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.