A belief driving witch-hunts and moral panics

I watched a documentary about the infamous “video nasties” that were the center of a lot of controversy and media scandal in the UK, and the characteristically British problem of how the furor surrounding them always leads to media hysteria and the erosion of freedom of expression. For those who may not be aware, the term “video nasties” refers to low-budget horror movies which were released on home video in the UK and were typically highly graphic in their violent content.

In the documentary (which is ironically titled Ban the Sadist Videos), I learned a little something about what I feel drove the moral panic surrounding it, or rather the people whipping it up. There was always this belief that these videos would fall into the hands of children and that the videos would not simply desensitize them to violence, but also compel them to actually commit the brutal acts of violence depicted in the real world. I think this mentality reached its lowest point in 1993, when a boy named James Bulger was beaten to death two other boys and the movie Child’s Play 3 took the fall for it as the supposed cause. But interestingly enough, the documentary showed quite a few interviews conducted by news reporters talking to children who apparently have seen some of these “video nasties” and don’t seem particularly traumatized by it. To them it was nothing more than entertainment, and what’s more it was the kind they clearly weren’t meant to watch, so it had that forbidden fruit angle – the kind that I’m sure today’s youth may be familiar with. Even more interestingly, I think at least one of them that they were unrealistic and silly. But of course, the media was never that concerned about what the children as free agents thought – they were only concerned with children as people that had to be “protected”.

During the 1980’s, one of the key figures in this whole moral panic was one Mary Whitehouse, a woman who I swear her name has become synonymous with prudery, censorship, and moral panic over the years – at least in the UK. She’s also known for being an ally of everyone’s least favorite wicked witch Margaret Thatcher, who helped introduced stricter censorship to the UK and contributed to this country having the strictest censorship in the Western world by the 1990’s. People like her and the British press were keen on promoting the idea that the images they saw on video would directly harm people and through people their social order. In my opinion, this all hinges on a central idea – the idea that human beings are inexorably influenced by forces that they cannot control because they lack the ability to choose whether or not to feel influenced.

This week I caught an article from author Ryan Holiday, and this is probably my favorite part of it:

Real empowerment and respect is to see our fellow citizens—victims and privileged, religious and agnostic, conservative and liberal—as adults. Human beings are not automatons—ruled by drives and triggers they cannot control. On the contrary, we have the ability to decide not to be offended. We have the ability to discern intent. We have the ability to separate someone else’s actions or provocation or ignorance from our own. This is the great evolution of consciousness—it’s what separates us from the animals.

With every crusade against violent and subversive media, there seems to be the belief that the opposite of that comes to effect; that people are ruled by things they cannot drive and will always act at the behest of certain influences because they can’t say no, so they have to be protected by self-declared guardians of public morals. With every crusade against those deemed as “detestable slaves of the devil”, we’re always told be on the lookout for those controlled by supposedly evil forces, who are possessed by demons because they engage in witchcraft and beliefs outside of the Church. Beware the rationale behind all the self-imposed guardians of public morals; they are believers in the notion that we are mindless automaton-like beings.

A decline of reason

I think future historians may yet look at this decade as utterly connected yet hopelessly divided – this is but a charitable description that I would offer for this current age.

Recent events concerning campus policing of speech and political expression, the police arresting people like Matthew Doyle for speaking “offensive” thoughts rather than committing any actual violations of other people’s right to life and liberty, and the media response to the transformation of Microsoft’s “chatbot” Tay from friendly artificial teenage girl to Nazi sexbot, among other phenomenon, have me pretty damned convinced that the Western world is going in a worrisome direction – one that will depart from the flame of intelligence.

