Cameron vs. Smut

Cameron vs. Smut
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I like David Cameron a fair bit. Just as Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer of the English-speaking right in placing free markets and anti-Communism at the ideological core of 20th century conservatism, I feel Britain’s current Tory PM is miles ahead of his North American contemporaries in declaring a well-adjusted civil society to be the primary goal of conservatism in the 21st.

Cameronism, it seems (at least from my distant perspective) is a conservative vision that prioritizes the broad good of maintaining decency, respect, and order in day-to-day life over some of the right’s more dated, disparate causes of the past. The PM’s high-profile break with 20th century conservative orthodoxy on gay marriage is a good example: rather than view the cry for same-gender nuptials as an isolated act of liberal aggression against a “historic institution,” Cameron’s new, bigger-picture conservatism saw an opportunity to bring more couples into the bourgeois institution itself, and emphasize wedded monogamy as the expected cornerstone of all families, gay or straight.

That was a relatively uncontroversial proposal, at least in the sense gay marriage wasn’t a terribly novel idea (regardless of how novel his justification) by the time Cameron’s government legalized it. The same can’t be said of his latest so-called “Big Society” initiative — cracking down on Internet porn.

On Monday, Cameron delivered a long speech outlining an ambitious anti-pornography agenda, and despite the simplistic caricatures that invariably followed, his analysis was informed, cautious, and thoughtful.

Obviously “the internet has transformed our lives for the better,” he said in a long opening concession, but we also can’t deny its responsibility for two of the darkest ills of the modern era: the proliferation of child porn and the proliferation of children who look at porn.

Towards such evils we can afford no ambiguity, he continued. A government that turns a blind eye to the former is one that aides and abets the vicious sexual exploitation of minors — those famous ‘most vulnerables’ the state supposedly has its firmest mandate to protect — while political indifference to the latter risks mainstreaming a truly destructive childhood “rite of passage.” In the long-term, neither online norm is compatible with a society that values the health and welfare of its citizens, nor one that opposes their exploitation and dysfunction.

Cameron’s solutions? Pragmatism and common-sense.

On the child porn front, much of the British government’s crackdown will be criminal, with increased policing of the so-called “hidden internet” where pedophiles thrive. But in the meantime, the Cameron administration will also demand Google and friends stop providing results for searches “where there could be no doubt whatsoever about the sick and malevolent intent of the searcher,” while simultaneously instituting greater checks and balances to ensure ambiguous queries don’t yield objectionable results. Searches for “child sex,” for example, should err on the side of providing matches for “child gender,” suggested the PM.

To prevent children from consuming too much porn themselves, meanwhile, Cameron’s preference was for mandatory “family friendly” website blockers to be installed on every UK computer; blockers that would filter out all pornographic websites and could only be deactivated by one of the household’s legal adults calling up the ISP.

“By the end of this year,” promised the Prime Minister, “when someone sets up a new broadband account, the settings to install family friendly filters will be automatically selected; if you just click next or enter, then the filters are automatically on.” And if you already have a connection? Cameron says you’ll soon be getting a mandatory call from your provider asking you to make an “unavoidable decision” about whether to opt-in to the filter regime or not.

The backlash to all this has been predictable. As Cameron himself noted, one of the great frustrations of internet regulation is this entrenched idea — particularly ubiquitous among the young —  “that you can as easily legislate what happens on the internet as you can legislate the tides,” and therefore even attempting to do so is “somehow naïve or backwards looking.” Then there’s the similarly entrenched view that any efforts to curtail the public’s private consumption of pornography — even when children are the consumers, or child porn is what’s being consumed — are little more than the fussy, judgemental crusades of puritanical busybodies, completely divorced from any legitimate concern of health or safety.

But what’s on the other hand?

It’s hard to deny the massive proliferation of internet pornography is retarding the normal sexual development of modern youth. If you have access to an impossibly large library of titillating photographs and videos from your earliest adolescence, it’s inevitable such things will provide the bulk of your education on this deeply private topic. And the younger you begin browsing such libraries, the earlier this amazingly robust “education” will come to numb and bore you, fostering the development of ever-wilder sexual tastes and fetishes in response.

Researchers like yourbrainonporn.com‘s Gary Wilson (best known for a particularly infamous TED Talk) have suggested modern youth’s impossibly high, porno-inspired standards for sexual arousal have indeed warped youth sexuality in a variety of ways — erectile dysfunction in men, unachievable performance standards for women. The end result is a generation robbed of the natural, imperfect cycle of real-world, human-centric sexual observation and exploration that has traditionally accompanied maturation.

