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Rules for the new century

I'm trying to figure out The Rules We Are Expected To Live By This Century. So far I'm not having much luck in the internal-consistency department.

Let me see if I've got this right:

* Child pornography and "extreme" pornography are illegal in the UK. And child pornography is illegal just about everywhere.

* However, it's not child pornography if it's over thirty years old and available all over the internet.

* It is child pornography if it's a cartoon of fictional yellow-skinned four-fingered humanoids copulating (especially in Australia, but that law's pretty much the same over here).

* It might be illegal extreme pornography if you photograph yourself and your spouse getting lively with a pair of handcuffs, but the police aren't sure.

* It isn't illegal extreme pornography if you film the police, even with handcuffs, but the police will treat you as if it is.

* The Home Secretary wants to let it be known that she is not a Stalinist.

Have I missed anything?

By the way, if you're wondering why I might be annoyed about the Extreme Pornography regulations, it's because the current clamp-down isn't just about cartoon and pictorial material; there's currently a prosecution going on under the Obscene Publications Act (1959) for the first time in donkey's years, and we seem to have policy makers in the Home Office/Justice Ministry who think that words are as harmful as sticks and stones, and that "community standards" mean "fit for use in primary school". Let us not forget that the OPA — a dead law for the past decade and a half — was originally used to prosecute novelists and playwrights; if this disgusting piece of censorious bullshit rises from the grave, I'm potentially liable (as I'm sure a sufficiently enterprising blue-nosed prosecutor could make out a damning case that, say, Saturn's Children or Iron Sunrise are obscene material within the meaning of the act).

But our beloved leader and teacher Home Secretary (and former teacher) wants to make it clear that she isn't a Stalinist. (And she's not a playwright, novelist, or pervert-lover either.) So that's all right then.

76 Comments

1:

we seem to have policy makers in the Home Office/Justice Ministry who think that words are as harmful as sticks and stones, and that "community standards" mean "fit for use in primary school"

Maybe Jacqui Smith could organise a book-burning, it'd be right down her street.

2:

From the Australian link: "If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted," Justice Adams said in his judgment. "Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar."

Wot then about the likes of Tom and Jerry, and even more (to keep on the Simpsons kick) Itchy and Scratchy? Their actions would be at the highest end of the criminal calendar - if they were real. Or films and tv cop shows with the simulated murders of anyone.

He said while the primary purpose of the legislation was to stop sexual exploitation and child abuse of "real" children, it was also designed to deter the production of other material that could "fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children".

This is a pretty enormous bucket too, potentially. What about Britney Spears singing dressed as a schoolgirl, the current EastEnders story about underage sex and stepdaughter grooming (albeit the actor is old enough at 17) and even, say, the sexy teenage Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, or the 17-yo Louisa Lytton dancing in practically nothing in Strictly Come Dancing and praised for her sexiness by 60-something judges. Or Romeo and Juliet for that matter. Not to mention Lolita.

Anything that involves young men and women might be caught in his bucket, as perhaps someone excited by seeing 20-yos getting it on could then be tempted to seek out material involving younger and underage kids. (Actually, watching TV dramas with podgy 50-somethings having sex or watching too many quiz shows could "fuel demand for material" involving young people).

3:

Don't forget that if you're an underage girl sending pics of your naked self to your boyfriend, they'll prosecute you for child pornography.

http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/10/teen-girl-faces.html

4:

I think that policy makers and judges are not in the same timeframe we (meaning Internet people) are.
Sometimes (or many times?) this people are scared of Internet, because they don't want to know it. The result is that they fear it or they fight it.
In many occasions I think that politics do not feel "in control" anymore (and probably they no longer are).

5:

The IWF still claim the Virgin Killer cover is "potentially illegal" - but they've backed down because they've discovered the Streisand Effect.

6:

"Extreme" pornography really should involve snowboarding or hanggliding or bungee jumping or something.

8:

Does that mean we can finally get rid of the really crap London 2012 Olymics logo? (This: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:London_Olympics_2012_logo.svg )

Because that really looks to me like a silouette of Lisa Simpson going down on someone..........

9:

Found your page through Warren Ellis. Wow, I am very impressed with just how ridiculous the rules can get. I should not be surprised, I grew up in the Soviet Union and I live in the US, but I thought the rest of the world was more....natural. Wrong! Thank you for posting this.

10:

The core problem is not that there are various god-botherers, aging boomers resentful that others are now getting more, or hates-the-whole-thing types out there, many with legislative power.