With Tay specifically, I have to wonder who thought it was a good idea in the first place. But when I see the Guardian implying that the Tay fiasco justifies censorship, claiming that the internet is full of “the kind of material all genocides feed off” and “awash with anger, stereotypes and prejudice” and denouncing the right to offend as “a culture that sees offensive speech as a source of  amusement”, it just makes me think that certain people spend their miserable lives trawling the ugliest side of the Internet with no regard for the rest of the net. Also, I have to repeat myself, who thought Tay was a good idea anyway? Who thought that a “chatbot” learning AI on Twitter – freaking Twitter! – would be a good idea? The Internet may be full of nasty people, but the problem is not the Internet being uncensored but rather the fact that people are just awful anyway. With Doyle’s arrest, I see nothing more and nothing less than another chapter in the rise of mob mentality, the kind that we saw in the wake of one dentist killing a lion named Cecil. Only now I see that British law enforcement are not simply facilitating mob mentality – in this case at least, they’re actively sustaining themselves with it! I can see the death of justice arriving in a world that endorses mob mentality as justice, because justice is perverted, raped, and sacrificed because the people have deemed mere offensive speech a criminal act. Democracy in action, right?

It’s a disheartening phenomenon that Man tends to march towards group mentality, and now, in a world connected by computers and information, Man is more enamored in said group mentality than ever before –  and also, more enveloped in the foulest poisons of herd mentality. The human race in its current state is the largest herd in the entire animal kingdom, and those who try to exist as individuals or simply contradict that hard may lead difficult lives as the herd punishes them for their dissent but not for committing any actual crimes or violations of the right to life and liberty. In my opinion, this is all fueled by misinformation, ignorance, and a majority decision to not think for oneself, and I believe it can be fueled by much consumption of misinformation that isn’t processed by reason or an individual relationship with the information presented before them.

Be under no illusion: if I am right about this new direction, then this new direction is entirely at the behest of Man itself, rather than the work of shadowy forces seeking to undermine our species. We’re all too familiar with the notion of shady government conspiracies working to dumb down the mind in order to keep it under control. But in my eyes, this is what the people seem to asking for. They now choose weakness, rather than the individual pursuit of strength and balance, and decide that the world must protect their fragile being – having to grow strong on their own would probably kill them! Enlightenment would probably kill them! Man can be weak and ignorant enough as it is, but what we as a species are going through is frankly sickening. We can blame the media, the government, and the world all we like, but in truth the way we are going is Man’s fault. We have the freedom to choose our way, to move towards freedom, but we choose ignorance and the perpetuation of our own weakness instead. And why? Because we aren’t conscious of what freedom means. We aren’t conscientious enough to hold ourselves accountable and responsible, and that’s not good: because it’s only in a world where we are conscientious, accountable, and responsible that liberty can survive. I don’t just mean the government, I mean the people. In a world where we expect the world to protect our own weakness, we lose that conscientiousness, accountability, and responsibility, and with it we will inexorably lose our freedom.

All because Man too often does stupid things, and then when we do them we blow them out of proportion. All because we are somehow convinced that we cannot function as adults with being coddled by a “good shepherd” or by guardians of all that is good. All because we are weak in the face of aggression from those who we clearly have the power to ignore and cry to the world instead of cultivating the strength to keep it together or rise above it, let alone fight back. And in this age we will not succeed in achieving a safe, friendly world. All we will do is either create a sanitized world where there is no liberty, or simply bring malignant and destructive habits upon our world – and we know for a fact that this is not the whole of what Man is capable of doing.

Hatred, intolerance, and mob mentality: the threats to freedom

On Friday I wrote about the threat to freedom of speech lingering over universities in my country at the ends of airheaded and comfort-obsessed student unions. But I have become aware that freedom in my country is being endangered, if not killed entirely, by a much bigger threat than student intolerance: hatred. Not specifically hate in itself, or even hateful speech, but hateful actions and extreme intolerance in political form. Our government is playing on the hatred and intolerance of mob-minded masses on the Internet and arresting people who, while they may have said hateful things, did not go out and commit crimes and violence based on that. If you say something hateful, everyone on Twitter practically tars and feathers you before you get investigated by the cops. If you say anything in the newspapers about certain groups of people, you’re reported to the police. If you put up an advertisement that makes you feel insecure, you can get people to sign petitions to get it pulled or banned.

