Tag Archives: Internet censorship

Conroy and the perils of unfettered legal power

29 Sep


I was distracted from my current pre-occupations yesterday by Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy’s comment that he has “unfettered legal power” in his portfolio, and that if he told telcos to wear red underpants on their heads at spectrum auctions they’d have to do it.

There is a very good reason why no single individual in government should have “unfettered legal power” over anything: absolute power corrupts absolutely. When one has unfettered power there is no longer any need to engage and consult with others, one can simply, as Conroy’s boast exemplifies, force one’s will on everybody else. It is the antithesis of democracy and democratic process. That a Labor politician should hold this belief about himself and feel confident enough to trumpet it for the world press whilst in the US, makes me wonder yet again what the hell the ALP is about these days.

The following is a quote from a piece by Dr Robert Aziz in his Huffington Post blog on the subject of power and corruption:

So why does power corrupt? It corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness and neglect. It corrupts because it licenses individuals to unilaterally, unreflectively and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. It licenses individuals to impose their will without having properly engaged and processed through the Reality at hand. Power inflates the ego and through it the ego is erroneously led to believe it has the power to make people, ideas and even Reality itself disappear without due process. In the big picture nothing is further from the truth. Power corrupts because it gives license to unconsciousness, and in so doing it not only destroys the growth opportunity of the victim of such imposition, but no less the growth opportunity of the victimizer. Failure to engage another in consciousness, not only does the other individual harm, but it no less does serious harm to oneself, for in both cases the precious opportunity to extend consciousness by way of self-organizing nature is altogether lost, corrupted.

While I don’t take Conroy’s example of forcing others to wear red underpants on their heads literally (though who knows with this man?) his delight in his own raw power is revealed in his unpleasant desire to humiliate and demean others by forcing them to make themselves look ridiculous, just because he can. What does this say about Stephen Conroy?

To me it says we are likely dealing with a little man, one who lacks the wisdom and intelligence to hold high office, one who has already been seduced by the power bestowed on him by his portfolio, and one who will not hesitate to exercise that power for his own psychological benefit without any awareness at all of what he is doing. It sounds as if Stephen Conroy has lost sight of his purpose and instead has come to believe the unfettered exercise of power is his right and his priority. These are dangerous beliefs for anyone to hold, particularly if they are in charge of communications.

Conroy’s ongoing mission to control the internet takes on new dimensions after his latest megalomanic claims. He wants unfettered legal powers over the world-wide web as well. These ambitions are infantile, as is the example of red underpants as an exercise of power over others.

Conroy was out to crassly impress his audience, not with what he has or might achieve in his position, but with the raw power he believes he has. Power in itself means nothing. It’s how it’s exercised that is the measure of the man.


Anti porn activist responds to my Drum article

10 Nov
Dr Abigail Bray, whom I mentioned in my article on the Drum yesterday, left the following comments on Sheep last night:


Mr Wilson, having skimmed your prolific … blog… I find some of it ……

I was struck by your recent opinion that opposition to hardcore porn is a tyrannical middle class plot to censor the internet. What are you trying to say here? That working class people dig hardcore because they are working class and that as a champion of the oppressed one should defend the bent lusts of the lower orders ? Try knocking on the doors of a council estate in the UK and ask the women if they agree with you. As someone who grew up in a council house I have to warn you that they might greet your ideas with a short, succinct: ‘eff off you pervy pratt’. On the other hand if you go knocking on the doors of some well-heeled champagne socialists who have done lots and lots of expensive psychotherapy, studied Foucault (but skipped the bit about how the discourse of ‘choice’ operates as a dominant strategy of neoliberal governance) they might greet your ideas with a lot of ‘baaa baaaaa baaaaa’. (Which is the sound someone makes when they are eager to agree with correct displays of upwardly mobile neoliberal tolerance. It is also the noise a sheep makes btw). But of course this is ‘no place for sheep’. Sheep place for no, place no for sheep, for no place sheep, place for sheep no. There, I’ve done a little cut up to give you further proof of my hysteria. Now you can write a whole new blog about how MTR is associating with a cut up artist of dubious sanity. OMG!!!

Of course I have no scientific data to support my hypothesis that you will be greeting with a eff off or a baaa baaa which might make my hunch seem anti-intellectual or rapid, or even worse, like I am not as sexy as you. But please, do try a door knock and report back. Try Paulsgrove council estate.

