BAN TINKY WINKY!

Tinky Winky is a Teletubby. For those who do not know what Teletubbies are, they are little baby-like furry things that are the stars of a show for little children called Teletubbies (aired by PBS in the United States). This particular Teletubby has a male voice and yet carries a purse (although producers vainly complain that it’s a magic bag). It’s also a favorite icon of gay groups, mainly because of its two most prominent attributes: it is purple and has a triangle on top of its head. It is obvious that Tinky Winky is a gay rights icon and corrupts our youth, encouraging them to develop homosexuality. Since homosexuality is obviously indecent and evil, we should therefore censor Tinky Winky. Or at the very least paint him in a manly colour, like gray. And give him a baseball bat instead of a purse.

I hope most readers noticed how ridiculous the last paragraph was. If you did not pick up on the insanely profound sarcasm contained in the statements above, don’t read further, as my opinions on censorship may offend you (and you may even want to censor me).

Never mind the fact that Teletubbies is a show for children so young that they wouldn’t be likely to have any idea what homosexuality is, the mere action of imagining that a purple kid’s show character is gay — and launching a media campaign about it — reflects a huge lack of things to do or way too much time on one’s hands. It is probable that most people were not even aware of this alleged connection to homosexuality until they were notified of it by all the media hype. It seems that talking about it only makes the “problem” worse.

This particular case seems justifiably ridiculous, but censorship can affect much more controversial issues. The Internet, being a relatively new medium, is relatively untouched by governmental regulations. Nonetheless, there are many “hot issues” of censorship. Porn sites, hate sites, drug sites and others are under fire from anti-free speech factions: pornography web sites attacked in the name of feminism and decency, hate sites the target of PC crusades against the hate inflicted on minorities, drug sites criticized for their discussion of illegal substances.

Of course, we already know well enough about censorship in real life. One example that touches me personally is the language law here in my home province of Quebec. The government prohibits companies from writing less than half of their exterior and interior writings (or even website space) in French. In most countries, more or less severe laws against freedom of speech are passed. Extreme cases of repression like Salman Rushdie (author of the “Satanic Verses,: which was subsequently banned in much of the world and whom had his life threatened) come to mind. Censorship is imposed against all medias, from newspapers to one’s own speech. But the notion of censorship, and its roots, is much more pervasive and far-reaching than we imagine.

So what’s the big deal with this censorship issue ? How should we determine what, and how, to censor ? At first glance, the question seems complex and problematic. But seen in the eyes of a freethinker, the answer is somewhat more obvious.

  • The Great Moralizer

Before considering the actions to be taken (if indeed we do find that we need to act), it seems sensible to examine censorship itself, its current application and the motives behind it.

What is censorship ? It basically applies to the action of examining in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable. We see that there are here two aspects of censoring – the initial examination and the potential intention of supression. This is compatible with our usual point of view on the question.

The usual goal of censorship is to exclude a certain aspect of society. That is, certain subjects or particular things become “taboo” and deemed offensive enough to be suppressed.

What are the current laws against free speech ? Let’s look at the Internet situation.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) assured us that anyone who “by means of a telecommunications device… knowingly… makes, creates, or solicits… [and]… initiates the transmission… [of any material]… which is obscene or indecent, knowing that the recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age,” “shall be criminally fined or imprisoned”. Who is to determine what is obscene or indecent ? The mind boggles.

Fortunately for the Internet community, the U.S. Supreme Court case Reno v. ACLU ruled that the Act was too vague and was against free speech rights. But the government did not intend to stop there. As one congressman [1] was quoted as blathering, “More and more parents are saying, look, it’s terrible what’s going on. The question is how do you do something about it in a constitutional fashion”. Learning from their debacle and inspiring themselves from tried-and-true “harmful to minors” techniques, they drafted and signed, in 1998, another piece of dreck called CDA II, or COPA (Child Online Protection Act).

The COPA was an even worse piece of legislation, this time telling us that distributing material that is “harmful to minors” is criminal. Like the CDA, the COPA relied on a “community standards” basis for determining what is decent and what is not, which is pretty much like your grandmother picking your clothing for you, except that grandma can’t enforce it by law. One amendment that is part of the COPA would force schools and libraries which receive federal funds for internet connections to install filtering software. This seems like an even more unjust proposition if you consider that most filtering software censors websites with a lot of prejudice, based on the occurrence of certain words which may appear without regard to context.

Once again, freedom of speech wins against the Clinton administration. In February 1999, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center succeeded in obtaining a stay against implementation as the court case unfolds. The odds seem in the favour of the free speech groups so far.

  • Religionists, looking for scapegoats

Sure, you can attempt to pass laws to uphold a fluid notion of “community standard” or “decency”, but is censoring really any good? You may already have guessed my own opinion on the matter. But let’s examine the issue more thoroughly.

