Saturday, November 29, 2008

do you really want to be free?

Clive Hamilton and I: Getting Personal about Sex, Lies, Hate and Censorship by Syd Walker

Some background:
The current push to censor the internet in Australia was initiated by secular intellectuals Clive Hamilton and Michael Flood in 2003. The EFA site has the timeline and the analysis. A recent article by Kerry Miller, initially at StrangeTimes and reprinted at ON LINE Opinion argues that the Labour Party (so called progressives) is far worse than the Liberals (so called conservatives) on this issue.

I see this as part of a more general pattern where the "caring parties" advocate policies which end up destroying our freedom and initiative - net nannies, risk aversion, artificial inclusion, welfare dependency, cultural relativism (the freedom of other cultures to suppress women, practice honour killings, genital mutilation etc.), the State as big brother who will keep an eye on you under the guise of protecting you. The caring collectivist parties like the Australian Labour Party are far more likely to support these sorts of policies than the parties that are more ideologically aligned with the notion of individual liberty.

In this case of internet censorship it's good to see The Greens and the Liberals are opposed to our current Labour Party government.

I've been contributing to the comment thread of this article at On LINE Opinion.

As part of my research I came across the above article by Syd Walker. I think this article is important because it directly answers and refutes the secular moral argument put by Clive Hamilton.

In the ON LINE Opinion comments some contributors have been critical of the focus on Clive Hamilton. Q&A described it as "attacking the messenger", dickie saw it as an unfair head butt of Clive and Steel said the problem was not Clive but religious lobbyists

Syd Walker's article responds to those views.

Firstly, he points out that the Minister (Conroy) is pretty much incompetent and relied on Clive Hamilton to put the secular argument for censorship on "Australian Talks", ABC Radio Talkback. If you think I'm being unfair on Conroy then check out the letters by Mark Newton which demonstrate beyond question his incompetence

Religious lobbyists will mainly appeal to religious people. The pro-censorship camp needs a secular advocate. Given the incompetence of the Minister that person is Clive Hamilton, along with his co-author Michael Flood

Syd Walker repeats Clive's most persuasive arguments and responds effectively to them. Clive's main argument is this:
“What’s so special about the internet? All but the most unthinking libertarians accept censorship laws that limit sexual content in film, television, radio, books and magazines. Yet the hysterical response from the internet industry and libertarian commentators to the Government’s proposal to require ISPs to filter heavy-duty porn shows how the internet has become fetishised.”
Syd's response is along these lines:

The world wide web is without precedent. The analogy with most other media does not hold up. If you are going to make an analogy then the best one would be the postal service. Censoring the WWW is more like censoring a public mail service. Big Media is controlled by a handful of people. The web is grassroots information liberation. Any censorship means that some of the vast array of web pigeon holes may be blocked without us knowing what is being blocked. This directly threatens the most significant information liberation experiment in the history of humans.

It is well known that any attempt to block part of the web will also have "unintended consequences" (which the advocates of censorship are aware of so they are not really unintended) of blocking other parts as well. We don't know what is being blocked until the blocked list leaks, which inevitably it will as Mark Newton has demonstrated. A similar list in Finland was found to contain an anti-censorship site.

Also Syd's section about the impossibility of defining a hate site is very good - not as an exposure of Clive's position (CH does not support censorship of such sites) but as an exposure of Clive's thinking (for unthinkingly suggesting that such a category is definable)

The core issue is this: Do we dare to be free? Being free does mean being exposed to unsavoury things. Do we as adults want some other adults to protect us from those unsavoury things, without even full knowledge of what they are. That is the core issue and Syd Walker's article articulates that core issue at length.

If another adult is going to protect me from unsavoury things then I want to know why that adult feels that he or she is superior to me? Why does that adult feel that he/she can handle freedom but I can't?

btw I disagree with Syd about many of his beliefs expressed in that article - that reinforces the central point that I support his right to propagate those beliefs, as he does mine.


Syd Walker said...

Thank you Bill. I think you've summarized my core arguments on Internet censorship very well.

As you may know, I wrote a shorter article recently entitled >Why The Web is NOT Like TV. It's somewhat more succinct.

I find it very suspicious that a central filter which all ISPs are required to use won't work effectively for porn blocking - but could work like a treat for political censorship.

At least, that's how it strikes me. IT experts like yourself are better able to judge. But no-one seems to have refuted the proposition yet.

So... why buy a tractor to do the job of a car? Especially when it's so unpopular? The official story just doesn't add up.

I'd like to think it's one huge compound cock-up (although if the Rudd Government is equally incompetent in other areas, heaven help us).

But it's a stretch. Rudd and co are not fools. They do, on occasion, make Faustian deals.

That's not to say they may not be forced to back down on this under popular pressure. I think that likely. It's a remarkable, broad-based casmpaign.

Bill Kerr said...

hi syd,

Thanks for the comment

I don't think this censorship proposal would work very well for down the track censorship of particular texts

Mark Newton has persuaded me that the list of banned sites will inevitably leak. This is because the list will end up in the hands of many employers at all ISPs, which makes it too hard to secure. Read his two letters, published as pdfs on the EFA site:

If the government is found out to have extended the censorship of porn to other politically motivated censorship then that would be very embarrassing for them. Apparently, however, this did happen in Findland, where an anti-censorship site was found on their list, when it leaked

So, why are they doing it? I think they see it as a vote winner and it's consistent with the collectivist "caring" big brother mindset of the Labour Party, we will look after people who are too ignorant to look after themselves. Frank Furedi has written extensively on this topic, that we are developing a therapy culture: