Right now the UK government are talking about filtering the internet, so that people have to opt in to be able to see pornography. Now, I’m no great fan of porn, but I have a lot of time for erotica as a genre, and I think a free and open discussion of all things sexual is really important to combat abusive behaviour. So, my fear is simply that in shutting down access to porn, we will also shut down access to other, far more important things.
However, it doesn’t stop there. We’re hearing noises about restricting access to sites about suicide, alcohol and smoking, anorexia, bulimia, and things esoteric. I realise that just by writing that stream of words I may be condemning my blog to invisibility, and that’s not a comfortable thought. There’s no certainty here, but a great deal that is uncomfortable. The only way to do this will be by blocking words. How do we differentiate, using a computer program, between a site that encourages suicide, and, say The Samaritans, who help people to live? How do we not filter out support groups for victims, sufferers, families dealing with alcoholics, and those who want to quit smoking?
What are we doing, cutting down our rights, as adults, to access information as we see fit? I do not like the idea that a government has the right to restrict access to perfectly legitimate information, and the ‘esoteric’ in the mix sets alarm bells ringing. That’s going to mean Pagans. It’s also going to mean businesses, authors, Harry Potter, and Disney, for how do you tell between one kind of magic and another? Someone is going to sue. Assuming it happens, and of course it may not because it is both silly and unworkable.
There’s also the small, practical consideration that suppression does not work. Even regimes that kill people do not manage to stamp out ideas, silence dissent, and eradicate unwelcome minorities. Hitler failed. China has failed to entirely subdue Tibet. Every country and culture that has ever tried to crush homosexuality has failed to do so. Every dictator who has ever tried to silence dissent and destroy opposition, has failed. Every last one. Freedom of thought prevails. Compassion survives, even in the face of violence and hatred. Ideas survive, even in the most authoritarian regimes. There are always those willing to face imprisonment and death for the sake of freedom and ideas. Always.
And on the other side, no amount of law making has stopped people from raping each other. No amount of public abhorrence makes child abuse go away, or stops people killing themselves, or poisoning their bodies with drugs. Look at prohibition America to see how that works in practice.
Suppression is failure. It is an acknowledgement that you cannot win the argument by rational means and/or that you do not have the will or the manpower to tackle the actual crimes and injustices. Making it harder to access porn does not make porn go away, it just sends it underground. You will not end pornography by banning it. Only a culture shift could do that.
We can make culture shifts. We can learn to tolerate differences of skin colour and sexual preference. We can learn to live alongside people who use other names for their gods and pray in unfamiliar ways. Or we can shift towards fear and hatred, and desperate attempts to create and maintain a power base. We can move towards control and restriction, narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
But here’s a thing. To be afraid, narrow-minded, bigoted and full of hate, is to be a bloody miserable person. No win there, either.
Where there is deliberate cruelty, where there is harm caused, where pain and suffering are real possibilities, we need laws to hold our cultural boundaries, and some means to tackle those who refuse to live co-operatively with those around them. We need to be careful not to mistake difference for offense, and we need to be less afraid of each other.
Dear government, please don’t blow an obscene amount of money making internet filters that restrict the free access of citizens to important information. Spend that money on police officers to hunt down child abusers, rapists and killers. Spend that money on education and improving attitudes to women such that the appetite for porn is reduced. Spend that money supporting the alcoholics, smokers, anorexics, bulimics and the mentally ill. Leave the esoterica alone. Thank you.