The core problem is that sex is defined in the public sphere strictly in negative terms. There is neither language nor narrative for saying "it is good that people have sex they enjoy; enjoyment is one of the primary purposes of sex in general, and in our primate clade in particular; the proper purpose of legal policy about sex is to ensure the minimum constraint on enjoyment consistent with the safety of all voluntary participants and the complete absence of involuntary participation".

Without that narrative, every time there is an increase in official insecurity (we have to change the fundamental basis of the industrial economy; of course there is massive official insecurity) they will react by, metaphorically, tightening the burkha; the default emotional state is still a belief that women are property, and that male status derives from who you can rape with impunity. Anyone who believes either of those things on an emotional level is going to produce wretched laws.

The "children would be easier to manage if they didn't have hormones and I, for one, feel that a well-organized nation would forbid them to do so" are just icing on the cake, really.

11:

Well, in term of laws UK is really a weird place... Like if you shoot someone in the head inside an underground car and you're police you can walk away justifying the action as "well, we mistake the guy as a f@ck1ng terrorist".

Anyways, British position related to morality has always been really close to hypocrisy and bigotry (remember Oscar Wilde??? Not to mention the more recent photographer David Hamilton)...

12:

In times of economic downturn or other political problems, politicians look for distracting issues and scapegoats. Soon they'll be saying any one who enjoys reading about or engaging in sex is calling down god's wrath on everyone.

13:

You might be a Stalinist if....

You have to remind everybody that you're not a Stalinist.

14:

<sarcasm>
It's quite logical if you think about it long enough, for geological values of "long". The key concept is the gateway drug. Marijuana is a gateway drug for meth and heroin*, so it's worse than they are because smoking pot leads to shooting smack, but if you're taking heroin you won't be led by it to marijuana. Alchohol is ok because it only leads to physical abuse of other people, which isn't addictive.

Since child pornography is a gateway drug for rape, incest, and child abuse, it's bad**. Since "pornography" is part of "child pornography", it's at least suspect, and we have to let our law enforcement professionals act on their suspicions or how would we catch anyone?

And, as everyone knows, novelists and playwrights are seditious little beasts, and we have to watch them closely lest they commit les majeste. Which, if it isn't a crime, certainly should be. How can we have public confidence in government if writers keep pointing out its mistakes?
</sarcasm>

* No, don't ask for citations, it's true, we all know that.
** I did say no citations.

15:

This harrassment of photographers is all about movie-plot threats. In real life, terrorists and other criminals don't go around taking photos of potential targets. However, in film and TV you have to find visual ways of depicting the Bad Guys planning to do Something Naughty. An effective technique is to show them taking photographs of places that will later be the focus of the drama. Cops watch films and TV shows, and imagine that this is what the bad guys really do. Perhaps we should ban the police from watching thrillers?

16:

I'm reminded of the quote that goes "Alice in Wonderland is the best book for explaining relativity/quantum mechanics/anything else hard*. That's because Alice in Wonderland is the best book for explaining anything."

It's certainly looking like a good guide to current government attitudes about a whole variety of things, not just pornography.

* delete as appropriate.

17:

@2: "If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted," Justice Adams said in his judgment.

While I'm on quotes, there's an old Yiddish saying on counterfactuals that goes (in translation):

"If your grandmother was your grandfather she'd have balls."

18:

Iain @ #14: Basically, its a fault in the human information acquisition system - we're wired to accept and respond to visual stimuli more than others. Never mind that we can create incredibly real seeming fictional images these days.

And people why I'm reading more and actively turning off the TV and avoiding video.

19:

I wonder what will happen in a few years, when ANYBODY (because artists can already do it) will be able to create, with some advanced Poser-like program, child porn that only a specialist can distinguish from a real photo?

Oh, I know. They will ban 3D models of children.

20:

Anatoly @18: that's already been done, more or less -- synthetic images of child porn are already illegal in the UK.

21:

Charlie @19:

That`s because someone still need to distribute them. What will happen when you can create your own? Will they ban realistic 3D models of children? And graphic programs?

22:

Edmund Schluessel @ 5 wrote:

"Extreme" pornography really should involve snowboarding or hanggliding or bungee jumping or something."

Thread continues in alt.sex.skydiving.bondage and alt.sex.sheep.baa.baa.baa.moo - assuming they still exist, of course.

3:O)>

Cadbury.

23:

Does anyone here know if this law will affect Scotland? Everyone (here & on the Ministry of Justice website) talks about this law affecting the UK, but the guidelines only talk about the law coming into force in "England, Wales and Northern Ireland."

Is Scotland staying more sane than the rest of the uk for a bit?

