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Just a quick note because in about five minutes I’m going to at least go through the motions and pretend to work. We all have our pet issues and as many people her know free speech has been one of mine since the late nineteen seventies. For most of my life it’s been an absurdly easy position for me since there have been comparatively few threats to free speech in the U.S. and many of those have come from non-governmental sources like radical feminists.

We occasionally hear calls from the radical left to limit speech they don’t like, however it has not made significant headway in the U.S. despite the Orwellian labeling of such speech as “hate speech.” However, in other countries that is not the case.

Can anyone in the United States even imagine working on a play and having the police come in and ask what you are doing? That is exactly what Omar El-Khairy, the writer of a play called Homeland claims:

El-Khairy said: “In a production meeting we were asked by NYT and stage management that the police wanted to look at the script, though we don’t know where that came from or who led that conversation.” (Source.)

The play apparently had an innovative form of staging in the hallways of a school. Audiences would walk through the corridors and witness conversations among the cast. According to the director Nadia Latif, “The whole point was that it was more of a kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation and to explore the breadth of opinion that is out there, and that the young people find themselves subject to.”

Ironically, below that article, The Guardian suggested some other articles that might interest me including “Play in Uganda cancelled after regulators step in.”

Laws against speech are inherently always in support of the politically powerful and against the politically weak.

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This morning, when I first opened my eyes, I found that I had a heaviness in my chest. I started crying. Not a hard sobbing. Just lying there vaguely aware of tears welling up in my eyes. It’s not secret that I’m under treatment for depression, but this didn’t feel like the depression I’ve been experiencing for the past several years.

I’m pretty sure I’m not racist. I say “pretty sure” rather than “absolutely not” because I’m aware enough to know I’ve grown up in a racist society and we don’t ever entirely transcend our own time and place. However, I do believe that there are no significant biological differences among people of different races. In fact, I believe that the concept of race has no grounding in biology. Therefore, differences in social status and behavior are entirely a product of the environment.

Am I xenophobic? That’s almost laughable since I run the risk of being called a xenophile.

Am I culturally biased? That’s a far more complicated question. To start, I would have to have a firm idea of what constitutes a good society. I am tempted to answer that that would be the society that allows for the greatest degree of human flourishing and the least suffering. However, flourishing is an unsatisfactorily vague term. I don’t think there is any culture that is perfect, which has all the answers. In so far as any culture that is in existence today could be said to be a successful culture, no culture is without any value. That said, I am not a cultural relativist. I terms of particulars, I think some ways of organizing human society are better than others.

I think that there are no gods, spirits, or other immaterial beings, great or small. Therefore, the least human suffering based on the supposed desires of non-existent beings can be said to be an unqualified ill.

Last week, I was very quick to put up a post that said, “Je suis Charlie.” It would turn out that I was on the wrong side of the overall consensus. I had read, or more accurately seen, Charlie Hebdo a handful of times in the past. When I put up that statement, I did not mean that I endorsed everything that had ever been printed in that magazine, nor did I think that was what anyone else mean. I recalled that immediately after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Le Monde published an editorial that said, “Nous sommes tous américains.” I did not take that to mean that the editors of that paper had endorsed everything the United States had ever done or ever would do, or that they were suddenly enamored of every aspect of American culture. I did not feel at the time that “Je suis Charlie” meant that I personally endorsed every cartoon they had ever published. In my mind, I supported their right to speak their mind without fear of violence.

I have mentioned that I have had nightmares in the wake of the assassinations. The day before, I had drawn a cartoon. It seems so long ago now, but you may remember an incident in which a woman tossed a handbag holding a gun in a shopping cart with her two-year old. The child took out the gun and shot his mother. Her father-in-law objected to the characterization of the woman as irresponsible. He said that she had not simply tossed the gun into any old purse but a purse with a special compartment. I did not know what this meant, so I looked it up. It turns out that these purses are designed for easy access. This made the action of the dead woman seem all the more irresponsible to me. So, I drew this:

concealed carry2Yes, there really are models with crosses on them.

The night of the killings of the cartoonists, I went to sleep. I dreamed I was lying in bed. I heard someone at my door trying to get in. However, the chain was on the door and after several attempts the person went away. Then I went downstairs and exited my apartment building. Standing in front of my building was a stocky middle-aged white man in wearing khaki pants and vest and holding a rifle, like someone ready to go on a safari. Somehow, I understood him to be a gun rights activist. As I walked out of my door, he shot me in the chest. I woke up.

