Oct 212014
 
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This is probably going to be one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever written, especially in the times we now find we’re living.

Via Paul Bernal on Twitter, this story came my way an hour or so ago.  It describes how someone has been convicted of possessing cartoons of figures designed to look like children.  The judge clearly considered they represented and perpetuated abuse:

Judge Tony Briggs said the pictures were manufactured, stylised, and “repulsive” to varying degrees.

And:

He added: “This is material that clearly society and the public can well do without. Its danger is that it obviously portrays sexual activity with children, and the more it’s portrayed, the more the ill-disposed may think it’s acceptable.”

To conclude, on giving the person in question a nine-month prison sentence suspended for two years:

He said anything that encouraged child abuse, including word of mouth, drawings or artistic impressions, was to be “actively discouraged”.

I can’t disagree with the broad brush-strokes used here, having written in a similar vein on a similar subject a while ago, and to obviously similar effect:

As I pointed out recently, sexual abuse is primarily the abuse of power – and any society which criminalises the former should also be prepared to criminalise the latter.  Similarly, the generation of pornography – indeed, the generation of any content which involves the exploitation of people who would not otherwise participate, were their financial, or other, circumstances different – is, above all, an analogous abuse of power.

It does make me wonder the following, however: how far as a society are we prepared to go down the route not of policing such obvious images (I assume they are manifestly repulsive from the judge’s opinion and reaction, not because I have seen them myself – perhaps we should be learning to be a little more trusting of those whose responsibility is to act on our behalf in such challenging circumstances) but, rather, of policing even our thoughts?  For example: thoughts like the ones I had towards the end of my post linked to above:

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

Would our judge be unhappy with thoughts such as these?  Do they – might they – constitute a risk to the safety, mores and behaviours of a wider public?  And am I running the risk of being guilty of incitement to future processes which lead to abuse – simply by publishing these ideas?

Maybe so.  If  so, perhaps a retraction would be in order.

But if not, if the matter of freedom to think is at risk here and overrides other points of view – not in the judicial sentence handed down with respect to the images under discussion but, instead, in the trend it could quite easily kickstart one day to the state ending up believing it has the right to police all our imaginings – then perhaps the following tweets’ implications do need to be evaluated:

@zebrared It’s a ‘direct harm’ vs ‘indirect harm’ argument… the law effectively assumes there’s harm from even viewing fakes.

@PaulbernalUK Yes. I see that. & there is considerable value in the approach. But it does require us to accept a policed view of society. >>

@PaulbernalUK << Prob being who decides what is policed (“fake” images which pervert) vs what is not (real-life abuse by the powerful). :-(

Which reminds me, for some reason, of those equally fake “Spitting Image” puppets – never so missed as they are today, right?


http://youtu.be/R1jY5fYjV-U

For in a way, they also constituted abuse of a considerable nature: for many, these puppets brought into irreparable disrepute an institution which at the time was still repairable.  Even as, on the other hand, some might argue the abuse was merited – observing and critiquing the dreadful self-destruction of a once treasured body politic: a self-destruction which would have happened anyway, however sensitively we’d otherwise behaved.

Which begs my final question: can abuse ever be merited?  What do you think, cartoon lovers?

____________________

Update to this post: some further reading has just come my way via Facebook and the Mirror.  The report describes how CGI porn has indeed been created, although not with the “didactic” or “structural” aims I naively suggested.  Instead, law-enforcement agencies decided a while ago (I do hope before my original blogpost) to use such technologies to detect and capture those involved in online child sex.

The story is worth your time, of course: it raises important issues around morality, possible entrapment and the pressures that policing what can be a pretty unpleasant worldwide web may pile up on those who are obliged to decide how to proceed.  I’m not sure it makes any clearer the debate under discussion in my post today, though: I can’t help feeling the creeping medieval shadow of the Roman Catholic Inquisition is returning to our midst.

I’d far rather find some way of educating people out of an obsession with societally harmful sex than using the very same technologies to, perhaps, encourage them in their activities – at least until they’re ultimately caught.  There really is something – at least for me in my naivete – that doesn’t quite fit with what we presumed was once a liberally supportive society.


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Aug 162013
 
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A short and sour answer to the question posed by the title of today’s post would be: “Basically because we have very little.”

Of course, technological progress and its proponents sell themselves very well.  Like a war photographer who only wants you to see what they’re paid for you to see, the frame is positioned in order to benefit those who would have us believe in their wares.  As it is easy to measure the easily quantitative, so the qualitative in life becomes much less important.  The soft aspects of relationships, where we express emotions, feelings and love, lose their traction in a society where everything must be measured in terms of monetary transactions.

Technology is good at measuring us in terms of money.  Technology is good at measuring itself in terms of what it can achieve.