24:

@13: I guess that nobody (with the possible exception of pimps) will argue that child porn is good in any fashion.

Problem is: where eroticism ends and pornography starts? When people starts to classify "The Simpsons" as "child pornography" things are really weird...

Second problem is: there are several moral standards around the world. Native Americans walk nude in the open. So, unedited photos/movies of indian people are porn? I don't think so. In Islam, photos are wrong (any reproduction of this "marvel of creation" that is the human being is forbid) and photos of women not covered from top to bottom with black cloth can be considered pornography... So, authorities are thinking about filter content over all internet or to make a criminal of anyone surfing it???!!!

This kind of discussion takes me back to my childhood. You know, during military governments there were strong censorship to avoid "pornography" (adultery is still crime around here... but at that time "slathering in name of honor" was considered a particular case of "valid self defense"). The censors took particular pleasure in mutilating works of art (kind of covering angels...) so, in The Clockwork Orange we had orange balls covering tits, pussies and dicks...

You know, when things were stinking like the dead corpses in the dictatorial morgues, they issued stupid "moralizing laws" in order to make our attention go somewhere else than the errors of crazy dictators. I guess that the recent economic trouble plaguing UK is the main reason for the revival of this kind of nonsense discussion.

25:

@22

Short answer is yes:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/09/24132838/4

(see item 3)

26:

The labour party are like life. They may suck but they certainly beat the alternative.....

27:

Who worries about Stalinists? I'm thinking ReMastered here. Fits right in with incoming Presidential Chief of Staff Emanuel's observation that it would be a shame to waste a crisis like the financial collapse by not advancing the role of government in, well, everything. I don't see why we must all submit to a tyranny of the easily-offended.

I want my anarchist distopia promised by legions of Sci-Fi writers, not this trite Big Sister government that punishes thoughtcrime more severely than illegal actions where harm demonstrably occurs.

28:

Patrick@24: The bit where is notes that "all images of rape" will be illegal in Scotland is very disturbing indeed. Does this mean that stuff that is currently broadcastable (after the watershed), and a lot of 18 certificate films would be considered as extreme pornography?

29:

@24, thank you. Also, damn it.

At least it doesn't seem to be a done deal up here; they are still merely intending to introduce that legislation.

30:

@27 My guess is not. The English legislation contains a specific exemption for classified films:

http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?LegType=All+Legislation&title=criminal+justice+and+immigration&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&sortAlpha=0&TYPE=QS&PageNumber=1&NavFrom=0&parentActiveTextDocId=3479635&ActiveTextDocId=3479723&filesize=6151

Though the really interesting thing about that legislation is section 63(10) which all but implies that the Government don't actually want to see it being used. In my (actually quite considerable) experience of criminal law, I've never encountered before a criminal offence with specific provision requiring that the head of the prosecution service give the green light before any prosecution takes place. If I was really bored I'd track down the debate on Hansard and find out how it got there.

31:

Feòrag@27: "all images of rape"? So Clockwork Orange will be illegal? Not to mention hundreds of movies previously sold?

That's an interesting law that makes many common citizens criminals. Like that: ok, we know you purchased this or that movie that is illegal. So, if you get caught protesting against government you'll also be charged as owner/trader of hard pornography and your personal life and career will be cast to a lower standard...

32:

This is an issue that never, ever fails to rile me. Not just as a fiction writer, not just as someone who writes academically about anime and manga, but as someone who feels that the funds allocated to enforcing laws like these could be put to better use funding actual cops and their efforts to bust child abuse/pornography rings. It's slow work, and it takes years, so the results are neither instant nor glamourous. And that's exactly why (I think) legislators end up wasting tax dollars on this kind of grandstanding, the kind that seems to utterly forget the people doing the crime in favour of those who might, someday, maybe do something heinous. Honestly, who is more dangerous, the person who owns a copy of Lolita, or the man actually taking advantage of his eleven-year-old step-daughter?

33:

On the Australasia link, Am I the only one who thinks Bart should get a pass? He was 10 years old when the series started in 1989, by all accounts that makes him 30.

If I was a 30 year old suck in the body of a 10 year old, I would be pretty pissed I couldn't make a mint off of pimping my goods on video.

34:

Bart should get a pass because he doesn't exist. Child porn should be illegal because it damages minors; if there are no minors involved, then there's no damage, and if there's no damage, then there's no crime. _If_ the pictures do act as a gateway, then there's no evidence of it until and unless an actual crime involving an actual child is commited.

