web posted July 12, 1999
Stop knifing the baby
Thanks to the Internet, my mother was very worried about me once.
It was March 1997 and the big news of the day was a mass suicide of 39 members of a cult known as Heaven's Gate. What had my technologically impaired mother worried was that the cult members worked on the Internet, as I do, and had brush cuts similar to my military style haircut. Those two similarities were enough for her to wonder if I had been brainwashed because of the group's recruitment over the Internet.
Happily she was soon convinced otherwise because I don't wear running shoes, a favourite of our comet tracking friends.
In those "early" days of the World Wide Web, the media hopped on every story that had an Internet angle -- how web sites that dealt with sex, racism, gambling, or any other of society's bogeymen, were warping the minds of millions of people. Part of that reporting was because of the fear the old guard media had about the Internet and the effect it could have on the profession of journalism, but it was mostly due to the fact that the average journalist had little or no experience with the Internet and how it worked.
We've come a long way in a few short years. Benjamin Nathaniel Smith's recent murderous spree wasn't blamed or even linked to the Internet despite the fact that the racist World Church of the Creator, of which he was a recent member, had a web site. Maybe firearms are a sexier topic today, but the word "Internet" wasn't mentioned in most reports, though the fact that he appeared on a television documentary about racism was.
While accusations that the Internet's tendrils were jacked into Smith's brain like something out of The Matrix were nearly non-existent, other familiar statements were made which are more dangerous the silly notion that the Internet could make someone do anything, besides wait a long time for a page to transfer. They are the calls for censorship.
It's a script that has nearly been perfected. Some crazed yahoo like Smith targets minorities and those who were targeted call for racist web sites which presumably affected the yahoo to be banned. While simple and effective because it plays off our rage at these irrational acts and the very casual link between the two things, those who pursue this course of action forget several important things:
The notion that human beings are inherently evil lies at the root of any belief that the second a person views a racist web site they will become racist. Simply put, these people believe despite our natures to be fundamentally good, the moment a racist thought is espoused out loud we all become brown shirts. I tend to be a little more optimistic about the average person and how readily they can be convinced to believe something that they know to be wrong and I'm not so quick to assume that mere exposure to racist thought creates racists. If that is the case, it's time to remove Mein Kampf from public libraries...that is, if they haven't been censored already.
And speaking of censorship, attempting to censor racist -- or any other distasteful material -- on the Internet or in general only creates heroes. It's bad enough today that we have pornographers (correctly) claiming that their freedom of speech is being attacked by ill-thought out decency legislation, but we're also giving racists a chance to wrap themselves in a flag and (correctly) claim that their free speech is being infringed upon. Whether it's musician Marilyn Manson or racist Tom Metzger, trying to stop them from speaking out loud only makes them more attractive to some people.
Finally, the fact that every person in the world can access the Church of the World Creator's web site means nothing in itself. Mein Kampf is available in every responsible library's collection and I stand a good chance of finding Anton LeVay's The Satanic Bible in a book store, yet devil worshipers or Nazis are difficult to find. There may well be thousands of racist web sites but most of them are poorly designed with little information to capture the imagination of any rational person. Those that are well designed only net a small group of people already disposed to hate irrationally. Hopefully we don't visit these web sites...if we need disinformation we can go to CNN.com.
Sadly I hear conservative voices calling for censorship as often as I do liberal voices, two groups that continue to make a lot of hay about their fight for freedoms. Conservatives love to target pornography while liberals salivate attacking some slack-jawed yokel for posting selections of his book on why one race is superior to another. Different though the two things may be, the same conclusion lies behind each campaign.
Both liberals and conservatives apparently believe that responsible people are capable of being tainted by anything undesirable seen on the Internet (or the library, book store, street, television, newspaper...choose your bogeyman) and that potential taint must be eliminated at the expense of our freedoms. It is a mind set that presumes you are too stupid to avoid anything you don't want to consume and if you do want to consume them you must be made the subject of hate.
Rather, the proper way to fight these web sites, give even more power to the World Wide Web and promote freedom is to not interfere with them in anyway except counter their bad speech with good speech. For every Church of the World Creator web site there is a Cato Institute web site. For every whitepower.com there is an aynrand.org. For every Benjamin Nathaniel Smith there are thousands of us. That is the most effective riposte to racism.
And we don't hurt the baby at the same time.
Thanks for reading,
ESR welcomes two new writers to the fold this week, Antonia Feitz from the land of dingos and good beer (Australia) and Steve Montgomery from the nation which gave us hot dogs and Frank Zappa (United States). Both have previously been published in other on-line magazines and have added this little effort to their list of places to contribute to.
Now this is an award to win...
There are awards and then there are awards. Enter Stage Right got one of the later last week courtesy of our friends at Free-Market.Net.
The cats over there honoured us with their Freedom Home Page of the Week (for the week of July 5, 1999), not given to just anyone. Past winners of this baby have included Gun Owners of America, SpinTech, WorldNetDaily, Reason Online, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, The Cato Institute and the recently demised Real Mensch.
Eric Johnson's citation read in part, "Steve Martinovich's Enter Stage Right has been one of the most entertaining and informative online conservative magazines, and the new streamlined design makes it even better."
What makes this award so special is that I've been going to Free-Market.Net almost as long as I've been on the web -- which is a long time -- and I've always been impressed at the kind of resource it is for those who believe in liberty. Since I admire the job they do, it means a lot to get something from them.
Thanks to everyone at Free-Market.Net and for those of you who stuck around for a second week!
If you have a spare moment, please feel free to fill out the survey ESR has set up. It's your way of giving us some feedback...what you like, what you don't like, what you'd like to see more or less of. So far the response has been positive...am I preaching to the converted?
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