Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let's talk about this Free Internet thingy....

Australian readers, and possibly net denizens from elsewhere, will be aware of our government's plans to introduce a mandatory internet filter.  Last weekend there was an article in the Weekend Australian magazine, and just last night a Four Corners program and Q&A program both devoted to issues around this subject.  Which is interesting timing, as I started writing a post just before the weekend on that very subject, but things happened, and......you know how it goes.  So I'm starting again.

In summary, the government is proposing - well, actually it's saying it's just going ahead with - an ISP-based web filter which will block all web pages listed on a secret database compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), who also oversee film and literature classification and so forth.  The pages to be blocked will apparently be only those which are 'Refused Classification' by the authority and which would thus not be legally available in Australia through any other medium.  Child pornography is obviously a major target, but also covered would be 'extreme' adult pornography, so-called hate sites like Neo Nazi white-supremacist pages that incite race hatred, information on how to construct illegal weapons (eg bombs), or any other page that provides information about how to break an Australian law.  So things like how-to information on euthanasia, or safe injecting practices for intravenous drugs users, would also be banned.

There are a few issues with it however, not the least of which is that everyone with any credibility whatsoever has confirmed that such a filter will not work.  In the government's own first set of trials, there were 37 different ways tested to circumvent the filter, almost all of which worked.  These methods were found by google searches.  Of course, there is the individual liberty thing to consider - quite simply, no-one wants to be told what they can and cannot be allowed to view.  The filter will slow down data speeds, and the trials to date have shown it to block perfectly safe and innocuous sites.  Even the government admits it will not be able to apply the filter to high-traffic sites such as YouTube.

The vast majority of Australians would like access to child pornography curtailed - something like 93% of Australians, in fact.  A similarly vast majority do not want a mandatory net filter such as this one.  Governments around the world are telling us in no uncertain terms that it would be a Bad Thing To Do - including nice Uncle Sam.  Why is the government being so stubborn?

Apparently, there are some 355 such sites in existence in the world.  Out of 3 million or so web sites.  Many countries successfully run filters that block child porn sites, and child porn sites only.  Interestingly, these same countries continue to see people arrested for accessing child porn on the internet.  Part of the answer is that much child porn, just like hate screeds, and terrorist how-to manuals is distributed through peer-to-peer networking, which can never be filtered in this way.

Well then, what to do?

There is a saying that

"it takes a whole village to raise a child" 

and I think this is the issue at the heart of all this guff.

Hang on, I should out myself before we go any further.  When it comes to this stuff, I am an information libertarian, believing that everyone should have equal and unfettered access to information, and be responsible for making their own choices about what's "good" or "bad" for them.  I also believe that we need to be sufficiently educated and supported in our personal growth and social awareness to make these choices for ourselves well, and that there are things out there that are indeed potentially very harmful to those not sufficiently educated and mature.  Like children.  And that it is a good thing to wisely shepherd our young through the minefields of life as it really is today.  Which means shielding them from serious harm, until they are strong enough to shield themselves.

All this brings us to the slippery ground of "who is to judge what is harmful for a child, and who is to guide their education and growth?"

Let's now just abandon once and for all the notion that the information which needs careful handling and corralling away from susceptible individuals can ever be controlled fully.  Also abandon for now a way to eradicate forcibly such things as racial hatred, child abuse, and the urge to spread misery in all its forms.  Can't be done.  If it could, then a government would be an ideal tool for the job, given the overarching nature of national governance.

Part of the problem, which has been going on since before the internet, is that since the dawn of formalised school education and the subsequent separation of children from the everyday life of their community, parents have looked more and more to various authorities of government to do the parenting of their children.  Schools are institutions, made up of people for sure, but they are not people.  Institutions cannot be substitute parents or guardians.  Only people can.  Institutions cannot love.