So good, in fact, its proponents seem to believe – and manage to convince us it is so – that it’s the only possible way to move forwards.

Yet even those of us less enamoured with the development throughout human history of marvellous machines various, inevitably find ourselves in our daily lives unable to resist their bewitchingly gadget-infused attractions.  From those stories of Walt Disney’s frozen brain and the overheated magnificence of William Shatner’s “Star Trek” – both populating the Sixties and Seventies of my still scientifically entranced childhood – to the overwhelming success of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, the arrival of the mobile phone, streaming Internet video and now computer spectacles we can wear and inform ourselves with wherever we go, on its own very specific terms technology does – nevertheless – represent progress.

Perhaps more now, for the majority of the population, than ever before.

Even so, myself, I’m beginning to become a little less entranced with this technology I describe – as well as the progress it supposedly represents.  There are, of course, the obvious downsides: for every computer we make, there is the pollution it generates.  For every TED talk that informs, we have pornography that exploits.  Nothing is new in such an assertion.  For what appears to have been forever, the natural equilibrium in human existence requires every good to have its contrasting and counterpointing bad.

In a sense, then, God and the Devil are hard-wired into our actions.  As, indeed, must be the idea of faith.  And in this case, a very 21st century faith.  Despite every evidence to the contrary, we continue to believe in the validity of technology and its summative progress.  All the rubbish we know more and more about – all the stats and realities which tell a quite different story – are nothing compared to our fervent attachment to the benefits of technological progress.

In fact, I’m getting to the point where I’m beginning to believe that corporate capitalism, a centralising capitalism which generates technological advances like no other in history, is driven not so much by the quest for wealth – nor even power – but, rather, by the unconscious desire to beat death.

Remember, if you will, those stories about Walt Disney’s cryogenics – and multiply them up to our days.

Yes.  If those who concentrate such wealth in order to effervescently develop more technologies, even where this is at the manifest expense of a wider societal wellbeing, continue to effervescently develop, perhaps what we have is an otherwise noble desire to beat the impending apocalypse:

[…] Jensen believes we can and should do something to prepare for the coming collapse. For Jensen, how we live now is going to determine how well we’ll do when the great factories of Guangdong fall fallow. Jensen says people should “prepare for it on a local level”, rebuild communities as much as they can, put in place alternative systems of local governance, think about their food supply.

And whilst the rest of us may soon have to get used to the idea of giving up on the future of technological progress – of giving in to this apocalypse some are beginning to speak of – maybe in some strange way the opposite has been the story of capitalism all along.  The impatience of perishable lives which recognise, subconsciously, how little they will eventually achieve.  Capitalism as a latterday manifestation of that ancient pursuit of the Holy Grail?  I shouldn’t be surprised.  Everything goes, everything is justified, any means can find their precious ends … if, that is, the precious ends involve successfully challenging an awfully Final Judgment.

Maybe, then, we need to believe in the progress of technology – in the unseemly concentration of wealth, in the considerable phallacy of top-down trickle-down economics – because all of us, somehow, somewhere and some time, have dreamt of beating our fate.

The fate of the civilisation we’ve built, first and foremost.

The fate of the species, next along the line.

Finally, the fate of the planet itself.

And all along, all our achievements only measured on their own deliberately limited terms.

Our choice in the light of the above?  Between the progress of a technology for all or the decline of a standard of living for the majority?  Is that where we are now?  Is that the crossroads?  Has capitalism finally given up on its historically implicit – even where, perhaps, disingenuous – assertion that it might, one day, beat the Final Judgment for everyone?

Yesterday, I spoke about how we, as intimate participants, were creating the conditions for capitalism’s own Achilles’ heel.  Perhaps those who run the beast have realised this and have themselves given up on any further intent at deception.  This may, after all, be not so much an apocalypse now but – instead – an apocalypse delayed.

Time to run our society down.

Capitalism’s assertion was, in any case, only a mirage all along.  And realising this is a logical consequence of universal education.  In a sense, then, capitalism’s decay is actually our fault.  In the past, its success depended so much on our faith, confidence, trust and belief – none of which, in the light of modern mindsets and behaviours, is likely to be easily deposited by us any more.

Not easily, for sure.

Not whilst we begin to acquire the tools to think with intelligence; to reach our considered conclusions carefully and firmly.

*

One final question, then – a question I ask in all good faith: can we recover that faith, confidence, trust and belief in order that we might avoid the apocalypse I have mentioned?

Oh, to believe in the onwards and upwards march of technology again.  To believe in its being shared around.  To believe in its utility for all human beings.  To believe in reciprocity and kindness.

To recover gentlemen and women as our model to follow.

If only.