He should also get a pass because the original images were probably made by a bored teenager trying to outrage his peers rather than as tittilation for kiddie-fiddlers.

35:

@23: defend it? Logically you could defend it, especially if no human beings were harmed in its production and it satisfies urges that might otherwise lead to harm (though I don't know if it does or it doesn't). Not many people are going to stick their heads up to be shot at, though. "Oppose the Iraq invasion? You must love Saddam, and torture, and detention without trial, and invading sovereign nations without good cause, and hate democracy and apple pie!" - that kind of argument, difficult to oppose with mere logic and facts and goodwill.

36:
_If_ the pictures do act as a gateway

The best predicator of whether or not someone is likely to turn into a child abuser is whether or not they experienced child abuse themselves.

37:

More from Australia: Queensland Police say it is a crime for anyone to even watch a viral video of a man swinging a baby around a room.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/home/technology/net-video-crime-epidemic/2008/12/11/1228584982919.html#

...So you can innocently watch anything on YouTube and be prosecuted.

38:

As a postscript, let us not forget the case of Julie Amero: 4 years of legal hell "resolved" by terminating her teaching career.

39:

Gods below, I hope Scotland retains it's sanity a bit longer - I'm finally moving back there next year!

40:

We need Geoffrey Robertson QC to come riding to the rescue again! In the 70s and early 80s he clearly showed how schtoopid OPA is, so obviously the new wave of pollies need a refresher from the master! :)

Re: Simpsons porn in NSW, when I first read that, my immediate thought was "OMG, they gonna start age-testing Hentai Girls?"

41:

I mostly agree with the stance taken by the majority of comenters here, but being a bit of a Devil's Advocate, I have a question. What if there were undeniable proof that certain artistic/literary artifacts were in some way damaging to people? Not saying that is the case, but for the sake of the argument, what if it were?

42:

David @40, I answer by analogy: "What if there were undeniable proof that certain inhaled/ingested stubstances were in some way damaging to people?" The Governments answer appears to be either tax and regulate, make available only on prescription or ban. I'd say tax/regulate and for the most damaging stubstances really heavily tax and make it difficult to get .

Extending the analogy I'd think that that would be a sensible regime for damaging art (for the worst: shops have to have qualified art historians to advise, age restrictions, even DRM it (ugh)).

43:

David @40:

There'd be a whole hell of a lot of TV writers in prison.

More seriously, how would you determine "damaging". The whole point is that the only recognized damages from artistic/literary artifacts have been libel. Because that can be substantiated and correlated. (i.e. "After The Tattler called me a sheep molester without any proof, I've not been able to get re-elected.") How does the Anglospheric legal system go about qualifying damages to a consumer of a product that can only be damaging to the non-physical mind of the consumer, which may be different from that of the creator and other consumers? I assume that one can only do so by accepting the idea that there is a "right" mind from which to judge, or that people are not responsible for their actions after consumption (it makes them legally insane).

I believe both of these memes have been actively promoted first by the self-righteous, now by the statists. For me it all goes back to the quotation "a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have." The last century of government in the Anglosphere has been one in which the government co-opts the position of well-intentioned people to expand the government. This is just the latest step. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have become positive rights granted by the government on their conditions, rather than "inalienable rights endowed by [man's] creator". And like all the paths to Hell, ours was done with the best intentions.

44:

NetC@33: "should be illegal". In fact, child pornography is crime everywhere. The same with pedophilia. Where I live both are considered heinous crimes ("crimes hediondos") and if one get caught on that he/she is really in a bad shape.

Problem is: when erotic ceases being erotic and becomes pornography? Juridic definition says something like: "people engaged in sexual acts". IMO "sexual acts" deserves a better definition. Other problem: in literature and graphic arts where no real people are involved how can be a crime? The existence of a crime involves at least to people: the one who commits the crime (perpetrator) and the one who suffer the consequences of criminal act (the victim). In literature who is the criminal? The writer? What legislators want, to write another Index? Call the "Santo Ofício"? Resurrect Goebbels?

Other problem is that the proposed legislation legislates backwards. If you (already) have "problematic" (Hamilton or Maplelthorpe photos for instance) materials then you are criminal. Like here in the 60ies: if you had "The Capital" you were criminal, subjected to public execration. Believe me, this is a State of fear.

A bigger problem: the legislation violates the freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Since real rape and pedophilia and other acts are already crimes why imposing burdens to artistic creation? For instance, Mallet in the 80ies filmed "Pretty Baby" and with this kind of new legislation, probably he would do something else...

