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What, if anything, sets humanity apart from the other animals with whom we share the planet? What is the measure of Man? Over the ages that mankind has pondered that question, one answer has resonated: our capacity for language raises us above "the dumb brutes". And while research into the language capabilities of cetaceans and our fellow primates has yielded tantalizing conclusions, there can be no doubt that we are the communication champions. We are the gabbiest species on the planet.
Over our history, we have expanded our capacity for communication to a level that is nothing short of magic. From cuniform writing through signals with smoke and mirrors, to the telegraph, radio, and satelite-relayed television, we have come at last to the Internet: a technology of communication at last advanced enough to the indistinguishable from magic, and yet democratic enough to make wizards of anyone willing to take the time to learn, regardless of race, creed, color, or political affiliation. If our communication is what sets us apart, then perhaps it is no exageration to say that the Internet represents a step forward in human evolution.
For the most part, the online world has been an environment of free communication. A world where ideas can compete on their own merit, were reasoned argument is more likely to prevail than volume, where senators and students, cops and convicts, can be heard without prejudice and express themselves freely.
But one thing that is sure about communication is that some people will communicate ideas that others will object to. And some people are not willing (or are unable) to compete on the level playing field of the online world; unable to win with reason, they would silence with force the expression of ideas they find distateful. Fearing the technology that can put instant mass-comunication into the hands of anyone, the governments of the world are moving to restrict our freedoms in the new world of the Internet. The so-called "Communications Decency Act", which makes it a federal crime to say things you can freely shout on the street, is the latest example.
If the only thing that sets us apart from the other apes is an advanced capacity for language and communication, than any attempt to reduce our communication can only be seen as an attempt at forcible de-evolution.
Those who would restrict freedom always claim that it's for the protection of some disempowered group. This time, we're told it's for the children, who apparently will be scarred for life if they stumble across a cuss word or a picture of a naked person on the Internet. The answer to these concerns is not to purge the net of anything unsuitable for a five year old to read; it's parental responsibility. At the most basic level, a lot of PC clones already come equipped with a keyswitch; for those that don't, it's trivial for anyone with a bit of technical bent to install one. For a higher-tech solution, there are already online services that provide their subscribers with content filtering.
Oppose the CDA any way you can. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) have introduced S.1567, a bill to repeal the Communications Decency Act. Tell your senators to support it. If you feel like taking more direct action, try civil disobedience - they can't arrest us all; my example, and a list of CDA-related quotes and links, is here.
Thomas M. Swiss (aka the infamous tms, firstname.lastname@example.org)
February 22, 1996
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Fuck the Communications Decency Act in the Ass 'Till It Bleeds
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