A person who is a freethinker and upholds the epistemological devices of reason and logic must, to be consistent, value diversity of thought. The reason for this is simple: if one relies on reason, one’s search for truth may a priori lead anywhere. Before the definitive exploration of reality or deduction, there is no reason to completely bar any alternative. The first task of the *free* thinker, after all, is to feel free to think anything.

On the other hand, if censorship is used, it means that some material is suppressed. If something is suppressed, it cannot be expressed or be widely known. Ultimately then, censorship can block truthful assertions. Even if the censored concept or communication is not involved directly in a form of knowledge, censorship still blocks us from new avenues of thought or entertainment (which, as we all know, is partly subjective).

There does not seem to be any rational basis for censorship, as far as I know. Censorship does not seem to be really about what’s good or bad but rather about what is acceptable in one’s eye. But acceptability is an inherently subjective notion. One would do well to be reminded that Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” was on numerous occasions censored in the eighteenth century. When religion rules, reason is “indecent”. Standards of indecency may include the truth, willingly or not.

What is offending for one is another’s cup of tea. Religion has been a major factor in censorship in the last centuries, and is still an important factor today. Preserving religious values against the secular “depravity” of the world is a reason invoked to attack freethought information and more recently, homosexuality information. Religion is usually dogmatic in nature – based on faith. But if someone has faith, that person will not believe in the notion of possibly-correct viewpoints. Rather, his faith is enough proof. Therefore such a person would have no quarrels with censorship, in terms of the search for truth.

Religionists are also often looking for scapegoats. Why is society going badly? Oh, that’s easy, it’s because of < insert hated group here >. Not understanding that the world is going wrong because of the failed morality of their religions, they absolutely have to point out that their purported “enemy” is at fault. We must censor them in order to save the world from their influence! These days it seems that homosexuals and abortionists are the prime targets of these groups. But, if we look at history, I’d be ready to bet anything that christians have committed more hate crimes and crimes of persecution against gays then gays ever did against anyone else in the entire history of humanity. Actually, what we have here is a perfect example of cognitive dissonance.

One other excuse that is invoked is the protection of children. Making sure that our children are protected from indecency is a good thing… or is it? What is gained by shielding children from things they will have to experience soon enough anyway, but without the parental guidance that they have the advantage of relying upon in their tender age? And what kind of parent allows a 12-year old to use the internet unsupervised? Do those same people allow their child to view cable television, with access to R-rated movies, without supervision?

Another thing to remember about this so-called “protection,” as Steve Russell said in “The American Reporter”, is that “any kid smart enough to hack into a Website is also smart enough to get his hands on a hard copy of Hustler if he really wants one.” It’s really pointless to attempt to protect a child from himself, especially in matters of natural curiosity.

The desire to have a clean environment free of “indecent” material is not an excuse either, since search engines and link descriptions provide ample warning for the weary netsurfer.

What motivation could the government have in censoring information? One of them, of course, is to be popular. The government sways with the wind. If the people want censorship, it responds in kind, regardless of how in so doing it attacks our right of free speech, and ultimately, of property.

Information is power. That sounds like a trite aphorism, but it’s true. If one controls the flow of information, one basically controls the population, for information is awareness. If the government takes away the information from the people, it takes control. That’s why censorship is the first step to tyranny. A tyranny must always, like any idea that cannot stand the light of reality, eliminate any compromising information.

When a government attempts to take control of an area of society, we may presume that the government will attempt to censor it also. That has usually been the case. In the 19th century, laws were used to censor abolitionists, suffragists, pacifists, and union organizers. In the beginning of this century, censors were merciless in suppressing the efforts of unions to organize in protection of American workers. Pacifists during World War I were imprisoned for being openly anti-war, as were communists later on. The same thing happened during World War II. I don’t even want to mention McCarthyism. “In God we trust,” indeed.

We see the same motivations apply also to actions. Even if actions are not literally individually examined, they are still usually banned because of considerations of decency or attempts to take control. A country usually takes away the right to bear arms before they attempt to oppress their people. The laws that impede our ethical rights, especially relating to victimless crimes, are usually concerned with maintaining what is traditionally accepted rather than what is rational and fair.

Let me expand a bit on the censorship of the trade for, and ownership of, guns. The tragedy that occurred recently in Littleton, Colorado, has prompted many to call for a strict control on gun ownership. But is restricting our rights to own guns (for the average peaceful, law-abiding citizen) really a solution to crime? Not only is it not a solution, it is a non-solution. First of all, world statistics show that there is no correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates .[2] Furthermore, banning guns is not an adequate solution because the cause of most gun crimes is not the availability of weapons: a substitution is always possible, and guns are not necessary for murder. The cause of violent crime is usually emotionalism – letting feelings of vengeance or bloodlust take over one’s ethical premises. The only rational way to resolve this issue of societal violence is by communication of valid ethical principles, which implies less censorship instead of more. Of course this is not a miracle solution, especially since our world is already submerged in emotionalism.

