Posts Tagged ‘free expression’

gleb-konovalov-uncensoredAnyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I hate censorship. I go on about the importance of free speech and free expression the way vegans rattle on about tofu or nut cutlets. Whatever it is that suppresses speech, whether it be governmental interference and sanction, political gatekeeping by de facto tech monopolies or the public/private partnership that is financial censorship.

There is one form of censorship that is more insidious, however, and one with which I have trouble dealing. That’s self-censorship.

“The exercising of control over what one says and does, especially to avoid criticism.”

Believe it or not, I am very tired of fighting with people about things, especially when people seem to have developed somewhat entrenched and peculiar ideas about me. Ideas that I do not recognise as having any basis in reality. When I also defend ‘icky speech’, as Neil Gaiman calls it, not from content but on the foundation of free expression, people seem incapable of separating the principle from the material.

The Voltairian concept of free speech (actually articulated by Evelyn Beatrice-Hall) seems just about dead, and in combination with ‘Death of the Author’ your intent or purpose in creating material matters, not one jot. People will tell you what you meant (invariably giving it the worst possible interpretation to meet their own biases) and your opinion on what you made and why is entirely irrelevant.

But I am tired, so very weary, of this constant fighting and unlike some others I genuinely care what people think of me, and why. I want people to acknowledge the truth, I don’t like to see innocent people slandered and if I can take some heat away from someone else, I will! Profoundly suppressed masochistic tendencies perhaps.

Everything I do, everything I have done, for going on five years, has been subjected to the most intensive scrutiny by some devoted haters. If they can find a way to disrupt what I do, my living, my work, my life, they’ll do it. Any time I produce a game, a T-shirt design, a piece of written work, a Youtube video, a blog post – anything – they’re picking over it for something to damn me with or some spurious manner they can justify a takedown, censorship or other interference.

It’s wearing, it’s exhausting, and so I find myself doing something I hate; censoring myself.

I find myself questioning whether it’s worth another internet slap fight. Whether it’s worth being called a liar, misogynist, incel (that’s a new one), racist (!) and other nonsense, just because I don’t march in absolute lockstep with one group’s ideology in every particular.

Of course, on the other side, I have people screaming that I’m a Communist, Cultural Marxist, immoral, degenerate traitor and speculating about my racial grouping for some reason; again, because I don’t march in lockstep with their peculiar beliefs.

By doing that, even not going forward, I am betraying my principles for the sake of self-care, but it doesn’t sit well. It’s a paradox of esteem and self-actualisation (to put it in Maslow’s terms). You can’t self-actualise without esteem, but you can’t maintain esteem if you self-actualise.

The temptation to surround yourself with people who agree with you is strong, but I see the danger in that of the way other people have gone off the rails. It’s a trap, a maze with no exit and so, every time I make a creative decision it’s gut-wrenching torture of self-doubt, balanced – perhaps in an intimately colonic way – on the horns of a dilemma.

I think I have to uncensor myself in the long run, but it’s a hard thing to do. It’s harder not to be my authentic self though.

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I have sent this to everyone I can think of to send it to. If anyone knows who Dankula’s MEP and local MP are, I will send it to them too.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you regarding the recent conviction, in Scotland, of Markus Meechan, also known by the Internet moniker of ‘Count Dankula’.

Somewhat over two years ago now, Mr Meechan played a prank on his girlfriend by training her pet pug to respond to Nazi phrases and to raise its paw in a Roman salute. He recorded this in a short comedy skit and uploaded it to YouTube (an online video sharing site). He prefaced with an explanation and description of what he was doing, to whit, turning his girlfriend’s pug (which she was also talking about and cooing over) into the least cute thing he could think of, a Nazi.

It is plain to anyone watching the video that this is a joke and that the butt of the joke (besides Meechan’s girlfriend) are the Nazis. They are being portrayed as terrible, as ‘the least cute thing’ possible and not in any way being glorified. Nor is genocide being normalised, nor any other such absurd claim.

Here is the video in question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro2aKSUIezY

Nonetheless, Meechan has been convicted of being ‘grossly offensive’.

Humour is subjective and a matter of taste, not a matter for the courts. Britain may not have a singular constitution, but it has a long tradition of edgy comedy and satire and a history of understanding and tolerance of jokes – dark and otherwise. While we remain part of Europe, we do have a codified right to free expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (within reasonable bounds). Humour appears, to me, to be within, reasonable bounds.

Whether Mr Meechan goes to jail or not, this issue has made Scotland, and the United Kingdom by extension, a laughing stock and has threatened the necessary freedom of expression required for the famous British sense of humour. The Pythons could have been charged under this precedent, Mitchell and Webb could have been, perhaps most perversely Mel Brooks could have been. The Producers would have been impossible under this threat. This is a legal precedent that cannot be allowed to be set if we are to retain any credibility in continuing to call ourselves a liberal, free and democratic country.

