Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stephen Conroy, George Orwell, that ACMA black ban list, and a gaggle of eminent persons

We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent there will be no need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

It's been awhile since we visited the subject of Senator Stephen Conroy, his planned internet filter at ISP level, and his secret blacklist of banned websites.

It's secret because of Catch 22 of course. Just as if you want to get out of combat duty, you're not really crazy, so you can't escape combat duty, because it's making you crazy, so Conroy can't publish his secret blacklist of banned websites, because if it was published, people would know what was on it, and then they'd want to go to the websites when they can't. Or they shouldn't. Because then their innocence would be perverted, by being introduced to perversion by a mechanism designed to protect their innocence.

Or whatever, some such line of specious reasoning as to why people can't be trusted, but politicians can, and why politicians can indulge in secrets and blacklists while pretending they operate in a democracy. 

Ah heck, why not just leak the list to Wikileaks so everyone can understand how silly it us - um, amend that, so everyone can see how bad and naughty the Russian mafia is to make the list seem like it's silly when it's really sublime. Yes it was those Russkis that made ACMA put a Brisbane dentist on the list, and seem incapable of getting him off it.

Anyhoo, the chance to see what's up in the world of our own Mary Whitehouse (just when we are going to see Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story?) comes along with the news that the government  is now thinking of a review of the website blacklist managed by ACMA (Review of website blacklist in wind).

Well that's a tremendous relief. So how's it going to work?

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday that the Government was "considering options for greater transparency and accountability in respect of the blacklist", including a regular review of the list by a panel of eminent persons or parliamentary committee or a review of complaints by the classification board.

Oh right, it's still going to be secret - a criminal offence to publish it and show it to the light of day - but a secretive, furtive group of pompous prats and bearded bureaucrats will sit down every so often and go through the list to make sure everything is okay. Sounds like a safe haven for mates looking for an idle days' pay while clicking through to check that websites on the list are actually full of vile depravity. Come to think of it, that's the sort of work I'm looking for myself.

Here's the joke. According to the report, the blacklist contains 977 websites, in a world where there are zillions designed to serve up tasty porn. And as the intertubes fill up to overflowing, there's going to be zillions more. King Canute couldn't hold back this kind of tide himself, not even by sticking his finger in the leak in the wall of the dyke. 

Meantime, the filter will just result in a boondoggle for proxy servers, and a fresh bubble of mushroom farms serving up the tasty porn the customers want (in the same way the attempt to ban drugs breaks down in almost every nightclub in Sydney, not to mention every rugby league locker room).

As for reviews and transparency, don't make me chortle into  my instant coffee. I've worked in bureaucracies, I know what happens when your file gets mislaid. People will get back to you in the by and by, or the never never, or when the snows melt in glaciers - second thoughts, not that quickly. 

At this point some of you might be tempted to burst into song, as some day it may happen that like Ko Ko, you believe a victim must be found, and you've got a little list, of society offenders who might well be better off underground, and who would never be missed:

And that blacklist nuisance, which just now is rather rife,
The priggish prude — I've got him on the list!
All puritans, Mrs Grundys, and bluenose clowns of private life —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as — What d'ye call him — Thing'em-bob, and likewise — Never-mind,
And 'St— Stephen — and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who —
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

You may put 'em on the list — you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed!

But as a time wasting folly,  it actually goes a bit beyond a laugh, and Conroy's attempts to wriggle off the hook of his own stupidity grow more bizarre by the day. As if a bunch of furtive boffins in a back room would somehow increase transparency and accountability.

But while it's a nonsense and a folly and it won't work, and people will find workarounds, and every day there will be a fresh scandal, like the daily decisions of rugby league referees, it reminds me once again of how nicely George Orwell saw the future:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Cameras in the streets and censors sitting in your computers and monitors checking emails around the world. Sound familiar? Lordy, these days even the darkness isn't that safe.

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

And of course the object of banning is banning, the object of censorship is censorship, and soon enough orgasms will be banned. Don't trust me, trust George Orwell.

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