1984 has long passed, forget about Big Brother as described by George Orwell. Welcome to the postmodern world of the 2010s, where anything can be censored and banned if enough people whine intolerantly. In this country, if people protest loud enough over any shit you say, they can shut down a writer, get an ad, art exhibition, or a TV pulled,  or get the cops to investigate someone for doing nothing more than making offensive statements. Speech is potentially a crime, and so is hash-tagging. Even so much as a cruel joke, which nearly all of us do, can get you investigated or arrested by the new Gestapo police.

And this is no longer the product of any cold and torrid fascism. In fact, I don’t mean to sound like some right-wing nut, but I think it’s the result of the failure of modern liberalism. More accurately, a direct result of both the hypocrisy of modern liberalism and the hatred and intolerance that modern liberalism has allowed to have its way. Think about it: liberalism is supposedly about tolerance and equality, yet in our supposedly liberal society we are continually appeasing the mob mentality of the masses and the foaming mouths of the intolerant and hateful few who want to silence freedom of speech. This applies to public places, printed media, television, and the internet, especially the last of those four considering the increase in regulation being applied to the Internet in this country.

Online mob mentality is, naturally, not limited to the UK. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in this day and age, which means even America could be in danger from the tradition of liberty being violated not by the government, but by its own people, subject to hatred, intolerance, and ignorance of the true meaning of freedom. Indeed, how long before most of the rest of the world becomes coaxed into holding liberty hostage by the masses?

Liberty cannot thrive in a place where people of intolerant and ignorant minds can censor everyone else and coax the state to ban whatever they tell them. Such a land would be no different to a dictatorship run by one person and his or her iron hand. Both environments are unjust because they hold freedom hostage and oppress the individual, and the people as a whole by proxy. And in a land where freedom is not held as sacred, and where ignorance reigns supreme, this is all too easy. And as we’re in an age of democracy, whatever new age of oppression may yet come will be brought about not by government or officials, but the people themselves, for the people will demand censorship and oppression because they mistakenly believe it is the way to protect the insecure and the innocent.

Freedom of speech over censorship

When the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the killings of journalists and others shook France, the people of France have been standing and mourning in solidarity in the face of what is no doubt a great challenge to their values of freedom, and the French president Francois Holllande was especially boasting of how country claims to value freedom of speech. That said, the French government recently arrested comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala over a Facebook comment that supposedly suggested he sympathized with the attackers. Some demonstration of the French value of freedom of expression. 53 other cases have also been opened for “condoning terrorism”.

You can’t say you support freedom of speech and then have somebody locked up for saying something other people find offensive or for how you can interpret it. That’s just downright unfair. How’s it any different from killing someone for saying something you don’t like? Either way you’re attempting to coerce someone and stifling liberty.

The arrest of Dieudonne has sparked a debate about freedom of expression and about its limits, just like the massacre did. The thing is, freedom of expression is not something that is meant to have a beginning and an end. Freedom is timeless, and liberty is sacred. To limit freedom of expression is to harm liberty as a whole. The way I see it, if you say something offensive but otherwise are not working to stand in the way of the life and liberty of others and do not seek coercion of others, there is no need for you to be arrested for anything. It’s that simple. You don’t just ban someone for what they say. That’s not what a free society does.

The UK porn filter is a sham

The porn filter appears to be in effect, but my brother and I do not notice its supposed effect on our computers. The filter seems to mainly be in effect in major broadband providers such as BT and 02 (who do a lot of the overblocking that has become infamous in the UK), and it came to my attention that barely any porn is blocked.

My brother had heard that the Labour Party’s official website had been blocked by the filters, but when he wanted to see for himself he found that the website was easily accessible and not blocked at all. We also doubt that pornographic websites are blocked either. My brother visited various websites and found they weren’t actually blocked on his computer. I myself don’t notice much change when it comes to search terms on Google and Bing. In fact, to my understanding, broadband providers are hardly blocking anything and have actually failed to block the majority of porn websites.

Come to think of it, we hear there are ways of actually bypassing the filters yourself, by use of proxies. In fact, there’s actually a Google Chrome extension up that lets users bypass the filter entirely, called “Go Away Cameron”, and I have a feeling lots of people use it.