If you have a child in a small village of interdependent, emotionally bonded families and people, then there is a reasonable expectation that others will assist in the raising of your child - in a manner arrived at by group consensus over time - as you will help raise others' children.  If a hard thing befalls you, you would expect the village to be a good safety net and comfort for your child, to whatever extent you were unable to provide or care for them.  Now we just have harried Departments for child protection and wards of the state.

Now the police are blamed for not catching the drunk driver that ran over someone, or the courts for not handing out harsh enough penalties as deterrence.  People sue councils for tripping over a crack in the pavement.  Schools are blamed for the behavioural and academic problems of children.  Advertising is blamed for childhood obesity, binge drinking, and the sexualisation of people who are just too young for it.

You know what?  The internet is the same thing, the same place, as the rest of the world.  The world in which we are born and die, the world of McDonald's advertising and difficult decisions about what to do with people who break rules.  Difficult decisions about making and enforcing rules.  About the extent to which rules are even relevant.  It is time to start seeing the internet, just like the rest of our society, as a simple extension of ourselves.

Child porn, rape and hate crimes will not go away by suppressing their imagery.  In some cases, prohibiting things makes them more attractive to certain types of person.  These things will go away when we as a people - a society - a species - have outgrown them.  Not before.  In the village, every individual realises their effect on everyone else.  Not just through their deeds and words, but their thought, and heart.

There is another saying, and one that I've not heard in many a year, come to think of it:

"the truth hurts."

The truth is, we have all created (or allowed to continue, if that's more comfortable) the things that now threaten us, through a recent history of not enough of us behaving as responsible members of  our village.  Everyone is equal in the world, as humans, as spirits, and as villagers.  With equal rights come equal responsibilities.  I have not yet met anyone who truly wants to be treated as less than human.

Thus it is up to us to be responsible for growing past these ills within ourselves.  I can't make another person not want to be a racist, or a child abuser (and I do know some of each) but I can do my best to clean the things in myself that support the continued existence in the world of such destructive ways.  And thus help tip the spiritual balance a little in everyone's favour.

I may not live in an ideal type of village where I can impart what little wisdom I may have gained to a child learning about life, so she can add it to the experiences of others, and learn to weigh her own mind and heart.  But I can accept my place in the interconnectedness of humankind, and know that when I do things - even inside my own head - that are unkind, or judgemental, or even just lazy in the face of an observed event that needs my cleaning attention - then I am letting myself and the world be that bit more polluted and dangerous for our children.

It's a question of us healing.  Individually.  Individual healing is something we can all do - in fact we can't avoid doing - together.  Somewhere in the Judaeo-Christian writings there is a quote attributed to Jesus, speaking in this instance in his role as God:

"Whatsoever you do the least of my brothers and sisters, you also do to me."

I like this, and extrapolate it a bit further:  as you do to others, you do to yourself, and vice versa.

So if we are rabidly calling for our government to protect our children by blocking 'illegal' pages on the internet, is it not that we are simply wanting someone else to take responsibility?  Sure, a tool we have is the participatory democracy we live in (in my country) but it's a thing that needs healing in and of itself.  I mean, I'm not especially comfortable taking my share of responsibility for war, famine, slavery, rape, and all manner of ills visited upon our children - but I am entirely responsible.  I am every bit as responsible as Robert Mugabe.  In fact, I might go so far as to egotistically suggest I practice more responsibility and honesty than he seems to.  If I were to see it any other way, to see myself as disconnected from all my brethren in sickness as well as health, I would be treating myself as less than an equal member of our human family.

Does this make sense to you?  By not taking personal responsibility for the things you see that need healing in the world, and in yourself, you are making yourself a lesser person.  It's what they call a vicious circle.  It's disempowering.  There's a key trick to it all - it's all about YOU.  You can't do it just for the good of society, or for the good of the children - you must do it for your own good.  So you can heal back to your original level of 'worthiness' (sacredness).  The loss of which is what the old guys were talking about in the Garden of Eden.  Whatsoever you do for yourself, you do for others - God included, if you are so inclined.  Or am I stark raving bonkers?