The ruling itself is far from the only problem with this trial or this arrest. There were no complaints about the video; rather the police solicited a complaint from one of their advisors. The media were informed before Meechan was, and were present to see him get arrested – a matter of some suspicion. The trial itself, over such a meaningless thing, has been dragged out over the course of years with numerous unnecessary delays and even courtroom filibustering and attempts to change the charge to an even more serious one – over a joke.

I implore you, as a historian, as a creator, as a citizen of the United Kingdom to do what you can to restore some dignity to our country and judiciary and to investigate this grievous miscarriage of justice. Free speech, free expression, has rarely been under so much attack as it is at present in the UK. There are increasing restrictions on the internet, the banning of certain kinds of expression, the barring of people from even entering the country for the wrong politics and – now – the overextension of ‘hate crime’ laws.

This decline needs to stop.


James Desborough
Postmortem Studios

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B4iqEOOCQAAs_8uA couple of friends who work in the industry have been bemoaning the state of it lately. The problem is that people watch porn for free and don’t pay for it – at least people in the West don’t seem to. The main market seems to be abroad where people are willing to pay for it.

Piracy isn’t as straightforward a moral or ethical issue as people like to make it, but let’s not get tangled up in that right now.

Pornography is usually a tech-leader and innovator, but it seems to be failing to deal with the issues that music and film has been, to an extent, managing to deal with. Between iTunes (and its imitators), Spotify, Netflix and so on, the things that led people to pirates films, TV series and music have been addressed and these have shown that people are willing to pay a reasonable price for a product provided its convenient and available.

Porn, in contrast, is still following older models. Sites try to sell you subscriptions rather than letting you buy a film or scene individually. It’s not easy or immediate to get your hands on paid porn and you can’t use established and trusted payment services either. This combination is off-putting in and of itself, without even considering the unique social factors relating to porn. Not to mention that you can’t stream it via your games consoles etc in the same way you can with films.

  • People want to remain anonymous when buying sensitive material.
  • Pornography has a largely undeserved reputation as a risky prospect – making people wary of risking ID theft etc.
  • People don’t want such purchases showing up in their account records.
  • People feel less guilty about ripping off porn producers because it’s not seen as art/worthy or something to support.

I don’t honestly know what the porn industry can do about any of this. They get gouged as a ‘risky purchase’ by the payment services that do work with them and many don’t. Paypal is, effectively, the only game in town, when it comes to intermediary payments and they won’t work with porn and aren’t happy about working with erotica and other more acceptable adult services.

People like Cindy Gallop have mooted the idea of creating a less censorious payment service, but getting venture capital backing or anyone willing to work on that issue is hard (and she has her own prejudices, which don’t help). Banks are barely willing to work with adult services as things stand, online payment services are dead set against. Surcharges are levelled and all of this makes shifting the paradigm of payment and delivery exceedingly difficult.

I don’t see a way around these issues without a shift in the attitude of payment services and banks, at the very least. I also don’t see that happening in what seems to be an increasingly puritanical society in which corporate censorship is ever on the increase. Advertisers don’t want to be associated with porn, neither do payment services and all of this despite porn being a (roughly) hundred-billion dollar industry, even with all these woes and problems.

Why should this matter to the rest of us?

It’s often said that pornography is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to free speech. I think that’s as true for corporate censorship as it is for government censorship and these problems are likely to creep further and expand more broadly to affect written erotica and, probably, eventually, other areas like games.

Creators deserve to get paid for their work and to do that we need to make it easier to pay them. That affects everyone who makes things and sells them online.

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grim-9Back from holiday in the US. A much needed break after another scrape with self harm and a deep attack of depression that could have claimed my life. Sadly, this has become ‘normal’ after a fashion, so much so that when people were coming up to me at IndieCon and expressing gratitude I was confused momentarily what they were talking about.

I’m mostly OK now and my therapist thinks I’m in the clear, but has also recommended I take four day weeks from now on, for the foreseeable future. This sounds great, I’m sure to a lot of you, but I find it very hard not to be doing something. It’s bad enough that I’m only really capable of working half days on a single project, losing a day will help my energy, but not the amount of work I’m doing.

Things are tough. I’ve – somewhat – taken a step backward from Gamergate involvement to be a bit more ‘aloof’ but the cause is still engaging and extremely important, so it’s hard to leave it alone. It is just… frustrating to be constantly and consistently – wilfully – misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s also incredibly disappointing that people I otherwise respect are falling for propaganda and misreprentation and seem to have so little respect for free expression and the preservation thereof.

Its hard to judge when things quite got this bad, and its depressing to contemplate, but the usual problem plagues us with people talking past each other or arguing entirely different subjects. This is made especially difficult by semantics. The opposition has redefined a huge number of words in bizarre ways that bear little or no relation to their actual meaning. In some contexts this makes sense (scientific meaning of theory) but in many of these arenas the specialist language doesn’t exist to clarify, but to confuse.