About bridges: anything can be bridge to something else. When I was a child we didn't have problems of drugs being sold to children and we didn't have problems of child pornography. You know why? Because parents cared. I know for sure that if someone appeared in the neighborhood selling drugs he would be killed on the spot. No questions asked. The parents would do that and there would be no court in the country to find the parent guilt. On the contrary: the courts would ask WTF police was doing that the criminals were acting freely.

Today parents just don't care anymore. They don't know what their children do and don't want to take the responsibility for keeping their children safe. Selfishness ("I have the right for my life" or "I work like a horse, have the right to rest when I'm at home") and "Politically correct" behavior is substituting good sense: "oh, criminals must be left to police/Justice"... Ok, that's fine. But when police fails to do their job or worse, when police takes part in criminal actions (don't doubt, behind prostitution, drugs, child pornography there are always police involved) should we silence? When judges sell sentences should we silence?

IMHO nobody begs to be born and nowadays there are no "pregnancy by accident". So, if someone decides to be parent then must accept responsibilities related to that.

45:

Well, in term of laws UK is really a weird place... Like if you shoot someone in the head inside an underground car and you're police you can walk away justifying the action as "well, we mistake the guy as a f@ck1ng terrorist".

Unfortunately, that doesn't exactly mark the UK out as weirder than most other countries. In Greece, apparently, the line is "we shot him because he and his 30 mates were threatening us with petrol bombs and trained killer lions, really they were"; in the US it's "he pulled out a wallet that looked suspiciously like a gun"; and in Brazil, of course, it's "he was poor".

I always liked the proposed restrictions on computer games that would block images of humans being harmed; opening the way for fantastic court cases along the lines of "well, our game shouldn't be banned, because the enemy are cyborgs/clones/androids/elves/avatars of the Evil World God/holograms/ghosts/vampires..."

46:

I have to say I have a problem with some of the semantics of this debate. Casimiro@42 I paraphrase: 'pedophilia is a crime'. Surely a paedophile is just someone who is sexually attracted to children but not necessarily someone who sexually abuses them. I have a similar problem with the terms islamophobia and homophobia. These both imply fear but fear of something is not immoral in my book. Fear of islam could be considered completely rational to any secular humanist type.

Maybe I'm just being pedantic though - I know there are plenty of words which are used in completely different ways from their literal meanings.

We do seem to be edging towards a thoughtcrime society though.

47:

Brett, @42: apropos your third paragraph, this blog is my political soapbox, not yours. Pace my moderation policy, I am under no obligation to provide a platform for ideological or religious beliefs I disagree with. This is a hint. No preaching, please.

48:

Sorry. I guess that both my English is far from perfect and my knowledge of UK laws is poor. In my country we have three crimes. Pedophilia involves using minors (under 18) to produce/sell/distribute pornography and having sexual relations with under aged people. Then we have "violento atentado ao pudor" (traslation needed) that involves several forms of harassment (like touching, masturbating, etc, including verbal forms of harassment). Finally we have "corrupção de menores" (corruption of under aged ones) when you pay or force the minor to do any illegal thing. All three crimes are heinous ones (here it means that if you get caught you'll be imprisoned until sentenced, if found guilty you won't have right for "conditional release" - here we call this "penal progression" - and you loose the right for many other benefits, besides having to stay in a maximum security prison). In short: you get caught, bye bye to your life...

You may ask why do these crimes happen if penalties are so harsh? Because police is involved. Because you have judges/magistrates involved. Because you have politicians involved. Because we have people above the Law...

49:

There are marches happening across Australia this Saturday to protest the plans of the current Australian government to introduce a mandatory, China-style Internet filter. The alleged reason for the filter is to block thousands of child pornography and terrorist sites. They determined the list by looking in the favourites folders of the top 100 MPs.

50:

Charlie:

My apologies. I didn't realize I'd wandered into dangerous territory.

51:

Brett: s'okay, I just began to detect a preachy note in your comments. Telling people what you think is fine. Telling them what they should think is ... well, like I said, this is my soap box, and if you want to do that, you're welcome to get your own. More to the point, I've noticed that when I take a liberal line on preaching, it tends to generate ill-tempered squabbles which drive away those commenters who can't be arsed throwing verbal punches. So I try to keep it on a short leash.

52:

Casimiro @43 nowadays there are no "pregnancy by accident".

You must be joking. The only 100% accurate birth control method for consensual sex is not to have any. I don't see that happening anytime soon.

53:

I think your 'rules for the new century' can be simply reduced to 'expect to be subject to arbitrary censorship, arbitrary harassment, and other arbitrary abuses of power, exercised in the name of protecting the Children.'