And there it is.  Human family.  Let's just each of us do our best for ourselves, for the children.  If we keep doing this, then eventually our descendants shall have little or no need to have such dire evils of their own creation haunt them at every step.  The sooner we start behaving like the responsible villagers we are, the sooner we can set this course to rights again.  And we may just manage to keep the planet looking much as it does now along the way.

Censoring stuff on the internet, or anywhere else, is so not the point.


  1. Apparently even those who work in law enforcement and child protection have been surprised at the high level of paedophilic activity on the internet. But I think in the 'good old days' the general sexual threat from older people to young ones may actually have been higher, IRL. I mean, even in my own youth it seemed that most of us knew a 'funny uncle' to avoid.
    Paedophilia shouldn't be viewed as somehow strangely apart from other sexual behaviours. It clearly shows up how some people seek to leverage power as a means of gaining sex, for sure... but lots of overage women (and men) have experience of that as well.
    Society has so much invested in the use and misuse of other people in a sexual manner.
    And yes that does include mass culture issues such as sexual imagery, the objectification of women (standard) and also the abuse and misuse of people within personal relationships.
    Relying on government to set our personal moralities really means we tend to fall to a 'one-size-fits-all' mentality. As we are a species that tends to set norms according to 'what the herd is doing', the private is public when it comes to personal moralities, particularly in the raising of our young.
    Maybe, then, a society's minimum of expectations (the legal system) cannot also be our best. Perhaps the government should give our children back to us, by cutting down the school day? But mothers are tax payers now, are they not? Incomes are not split any longer in Australia. Mothering is no recognised by the governemtn as a legitimate community work.

  2. Tons of 'yeses' there from me on this comment for sure, Lisa. I would concur that paedophilia has always been around, in fact history would tell us that in many times and places some behaviour that we would call paedophilia now was just normal and expected practice. Censoring the subject entirely out of our lives also censors a conversation about it that can lead to a healing for all of us, imo. The private/public thing is another whole social issue to explore now, isn't it? I like your reminder that our legal systems are about minimum standards of compliance, and not at all about 'best' ways to aim for.

    Maybe when you say that 'Mothering is not recognised ny the government as a legitimate community work' you mean that we, the people, are not valuing motherhood and parenting sufficiently? Getting a government to act in a way that symbolises a certain social consensus, does not that consensus make. The apology for the dipossession of the Aboriginal peoples has resulted in....well.....there sure is still a lot of racism, disempowerment and disadvantage going on, and I'm not really sure that Australia as a village has really achieved consensus at all on that one - for example.

  3. Boy, this raises a hell of a lot of questions, but I think you hit the nail on the head. It all comes back to responsibility of your actions. If you dont take it yourself, you hand it to someone, or something that will. Life has taught me that the things you make happen, are usually good. The things that happen, as a result of passing the buck so to speak and relenquishing your power and worth, are invariably detrimental. It all starts and ends with YOU. I agree with you that child porn, child abuse, racial abuse and other fringe behaviour, has been amongst us throughout our relativly short history, but was never so exposed and obvious as it is now, thanks to the internet. Some may say this will allow a greater spread and accessibility to this material and entice this behaviour. I say that it is making us look at ourselves in a honest way as never before. To say its not an, albiet sad, part of human behaviour, is to once again hide our heads in the sand, and not take responsibility for our own selves and our "village". Its is now slowly being held to the light, for us all to see, and we are rightfully appalled. Its hard to look in the mirror sometimes, and our collective self is finding it a bloody nightmare. Welcome to the first part of healing. Information is vital for the less informed, ones not born into circles of privilege, the majority without the perks and advantages the well informed have, and censorship is just another way of keeping it with the few, and we've all seen where that leads. Lets look hard at ourselves, we have the best chance we've ever had. A few of generations are going to have to do the hard yards to ensure we survive the miles ahead.