Thursday, 18 December 2014

How David Cameron's War On Porn Is A Threat To Freedom


The UK is a bit of a juxtaposed mess of Liberalism at the moment. Within a year gay marriage has been legalised, yet within the last month, strict regulations have been brought down on UK produced pornography. There look to be significant changes to the law granting greater control over people's right to die, and yet it is now quite common to have many websites blocked by your Internet Service Provider, if you're surfing the net in the UK.

You might read those and think that I'm being uneven comparing the right for terminal patients to commit suicide in order to ease their own pain, and the fact that now women can't ejaculate on camera in a UK produced porno. You'd be right in noticing that these two things have nothing to do with one another and it's ludicrous that they should ever have to be compared.


Unfortunately, they do all fall under the banner of freedom, and this is where my issue lies with how the UK government chooses to conduct its law making. Freedom is a word thrown around a lot. It's a word that's been whored out a lot, although thankfully it is getting some well deserved resting time as it's currently being over shadowed in usage by Russell Brand's place holder phrase of “revolution”. I don't think total revolution is required in the current situation, but I do think that there needs to be some much needed understanding about what freedom is and why it is important.

You will often hear people gloat about how we live in the free West. We are allowed to vote, can do whatever we wish, express our opinions and hold any religion we wish. Other countries that live outside this sphere are looked down upon as barbaric, in no way capable of reaching our civilised heights. We are the elite of the world. Anything that has been made illegal in our society is not impending on our freedoms, because they are dangerous things and have been made illegal for our own good. It is so strange then, that many people don't understand what freedom is.

If we are going to fundamentally promote the idea that the West is free and that it is a quality to be promoted in everything we do, then we must accept all the outcomes that this entails. To put it simply, freedom is an absolute. If your society is going to have a concept of freedom and make laws in order to promote it, then you must go the whole hog. There is no middle ground with freedom. You either employ it or you do not. Once freedom becomes compromised then all you have is a set of rules without any real foundation.

Freedom must also remain unbiased. There is no opinion in freedom. Freedom is a general rule of behaviour, but there are no specific rules within it. The issue here of course is that people are very guided by their preferences and morals. It is fine to want the world to reflect how you want it, but in many cases this can be a short sighted fix to a problem that ultimately doesn't matter. Throw in the government's desire to chase the votes and you're left with the mess of laws with no consistent reasoning for why they exist.

We are not talking about true freedom. This would include the ability to murder and steal, as well as playing the videogames that we enjoy so much. When the lion chases and eats the Gazelle, he is carrying out his natural freedom to commit any action, that he is capable of carrying out. A society would not be able to provide its basic objective, the protection of its citizens, if it were employed like this.

So in a sense freedom is not totally free. But given these new parameters, we should attempt to make freedom at least as free and unbiased as it can be. As soon as opinion leaks into freedom, then the whole concept itself falls apart. An often accepted definition of this is that a person may commit any action as long as it does not restrict the freedom of another. This is a good outcome to the issue, since it prevents instances of murder and protects citizens from physical harm, since to kill someone is to stop their ability to enjoy their own freedoms. But it protects as many of the important values of freedom that is possible, namely that is unbiased and fair.

I'm going into freedom in such detail, since it is what the UK government promotes as a positive quality. It is a first world, Western nation and so will be judged as one. If the UK suddenly decided to base all of its laws off of Sharia Law, then I would be analysing the Koran to determine how consistent the laws were based on this foundation.

The issue here is consistency. If the UK is saying that it wishes to promote civil liberty, then it has to do it in all areas. But currently we don't have that. We have the tastes and ethics of the few determining the actions of the many. Once you accept that you want to make laws to promote the freedom of others, then you cannot then restrict valid freedoms in the same breath with your only argument being that you don't like those ones.

Once you mix words like this, then everything becomes meaningless. We do not live in a world of objectives. Everything that we do or say is completely relative. There is no universal law to suggest that you have the right to live, or that you have any right to freedom at all. Freedom, like all our ideals, is a man made idea and in that sense it is fragile.

It is all well and good that now gay people can marry or that soon euthanasia will be legal. I, like many people, am happy that these people who are part of these groups will be free to carry out their desires uninhibited. But these things are not new issues. Gay people have wanted to marry for centuries and people have always wanted the right to help their ill loved ones die. It is just now that it is a popular idea among the public and is seen as tasteful, that they are now allowed to do so.

But suddenly David Cameron can ban several things claiming only that he finds pornography distasteful, and that he doesn't like some areas of the internet because they don't fit with his moral code. And no one bats an eye because they don't care about these things as much as the gay marriage issue or that they also don't like pornography. But they most certainly like freedom.

There is a clear hypocrisy here. Once gay people were considered distasteful to the public and our leaders. But now that they are allowed to marry, everyone pats themselves on the back for how open minded they are and mock those who just weren't as liberal as us.