Are there such things as universal human rights and is free speech one of them? I won’t accept the word racist, but am I an imperialist for believing that there are and it is? I don’t know anymore, but this much I do know…

I feel lucky to have been born in one of the wealthiest regions of one of the wealthiest countries during an era of widely shared prosperity. I have gone out dancing till dawn, have had lots of good sex with lots of men, I have had plenty of good things to eat, all in all, I think I was damned lucky about when and where I was born. I would not want to have been born into the world the killers would like to create. Am I wrong to feel this way? Am I culturally biased? Maybe, but I do feel this way. No matter how many times people tell me I’m racist, I still feel this way. Am I racist to be glad to have fucked, to be glad to have danced? Is wanting to dance and fuck and draw and paint and sing a reasonable basis for choosing one culture over another?

It is clear that I have never been on the right politically. Within the past week, however, I’ve found myself at odds with people on the left. I feel extremely alone. Politics is not something that can happen alone.

I just feel weary and lonely.

The best way out of this seems to me to be to stop concerning myself with politics. I’ll keep writing if I find something else to write about.

I can remember the first time a teacher said, “I don’t know,” in response to a student’s question. It was a wonderful moment. Suddenly, learning and knowledge was a process. Something we arrive at only with effort and which always exists in a state of flux. While certitude is useful in an argument, it has no place in real knowledge.

Right now, I’m still trying to intellectually process the political assassinations and near massacre that occurred in Paris last week. There are so many threads that go into it, attitudes towards immigrants, racism directed at second and third generation French people, economic stagnation, freedom of speech, whether or not satire should be a form of protected speech, hate speech laws, whether religion should be open to criticism, the low social status of cartooning, the Islamist goal of creating a world-wide caliphate, the encouragement by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries of “lone wolf” attacks in Muslim minority countries, the role of Saudi Arabia in spreading Salafist Islam, the growth of anti-Semitic attacks and I can go on.

It’s been hard to think with all the cacophony. Everyone is yelling and it’s hard to think.

Yet a minute ago, I saw yet another comment warning against “painting all Muslims with the same brush.” I don’t know what corners of the internet other people go to, but I haven’t seen this. I don’t doubt that it happens, but it doesn’t happen in places I frequent.

I don’t believe in collective guilt. Considering people as individuals first and foremost is a core part of liberalism. It should go without saying blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is against liberal beliefs. At the same time, I can’t help noticing that in all this hand wringing about the possible backlash against Muslims, no one seems to be talking about the Jews. Where is all your hand wringing for the increasing anti-Semitic attacks against European Jews?

Saying that we can’t talk about Islamic terrorism because it might create a backlash against Muslims is like saying we can’t talk about the current conservative, hawkish government in Israel and its policies towards settlement, the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of non-Jewish citizens because it might create a backlash against Jews. Of course we talk about it. If someone blames all Jews for the actions of the current Israeli government, they are in the wrong because collective guilt is wrong. We don’t stop the conversation, nor should we.

There’s something happening and we don’t know what it is. We’re not going to figure out what it is and how to respond to it by remaining silent. We don’t start every conversation about Israel by saying, “I hope no one blames all Jews.” We don’t start every conversation about racism by saying, “I hope no one blames all whites.” Despite what some people might like, we don’t start every conversation about sexism by saying, “I hope no one blames all men.” So, I am not going to start every conversation about people who kill in the name of Islam by saying, “I hope no one blames all Muslims.”

There’s a subject I’d like to bring up, having a soapbox, modest though it be. That is the subject of the freedom of speech and the Internet. I would really like to encourage people to take an interest in this because the Internet has become a primary means of communication and any laws or policies regulating its use is likely to have a significant impact on all of us, whether you see yourself as a heavy internet user or not. Thus far, the debate seems to be dominated by a couple of fairly narrow interest groups who have a disproportionate voice on a subject where the public good should be a deciding factor.

A red-bellied woodpecker and some house sparrows at a bird feeder.

Since I didn’t have any images that screamed “Internet” at me, you’re going to have to suffer through my latest bird feeder pictures.

Freedom of speech has long been a concern of mine. The particular set of concerns related to it brought up by the internet was reignited by a post on EOS Horizon. which talked about a debate currently happening in Sweden regarding the regulation of hate speech on the Internet. Reading the article as an American, I had forgotten at first that hate speech is regulated in many parts of the world. The Internet is global in scope, yet many of the laws regulating it are local. That should make for an interesting discussion.

There are quite a few overlapping issues and I have not fully developed my own ideas on the subject. I will be publishing a series of posts and I expect that my ideas will develop over time. One of the great things about blogging is the lack of any pretense towards authority. This allows me to engage in some thinking out loud.

