Monday, December 8, 2008

The Principle Of Least Farce

Is it possible that the reason that the Government prefers censorship over law enforcement is that they are trying to respect the Principle of Least Farce?

This is the principle which states that when confronted with a moral panic, a Government should choose the option least likely to cause farce or, if all options will cause farce, the one likely to cause the least farce.

Consider the three incidents today:

  • the man arrested for posting a link to an extremely distasteful video **
  • the man sentenced for depicting a scene of incest within "The Simpsons" family
  • large parts of the UK losing access to the visual depiction of the cover art of a 70's German heavy metal band

And consider the case of the Henson art gallery seizures.

I would argue that of the 4 cases, the one that generated least farce was the one that did not involve law enforcement. Annoying yes, but farcical, not so much.

And with that, perhaps we understand why the Government is so reluctant to use law enforcement in issues of moral panic.

Utter cowardice.

Strong, principled governments demonstrate leadership by dousing moral panics thereby allowing law enforcement to concentrate on the prosecution of real crimes.

Weak, unprincipled ones exploit it. But that exposes law enforcement to the possibility of being placed in farcical prosecutorial positions. Understandably, they don't like it. Which leaves the Government with but one weapon in its kit bag - censorship. Less farce, less fuss.

Governments that refuse to bow to moral panics could protect law enforcement agencies from being exposed to the need to pursue farcical prosecutions. This would improve law enforcement effectiveness and reduce the need for censorship. By caving into moral panics, the Government creates the conditions that make technical censorship seem like an attractive policy option. Even if it doesn't totally eliminate the possibilities for farce.

** or perhaps not. Apparently the clip has aired on US television so it can't be that extreme.


Stuart Anderson said...

What seems confusing to me, is why government idiocy trumps government laziness? Why does being dumb trump just putting out a press release and going to the pub.

The government could have dropped the cash they want to spend on implementing a filter on policing. They come out smelling like roses for effectively doing nothing.

Who's going to be taken seriously for arguing against giving police money to catch paedophiles?

I don't get why they are trying to put in a censoring firewall when they know it's not going to work. Sure, any government would love to have a working filter but technically it simply isn't possible. The policy just seems to be designed to make more people angry with them than happy with them. I don't get it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stuart Anderson said...

If that is the case, then we are effectively talking political theatre and PR management. If people are that easily swayed then the government could do a whole bunch of things that no-one is going to object to get themselves good press. Policing, education, hospitals, aged and disability care, there are no shortage of feel good options - heck, Rudd's handing out a Christmas bonus as we speak. That's way easier than trying to build a censoring firewall from scratch that both works and scales. If China can't make it work, what makes the government think they can?

Why are they pursuing a policy that there is clearly strong opposition to? Even Telstra has given them the middle finger. It's not like we a just talking about a few internet muckrakers griping about it.

There just doesn't seem to be enough people being impressed by this to justify doing it. I might be underestimating the size of the vocal pro filtering camp, but I'm willing to bet that they're fewer in number and influence than all the ISPs that reject the idea.

Even making this filter opt-in would go a very long way to silencing critics and gaining industry buy in. Why be so ham fisted and try to ram it down people's throats?

Jon Seymour said...

Even making this filter opt-in would go a very long way to silencing critics and gaining industry buy in. Why be so ham fisted and try to ram it down people's throats?

Suppose you harbour the fantasy of one day eliminating the opt-out option altogether.

If all the sheep are already in the pen, it's much easier to accomplish.

The relates to fallacies #94 and #95

Stuart Anderson said...

Don't get me wrong, I think cleanfeed is a giant load of dumb.

I was talking in context of popular political decisions. It would make it a more popular plan if it was opt-in (or true opt-out) than it currently is. It doesn't make it a better idea overall and it certainly doesn't remove the potential for abuse. If the government was hoping to win support for filtering, then they are going about it the wrong way.

I still don't get who this policy is supposed to appeal to? The government is hanging on to this like a dog with a bone - why is this so important to them?

The cynic in me says that this is about appeasing and buying someone's (or some organisation's) support for something else. If you find out who that is, then you can apply concentrated coercive effort to the true instigator of this policy. You hit them with everything you have. If it is made plain how high the true cost of pushing the issue is going to be then they are likely to cave in promptly. If this is actually what is occurring here, then they clearly don't want it known that they are involved, just flushing them out might be enough to dissuade them.

I've got half a mind to go to Canberra and go through Conroy's garbage. He probably hasn't got the good sense to use a shredder.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon Seymour said...

I have deleted an anonymous comment that argued that mere possession of child porn is not a crime. If the poster wishes to provide verifiable contact details (a name and ISP e-mail address) I will allow the comment to be re-posted. I will, of course, disclaim the opinion thereby expressed.

I will not let this forum be abused by people who are not willing to tie their own reputation to the comments they are making. I will not let the credibility of the anti-filter camp be diminished by posters who could well be stooges for the pro-filter camp.

This is not deny that some people hold the believes of the anonymous poster. They can defend themselves, I choose not to do so.

Stuart Anderson said...

Whilst child abuse is clearly criminal, I am personally very happy to see anyone in possession of CP that cannot argue exigent circumstances be charged under criminal law. Who is most likely to have a huge collection of CP? Paedophiles of course.

I'm not interested in waiting for that person to commit child abuse. Possessing CP indicates intent IMO, therefore it is no different to any law that covers incitement to commit a crime.

I believe that the law should reflect community standards, and I don't buy the all or nothing approach to information freedom. Common sense must be exercised - there is no valid reason for anyone to possess CP.

If you have good evidence that a person is going to commit a heinous crime, or is encouraging others to do so, then you are obligated to act on that. CP is that evidence.

Going after people who have CP isn't an exercise in censorship, it's about preventing child abuse. If a person has CP, then they are either a paedophile or they know one.

This is one of those cases where a line must be drawn in the sand. If paedophiles having their rights impinged are on the other side of it, then I don't really care.