Give Me Liberty (I): Eradicating our Freedom with Fear

Part one of the “Give me Liberty” series: A collection of thematically unrelated posts about stuff involving the word “liberty”.

“Give me liberty, or give me death!” – a famous quotation from America’s struggle for independence, spoken by Patrick Henry in 1775. In that age, Benjamin Franklin formulated the principle that “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”, which, in the modern day, unfortunately does not hold true anymore.

Fast-forward to 20th century Germany. Berlin, February 28, 1933 to be exact. Forgive me the Godwin I am pulling here, but for topics like the abolition of our freedom, Nazi comparisons seem appropriate to me. Anyway, on that day, president Hindenburg signed into law a decree elaborated by national socialists following a fire in the parliamentary building known as the Reichstag, which abolished the basic human and civil rights, thereby founding the basics of then-chancellor Hitler’s rise to dictatorship.

Now, after the subsequent events, including, but not limited to World War II, impressively demonstrated the evil that profits from such measures, one would think people had learned from this. Surprise: They have not. People are still willing to give up their freedom for what they believe is going to make their lives safer. Some might argue it is not the people that do so, but the government, but there must be something to permit the government to do so: they are, after all, elected by the people. And there are two points at which it becomes painfully obvious: First, at the concern for our children. Second, in the face of terrorism.

Our exaggerated concern for children, which society somehow believes to be innocent and vulnerable, again has two sides to it: One is the ubiquitious fear of corruption by the media. Especially after a school shooting, people are looking for someone or something to blame for it. Other than the natural character of the perpetrator or bad parenting of course, because you cannot cause decent panic against it, which you need for interesting news and populistic laws. No, instead we take something every kid in the modern world uses, but only a minority of the population understands. New forms of entertainment are the ideal target for that. It was rock music in the 50s, now we have video games.

When you, at least here in Germany, hear, watch or read news about a school shooting, the first thing to notice is that the perpetrator has a copy of a first-person shooter, most commonly Counter-Strike, installed on his computer. Immediately people draw connections: Violent games lead to violent crime. Few people know that by doing this, they are actually generalizing the potential for being a spree killer to nearly an entire age group. True, every school shootist has played first-person shooters. But that is because nearly every school kid that age has.

So politicians do something about it. They increase restrictions on sales of titles with certain age ratings, or even try to ban violent video games entirely. Well, it makes this country safe I guess. What do I have to complain about? Well, there used to be a time when keeping kids away from inappropriate stuff was the responsibility of the parents. And what does banning the sales to minors do? They will just get it from a friend, talk their uneducated parents into buying that stuff, purchase it via download or find ways to acquire it illegaly. There are dozens of ways to circumvent any system. The only real help lies in educating parents and having them take up their responsibility again instead of trying to offload it. It is not up to the state do decide who gets to see what. We had that once. It was called censorship.

The popular view of nudity and sexuality in western societies is also ridden by fears of child corruption. It starts with putting these two topics together. There are people who fear that the sight of reproductive organs causes a misdevelopment of a child’s sexuality. As a matter of fact, studies have shown the opposite to be the case. Except if you consider teenage pregnancies, extreme ideals of beauty (non-anorexic girls considered ugly etc.) and massive consumption of pornography a healthy sexual development. Because those have been found to be lower in children of naturist (and that means nudist, not naturalist) families, for whom, naturally, a naked body is not as special or exciting as for repressed puritan kids and who know what normal humans look like instead just models selected for their features.

This fear of nudity and sexuality also leads to a problem similar to the one described with violence above. Scenes with even the most innocuous nudity have been known to cause great uproar in some environments, which leads to that stuff being gladfully censored. Those “tastefully censored” pictures can appear ridiculously unfitting, the most prominent example of course being the dotted underpants on Michelangelo’s David. Also, sex scenes cause similar uproar, including blatant misinformation of the public. Anyone want a nice cup of… hot coffee?

This brings us to the second part of our fears for the children. Those stupid annoying brats cute little innocent beings in this society appear to some, if not many, to be in constant danger of being abducted, murdered, abused or raped, or all of these, by the most dangerous and hostile creature in our environment, known to people as “man”. Apparently, everybody who voluntarily goes near children is a potential pedophile. Well, I agree that people who are willing to spend time with children are sick, but in an entirely different way.