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Jul 262013
 
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Paul reports today on how his post on porn got blocked for using too many sensitive terms.  It reminds me of one time I was giving Spanish evening classes to adults in our local school, and I attempted to access my Spanish Blogger-based blog.  The crudest of filters threw me summarily out as it argued, by virtue of its being a blog, that what I was trying to see was adult-related material.

As if in a civilisation of the universally educated adult-related material should mean what it unhappily does.

I’m pretty sure, right now, that this blogsite you are reading at the moment is now coming under the control of more and more automated filters out there.  If for no other reason than this post from earlier in the year, where I argue that governments should invest in the training-up of willing sex workers in the skills of CGI porn:

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

A quaint idea; a curate’s egg of an idea admittedly.  But surely, at the very least, an idea which deserves to generate others.

I did, of course, go on to point out the following (the bold is mine today):

Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn.  But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.

Which brings me to my main point this evening, and the reason why I feel strongly enough to nail my flag to the mast of unpopular observations.  You cannot reasonably block anything if you don’t know – if you cannot agree on – what you are blocking.  Porn is like the word “love”.  Who knows what we mean when we use it?  For someone like my mother, it’s anything ever-so-mildly salacious.  For me, it’s simply the recording and/or transmission of non-personal sexual acts where power has been used to abuse some or all of the participants.  As I’ve said on numerous occasions, if we’re against the abuse of sex, we should be against the abuse of power.  The one and the other should coincide in our civilisation, and fiercely coincide too.  That populist politicians choose to criticise and damn the former even as they continue to exhibit behaviours plagued by the latter is simply one more example of the hypocrisy that infuses public debate these days.

To be honest, given that the term “porn” is one of shifting goalposts, of shifting points of view, it’s clear that anyone of a medium intellect who honestly and sincerely believes in its automatic filtering is prepared, just as honestly and sincerely, to give up on civilisation’s greatest quality: that of allowing without a pre-moderation the expression and development of surprising and unpredictable trains of thought.  Without the brilliant men and women who were prepared to ask questions before knowing their destination, we would not know be in a position where we feel we had to censor a communication environment such as the worldwide web in the first place.

Porn, its prevalence, its cost to society, only exists because of beautiful minds across the globe.  And if we now choose to protect our children and our peoples from the nastiness of violent porn through automated systems which landgrab anything and everything in their path, in a sense we are doing nothing more than those who used to catch fish with nets that also trapped dolphins.

If you don’t believe in gratuitous dolphin fishery, why then do you believe in gratuitous content fishery?

If you don’t believe in stopping developing minds from toying with ideas, why then do you believe in cutting off access to a blogsite simply because it uses some terminology in order to talk about a subject you deplore?

And if you don’t believe in allowing Middle Eastern dictatorships to continue imposing their definition of appropriate speech on their citizens, to the extent you are even prepared to spend trillions of dollars on going to war against them, why can’t you contemplate chasing down the pornography you despise on a piece-by-piece basis instead of dishing the dirt on a whole society’s thoughts and ideas?

I really do feel, have never felt more strongly than now, that it’s time to campaign in favour of speech porn.  Anything, everything, all political, social and cultural DNA – however unpleasant.  For if we do not draw this marker in the sand right now, so many outlets like my humble little blogsite, lightly peppered with articles about the subject of porn, will soon become other casualties of those who care little for true free speech: governments which lie; ministers who abuse their power; policemen and women who sully the good name of their profession; journalists who hack for a living; business leaders interested only in bottom lines … in general, all those strata of society which maintain their ability to oppress in the name of what they like to describe as efficient working-practices in bloody awful general and damn good biz in bloody awful particular.

I mean it really is so, isn’t it?  That five years ago, in a school of all places, I was unable to use blogging technologies because they were judged to be adult-related content is a sad commentary on exactly what latterday society understands is the definition of an adult.  And that an “adult movie” should equal the abuse of sex for so many people, and not (for example) its enjoyment, is pretty symptomatic of the whole problem to hand.

Here, then, a final wearisome thought to consider: whilst our childhood is stolen from us even as paedophilia embraces our country’s political and media discourses, and whilst our adulthood becomes defined by an inability to think freely and openly without fear of state interference, little of what I was taught to understand by civilisation remains in the space that I might see to be all our futures.  We can neither be children in safety any more nor adults in growing and developing intellectual abandon.

Instead, we can only – must only – limit ourselves to being cowed young school kids, cowed young adolescents, frightened of every blue car on the corner, frightened of every stranger; able only to prepare ourselves for a world of repetitive office drudgery, growing up into an epoch of adult poverty … everything, in fact, except the glory of humanity itself.

So this is the alternative campaign I propose we should propose: a massive campaign, across the world, for everyone to opt out not of the so-called porn filter but rather – in reality – to opt in to the free-speech zone.