Speaking of which, I intend to make a post or video (or both) making clear the difference between actual criticism, literary criticism and critical theory at some point soon, since people are masquerading censorship and calls therefore behind ‘criticism’.

I’m very tired bloggery chums. Very tired of this chain of harassment and fighting that has been going on for so long now. Accusations hurt, not because they necessarily have any meat to them but as we have seen with Gamergate, because people listen to them and then don’t amend what they think in the face of evidence. Emotive arguments void of substance are, unfortunately, effective.

Since publishing ‘In Defence of Rape’ I’ve been force-fed an overdose of what some of the crazier end of the internet call ‘red pills’. I’ve always considered myself a progressive chap, in The Enlightenment sense (advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition) but increasingly find myself at odds with those who say they are progressive, but who in many ways seem to be quite the opposite. Disturbingly I find myself increasingly on the side of the Libertarian right, at least so far as social issues go (minority and gay rights, drug legalisation, free expression etc) despite being a left-anarchist and a pragmatic socialist.

Looking out there at the world, the arch conservatism of many college and university campuses, groups like No More Page 3 etc, extremists like Gail Dines being given the time of day and fuelling spurious moral panic against sex workers and adult performers to force censorship upon them. Seeing companies de-list and hide adult or difficult content, seeing payment services refusing to cooperate with those who sell similar materials, forcing them to use services that gouge them mercilessly. Seeing the deeply anti-sex slant that so much modern feminism etc has taken is shocking and appalling. 50+ years of sexual liberation and hard-won freedom seems to be being rolled back and curtailed based on nothing more than some people’s offence – though they characterise it as social ills.

Why I’m so into Gamergate is because it finally represents a genuinely liberal fight back against this state of affairs and while the battle and hostility is exhausting (and increasingly dangerous) gains have started to be made in terms of ethical policies and alternative sites and businesses springing up. Maybe that will turn out to be the best way forward, but it’s going to leave the main problems that led to all this unaddressed.

I was asked to relate all the horrible shitty things that have been done to me in relation to Gamergate and events before it, but given recent attempts to fuck with me that have been escalating, I don’t really want to do it again. People can find out for themselves if they care that much. The recent harassment has included apparent impersonation online and having a provocative item sent to my home address.

Even with all that and everything else that has happened to me I haven’t had it as bad as some GG people who have lost their jobs, lost their partners (from false accusations) been beaten up, thrown out of their homes, SWATed (having police sent to their homes) and being doxxed.

Its still worth it, but it takes a toll. Most especially, out of all of it, dealing with friends who can’t seem to tell which is the right side to be on.

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Queen-Elizabeth-II-Giving-The-Finger-420x215‘Something must be done!’ is, perhaps, the most terrifying sentence in the English language. It is the herald of a new witch hunt, a new moral panic and the absence of thoughtful and measured decision making on a topic for the foreseeable future.

With Elliot Rodger it was the cynical exploitation of his rampage to paint Men’s Issues groups – with whom he had no connection – as terrorists, or to blame video games, or guns (which did at least play a role). The usual quest for something to blame which is woefully familiar in the damage it can cause to anyone who ever listened to heavy metal, read comics, played D&D or partook in video games.

With the more recent Slenderman stabbing, again we find calls to ban or block access to horror sites and Creepypasta all utterly unrealistic but usable as fodder by those who want to censor, control or ‘sanitise’ the internet. So it goes, it’s a familiar pattern. We see the same moral panics in relation to pornography, sex work, trafficking, media of all kinds and it never ends well.

In the Queen’s Speech yesterday we heard about the “Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill”, which is possibly the most disingenuously named bill since the US brought in its ‘Patriot Act’. Hidden amongst the crowd-pleasing changes about ‘have a go heroes’ and so on is the promise that it will also outlaw ‘written paedophile material’.

Well, what could possibly be wrong with that? What sort of sick monster would stand up for paedophile scribblings?

Well, perhaps the same people who have been extremely worried about the creeping censorship of ‘extreme’ pornography. I’m sure after his experiences at the hands of earlier, weaker legal changes Simon Walsh would suggest exercising a note of caution. Even consensual acts that you, yourself, have participated in are apparently no protection.

Indeed, the law that Walsh had trouble with is now extended:

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 made it an offence to possess extreme pornographic images in Scotland. However the Scottish offence goes further than that in the 2008 Act, in that it covers obscene pornographic images which realistically depict rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity, whether violent or otherwise. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in July 2013 that he would ban “rape pornography”, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2013-14 would amend the 2008 Act and also make it an offence in England and Wales to possess pornographic images depicting rape and other non-consensual sexual penetration.

