'Use-Abuse' vs. Freedom of Speech

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A lawmaker from South Carolina is sponsoring legislation whose dangerous precedent is rivaled only by the mealy-mouthed way he is justifying it. The lede (warning: autoplaying ad) slightly misleads, but here it is:

An Upstate legislator is hoping to prevent anyone who buys a computer in South Carolina from accessing pornography.
This legislator, a Republican, is proposing that all computers sold in his state be equipped with a "filter" for "obscene content," and that the computers provide a means for reporting anything that slips through. This is supposed, somehow, to prevent "human trafficking," as is the twenty dollar fee per unit any manufacturer can pay not to install one or any user who verifies that he is at least eighteen can pay to remove.

In other words, Bill Chumley of Spartanburg really wants to tax personal computers and is willing to sneak in censorship to get it. As is so often the case for horrible proposals masquerading as almost insignificant burdens, he claims to be doing this "for the children."
"It's where almost everybody has access to a computer now. It's porn on demand," Chumley said. "We have to start somewhere. ... We're bringing attention to it. We're not being political. It's an issue I'm pretty passionate about." [bold added]
Yes, y'all are.

The effectiveness of such a filter, even if technologically feasible, is not the issue here, nor is the apparent ease of avoiding a computer with one installed. What is at issue is the proper role of government. Protecting individual rights is the only proper purpose of government, and that purpose cannot be achieved by violating those same rights. I fail to see how treating all citizens of his state as chattel -- by stealing their money should they choose to buy something (e.g., a computer), and telling them what they can use it for once they have -- is any different in kind than the modern-day species of slavery he claims to want to fight.

If Chumley wants to raise taxes to fight human trafficking, he should say so plainly, rather than trying to arrange for state interference with communications technology. (It would be slightly better to argue that money mis-spent on the welfare state be diverted to this purpose, but that's a post for another day.) Just because someone might use a computer for a purpose Chumley personally disapproves of, but harms no one (e.g., adult pornography), is certainly not an excuse to mandate that the state be able to monitor and block individual speech. And, more to the point, just because some people might use a computer to commit a real crime (e.g., child pornography or human trafficking) is also not a valid reason to mandate that the state be able to do so. I understand that Chumley is against gun control laws. The same principle applies here.

Setting aside the propriety of taxation, the level of cowardice and mendacity of this proposal is surprising to me, even in a day and age when it seems that all politicians know how to do is plot and scheme to take away our money and our freedom. Chumley wants a tax so badly, he is willing to do anything to get it -- even flirt with censorship -- except admit it.

-- CAV

P.S. My title comes from a fallacy, identified by Alex Epsein, also used by anti-industrial activists for similar purposes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

Here's an article of another group 'doing it for the children'. I imagine that if Chumley starts chumming the waters, he's going to be just as stellar an example as these folks are.


As far as I can tell, 'the trafficking industry' is yet another moral panic that is far overblown - like the satanic abuse day care center atrocities of the 1980s and 90s - and one that, to the extent it occurs, is aided and abetted by the very same crusading moralists who claim to be acting against it. How are they aiding and abetting? By prohibiting conduct between consenting adults, they bring organized crime into the picture and provide lots of black market undergrowth to hide the genuinely rights-violating actions underneath.

I'm currently reading about the run-up to and the duration of Prohibition and its importance in linking the Progressive movement of Woodrow Wilson to the New Deal of FDR in the growth of the interventionist state; in particular, the Federal Penal State. Although "The War on Alcohol" by Lisa McGirr. is patently written from a neo-Marxist perspective, she footnotes her facts very well indeed. It is amazing to me what horrors people will commit, particularly when operating under color of law, when they try to coerce others to acquiesce to their version of morality.

Individual citizens, deputized by the Prohibition Bureau, murdering their fellow citizens and burning out their houses all under color of law. A Treasury Secretary mandating the increase of Methyl alcohol additives because 'it wasn't working'... What wasn't working? Apparently 5% methanol was not sufficiently toxic to kill the numbers of people necessary to stop people from drinking.


c. andrew

PS. By atrocities, mentioned in the first topic, I meant the real victims; the innocent citizens caught up in the madness of the moralizing crowds and persecuted by power-mad individuals in a criminal justice system.

Gus Van Horn said...


That figures, and your point about moral panic would be right up the alley of Lenore Skenazy, of whom I am a fan. (As an aside, those dolls are very well done.)

You stated, "By prohibiting conduct between consenting adults, they bring organized crime into the picture and provide lots of black market undergrowth to hide the genuinely rights-violating actions underneath." Excellent point, along with the other you make afterwards.