Just imagine.  If millions of people publicly declared their active embracing of a filter-free Internet in the interests of free expression, how powerful a signal that would send to the populists that porn – especially speech porn – is anything but violent.

In particular, a signal to those populists who spend the rest of their lives, outside this matter of porn, exerting undue pressure on the sick, disabled, poor and generally disadvantaged.

For that’s the real porn plaguing our society these days.  The porn that is the abuse of political power.


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Mar 022013
 
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This, from Iceland, on their campaign against online porn, is absolutely spot-on (the bold is mine):

Jónasson’s adviser Halla Gunnarsdóttir told the Guardian this week that the country is “not anti-sex, but anti-violence”, and that “what is under discussion is the welfare of our children and their rights to grow and develop in a non-violent environment”.

As I pointed out recently, sexual abuse is primarily the abuse of power – and any society which criminalises the former should also be prepared to criminalise the latter.  Similarly, the generation of pornography – indeed, the generation of any content which involves the exploitation of people who would not otherwise participate, were their financial, or other, circumstances different – is, above all, an analogous abuse of power.

Iceland’s current move to remove such violence from its children is entirely coherent with earlier reported moves:

The draft legislation follows laws passed in 2009 and 2010 that criminalised customers rather than sex workers and closed strip clubs.

The problem of course, in this particular case, is that the tools which they wish to use involve filtering an open Internet.  Tools which replicate the interventions in human rights that less salubrious regimes across the world are currently using.  Tools which would give these regimes the kind of democratically-stamped approval to continue in their oppressive ways.

A difficult call for everyone who believes in freedom of information.

*

There’s another matter, however, which I’d like to raise in this post: we must accept we live vicarious lives.  From latterday social media to traditional Hollywood films, this commonplace existing through the actions and creations of others is more or less generally accepted.  No one really questions, for example, the right Daniel Craig has to earn a living from the explicit violence of putting imaginary bullets through anonymous bit-parted actors – nor even the creeping-up-behind naked actresses in movie-lit showers of sexual abandon.

Is it fair, then, to say that Daniel Craig and his cohort of stars are being exploited in order to put violence of one kind or another on silver-plattered screens for our repeated delectation and delight?  And if it is fair to say so, should we strive to prevent such processes too?

I’m not really sure we shouldn’t, to be honest – if, that is, we’re really going to get serious about the abuse of power more generally.  Interfering with the freedom of information flow is, undoubtedly, a very big issue.  But so is what I assume to be the increasing exploitation of sex workers as a result of that insatiable content-black-hole that is the worldwide web.

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn.  But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.

Technology, in part, got us to the bind we now find ourselves in.  Technology, properly shared out and distributed, and through a generous and intelligence analysis of the whole process involved, could serve to get us out of it.

If only we were prepared to be coherent.


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Sep 262011
 
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I wrote a short piece yesterday on the subject of “verbal abuse” – both offline and online.  I quoted from a definition of verbal abuse in the real world – and extended its application to blogging and other online activities.  You can find this post here.

A Skype chat this morning which I had with a member of my family led me to the following conclusion:

[08:15:00] Miljenko Williams: Which begs the question: does [verbal abuse online] make it more prevalent in offline contexts?

It’s a mightily important question.  The number of comments to the post which originally provoked my interest in this subject would seem to indicate that this kind of abuse is already more than present in our society.  But if Internet leakage is indeed taking place, then the verbally violent but virtual behaviours flame wars and trolling tend to encourage could , in fact, be serving simply to reinforce similar behaviours offline.

Rather than allowing people to let off steam relatively harmlessly, we could be creating online virtual pressure cookers which only find their true release in the real world.

And it doesn’t half seem to me that the arguments in favour of and against pornography are just as applicable in the context here of verbal abuse as described above.  Usage equals relief or further abuse?  I was never sure in the case of pornography itself – and yet am clearer than ever that this “verbal pornography” I have stumbled across as a concept does absolutely nothing to relieve its “users” nor its “victims”; that, in reality, it does everything to worsen and undermine positions of respect – everything it can to make relationships more unequal and the power of some over others far more exaggerated.

Is this, then, a definition of pornography?  I don’t know.  I’m not clued-up enough to know the intricacies of the arguments.  But I would suspect that if we believe pornography usage does lead to further abuse, the same must be concluded from disrespectful behaviours online – in relation to both virtual and real world environments.

Something to be kept in mind, I would assume, when we decide how to set up our software constitutions.  If code equals law, and law is to continue playing a part in our societies, we need to define online what we mean by acceptable behaviours – more so if the underlying assumption of this piece is correct and Internet behaviours are beginning to impact negatively on our real world attitudes.


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