Child porn, likewise, has been the subject of increasing “freedom of taste” debate as of late, particularly in Canada, where a few high-profile, libertarian-minded individuals such as Prime Minister Harper’s former chief advisor and Mrs. Conrad Black have mused skeptically on the the need for government to ban the “private contemplation of squalid pictures.” But again, the evidence suggests otherwise.

powerful feature published earlier this year in New York Magazine reveals in stark detail just how permanent and omnipresent the trauma of sexual exploitation can be to former subjects of kiddie porn, in large part because of the victims’ inescapable, oppressive knowledge that their naked bodies now float permanently on the net, circulating before — the numbers suggest — an exponentially growing number of eyeballs. And as is the case with “normal porn,” that growing appetite begets spoiled demand, which begets increased pressure for someone, somewhere, to harm ever-more children (in ever-more deranged ways) to satiate the subculture’s gluttonous libido.

Cameron’s battle to uproot such deeply entrenched cultural vices will be decidedly uphill — technologically, if nothing else. But what makes such leadership encouraging and inspirational just the same is his willingness not to simply accept these gross excesses of the internet age as irreversible facts of life, but rather perfectly ordinarily social problems that can, in fact, be solved with the right sort of innovative thinking. Just like any other.

It’s an attitude that reflects a new sort of conservatism; a philosophy not content with merely returning to the easy fights of yesteryear to win the same old cliched victories (fresh tax cut anybody?), but rather one that reflects honestly on the unique social challenges of the 21st century and seeks solutions that can respect the modern while still upholding the traditional.

It’s a lead conservatives in North America would be wise to follow. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Britain had the right answer before us, so to speak.




^ 35 Comments...

  1. David L

    I think at best, this is Augustus trying to regulate Roman morals. Not only will this reform quietly erode over time if not immediately, it clashes with the recent surge of libertarianism within the conservative movement both in North America and globally.

    Dealing with child pornography and paedophiles is laudable, but censorship has never been an effective weapon and telling the entirety of the British voting populace they are morally contemptible if they do opt-out or oppose this law is wrongheaded.

  2. ThePsudo

    I grow annoyed by claims that this or that policy is ineffective that are not accompanied by alternative policies that are more effective. If the end is laudable, some means to that end must therefore be the best available means.

  3. RTT

    Maybe aggressively go after the people making the child porn. The problem is that people are abusing children, not that people are watching videos of that abuse on the internet. The production is the problem, not the consumption.

  4. Dan

    It's rather difficult for the British government to go after people in largely Eastern European countries doing things that are legal to do where they are.

  5. Simon

    What makes you think censorship has never been an effective weapon?

  6. Chris

    Y'know, large parts of Augustus' regulations of the Roman morals lasted in various forms till the Severan dynasty. That's over two hundred years.
    If a policy has to be certain to last more than two hundred years before you'll even begin continencing it, I don't think you're going to be supporting many policies,

  7. POGG

    This neo con's gone red tory!

  8. @Kisai

    The entire child porn censorship thing is a red herring designed to impose some kind of moral high ground by those in power, and if you object to it, "you must clearly support the paedophiles"… Etc

    Unfortunately any law passed in the name of saving children is often overbearing (eg age of consent laws that result in teens less than 2 years apart being given a sexual predator sentence for nothing more than taking a suggestive picture of themselves, getting the recipient in trouble.) Likewise there is often no distinction between fictional computer generated or hand drawn images versus actual images, and often the context is completely missing ( eg a parent sharing a picture of their kid in the bathtub on Facebook.)

    You can not legislate people's behaviour. People are going to do what they want to do, even if they know they will suffer severe consequences for it. Educating people on why this material should be never seen (exploitive, demeaning, or violent), and to not support it to begin with could do more to help, but piracy will just undermine it. The best you can do is make it harder to find and cut off revenue sources to "free" streaming sites, and demand legal porn sites to be pay walled so that they do not index content from the start.

    Actually getting google and other search systems to delist pirated material, along with keywords with obvious intent is a nice start. But as they say, porn is often the first to adopt new technology, and by treating "all porn" as bad, sets the precedent that the government will be unwilling to cooperate in finding technical solutions.

    Censorship is always bad in my opinion, yes there are distasteful things out there, but I would rather people who are curious to be told point blank why what they are looking for/at is bad/morally wrong//illegal by the search engine.

  9. Enigma

    First time poster, long time reader. Are you honestly telling me that these abstract concepts of morality Cameron projects are more important than the liberty to make choices for yourself? Child porn is a completely different thing, but by broad brushing all porn as the same thing he is completely missing the point. This makes me sound like a pervert, but I honestly don't care; it's true. He/she/they who is faultless in life can cast the first stone.