Some of the subjects that I will be exploring will be:

  • Hate speech
  • Cyberbullying
  • Copyright laws
  • Copyright violations
  • Internet access
  • Government surveillance
  • Net neutrality

Usually theses subjects are discussed in isolation, but I believe that they are best approached as a group.

Two red-bellied woodpeckers, one male and one female, at a bird feeder.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen both Mr. and Mrs. Red at the bird feeder at the same time.

For this first post, I would simply like to cover some basic information about the technology. If you feel like I’m talking down to you, it’s because this preface is not for you. A great many people have asked me very basic questions about the Internet and the applications which use it, so I have reason to believe there is quite a bit of ignorance and confusion out there that hampers a broad discussion of the topic. For the purposes of discussing laws and policies that affect internet communication, everyone is capable of understanding the basics of the technology.

What is the Internet?

The same two woodpeckers as in the previous photo still at the feeder.

They’re probably loading up on calories and saving their strength for breeding season.

A number of years ago, a United States Congressman was mocked mercilessly for describing the Internet as a “series of tubes.” However, it’s not that bad an analogy. A better analogy might be a phrase that’s fallen out of use, “The Information Superhighway.” It’s that network of phone lines, fiber optic cables, television cables, wireless connections, and whatever else that carries information that can be accessed by a computer, including the little computer you carry in your pocket that doubles as a phone.

The Internet can carry all formats of information. For years most of us used the internet mainly for email and the World Wide Web, which we usually simply call the Web. Since then, we’ve come to use it for voice over IP (VoIP) functions like Skype, as a delivery system for movies and a variety of other things.

Large institutions, like corporations and universities, frequently have their own private networks, called “intranets.” The Internet is the large, widely shared, network that can be accessed by everyone.

Who Owns That Network?

This is an important point, because it’s definitely going to arise in some of the discussions. Networks cost money to install and maintain.

The Internet is comprised of many smaller networks that are connected together. Although no one owns the Internet, those smaller networks are owned by a variety of entities including private companies and governments. The Internet can only exist because these entities cooperate with one another.

What Is the Web?

The Web is a service that runs over the Internet. It is comprised of a huge number of documents, or computer files, that are formatted in a consistent way. This format allows them to be viewed by a web browser.

For our purposes, a characteristic that distinguishes the Web from many other services that run over the Internet is that it is non-proprietary. Everyone can use this format with out paying fees to the organization that created it.

What Are Apps?

The male woodpecker is still on the feeder and the female woodpecker is flying away.

Each spring, these two have a couple of young. That’s when the drumming starts, usually at dawn. This is one instance in which I wouldn’t mind limiting someone’s freedom of speech. They’re a beautiful family, but noisy.

The current usage of the word “app” that I find among my computer illiterate friends and family is a little concerning because people seem to be quite confused about what they are. The word “app” is simply a shortened form of the word “application.” In other words, an “app” is just another word for a computer program. However, these days, when people talk about apps, they seem to be thinking of the applications that are purchased, or downloaded for free, from services such as the Apple’s App Store and are usually intended for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.

These applications make an excellent contrast with the Web. Many of these applications access information over the Internet. However, their format is often proprietary. No one else can use that format without permission of the owners. So, for instance, you can read articles published by the New York Times on their website via the Web, using a web browser. You can also have a New York Times app on your tablet computer and use that to read articles published by the Times. The New York Times App performs a function similar to the web browser. Both applications display The New York Time’s articles which have been delivered over the Internet. The difference is that The New York Times App only displays articles from The New York Times. The web browser can display articles from anyone who formats its information appropriately. Anyone includes you, because the format is non-proprietary – and that’s an important point to remember.

A Note to Techies

I’ve left out as much technical information as possible in this description and have tried to include only things that have a direct bearing on policy discussions so the broadest number of people can take part in this discussion. I’m far more knowledgeable than this simplification would suggest. I’ve tried to avoid all jargon, avoiding talking about protocol layering, gateways, routers and so on. In doing so, I have probably made some little errors. I almost certainly have left out some things that will turn out to be relevant. If you think of anything, please let me know, either in the comments or through the contact form on the About page so I can either update this page or include it in future posts. Thanks.

At some point, I’m going to be discussing specific legislation that’s been proposed to regulate the Internet. As an American, most of my familiarity is with U.S. laws. If anyone has links to legislation, either implemented or seriously proposed, in other countries, I’d appreciate the input. I can read articles in French as well as English. Unfortunately, any other languages will have to suffer through something like Google translate.