54:

Charlie, (though you'll probably have seen this elsewhere before you run into it here)

It's just turned out that a well-known hedge fund run by a respected Wall Street figure was a Ponzi scheme, possibly the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

He's apparently burned through $50 billion US in total, with around $17 billion in supposed assets under management now missing at the end of the scheme.

55:

To 41 and 42, interesting replies.

Taxation, DRM, etc, are interesting options. I think Italy is considering to tax the representation of sexual acts in art, which I think is rather ridiculous without the undeniable proof I spoke of earlier, which afaik does not exist. That said, some substances are not just regulated or taxed, they're outright banned. You cannot go to a chemist and buy yourself some cyanide because you feel like dying.

As to the anglosphere's legal system, I can't say much, I'm a continental and my understanding comes from there (so not much attachment to all those traditions, or whatever). That said the legal systems of English-speaking countries or otherwise recognize damages to the mind of people all the time in the form of mental suffering, moral damages, etc. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch as suggested. If a product has a 3% chance of harming someone in their bodies it would clearly be actionable, if a product had a 3% chance of reducing someone's mental abilities, or a 3% chance of inducing someone to commit a crime they would have otherwise not committed, why would it not be actionable?

I suppose it's a bit of an academic debate though, given that such proof does not exist and would be very hard to produce.

56:

Does this mean I'll have to burn my copies of Alan Moore's "Lost Girls".....?

57:

Curmudgeon, I think that's a particular case of the metarule that's valid in any era, "Expect to be subject to arbitrary censorship, arbitrary harassment, and other arbitrary abuses of power, exercised in the name of protecting the [fill in the blank].' It's such an obvious way to maintain political control that any politician of any leaning is bound to think of it. Plus, any rule based on it is much cheaper to enforce than rules of the form, "Give me what I want or I'll hurt you" because the latter require so many more henchman. With the "think of the Children!" style rules you can get the populace to volunteer as informers and enforcers in droves.

58:

#27 and #29 are tantalisingly close, and #30 hits the nail on the head.

These laws are vague and ill defined, to the point that even the police don't know what's illegal and what's not, for a reason. The head of the CPS needs to give a green light for a reason.

It's deliberately set up so that people are not equal under the law any more. If you are unpopular with the government or the wrong official *they can get you*. Or they can at least make you worried about what is not your hard drive.

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of law-breakers — and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
--- Dr Floyd Ferris in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

59:

There's no way to rule innocent men? Must have misunderstood history quite a bit then.

60:

@58: Ayn Rand had a very odd perspective on history. I wouldn't describe it as entirely her fault -- growing up during the Bolshevik revolution certainly fucked with a lot of peoples' heads -- but she certainly acquired some strange ideas about freedom, autonomy, and state power along the way.

61:

At the risk of diverting this thread I'd note that Ayn Rand probably had a better grasp of the problems of authoritarian governmant than on solutions to those problems; Floyd Ferris is an ideal villain and even if he is a credible source within the book, he is an extreme example of his type. Or in other words, only the most evil members of any government think this way, most of them really believe (or have convinced themselves) they are protecting the people they represent in the best/most feasible/only way possible.

That's why we need to confront them with the problems these policies create, to differentiate the evil from the easily swayed and treat each appropriately.

62:

TBH the mad clucking of the Home Secretary reeks more of stupidity and panic than any evil plan.

Evil genius' tend to be much more coherent and subtle, whereas the governments attempts to centralise everything appear truely astonishingly inept. (But maybe that's a ruse! Probably not though).

I could go on for hours on how inept - but suspect I'd be in breach of a number of rules/laws/geas if I gave too many details. Suffice to say I'm currently engaged in a government data migration that is in the 4th year of a 3 month project...........

I find this slightly heartening, in that frankly the proposed ID card system, for instance, is pretty much doomed. (Cracked cloned ID cards will become a readily available part of any illegal immigrants kit within weeks of the first ID cards being issued. What fun as ID thieves "prove" that they are you!).

For some reason the current crop of politicians seem incapable of thinking through the ultimate effects of their proposals, or asking professionals in the field the best way of going about doing things. Their grasp of computer systems in particular appears to be sturck in the 1970's.

But that is straying off the original point.

I'm pretty sure the mish-mash of contradictory and incoherent laws are the result of rushed and ill-thoughtout kneejerk legislation in response to tabloid headlines, rather than a considered totalitarian strategy. (Which is not to say the effects won't be the same).

Although that Murdoch fellow does strike me as a suitable candidate for evil genius material.

