Against Censorship

Censorship is a bad idea. It is the use of force or confiscation of property or money or threats thereof to stop the expression of an idea.

Censorship is a bad idea regardless of the content of the idea for a couple of reasons.

If the idea is bad, by censoring it you prevent people who know better from answering it. This, too, prevents the improvement of ideas.

Sometimes a person will think an idea is bad even though it is good. If you censor such an idea you prevent the improvement of ideas. There is no infallible way to distinguish when you are right about an idea being bad from when you’re wrong, so this is always possible.

Traditionally, there have been many objections to free speech.

First, there is the question of whether you can shout fire in the crowded theatre when there is no fire and you’re not an actor on stage. If you shout fire in a theatre then you are doing a wrong to the people who came to watch the play, and possibly also to the theatre owner. What you are saying is not the problem, the wrong that you are doing in that context is the problem.

Second, shouldn’t people be able to control the content of their blog or YouTube account? Should they not be able to prevent you from posting comments that they dislike? Yes, they should but that’s not censorship. You can start your own blog or YouTube channel or whatever. And in any case, like the theatre owner the blog or channel owner has no obligation to use his property to support your speech. If you feel bad about this that’s your responsibility, not his.

Third, what if somebody is inciting people to violence, should we not censor him? In this case, the problem isn’t the ideas the speaker is expressing, rather he is participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit assault or murder or something like that. If the police get a tip that somebody is planning an armed robbery and raid the robbers’ hideout and stop them from making further plans, they are not interested in stopping the robbers’ speech per se, but the robbery.

Recently, the British government has proposed a plan to make internet service providers require people to block porn websites unless their customer asks them not to.

Some people have said this is a bad idea, but many of them have given the wrong argument. They say: “We agree that it is laudable to deny children (under 18s) access to porn, but this is a bad way to do it.” These people are wrong, it is not at all laudable to deny children access to porn.

“But people under 18 can’t deal with porn because they don’t have the appropriate context to deal with it,” I hear you cry. This is puzzling. Whatever the appropriate interpretation of porn might be if the child can look for porn when he’s interested in it, that will give parents an opportunity to help the child the appropriate interpretation.

The people who use the “context” excuse for censorship may not understand how porn should be interpreted. They say things like: “porn should be used as a way for people in loving relationships to spice up their sex.” Many people in romantic relationships and marriages end up suffering, so at minimum there is something wrong with the way people enact such relationships. So given that people are bad at relationships perhaps they should question the idea that they’re right about all of the issues concerned, including how to use porn.

“But people under 18 can’t understand porn,” the critic objects. If a child looks at porn and doesn’t have any understanding of what he’s seeing at all then he’ll get bored and go do something else.

But what if more teenagers get pregnant as a result of watching porn? People under the age of 18 can find out about sex in ways other than looking at porn. People under 18 found out about sex even before the internet was invented. Also, people often use porn for masturbation so why would more porn lead to more teen pregnancy?

But porn degrades women doesn’t it? If that is true, that is not just a problem for people under 18 and so can’t be a reason for preventing them specifically from getting access to porn. And in any case, the stuff women do in porn is also done by men and transexuals and midgets. While it might be a good idea to have debates about porn, we should have an open debate featuring serious arguments both for and against porn.

I think an unstated reason for the opposition to people under 18 watching porn is precisely that some of them might enjoy it. They should be working hard in school and becoming badminton champions and stuff like that. In other words, people under 18 should be doing what other people want them to do, not using their own judgement. It is disgraceful that the same adults who often chide children for not using their initiative are so keen to deprive them of opportunities to exercise their own judgement about what they should think. Anybody who wants a more rational world should be appalled by the British government’s attempt at thought control.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

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