Thursday, November 18, 2010

What do we censor? Why do we not censor?

The word "censor" is a pejorative word in our society, and if anyone asks you whether you censor stuff, your natural inclination is to say "No, I never censor stuff."

But then, the next statement out of your mouth is, "Except, of course, for...."

To my knowledge, no one has ever adopted a true, absolute "freedom of information" stance. As an example, Julian Assange's police report wasn't published by Wikileaks. Instead, a redacted version was obtained by the Daily Mail and other media. Will Wikileaks obtain and publish the complete, unredacted version of the police report? I'm not holding my breath.

Michael Hanscom discussed this in a recent blog post. Excerpt:

Last April, the internet and many people I know were thrown into a tizzy because of apparent censorship of LGBT-themed books, prompting the creation of the #amazonfail hashtag.

So, now we have the latest uproar over a book with unpopular ideas that is under attack — only this time, the popular call is for boycotting Amazon until the book is removed.

Not that Hanscom personally enjoys the contents of the book in question:

Yes, the content of the book in question is disturbing and advocates unethical, immoral, and illegal behavior. Depending on who you talk to and what area of the country or world you live in, most if not all of the LGBT section of any modern bookstore, including Amazon, can be described in exactly the same way.

In essence, Hanscom has boiled this down to an act of self-interest. Tangentially, I noted in a comment that my stance on the New York City mosque is itself an act of self-interest:

I am not a Muslim, but the primary reason that I support the mosque in the World Trade Center area is one of supreme self-interest. I figure that if someone can ban a mosque today, they can just as easily ban my Christian church tomorrow.

This also explains why some conservatives were outraged over MSNBC’s suspension of Keith Olbermann.

In effect, I have changed the conversation. Instead of saying "I support Idea X because all ideas should be supported," I have said "I support Idea X because if I oppose Idea X today, someone may oppose my Idea Y tomorrow." Martin Niemoller's famous statement "First they came for the trade unionists..." is of a similar construction.

And perhaps that's all we can do. I suspect that the next person who claims that information should be available to all will be faced with the choices that Julian Assange had to face - should EVERYTHING be available?
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