Censoring one’s ownership of guns only makes more victims. How can victims defend themselves if they have no legal means of defense against a well-armed aggressor? You probably already know the common maxim, “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” That is a sad but true reality. The usual anti-gun rhetoric of “saving lives” makes in fact more victims… another example of cognitive dissonance. How long will we continue to consciously encourage more homicides?

The trend of PC (Political Correctness) is also a mild form of censorship, based on what is “acceptable.” Suddenly, it’s no longer acceptable to favour the end of discrimination or to be negative about particular groups, or just basically to say things as they are. These are truly disturbing trends that could lead to another full-scale censorship of public thought.

 

  • Where did my free speech go?

If someone is offended by a certain kind of material, it is perhaps a normal thing to ask for it to be censored. But if one is already warned beforehand, is there any reason to be offended, unless you’re really trying to be? For some reason, warnings usually don’t stop anyone. We should not be forced to pay for someone else’s lack of self-control. It seems a sensible precaution to refrain from entering websites which contain, as far as we can ascertain, material which is objectionable to us. Otherwise, all we’re doing is offending ourselves. Unfortunately, some people can’t seem to follow this simple wisdom.

And as for hate sites, it would be true, in some cases, to say offhandedly that their ideas are evil. But I am quite conscious that when I am saying “this idea is evil,” I mean that the actions that are entailed by the idea are evil. The idea in itself, or the material that promotes hatred, does not have any bad effects on me particularly: only actions which are based on the ideas are “evil.”

Repressing evil ideas is not the way to go. People who promote them have as much a right to speak as anyone else. Also it is important to consider that it is better to refute their opinions than to silence them – which encourages martyrs and conspiracy theories more than anything else. And we all know that the government (which is of course controlled by the Illuminati, the Rockefeller Conglomerate and/or the cryogenized brain of Adolf Hitler) wants to suppress information about the latest alien invasion, and the Littleton shooting was staged to facilitate the banning of handguns thereby leaving the populace defenseless against the impending conquest of the world. DUH!

What should be done? No, not about the aliens, but about censorship? If there is something that should be done, it would be to reduce censorship as much as possible.

The way I see it, there are basically four options on how to deal with unwanted material.

  • partial or total censorship
  • warning before the material
  • warning that is part of the material
  • no warning

Now, warnings are not part of censorship per se but are used on the Internet as a way to escape censorship. Most controversial websites use the second, sometimes the third option.

This article is an example of the third option. I have warned you, the reader, that my opinions may offend you, inside the article itself. Perhaps this particular example seems unnecessary, but be reminded that my text may have been offending at the beginning of the century, and possibly censored. Since censorship is supported by subjective standards, that wouldn’t be surprising — look what happened to poor Tinky Winky!

Putting a warning before the material is usually a waste of space as well as time for the reader. On the other hand, the third option may be necessary since the flow of information is not necessarily complete (not everyone would know the content of a website beforehand). This would be perhaps a good compromise, but I would not advocate to make it mandatory.

There are of course fringe situations in which free speech cannot be promoted, and censoring is necessary. If one’s right to free speech infringes on another’s rights, it cannot be upheld. So speech which directly endangers others (or their property) is criminal. Also, since the military is a function of the government, it must also regulate matters of national security.

This is all in the optics of rights. The internet cannot be used to infringe on one’s rights, because the Internet is not part of what we call “real life,” that is, with physical contact. Therefore it cannot influence people, or their property, directly, but only with their full acquiesence. The Internet is a communication medium where, like newspapers, radio, and others, rights reign supreme.

An analogy for free speech would be brainstorming. When we brainstorm, we try to evoke concepts without limitations, without self-censoring. Of course, this does not mean we give all ideas equal value, but as I said earlier, it is much more interesting to refute the idea and see why it fails, than to ignore it completely. Free speech works in the same way. It’s a “collective brainstorm” in a sense.

Ultimately, freethinkers are against censorship because it closes us to thoughts, and therefore hinders us in our search for the truth. If our standard of truth becomes not reality but censorship, instead of the tyranny of reality, we will find the tyranny of men, using censorship to achieve their goals.

“…The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”[3]


NOTES:

[1] Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. See “[email protected] Week” article of March 12, 1998 (http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/daily/980312h.html)

[2] Israel and Switzerland have the most armed citizens in the world, and exhibit homicide rates of respectively 1.96 (The Jewish Week, Dec. 1992) and 1.32 (8.4 for the United States in 1988). All countries whose gun homicide rates are higher than the U.S., also have strict or very strong gun control. For more information, see http://www.guncite.com/gcgvinco.html

[3] Capt. Jean-Luc Picard – Star Trek TNG, The Drumhead (ok ok, I can hear your cries of “fanboy !” from over here…)