    The worst thing about this Great Firewall of Britain, other than being supported by the right wing (as one would expect), is that it will also bring in blocks on other content like violence and subversive ideas the Cameron government considers too controversial for the public. As this article shows – http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-07/27/po… – the block will also affect many other areas of the internet.

    As prohibition failed, so will Cameron's attempt at stopping freedom of thought and speech through censoring ideas and other aspects of life. Whether or not you agree with it is aside from the point, this will curtail freedoms otherwise held by the British people. People will support this because of ignorance, not because of logic, reason or intelligence.

    The Daily Mail and other right wing organisations will claim it's immoral and thus it shall be regardless of the reality. What's the saying? 95% of people watch porn and the other 5% are lying? As I said at the top of the post, he/she/they who is faultless can cast the first stone.

    No one is going to care what I think, probably. Oh, well. At least I will have tried. I'm sure I will be called many horrible things in the next few posts in line with the internet, but please remember that your so-called morality is in itself imposing its views on other, probably more liberal individuals, than yourselves.

    Sorry, if this came across as a bit hostile in its wording. Not my intention, I'm just a bit tired and sick of people as portraying life as a black and white scenario when it rarely is.

    Yours sincerely,

    Engima

  10. Veronia

    You're right, child porn and dirty movies with two consenting adults are totally and completely different, it's actually offensive to class them as the same thing.

  11. Rachel

    The technology is being imported from the same company responsible for the Great Firewall of China, which itself has a reputation for broadly classifying politically subversive material under the "pornography" umbrella. I don't see this as a particularly courageous move; similar proposals have been made in Australia.

  12. Virgil

    But….Cameron's regulations as described do permit people to make the choice for themselves…unless they are under 18 in which case greater technology is (supposed to be) given to the parents. There do not appear to be any restrictions on what adults do..

  13. @TheInvisibleDan

    There seems to be a disconnect between this cartoon and the accompanying essay – the former mocks Cameron's policy as ignoring reality, while the latter seems largely supportive. Am I misinterpreting?

  14. Dryhad

    Maybe I'm reading too much into it but I think the fact that it's Cameron himself being "shielded" from unpleasant things is the key. The comic is not so much about the content of the policy but the reaction to it, to which Cameron in the comic is blissfully ignorant.

  15. J.J. McCullough

    Correct

  16. Svan

    Your writing feels like a stretch. If this is what leadership looks like, then this is some kind of puny nickle-plated leadership. How bold of him, to look out over the political landscape and target online pornography with a protect the children warcry. It's a heavy- handed, incompetently managed attempt to over-regulate an impossible task ignoring the plethora of private solutions to literally nanny British children. Leadership, leadership worthy of encouragement and inspiration, should aim a little higher than just brave and bone-headed.

  17. drs

    Hey, be fair. It's also another distraction from the continuing Conservative sabotage of the economy. Wouldn't want to ask why the coalition is holding the course on failed economic policies, would we?

  18. Jake_Ackers

    I thought this was more him trying to gain the Conservative vote back after the gay marriage thing. If anything, if the Con policy failed then Obama has too. The unemployment rates are about the same.

  19. Chris

    If this is about helping parents protect their children, why is the firewall opt-out rather than opt-in?

  20. Peter

    If this is about helping parents protect their children, why hasn't the free market satisfied this need?

    I'm not denying the need for government intervention in cases of market failure, but I don't see how that could be the case here. If it is, could someone please enlighten me?

  21. Jake_Ackers

    Exactly. Why not ask the ISP to offer an filter on the internet line in which parents can pick which content to block. Kind of like an internet V-Chip. So its on the line, and not some useless app that a preteen can get around.

  22. Bruce

    I'm surprised that you support this JJ. What we have is the government telling the entire country that they are not capable of doing XYZ and therefore let Aunty take care of it for you.

    Regardless of your thoughts on how pornography viewing negatively affects youngsters (And this is a notion I have a lot of skepticism for anyway), is it right to use it as an excuse to force the moral beliefs of a small vocal group of crusaders on the masses?

    And the fact that child porn is mentioned within a breath of this makes it even worse. Child porn, we can all agree is awful, but by doing it like this, it sets a worrying principle that something can be banned because it has terribly vague links to something bad.

    Frankly its government nose sticking of the worst sort and it worries me a lot.

  23. Hentgen

    "Researchers like yourbrainonporn.com‘s Gary Wilson have suggested modern youth’s impossibly high, porno-inspired standards for sexual arousal have indeed warped youth sexuality in a variety of ways — erectile dysfunction in men, unachievable performance standards for women. The end result is a generation robbed of the natural, imperfect cycle of real-world, human-centric sexual observation and exploration that has traditionally accompanied maturation."