And then they go and fall into exactly the same trap. Disliking certain things and banning them, even though they fulfil the basic criteria of civil liberty. This being, that it doesn't affect anyone. People consensually fisting each other and swearing at each other while having sex that all the parties are being paid for, doesn't affect you. You don't have to watch it.

If you claim to like freedom you cannot be indifferent about these things. Many will laugh away these small bans and dismiss them as minor things that no one even cares about anyway. The problem is that these things affect people greatly, namely the people that work in these industries. But more importantly, it does matter because if we just allow things to be banned when they become distasteful to a few people, then what happens when people don't like something you do. When they ban it and no one cares about it because it's trivial, then where will you turn.

Freedom is a two way mirror. In the same way that we stop people from killing one another because if I could kill someone, then they could kill me; the same problem resides in other civil freedoms. I don't stop people doing what they like because I like doing what I like, so I give them no leeway to stop me. I leave them and they leave me.

You can't pick and choose freedom. We should not let our leaders ban things without having a rational reason that it is bad for our society, other than its bad for what they personally want society to be.

If you like freedom then you must fight it wherever it is restricted. It is unfortunately a slippery slope and if you allow freedom to be restricted, then it becomes meaningless. All of our rules are meaningless fundamentally, they only exist because of their internal coherence. If you make the foundations of our civilisation incoherent, then it ceases to have meaning.

And that is what Cameron has done in his move to make illegal what he sees as distasteful. He is throwing dirt at what freedom means and mocking the fundamentals of our civilisation.

Freedom has no opinion. You can't pick and choose. If you like gay marriage, then you also have to accept that there is some validity to the case for porn not being censored and drugs being legalised. Because these things, in many cases will not affect you. How these people live their lives is none of your business, so stop trying it make it so.

This continued misunderstanding of freedom only succeeds in making us have to have the same discussions over and over again, while ignoring actually important things that are happening to us. We ignore the myriad of other important issues in the world that are actually damaging, instead wasting our time talking about if gay people should tell each they love one another and if one adult can sit on another adults face. Who cares.

These discussions don't need to occur. They skirt around the issue. The agreed definition is that an action cannot be prohibited if it doesn't affect the freedom of another. If the topic adheres to this rule, then it should be legalised, with no further discussion. Any further opinion you have on the topic is of no consequence, since freedom holds opinion as an irrelevance.


Or maybe we could ignore all this. Maybe the next leader we help will hate bingo because it promotes the idolisation of numbered balls, which he sees as against the mighty Lord Globbula. Gala Bingo halls will be smashed and burned across the country because after all, who cares? It's just bingo. Only old people play it. It's stupid.. Then we can all hate bingo for the next fifty years, before learning the error of our ways and then accepting them again, patting ourselves on the back for how free and liberal we all are.

1 comment:

  1. The question comes down to the value of paternalism in society; should we be protected from ourselves.

    Indeed the point you raise about freedom is a valid one and that to be able to have freedom to do whatever you want when it doesn't affect others is important, but should laws be in place to help prevent excessive harm being inflicted on you?

    Contrasting sex acts with drugs I would say that drugs have greater potential to negatively impact other people, therefore restrictions are a good idea. One positive change in this regard is the smoking ban. I see it only as a positive that smoking is banned in confined public spaces removing passive smoke inflicted on others. Drugs, if legalized, would still require limits on where and how they can be used so as not to impact on others.

    Sex acts however are always private matters, between consenting individuals and it makes little sense to limit freedom in this regard. However such limitations have long been part of the legal framework - look at R v Brown/R v Emmet and we see that actual bodily harm inflicted consensually as a part of sexual gratification was considered to serious by the courts for its consensual nature to be recognised.

    Even if you did accept that the decisions in those cases were correct they stand in huge contrast to the changes discussed in this article. Since the ban only extends to the creation of these types of pornography and not their consumption you have to conclude that the aim is not to protect those watching these acts from attempting to imitate them and thereby harming themselves (which I think could be a legitimate concern, although one which a mandatory 'don't try this at home' style warning would service perfectly).
    So the material will still exist and be obtainable, the only thing these laws do (as far as my understanding goes) is prevent those in the UK from creating such videos for distribution - all this does is impact financially on those in this industry as their customers seek materials made abroad. The only 'protection' being offered is to the performers. So do these laws exist as these acts are ones they should avoid recording themselves doing for their own protection, no law prevents the acts occurring entirely so we cannot conclude that they are considered inherently too dangerous (as with S&M above) so is it a concern that in making a video they will participate in acts they would not do in private and thereby do themselves an injury which matches the threshold determined in Brown? Or only a worry for their future reputation? Surely that is something any adult has the right to consider for themselves.

    More likely, as Billy concludes above, the only explanation is that Mr Cameron (or the politicians through whom this became law) simply don't want the UK to have any reputation as a country which produces these types of video and the only explanation is their personal disapproval of the content.

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