63:

#60 -- fair point. Most in government do think they're doing good. Hanlon's razor applies. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much motives matter. The effect is as I described: it's increasingly hard to know what side of the law you're on due to its volume and vagueness.

#58 -- yes, you can rule innocent men by just getting on and opressing them. But the communists Ayn Rand had to deal with, and indeed the third way socialists who make up most of the current political class in the UK, wanted people to believe or believed themselves that they were doing good, so had to be more subtle about it.

64:

Two thoughts ...

ALL images of rape?
So all performances of "TITYS ANDRONICUS will be banned henceforth, will they?

The persecution of photographers by dimwits and, lets' face it creepy littlr fascists in Police uniform has been going on for some time.
Fortunately, enough people seem to be protesting, that something may be done about it.
It'll take time, though, and probably a deliberate attempt to get a prosecution, sponsored by journalists, to discredit the whole thing ....

Erm "Hanlons' Razor?" - oh - stupidity - no shortage of THAT around, then.

65:

Rob Fisher @ 62: Stalin was rather far from anything I'd call "subtle", but Rand had left Russia by the time he'd solidified his power. In general you're probably right that the people that Rand dealt with directly, ordinary Communists and Socialist intellectuals of various flavors, were generally interested in persuading people of their good intentions, and had usually persuaded themselves early in the game.[1]

[1] In joke: No, I haven't read "The God That Failed".

66:


I think that the historical experiences that formed Ayn Rand were not just the Russian ones. As I said on OvercomingBias, turn away from her heroes and look at her villains. They seem realistic and scary. How did she manage it? Well, she left Russia in 1926, having seen the aftermath of the revolution up close and personal. So I guessed that she attained realism by drawing on her own real life experiences. I wasn't happy with this answer, because her villains were too redolent of the corporatist new-speak of the Heath-Wilson years, too Westernised for Bolsheviks. I knew little of the Lenin years, so I left this little puzzle on the back burner.

Recent financial turmoil has sparked interest in the causes of the Great Depression. The basic tale is of a monetary contraction of one third. Trade barriers made a small contribution. I was not happy with the basic tale because the quantity theory of money suggests that a monetary contraction should lead to deflation. After a dreadful couple of years, in which both prices and wages fall by a third, the economy should start working as before, running on a third less money. Why did the Great Depression last so long?

Enter the National Recovery Administration. Its job was to introduce regulations for price and wage controls to stop deflation. This leads to a situation in which Hoover doesn't understand why unemployment is 25%, but he does know that he has done something right because real wages of the still employed have risen. Whoops! The NRA stopped price and wage adjustments in the economy working around the failure of the Federal reserve and introduced lots of police state style snooping to enforce price and wage controls, plus the inevitable corruption and arbitrage opportunities for those in the know with the pull to take advantage of the situation.

Ayn Rand comes to the US in 1926, aged 21. Glad to escape the soviet system. Three years later, the Crash. That is followed by Americans making extra-ordinary policy errors and the American economy going down the tubes as though John Galt were seducing the competent people away. Plus she gets to learn the NewSpeak used to justify those policy errors and defend them from criticism. She goes on to write her wishfulfillment fantasies, in which these events don't just happen, there is grand historical design behind them. Her villains are skillfully written. It is worth reading Atlas Shrugged, all 10^8 pages, to meet them.

Her personal history is fleeing halfway round the world, to escape the bad guys, only to have "them" catch up with her 7 years later.

67:

Some of us don't find Rand's villains realistic in the slightest. Many of us are in fact inclined to find them caricatures reflecting a high level of both ignorance about and raving hatred toward just about every section of society outside her own head. We tend to think that the things she doesn't know about what motivates people from union leaders to professors to aristocrats play well into what she doesn't know about how peaceful prosperity comes into being and is maintained by the people of a successful civil society. And, of course, the conviction on her part and on the part of her fans that these sorts of caricatures true and insightful plays well into the hands of those who'd much prefer that the diverse elements of a society not cooperate in their mutual interest against those handfuls bent on running it all for their own gain, by making cooperation and understanding harder and feeding the view that there's this death struggle against people who aren't any real threat at all.

Just to offer a counter view.

68:

Marilee@52.

No, I was not joking. Perhaps a case of bad English. Anyways, in old times "accidental pregnancy" was justification for not giving a bloody dime for a son/daughter. People was ignorant and men supposed that women should know how to avoid getting pregnant. In consensual unprotected sex there is nothing like "accidental pregnancy" because both parents know it can happen.

