New way to dramatize the need to fight censorship [cr-95/10/3]


I am writing this as an individual contributor to the list, not as

U.S. censorship on the Net is looking like more and more of a
possibility--and it will set the tone for the rest of the world.
Every member of the Senate committee working on the telecom bill has
voted for Exon's amendment.  While we have several reasons to believe
the courts will declare censorship unconstitutional, a lot of misery
and confusion is likely to be spread by a telecom bill that enforces
narrow standards of decency.

I was thinking of making a dramatic gesture by putting the passage
shown below on our Web site.  I think it helps to dramatize what's
wrong with censorship.  Actual civil disobedience like this is certain
to arise if the bill becomes law.  I want to know what all of you on
this list think of my idea.  Is it appropriate for the image of the
cyber-rights group?  Effective?  Accurate?

The link on the Web site could carry a dramatic label ("Could I be
arrested for this?") or something more informative ("What is wrong
with attempts to censor the Internet").  After the passage would be an
explanation of its context and what it means--in this message I've
included the explanation as a separate page (just press the return key
to see it).  I would have other links to information about the
U.S. bills and what a person can do to oppose them.

Richard Moore has told me he disagrees with the strategy behind this
idea.  He can post his objections in another message.



        "You must come and be undressed," he said, in a quiet voice
that was thin with anger.
        And he reached his hand and grasped her.  He felt her body
catch in a convulsive sob.  But he too was blind, and intent,
irritated into mechanical action.  He began to unfasten her little
apron.  She would have shrunk from him, but could not.  So her small
body remained in his grasp, while he fumbled at the little buttons and
tapes, unthinking, intent, unaware of anything but the irritation of
her.  Her body was held taut and resistant, he pushed off the little
dress and the petticoats, revealing the white arms.  She kept stiff,
overpowered, violated, he went on with his task.

In a few sentences, this passage illustrates beautifully how
censorship is the enemy of human communication.  The book containing
the passage--"The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence--was banned when it was
originally published in 1915.  And perhaps in a few months, those
words could lead to my arrest and conviction.

Recent bills passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress threaten to
prosecute anyone who uses electronic networks to transmit "indecent"
material.  Although the bills claim only to restrict access to minors,
the open structure of current electronic networks means that the
restrictions would apply to all publicly offered content.  And since
electronic networks reach everywhere, a prosecutor anywhere in the
country--even the most conservative community--could decide to
prosecute me.

Taken out of context, the passage I quoted would appear frightening to
many, and a jury could well be persuaded that it is "indecent."  But
in context, its impact is deeply emotional, even heart-warming.

The passage is part of a scene where a father is getting his four- or
five-year-old daughter ready for bed.  (Now am I in real hot water?
Is this child pornography?)  A lot is going on behind the passage, of

The man has recently married a woman with a daughter from a previous
marriage.  Now the woman is in labor, delivering the man's first
child.  He has not thought deeply about his relationship to his wife,
much less what it will mean to have his own child.

So the man is overwhelmed with thoughts that are suddenly assailing
him.  Meanwhile, the little girl has not been prepared for the birth
either.  But she knows that something scary is happening to her
mother, and she insists on seeing her.  The man wants her to leave the
mother alone and to try to forget about her fears.

All that is going on behind the passage, showing why Lawrence is
considered one of the major writers of the twentieth century.  "The
Rainbow" is full of such psychological insights and sensitivity.
Naturally, it was attacked by the Exons of England when it came out,
with a campaign to ban it in both the press and the Parliament.
Lawrence didn't get nearly as much flack for it as he did later for
"Lady Chatterly's Lover" (which had much more explicit language) but
it did go out of print within a year, and stayed out of print for the
next 11 years.

The rulers of society always want to control what we think and what we
feel.  They want us to forget urges that must remain unsatisfied in
the current culture, and to turn our desires and anger to carefully
chosen targets.  Now, as in 1915, we must fight this repression and
strike a blow for the freedom of the human spirit.

 Posted by --  Andrew Oram  --  •••@••.••• --  Cambridge, Mass., USA
                 Moderator:  CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)

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