reputation? You're stressing them out, you monster!

In the midst of this, our Glorious Leader David Cameron has seen fit to have porn filters installed by ISPs by default for new users. It's over-blocking, as predicted, catching sex education and advice sites in its net as well as the terrorist, self-harm and porn it was intended to block. This is, of course, a knee-jerk reaction to demands to "Do something!" as a result of reports of kids acting out porn scenes with their little sisters, etc. However, I'm sceptical that statements along the lines of "It's misogynistic portrayals of women that are the problem; if the porn showed women being treated more respectfully, what would be the harm?" have any value because I see little being done to reverse the trend to objectify women in the mass media, let alone the adult entertainment industry. Speculation has its place but good luck with getting results. As any Pirate will tell you, it's a demand-side problem. The situation persists because it's popular with the punters. When they stop giving money to misogynists, the misogyny will stop. It's still going strong.

Meanwhile, it seems more research needs to be done to quantify the damage being done to our kids by exposure to porn. Is the fact that kids as young as elven seek vaginoplasty after comparing and contrasting themselves with porn pictures not convincing enough? What more do you need? When kids are convinced that porn is a normal, healthy way for people to express themselves, should we be surprised that sexting is a thing? Assume that taking on misogyny is going to solve the problem (I doubt it). Who is going to take on this onerous task? An authoritarian minefield awaits.

Promoting personal responsibility is better for individuals


So here I am, stuck in the middle with clowns on the left of me and jokers to the right. The annoying thing is, on some points, they're both right. Art and culture are in the eye of the beholder, Laura Mulvey's theories notwithstanding. Some of the passages in the Bible are pretty damn racy — have you read Song of Songs? This is what makes attempts at blanket bans on porn problematic. Besides, they can be extended to cover copyright and political dissent. So what do we do about it?

Net nanny plugins


I've been advocating empowering people to filter and block websites and content they don't want on their own PCs. Google actually does that for us with Safe Search. What these programs do is make it easier to filter out unwanted results. Site blocking plugins also exist. You can use them to remove ad farms from your search results. Now imagine teaching this to parents at a PTA meeting.

Teen Trends


Keep an eye on teen trends and be willing to either talk to your kids about them or refer them to professionals who can talk to them about them. Youth groups, etc., are pretty good at this stuff and can be spoken to in confidence. Empowering teens by providing them with the information they need to make wise decisions is better than making those decisions for them. Don't freak out if you catch them with porn, talk to them about it. Explain what is or isn't healthy behaviour and attitudes. Of course, this presupposes a healthy family dynamic, but we're not all freaks.

Be honest


After you've read (and retched at) the story of the Colt family, bear in mind that their depravity is no more a result of exposure to porn than Sawney Bean's. While it's possible to be influenced by what we see and hear, it's also possible to reject those influences, peer pressure or not. The issue of pornography and its impact on our society isn't going to go away any time soon but banning it in the hope that the problems associated or attributed to it will disappear with it is dangerously naive. If we're honest, the problem is within us, but so is the solution. The fact is, hate speech, pornography and graphic violence, etc., are the products of our society, not the cause. Getting them off the internet (good luck with that!) won't solve our problems. Can we PLEASE stop pretending that it can?

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