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Dumb censorship

© May 2004 Tony Lawrence

I am on the lunatic liberal fringe, being one of those insane people who doesn't believe in censoring words. It's particularly ridiculous in this modern age where cultures collide: what is vulgar or obscene in one culture is ordinary in another.

I'm not a fan of censorship, period. It is far past the time where we need to just get over it. Certain words or images may make you uncomfortable, but in most cases, that's just YOUR problem and there is no threat to anyone's health, welfare, or happiness. Unveiled women make some folks uncomfortable, uncovered breasts incense others. Both need to just get over it: it's just cultural. Nudity isn't harmful to living things, whether it is faces, ankles, belly buttons, breasts or genitals. Vulgarity in words? The very word comes from the Latin word referring to the "common people". In other words, the origin of these word prohibitions is just class snobbery; it's not what is being said, it's HOW it's being said. Again, way past time to put all that nonsense behind us.

We live in a world where disparate cultures are rubbing against each other far more than they ever could. The Internet connects us, binds us, exposes us with an immediacy that never existed before. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore (except for "medicinal purposes"), and there are places in the U.S. that don't like clothing that exposes belly-buttons or underwear. I remember very angry people complaining about the length of teenager's hair when I was young. And on it goes.

Certainly there are reasons for prohibiting some behavior. You can't defecate on my sidewalk because that's a health hazard in addition to being culturally unpleasant. And there are gray areas where people are going to argue: should drug use be proscribed for public health reasons? What about sexual activity? Arguments can be made for and against this kind of thing, but at least there is something legitimate being argued. You may feel that legalizing prostititution would pose a public health risk; I may say that you need to deal with that with licensing and inspections, but at least we are arguing about something that isn't just a cultural opinion.

Yes, I'm a loony liberal. But isn't most censorship just as loony?

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The odd thing about censorship is that in the end it will always fail. The classic example of this, I think, was the broad censorship exercised by the powers-that-be in the former Soviet Union. For decades, the Communist leaders attempted to stifle the flow of information into (and out of) the Soviet Union. Their principle goal, it seemed, was to paint the USA as a bad place inhabited by bad people with bad habits and practices, and at the same time, portray the Soviet Union as an idyllic place to live and work.

Naturally, those Soviets who were able to travel abroad soon discovered that they were being lied to by their leaders. Over time, the combination of international travel, better communications and the dying off of the older Communist party power brokers resulted in an increase in information flow that eventually broke the back of Soviet censorship.

Although the Internet is a major source of information and news, it is not the only source. Hopefully, those who are having their Internet connections censored in the misguided name of morality, religion, culture unity -- take your pick -- will soon discover, like the Soviets of years past, that their leaders are lying to them and cheating them out of their rights to knowledge and power.


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