Dear Dr Bray,

Thank you for taking the time to look me up and respond to my article.

You and I apparently share the experience of growing up on council estates – mine was in North Yorkshire, where I was raised until I was seven by my grandfather who was a coal miner, and my grandmother who had been “in service” prior to her marriage. I was then transferred to a professional family and educated.

Having established that my working class credentials are as solid as yours, let’s move on.

I have indeed read Foucault on the discourse of choice, and a range of feminist opinion on his theories. Because I don’t necessarily agree with a theory or count it as relevant at the time, does not mean I am unaware of it. I recall an earlier article of mine on the Drum where you left a comment claiming that I had never read Helene Cixous. You seem to want to engage me in some kind of intellectual pissing contest, as well as to trump me in a class war.

I made no mention of a working class in the latest article. I suggested that middle class anti porn activists are engaged in creating a deviant class, to whom they attribute a lower social status than they hold themselves. In my experience, “deviants” can emerge from any class, not least of all the middle, however when they embark on their “deviations” their class is likely to abandon them.

I have nowhere claimed that “opposition to hardcore porn is a tyrannical middle class plot to censor the internet.” This is a deliberate conflation on your part. I have no doubt that your opposition to such porn is founded in genuine concern, and I respect that concern. I do, however, oppose your beliefs that the way to address these concerns is to censor the internet. I have asked, many times, how you propose to put a stop to people profiting in any way from hard-core porn if you aren’t planning to censor the internet. Nobody has yet answered this question.

To return for a moment to the question of “choice.” I wrote the following in a post a couple of days ago:

If you want people to stop engaging in self-harming behaviour you don’t go about it by first shaming and marginalizing them. You first acknowledge their inalienable right to their subjective experience, however vastly it may differ from your own.

It’s a matter of respecting the human being without having to endorse her choices, and respecting her right to make those choices on the basis of  her life’s experiences. Anti porn activists totally fail to appreciate this. Instead they frame women in porn as a deviant underclass exploited by other members of that same class. They make them “other,” outside of what is considered mainstream “normality.” They construct women in porn as victims, brutalized, and incapable of choice and they seek to appeal to them as such. In this they are completely misguided. It doesn’t matter how damaged one might be, human beings still desire and need recognition of our inalienable right to totally fuck ourselves up, and unless we get it, we’re unlikely to hear anything else.

However conditioned our “choices,” and I agree that none of us escapes conditioning unscathed, they are still the choices we make within the parameters of our individual lives, and as such, they are to be respected as the decisions of a human being with the human right to act. Even if other people don’t agree with our actions, think they are destructive, or don’t consider them choices at all.

I seem to recall that Foucault also made some interesting arguments about power that might be well be applied here.

I must point out that I’m not a medical doctor or surgeon, I hold a PhD. Therefore I haven’t earned the right to the title “Mr,” but thank you all the same.

You are “not as sexy” as me? Isn’t that a reference to some kind of patriarchal sex contest designed to make us envy and hate one another as we fight for male attention?

The woman and the octopus, or how anti porn activists sabotage their own message

20 Oct

This article was first published in On Line Opinion

It ought to be de rigueur for anyone warning society about the perils of pornography to first state what they consider to be pornographic. As it is, the word is used to describe everything and anything to do with the public display of sexual behaviours, from the most innocuous, to the most stupid, to the most alarming, violent, and frightening. In fact, the word is rapidly becoming meaningless as anything other than code for “here come the wowsers,” and activists have only themselves to blame for this. They are heeded largely by those who already agree with them, which is useless in terms of getting any serious action going against the kind of pornography that damages people. They refuse to see that in tarring all pornography with the same brush they are sabotaging the message with generalizations and stereotypes, and that this deafens people.

In reality, many of those who dispute the anti pornography position are decent people, highly indignant at the activists’ lack of discrimination in determining the pornographic, and understandably resistant to having someone else’s moral perspective imposed upon them. One person’s sexually objectifying and degrading music video is another’s reference to surrealism and the politics of race, yet it could likely be that both are in agreement on the undesirability of violent porn.

From the outset the activists are frequently defensive, oppositional, and cult-like in their fervor and insistence that their interpretation is the “right” and only one. This is no way to get a message out to anybody other than those who already agree with you.