    Aside from being tempted to reject this as sensationalized worries that youth are unable to distinguish reality from fiction, not unlike the hysterical anti-violence in video games crowd, I would argue that banning pornography is about as counterproductive as abstinence-only sex education is to prevent teenage pregnancy.

    Rather than just turning up the taboo-status of sex by instituting a national psudeo-ban, which just promotes ignorance and the use of pornography as a source of information, there should be effort made to improve youth's understanding of the role of sex in our culture. Whether it is parents or schools, it shouldn't take much convincing to explain to children that pornography is about as real as professional wrestling. When I was younger, my dad took the time to tell me that it wasn't real and defined pornography as "sex as it ain't." I'm not sure I needed the lesson, but my dad did it to make sure I understood. Because, you know, he doesn't leave parenting to the state.

  24. Reverend Catharsis

    I've had easy access to pornography since I was six years old (because my father was not good at hiding his Playboys or Penthouses and what have you). And then I had easier access once I hit teenage years and got my first computer and internet access. I'm.. Almost painfully vanilla when it comes to sexual things. If anything all of this access and availability has made my life easier because I am aware that I don't need to uphold or adhere to standard modes of thought regarding sex in mainstream society (like how I should have gotten all kinds of laid in high school and college because duh that's what REAL MEN do they get conquests and notches on their belts and so forth, did I mention I live in the Southern US?)

    Similarly I have, largely through my lack of fear or shame in talking about it to people, learned a lot about what kind of realistic expectations of sex I should have. Being unafraid and impossible to shame, which I attribute in part to my easy and comfortable ability to enjoy porn at my leisure without some jackassalope trying to tell me how I should think and feel because (party standards go here), has made talking and learning about the subject matter worlds easier.

    But that could mean I'm just some sort of freak.

  25. @AshburnerX

    This seems a bit too far reaching, considering occultism is one of the things that will be blocked. This includes anything about the Wiccan and Druid faiths, among many others. That seems like blatant restriction on the freedom of religion.

  26. Jake_Ackers

    Frankly I thought this was a ploy to gain back the conservatives votes he lost with gay marriage. At least he gives an opt-out. However, isn't this just the 21st Century version of the V-Chip that Gingrich and Clinton did in the 90s?

    His plan is well intended but done poorly. Why not set it up more like how cable companies do with televisio?. With the internet you would go to your ISP website and pick the kind of content to block. So instead of putting apps or filters on your computer, its on the line itself. At least you can't get around it that way. Why not leave it as an opt-in option between the customer, and their ISP? That way it isn't so authoritarian sounding.

    Frankly, this could easily be resolved as part of a free market solution. He doesn't need to mandate this. Just ask the companies to offer a line filter versus these cheap apps that never work anyway. That way it's people choosing to use it and not the gov't pretty much forcing it.

    The "ambiguous queries don’t yield objectionable results" can stop people from mistakenly looking at it. Only way to stop the pedos it is by pulling an Obama and having a PRISM like program looking for people who are searching for keywords. Which then opens another can of worms altogether.

  27. jonasbelford

    This reminds me of a lawsuit some Florida guy filed against Apple ( http://abovethelaw.com/2013/07/lawyer-apple-shoul… you can read the full filing on the next page, which is highly amusing). There are a few similarities, namely the de-facto blocker requiring removal and the mention of porn increasing "standards" and leading to more depravity.

  28. Guest

    "a philosophy not content with merely returning to the easy fights of yesteryear to win the same old cliched victories (fresh tax cut anybody?), but rather one that reflects honestly on the unique social challenges of the 21st century and seeks solutions that can respect the modern while still upholding the traditional."
    Really?
    Tax cut for the rich, just like Lawson?
    Privatise the NHS and Royal Mail like Maggie did with British Gas and later they did for National Rail?
    Exclude a large swathe of workers from key bits of employment law, and encourage the rest to opt out?

    Unfortunately, the Tories are mostly acting like an 80s re-enactment club. Cameron may sincerely believe in gay marriage, but it's also a politically convenient way of trying to get people thinking that his party has 'modernised'. In fact, calling gay marriage 'conservative' is nothing new, and, time was when the left were demanding that the state to get out of people's private lives.

    So too, is this an effort to show, well, that the Tories have noticed the internet and that it has some bad things on it.