When the porn filters do work, they actually blocked websites such as Childline and the Samaritan website for reasons I can’t understand, they blocked LGBT support websites confusing it for pornography, and they actually blocked League of Legends updates for some vague, arbitrary, non-existent connection to sex. My brother actually reckons that there’s plenty of actual lesbian porn that isn’t actually blocked, so the blocking of LGBT support websites seems all the stranger.

The government appears to be reacting to the mounds of embarrassing stories, revelations, and headlines, and is attempting to rectify the things it is being called out for. But keep in mind that firstly, this is for no noble cause, rather just to shake off any public embarrassment, and secondly, it won’t make a difference. The filters are still failing and will still fail.

However, just because the filters are failing doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the issue of internet censorship. We must all keep fighting for our liberty and freedom and keep letting the world know we will not be oppressed! If we do not, and instead turn the other cheek, then the government will continue to think it can oppress us and take away our liberty.

A salute to the noble British defenders of liberty

Today, I heard about a campaign to oppose David Cameron’s plans to control the Internet by voicing our opposition on social media via the tag #CensoredUK. I’ve been following the porn filter story for some time, and between summer and now I feared that nothing was being done about it. But today, that analysis changed.

Over the course of today, the campaign has been proving successful. Tons and tons of people have been voicing their opposition to David Cameron’s plans to control the Internet, myself included (and rather vehemently), and online news has begun to take notice. Though we still have yet to see the results, I feel confident that today the online masses in the UK have made an impact.

Forgive the patriotism, but I have never been so proud of my country in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of this country and its people as I am now. You people have proven to me that you are willing to fight the noble fight for freedom and liberty, that you will not be oppressed, and that you will refuse and resist.

Because of this, I salute you! Bless the people of this country for what they’ve done. May we continue to fight for our freedom and never let our guard down.

If you have not heard of this campaign and would like to learn more, here’s a link: http://sexandcensorship.org/2013/12/censoreduk-censored-uk-twitter-day-of-action/

The PMRC’s persecution of Twisted Sister

You know what this is about.

While I do not profess myself to be a fan of Twisted Sister, I am a heavy metal fan, and Twisted Sister is kind of important to the history of the genre. Besides, there’s something in heavy metal’s history I think is worth mentionig.

Back in 1984, Twisted Sister released the song We’re Not Gonna Take It, an anthem of youth rebellion and empowerment. The music video was classic. Dee Snider creating slapstick mayhem while singing in that voice. Just cool. Evidently The Man hated the idea behind the song, because soon the grown ups, supposed authority figures, and political opportunists, tried to find a reason to get rid of it. When the PMRC was formed about a year later, they tried to label it as violent, even putting it among the Filthy Fifteen under Violence, despite the only “violence” being a slapstick music video.

It’s my conviction that this was a campaign by politicians (and their wives) to crack down on a song that preached youth rebellion, freedom, and empowerment, something that, for some reason, America’s establishment seems to disfavour, despite speaking of the values freedom and independence over and over. Fortunately, Dee Snider, the lead vocalist, kicked the PMRC’s ass in the hearings. It still makes me wonder, why persecute the freedom anthem?

Fighting for freedom on the Internet

Whether you’re a saint, a troll, an average user, or someone like me, the internet is an important part of our lives. The internet is just about the freest place on earth, virtually unlimited, much like the chaos I extolled in an earlier post. But, as you may have guessed, tyrants are out there, trying to clamp down on the freedom of the Internet. Remember SOPA and PIPA? Well it’s not ending there. In the last two years, governments around the world have enacted 19 laws to censor the Internet and regulate content. There’s a plot involving governments across the world, and the ITU, to negotiate a treaty. And only governments would have a say.

I don’t usually get active, but this is the Internet, Freedom is at stake, and I can play a part so easily. There’s a pledge on Google to fight the censorship of the Internet. I’ve already signed, and I’m allowing you guys the opportunity to do so as well if you choose.

Here’s a link: https://www.google.com/intl/en/takeaction/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=122012freeandopen_ty

There’s tons more people wordlwide fighting it, and now I’m one of them. What about you?