Blocking Software Reports
Why we do this
(Members of Peacefire are generally united against blocking software, but the following is just a personal note from the webmaster listing his specifics reasons, and should not be taken to represent anyone else's point of view.)
Bennett was a math major, and wrote this in full math major mode. He doesn't always talk this way!
Internet censorship is obviously not the greatest injustice in the U.S., or even the greatest injustice being committed against minors (see http://www.childrenshealthcare.org/ for information about the need for minors' rights to medical treatment). But Internet censorship and decency standards are about the most illogical "values" pervading the country. I believe that people have a civic obligation to think about where their values come from, and to try to arrive at their values by logically reasoning about them, rather than simply absorbing their values from their friends, parents, or society. Internet censorship is a good jumping-off point to think about which of society's rules have some moral backing behind them ("Don't steal"), and which rules are totally arbitrary and have been passed on by absorption ("Don't say 'fuck'").
Blocking software reinforces two of society's most illogical "values": (1) material that violates conventional "decency" standards is immoral, and (2) discriminating against people under 18 is not a civil liberties violation.
In the case of decency standards, take the words "screw" and "fuck" -- which mean the same thing, but one of them is considered so harmful that films and CD's containing the word actually carry warning labels. "Fuck" is just a syllable -- the notion of what is considered a dirty word is completely arbitrary. When I was ten, I had an idea for solving the problem of "foul language" in movies: just declare that at midnight on the next January 1st, all swear words are reclassified as "slang" so they're not swear words any more. (It didn't catch on because I didn't have a Web page.)
The notion of "indecent pictures" is just as arbitrary. Imagine if you woke up in a parallel universe just like this one, except that pictures of people's right ears were considered obscene, but pictures of people's left ears were considered OK. People would wear "right-ear-muffs" in public, and if someone's earmuff fell off on TV, the broadcaster would have to blur it out. If that sounds ridiculous, it's not any more ridiculous than the American laws which say male nipples can be shown on TV but female nipples can't be. Mall security guards have ordered mothers not to breast-feed their children in public because of these "values". Of all the controversial pictures on the Internet -- the stuff of scare stories circulated by right-wing pro-censorship groups -- hardly any are considered obscene unless some "indecent" body parts are showing.
As it turns out, based on the mail we've gotten, there isn't as much support for decency standards, as there is for general restrictions of people's rights based on age. We get mail saying that even though blocking the word "fuck" may be stupid, some parents still want to do it. This misses the point; every parent in the world could believe that the word "fuck" was harmful, and that wouldn't make it any less stupid. The question is whether people under 18 should be penalized for what their parents believe.
The idea that people under 18 should automatically have fewer rights, has logical problems that are more subtle than the obvious problems with decency standards. One argument is, "Minors should have fewer rights because they don't pay taxes." Actually, they can (I paid non-refundable taxes before I was 18, not because I earned much, but because I was paid with research grants), but that's not the point -- the real problem is, does this mean that adults who don't pay taxes, should also have fewer civil rights? Or, "Minors should have fewer rights because they're not as intelligent or experienced." Again, fair's fair: should adults who have lower intelligence or experience levels -- as measured, say, by literacy tests -- have fewer legal rights?
Most supporters of democracy find both of these ideas repulsive, but then you'd have to find some other reason for restricting the rights of people under 18. (Saying that minors will reach 18 someday and get their rights then, isn't good enough; how much would it be worth to you to give up your rights now for 18 years, even if you got them back at the end?)
I think there are times when it makes sense to restrict someone's rights in proportion to their actual abilities (e.g. no driver's licenses for 5-year-olds). But much age discrimination is simply based on age, and defies all logic if you try to reconcile it with ability. How is a teenager ever not "qualified" to get their own library card, if they can pay for any lost books? How "mature" should you have to be before doctors can give you lifesaving medical treatment without your parents' permission?
For me, the passion of fighting censorship was never about rights so much as it was about logical sense. How you respond to this reasoning, corresponds to how you would respond if you were permanently transported into that parallel universe where exposed right ears were considered "harmful to minors". Would you (1) gradually come to agree that visible right ears were indecent; or (2) continue thinking the rule was stupid, but keep your mouth shut; or (3) decide you weren't going to take it any more, and start trying to convince people that the rule didn't make any sense? If you're in the third category, you can understand what drives a group like Peacefire to keep fighting.