    In this case, it seems a lot like the thinking "something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it". It's not encouraging and inspirational leadership, it's a government (which happens to be particularly clueless when it comes to tech), using the law to regulate technology in order to curtail an industry which is associated with social problems, likely because Cameron has been wowed by the sales pitch of a tech company looking for government-mandated contracts. It helps that the people who care about the social issue vastly outnumber the people who understand the technological implications and the media (other than specialist publications) has mostly been about the former more than the latter.

  29. Jake_Ackers

    There is a difference between left and libertarian. Liberals want you out of their lives, except when it's to pay for it.

  30. IntrepidusX

    Censorship is censorship and you would be calling 'nanny state' if a party from the other end of the political spectrum proposed this kind of legislation.

  31. eksortso

    Why is nobody talking about taking down child pornographers? Those are the people who are actually causing the most grievous harm, and sensible law enforcement approaches would undeniably improve everyone's lives, without resorting to byzantine censorship regimes.

  32. Jake_Ackers

    Most of them happen in Eastern Europe were the British gov't has no control over it. But you do make a good point. Why not try to coordinate with the countries over there at least?

  33. Reverend Catharsis

    They do. Scotland Yard tries all the damn time; so does INTERPOL and various other organizations. But the efforts of these agencies is often hampered by personal conflicts, local and international politics, inter-agency conflicts, the usual rounds of bribes to corrupt officials, and of course costs- they can be pretty high and a lot of agencies are often underfunded.

    It's hard, frequently impossible, to go after criminals at an international level- otherwise the DeBeers family and their slave-filled diamond mines would be out of business, the Russian mafia families would have been crushed ages ago, etc- but with internet crime the rules change because of how massively connected everyone is.

    Censorship suddenly becomes a desirable method to killing the kiddie porn market, but the people in positions of authority attempting to use such methods frequently have no idea how the internet actually works. Saying "to protect our children" is illogical because you have to actively dig for that kind of porn to find it- I know this because I've studied the topic and gone on random searches myself. You can't just 'stumble across' the stuff- not even hand-drawn images, you have to be specifically looking for it to find it. So the only way your kids will 'stumble across it' is if they're specifically digging, and digging DEEP, to find it. Or unless you keep it on your PC where they can find it more easily.

    Secondly, even if you DO set up such a censorship network, it's still not actually going to stop anyone (unless you're just going to go after sites that feature hand-drawn images, in which case YOU HAVE SOLVED NOTHING AND WASTED YOUR TIME AND OUR MONEY GOOD JOB MORON) for a simple reason: dedicated pedophiles have this tendency to get their stuff from organized networks, and organized networks find holes. Remember when Anonymous broke into the US government's networks and left them a /bill/? Supposedly the most secure networks in the world? They're not the only people who can do that, and if their payroll is threatened an organized CP network is going to start hiring people who can do that. This is a business after all.

    So you install your national censorship network. You've slowed the pedos down but your chances of catching them using it are slim and because of how business WORKS you're not really stopping them, because you can't, without shutting down the internet entirely. It is not physically possible. Your censorship network is thus only useful for censoring whatever you think is convenient at the time; and hey who's going to stop you? It's already set up and has people sworn to silence running it after all.

    So maybe Cameron isn't just being an ass. Maybe he's trying to do the right thing to fight child pornographers. But he's doing it in a fashion that cannot and indeed will not actually stop or solve anything beyond giving additional unquestionable, irremovable power that cannot be investigated from the government to use on the population as it pleases despite any laws that are in place.

  34. Virgil

    To be fair to Mr. Cameron, and in regards some of the comments here, I think what JJ was talking about as being novel was precisely the coupling of gay marriage and a crackdown on pornography's availability to children…..in favor of an attempt to make encourage monogamy's place as an ideal in the culture. While the conservative case has been made in the past for homosexual marriage, we have never seen practical policies put in place on its inherent assumptions….that is novel. It is also a contradiction from the perspective of many on both the left and the right….not the least since many on the right have felt that the conservative case for homosexual marriage is mere convenient cover for a general erosion of traditional morality.

    Now with regards to the policies Cameron is following regarding pornography there seems to be a lot of ink spilled (proverbially) on the old distinction between adult consensual pornography (good) and child pornography (bad…the real problem.) However, the issue is more finely tuned than that as Mr. Cameron seems to be drawing..again..a novel distinction on trying to prevent children from viewing such materials without parental knowledge. In fairness, it does seem to paint with a broad stroke…in that adults would have to state that they do not wish a filter placed on the computer. Again in fairness, this would not exactly be a return to the 50's when such materials would be inaccessible but rather a return, at its most restrictive, to the 1980's when people who wished to gain access to pornography would have to go to an adult store.

    Now here is a question….will it work?