Since both parents know pregnancy can happen (and in certain places of World it can be legally interrupted), giving birth to a children IMHO brings responsibilities. The biggest one: keep children safe & healthy.

IMHO taking care of our children is far better than letting the State decide what we can/cannot read/watch/write or talk.

BTW, last Dec. 11 was the birthday of AI-5 (40 years). In order to "protect people" one of the worst chapters of military government was written. Besides the usual arguments (Communism) a very strong appeal was the need to keep moral and good uses...

69:

Do people actually take Ayn Rand seriously? Golly.

70:

@ # 68
11 / 12/ 1965 ...
AI-5 Uh?

Explain, please ....

71:

@70 re 68

Think Casimiro was referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI-5

Unfortunately the article is a bit sparse, but it's clear it would have been a huge deal for people in Brazil over the period it was in effect.

Unfortunately not well reported over here and my knowledege of Brazilian history is not good enough to provide more background, but I can understand why Casimiro would think it worth mentioning and relevant to the thread.

72:

Ok,

In the sake of "National Security" AI-5 allowed the President of The Federate Republic of Brazil (a person) to:

a) Close the Congress for indeterminate term/period/time
b) Federal Government got the power to intervene in states and cities
c) President could govern through "Decretos Lei" (must be exotic for non Brazilians): the president issues a law that is valid immediately but will be voted later by Congress (that could be closed by the President). Back to France pre-1789...
d) (moral hypocrisy) allowed (after due investigation) to confiscate the goods of public officers who got rich through corruption.
e) The President could install "emergency" ("estado de sítio") and prorogue an existing one.
f) All political meetings were forbiden.
g) Enhanced and majored previous censorship over literally all cultural manifestations (movies, music, theater, etc).
h) Suspended "habeas corpus" for politic "crimes". With incomunicability (like Gitmo: no f@ck1ng lawyers or independent reporters while we are beating the shit out of the f@ck1ng "communists").

Accessory to AI-5 we had several other legal dispositions like the "477" (a decree) that said that if you were public servant and your superior accused you of being "subversive" you would be immediately dismissed. No need to say next day you'd have Gestapo (ops...) DEOPS people at your door.

73:

What is not being said (much, in public, or .. Not nearly loud enough ) is the way in which we are regulated and controlled.

Britain has all the apparat of a Police state.
It just isn't being used ( much / yet )

When you put together the provisions of the following:
Serious & Organised Crime Act
Police & Criminal Evidence Act
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
The Civil Contingencies Act
- plus the current proposals for not only ID cards, but the "proof of ID if you have entered Britain"

We have a completely Stalinist or Nazi apparatus, presently lying idle.

How long before it is really activated?
As opposed to being used occasionally, to harass photographers, etc ....

74:

The Holy Bible is a veritable HowTo guide on all things disgusting, evil and violent. I'm pushing to have it banned.

75:

Little bit of thread necromancy here, sorry.

I think we can all agree that one doesn't have to descend into Randian cant in order to either understand why this sort of thing is nonsensical, or why it arises in the first place. People are scared, are particularly scared for their children, and are exposed to media that devotes too much time to horrible novelties and too little time to ordinary decencies.

(Not "decency" in the repressive sense, of course; simple acts of generosity, friendliness, kindness and good sense.)

What grabbed me was the case of the 15-year-old girl being arrested and charged sending pictures of herself to her boyfriend/friends as "child pornography". It's a catch-22 situation if ever I saw one.

If it is permitted, then there is a legal avenue by which pornography featuring teenagers (whom are legally unable to consent to it) can find its way into the wild. In fact, it undermines the entire concept of a teen's lack of informed consent that keeps this stuff illegal. So there's a damned good reason to prosecute.

Yet sending a 14- to 15-year-old to jail or saddling her with a sex offender classification for sending images of her own body to her boyfriend violates most people's basic sense of justice- and with the expanded definitions of "pornography" out there these days, it could be almost ANY mildly salacious picture. And the societal punishment for a sex offender charge--particularly a child pornography charge--is extreme. The girl would be absolutely and completely ruined.

So do you (perhaps fatally) undermine the basis of the system, or ruin young girls lives more throughly than the pictures ever could?

76:

Demosthenes: I think the root of the problem is legislation that addresses thought crimes or crimes of conscience, rather than events where actual harm to a real person can be proven.

The desire to prevent criminal acts before they happen is laudible. But when we start trying to legislate what people may think, or say, or describe, or draw, or take photographs of, we run the risk of damaging the free society that we (mostly) want to protect.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on December 10, 2008 10:07 AM.

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