Agreeing on the pornographic

While what is considered pornographic can be very subjective, there are some criteria which most of us would agree could be used to set a community standard. Government regulation is already in effect in every medium other than the Internet, and I think, outdoor advertising. The Internet is a rogue beast. I would agree with the same restrictions on Internet content as are in place in every other medium. The problem is technical: how do we do that?

It’s likely true that since the advent of the Internet, public tolerance for sexually explicit images has risen as they are more easily accessed than ever before by greater numbers of people. The anti pornography crowd can rail as much as they like, they aren’t going to stop the production of these images, and they aren’t going to stop people viewing them. The very best we can hope for is enough restriction to protect children and limit access, safeguards we already have in place for other media, and that should be in place for outdoor advertising as well.

Woman with octopus

There is also no reason to oppose all sexually explicit images, as if the sexually explicit in itself is dangerous and anti social. This past weekend, for example, I visited the Queensland Art Gallery and came upon a work by Japanese artist Masami Teraoka called “Sarah and the Octopus/Seventh Heaven,” in which a woman is being pleasured by an octopus. (Yes, I would have laughed if someone just told me about it. Seeing it was another thing altogether.) In Japanese erotica images of women enjoying sexual pleasure with tentacled sea creatures is nothing remarkable, though the images are often interpreted in Western culture as being pornographic depictions of rape.

I found the painting erotic, and could see no signs that the female subject was feeling anything other than intense pleasure. I did wonder momentarily what Gail Dines would say about it, and assumed her comments would likely be stridently negative. As I gazed at the painting I thought that there are people who would like to stop me looking at an image such as this one, because they believe it will do me and the wider society psycho-sexual harm. Such people see sexual violence in every pornographic image. They see pornography itself as an act of violence against women, and they want me to “see” as they do.

Their vision casts images such as this painting in a negative and destructive light. I would never consider Teraoka’s work as dangerously pornographic unless that had first been suggested to me as a lens through which I ought to view it. So it is that the careless manner of speaking negatively about all pornography causes everything to be viewed as dangerously pornographic, and we are left with no other possible or legitimate ways of seeing. This is a tyranny and oppression we should resist.

For example, Clive Hamilton argues in his essay on photographer Bill Henson’s controversial images of adolescence that:

It is tragic that those who are responsible for sexualising children have robbed us of the ability to see Bill Henson’s photographs the way he intended. In destroying the sexual innocence of children they have destroyed the innocence of innocence.

Those who are responsible for “sexualising” children have not robbed us of anything in my opinion. On the contrary, those who like Hamilton and Dines demand that we relinquish our “innocent” gaze and replace it with the gaze of, in this case, the paedophile, are those who are responsible for attempting to if not rob, certainly alter for the worse our ability both to see innocence, and to see innocently. Henson should have known better, Hamilton concludes, and he should have realized that in today’s world photographs such as his cannot be “innocently” viewed. Therefore they should not be offered for viewing at all.

Personally, I will resist to my dying breath the efforts of anti pornographers to make me view the entire imaged world through a sexually dangerous and dysfunctional lens, whether I’m looking at Henson, music videos, Japanese erotica or Cosmopolitan. To look in innocence means to look without prejudice and preconditions, and to trust in the integrity of one’s own gaze. Hamilton’s ability to innocently gaze may well have been irrevocably damaged by those who seek to “sexualize” children. Mine has not, and I do not wish to join him in that trauma.

How to stop people wanting and making violent porn

The only way people will not participate in violent pornography, either by producing it or as viewers, is if they have a sense of self-worth that prevents them demeaning and abusing others or allowing themselves to be demeaned and abused. How are we going to produce human beings like that, given the culture in which we live and raise our young? The degradation of human beings is endemic in Western capitalist society indeed it’s a necessity if this form of society is to survive. Violent pornography is but one expression of this degradation. Like drug trafficking and people smuggling, it will never be “stopped” because there’s too much money and too much corruption involved in its production and distribution.

The best we can do is to educate our young to care for themselves and others, with the goal of creating a society in which degradation isn’t inherent. The rest is just sound and fury, unless the activists open their minds and hearts enough to engage with those who might not entirely agree with them, but who may well be on their side in some aspects of their battle.

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