Why do single men make themselves suspicious if they are going anywhere near a school? Why is a video game with a social element blamed as a potential platform for pedophiles, just because people of different age groups participate in it? Why are people so scared about local wireless communication systems? It is evident: We are paranoid.

One offender I see here is the sex offender registry that some countries have established. But why specifically trace sexual crimes? Sure, people want to feel safe from being raped. But what about being mugged? Being assaulted? Being killed? Are robbery, battery and murder less of a threat than “that guy in the trench coat”? Would not registering people violent crimes be a far more useful approach? That is, if such a punishment can even be considered justified in a free society, after the main sentence is served.

Another issue I want to mention at this point is a disturbing application of laws made for the safety of the children that is made more and more often these days: Teenage girls being accused of creating child pornography by taking nude pictures of themselves. … … … … … … What do you have to say to that? First of all, I do not think you can consider it pedophilia if it happens within an age group. And the recipients of these pictures are usually in that group. Second, I think for a crime to be a crime there needs to be a victim? Who is the victim in this case? Did the girls sexually abuse themselves? Do not make me laugh… They wanted it, else they would not have made it. They could not only say no and have this refusal be effective, no, there would not even have been any attemt if they had been unwilling.

This directly leads to another question: What the he** is all the fuss about pedophilia about? People say pedophilia is the greatest conceivable evil. I say, pedophilia is not the evil itself. However, evil can arise from pedophilia. It is just the same as the seven deadly sins, although named sins, not being sins themselves, but simply traits that can lead to sin. Although the catholic church did a good job of re-interpreting this. Pedophilia is a disorder, no more, no less. Not every pedophile is a predator, or even a potential one, just like not every video gamer is a potential murderer. OK, given the hysteria in the media, that might have been a bad example.

That is why I say that the acquisition and ownership of erotic images of children should not be a crime. As for the production, I think one has to differentiate. It should be illegal only in the case of actual child abuse taking place. Those hentai drawings of little anime girls getting tentacle-raped, although extraordinarily sick, hurt nobody (except maybe the viewer’s eyes), as long as no real kid has modeled for that.

Now forgive me if I try to wrap this up quickly, but I am a little in a hurry to get this finished before the TPB verdict to add some copyright-related ranting. Before we get to this, I want to write about the rest I had in mind. I have mentioned a certain willingness to give up freedom in the face of terrorism before. Making things quick, people support a government that tries to install monitoring systems and facilitate phone tapping, because terrorist attacks can be prevented that way. But believe me, terrorists will find a way, and we are stuck with ineffective surveillance. Supporters often ask critics whether they have something to hide. Yes, I do. My private affairs.

For a final issue, let us look into a concern closely related to security – safety. Most needless regulations to our industry are made in the name of safety. Take the new cheapass car from India – the Tata Nano. A $2000 street vehicle. Upgrading it to European safety requirements would triple the price. Yes, the damage from accidents is sinking. While the number of them is on the rise. Maybe people get too confident in their safety measures. If safety regulations were not as paranoid, people would be more careful.

And do not forget the endless amount of bureaucracy involved in safety certification. You need official tests here, there and everywhere else. The result: Oligopolization. Smaller designers and developers, think of homebrewers, unable to afford the bureaucratic testing requirements, cannot release their products to a mass market, leaving the field to the established companies, handing them free rule over the market. Also, new technologies are delayed by long testing cycles and the lobbies of the older technologies. Who suffers from this? The consumer of course.

Even big companies get in trouble for that, with stupid people blaming damage from devices not on their poor judgement and behavior, but on “faulty” products or the lack of “necessary” safety precautions. Just think of the “cat in microwave” story. Or, as a more recent example, the Wii Remote TV Smash. The reason was not a strap that was too weak, it was that the people are too stupid to hold a Wii remote properly. Now we get ugly silicone sleeves cushioned in the front. And if the information from the last GDC is true, the new MotionPlus addon will not be removable from that sleeve. User-friendlyness is thrown over board to make something safe for the stupid. And we suffer.

A paranoid fear of every potential danger costs us freedom, money and comfort. Leave it to people to decide how much safety, how much comfort, what price they want, let them the freedom to balance these how they prefer. And do not use danger as an excuse to turn this nation into a surveillance state. And be more libertarian in copyright law. Then I might be more happy.

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