Recently I clicked on a link which I thought would lead me to an article about human sexuality, but when it opened my eyes were bombarded with very explicit pornographic images which I was not prepared for, was not desirous of seeing, and did not seek out intentionally; I got unwittingly exposed to graphic porn images when not looking for them. What do you see as a fair, ethical and legal way to stop this? I think an opt-in option for internet consumers who want to access porn is a good idea…for those of who do not opt-in, then those images will be nowhere on our screens. That is my idea. I’d like to hear yours.
The world is not a perfect place; it never has been, and it never will be. Scientists will point to entropy, and metaphysicians will tell you that there wouldn’t be much point in a perfect world because it would have to be wholly static, frozen in its perfection. Obviously everyone knows this, and yet perfectly reasonable people will waste incredible amounts of time and energy arguing about what the “feminist Utopia” or the “libertarian Utopia” or the “progressive Utopia” or whatever would be like. Now, if this were just one of those intellectual games like, “If we were all cheeses, what kind of cheese would you be?” that would be just fine and dandy, but I’m afraid it isn’t; for example, many women who should have more sense will go on and on about how women “shouldn’t” have to worry about being raped…yet they don’t say a word about how men “shouldn’t” have to worry about being robbed, or poor people “shouldn’t” have to worry about paying the bills, or people of any kind “shouldn’t” have to consider the possibility of being blown to Kingdom Come by some fanatic trying to draw attention to his cause. The fact of the matter is that there are bad people in the world, and desperate people, and unbalanced people, and any of them might potentially doom you (or at least hurt you very badly) every time you step outside of your house.
Now, the chances of being attacked on any given day aren’t all that high, and in fact they’re getting lower all the time; furthermore, there are measures one can take to protect oneself which are vastly more effective than whining “but I shouldn’t have to defend myself!” or delegating the task to some paternalistic government which will almost certainly fail to do its job because the police can’t be everywhere at once. Oh, it’s certainly possible to make the police more effective simply by increasing their number and powers; however, that automatically restricts freedom at the same time, as Americans are discovering to their chagrin. The only way to ensure you don’t get attacked when you step outside your house is, unsurprisingly, not to step outside of your house…but that makes for a pretty boring existence, a rough approximation of that static Utopia I mentioned above. An infant in a playpen guarded by parents and a nanny 24 hours a day is about as safe as any human can be, but he can’t explore much of the world. And an insect sealed in amber is so well-protected it can exist changelessly for tens of millions of years…dead, of course, but one can’t have everything.
The internet is like a world of its own, with a nearly-infinite number of places to explore. And just like the real world, some of the people there aren’t very nice and some of the things one might find are unpleasant. Every time I drive to town I risk seeing dead animals on the highway or bumping into folks with extremely poor hygiene; the internet has its equivalents of these things, too. And just as in real life, the only sure way to be safe from attack or offense is to stay indoors, i.e. off of the internet. Yes, it’s possible to delegate the task to some paternalistic government which will almost certainly fail to do its job because the censors can’t stop everything; it’s also possible to make the filters more effective simply by increasing their number and powers, but (as I explained at length in Friday’s column) that automatically restricts freedom at the same time. See, the problem is that computers, like police, are incredibly stupid and literal-minded: both of them will always fail to do a lot of what they are intended to do, while simultaneously doing a lot of bad things they were not supposed to. And there is absolutely no way to stop this (in either case) because, as I said at the beginning, the world is neither perfect nor perfectible.
The only “fair and ethical” solution is the same for both the virtual world and the real one: every individual has to choose the balance of safety and freedom which is right for him, and refrain from trying to impose his choice upon others. If some woman wants to live in a sanitized bubble where she’s protected from rape and everything else (except by the guards, of course), that’s her choice, but I prefer to interact with others freely without Big Brother watching. If some man wants to shut himself off from physical human contact and restrict all of his interaction to the internet (where he cannot be physically harmed), bully for him; I prefer to risk getting sunburnt, stung or scarred. And if you choose to install readily-available internet filtering software and allow it to make the decisions about what you’re allowed to see, be my guest; just don’t expect me to accept it on my computer, or to pay for your voluntary narrowing of your own experience.