Won't somebody PLEASE think of the people?

Posted on by Chris Warburton

I used to think that the 1984 connotations of the UK's new "Ministry of Justice" were just down to some completely dense marketting/PR/hip-and-trendy/waste-of-space type person, however I am inclined to rethink that and agree with the sky-is-falling crowd with every day of BBC headlines I read. Here's the latest, from the if-we-say-it's-stopping-paedophiles-then-anybody-against-it-is-obviously-a-paedophile-and-Sun-readers-can-torch-their-house department.

Basically, it is outlawing the output of sad, lonely people who sit in front of computers or sketchbooks and draw or photo-manipulate images, if those images portray children in a pornographic way.

Now, personally I have nothing against child pornography. Now, I'll probably have to tell a lot of people to calm down and read on at this point, because the media has a habit of indoctrinating armies of bigots who take prode in voluntary ignorance. OK, I'll continue. I have nothing against child porn. It is information, either bits on a computer disk/network or lines and pigment on a page/canvas, or magnetic fluctuations on a tape, etc. Child porn is bad because of the method used to make it, eg. the destruction and exploitation of innocent people's lives by sadistic individuals more concerned with satisfying their own twisted primal instincts than bothering to tell them to shut up so that they can spend their short time on this planet making a useful contribution to the human condition. Exploitation of anyone is bad. Destroying lives and shattering people's minds is bad. Brainwashing is bad. It is all incredibly terrible. HOWEVER, demonising the ends rather than the means is completely wrong, in the same way that demonising clothes is wrong even though they can be made in sweat shops.

The point I am making is that laws are arbitrary. Laws have been made, and continue to be made, to satisfy the morals of those with power (hopefully these days that is the people, however that doesn't mean the people cannot be brainwashed). For this reason it is crucial to make the distinction that laws are NOT the same as morals. This is made clear both by those who are prosecuted for acts which can be universally accepted as right and by those who's lives are spent corrupting, destroying and exploiting others, but who cannot be stopped by any laws.

So, if laws are not morals then it is crucial for people to have a set of independant morals in their lives. This is important as it is needed to shape the law as times change (since laws are a human invention, they are not inherent properties of the universe which always hold true, they are instead in a constant state of revision which we must all try to steer asymptotically closer to a "true" set of laws, preferrably from different directions (so that wrong-turns are avoided where possible)). Therefore, disregarding the law and what is says completely, what is wrong with filming children being sexually abused? Well, a hell of a lot, as I have already said. Now, what, disregarding the law and what is says completely, is wrong with drawing children being sexually abused? As far as I am concerned, nothing, since the reason child porn is so abhorrent is the acts that are performed, not their display, and thus minus the acts themselves there are just left some disgusting, depraved, sickening images. It is just as bad for children to be sexually abused in some remote shed in the middle of a forest where nobody outside those involved ever know as it is for it to be photographed or filmed. The real world does not follow cyberspace's "pics or it didn't happen" philosophy.

Notice that I said I find such images sickening, depraved and disgusting. That is based on my own set of values, since I am in absolutely no way into watching children being exploited like that, but those are my VALUES, not my MORALS. My morals are a question of right and wrong, with a lot of grey areas, whereas my VALUES are rankings of things that are important to me. Mandating that everyone must use Free Software would go completely against my morals, even though I value it. Values change over one's life and vary wildly between people, but morals are pretty similar worldwide (once they have been separated from values, which many people confuse). They usually embody things like killing is bad, robbing stuff is bad, rape is bad, etc. and these are fashioned into laws across the globe.

The problem comes when an easily influenced population takes the laws as their morals, and argue points based on the current law being 100% correct. This is where issues like copyright extension come up, since the morals that brought about copyright were that stuff should belong to everyone, but in order to get them to make stuff people should be compensated by a short-term monopoly (which was seen as a bad thing, but acceptable since it was a short-term bad for a long term good). This can be seen by statements like "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" in the US constitution. However, over time these laws became what is 'right', rather than the thinking behind them, and thus copyright extension is now usually over 50 years for most areas and can be over a hundred for others. How does allowing someone to make their entire livelyhood from a single work when they are young "promote the progress of science and useful arts"? The answer is that it doesn't, and retroactive copyright extension is even more ludicrous (if the purpose of giving copyright for a time is to encourage people to make more stuff then a) how can extending it now encourage somebody to make more stuff 50 years ago? and b) how can extending it now encourage somebody to make more stuff if they are already dead?). However, copyright extension gets passed because it takes the current law, seen as 100% good, and extends it, which logically makes it 500% good. The same goes for child porn. Current laws say child porn is bad, which is a good thing since it discourages those who may abuse children, however with such extensions as the one currently being proposed it takes the thinking away and treats the law as 100% good, thus this new proposal makes it 500% good.

Now, I've spent a few hours writing this already and don't really have much more to say, and doubt that those who are inclined will already be out weilding pitchforks and not reading this far anyway, so I shall simply end it here and add some inappropriate labels.