That would also appear to extend to other material such as bestiality, necrophilia etc. Originally these laws were intended to protect against genuine snuff films, genuine bestiality, genuine rape etc being used to titillate. That was then expanded to depictions of such activity (staged, acted, faked) and the current wording would seem to extend that to any depiction – so perhaps you’d better delete your Bondage Fairies archive right now.

This new bill moves beyond even the realm of images though and into the domain of the written word, further blurring the line. Would Nabokov be banned? Pullman? Kuklin? Klein? I’m sure the government would say no and that these obviously have artistic merit but we cannot judge so subjective a determination as the obscenity trials in history over such things as Oz or Lady Chatterley have shown.

What if you wanted to write a biography or semi-autobiographical story about child abuse? Where would you stand then? If we’re now extending these standards into the written word on the backs of unsubstantiated fears about pornography, child abuse and so forth, where does it end?

It’s not about dealing with nonces, it will do nothing whatsoever to help deal with them. It will criminalise decent people, be abused and as Simon Walsh will attest I am sure, merely being accused of this sort of thing does irreparable damage even if you’re found innocent.

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Just a pinch.

Didn’t draw a line under anything I mean. You would have thought it would have. Someone spends the best part of a year examining accusations made against someone and comes up with nothing, you’d think that would stop and make people reassess their online mob behaviour. Not so. Of the 80 odd people Zak Smith called out for flinging and supporting accusations a grand total of three, that I’m aware of, apologised to me or showed any sort of contrition.

The specific post talked about has been changed, but not in such a way as to apologise to me for spreading rumours and false accusations, but rather to apologise to the people who were harassed as a result of supporting those false accusations. Even going so far as to claim there are threats of rape and violence involved when the lack of them was what undermined the original post in the first place. You’ll excuse many of us – once bitten twice shy – for taking these threat claims this time around with a pinch of salt.


Nasty gobshiteses

So, in the past eighteen months to two years of accusations and opprobrium what have we learned from all this?

Precious little.

I was already aware that lies spread quickly and that they’re hard to fight when they do.

I already knew confirmation bias meant people see what they want to see and that they will try and do anything to stick with the ideas and positions that they already have. “…it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.” – Thucydides

I was already aware that extremists on what I consider to be ‘my side’ existed. Even if I didn’t know they extent to which they did.

I suppose I have learned a lot of new jargon.

I have learned that we can’t be complacent in protecting free expression, or good causes from those who would tarnish them, despite being of the best intentions. Somehow, those good intentions make it worse.

I suppose in some ways I should thank my ‘torch-wielding mob’ since, thanks to them, I’ve found a new enthusiasm for anti-censorship activism, the CBLDF, sex work, BDSM and porn advocacy, resistance to the UK porn ban and ‘extreme porn’ criminalisation. I have thought hard and long about my positions, been exposed to new arguments and others who think similarly to the way I do. Cleared out some people I can no longer truly consider to be friends. It’s been a tough couple of years with stress from all this on top of periodically crippling depression but I’ve come out stronger for it I think.


Protect everyone.
From everything.

I have also learned that this little skirmish is part of a greater cultural war with conservative elements co-opting liberal hand-wringing to push the same old agendas, just under different banners. We can see it everywhere from attempts to sanitise the net to a regular ‘two minutes hate’ on Twitter every time anyone remotely in the public eye says anything that could be remotely construed as controversial. It’s a war that reasonable, calmer headed people are losing to this unholy alliance, primarily because they worry about their reputation and image, rather than doing what is reasoned and right.

The UK internet porn ban and extreme porn criminalisation is likely to go virtually unopposed, not because people think it’s a good idea (whether from an IT, sociological or free expression point of view) but rather because people are nervous about standing up in support of it, of publicly being identified with their private kinks.

This reluctance to stand up and defend oneself, about things that – after all – cause nobody any harm, gives the pseudo-activists far more power than their number or the veracity of their claims should give them. To give an example from our little corner of nerdery, there are aggressive and sustained attempts to force ‘harassment policies’ on gaming conventions, literary meets, technology expos, atheist conventions etc. There’s some resistance, but who could really be for harassment and against having rules in place to stop it?

Well, that’s not what’s going on, is it? That’s not what the objection is to. Take Dragonmeet’s anti-harassment policy, seemingly derived from the same Geekfeminism/ADA Initiative one that has been doing the rounds, forced on all and sundry. Was it a success? Did it make any difference or was it totally unnecessary?

The latter.


In fact, if anything, attendees seemed to be treating it like a bingo card of things to cross off their list before they left the convention. I made a point of talking to a number of people about it and not a single one of them considered it to have any point to it whatsoever. It was a laughing stock. It’s not like its laughability wasn’t established well ahead of time so why was it instituted? I suppose it’s easier to give in to people than it is not to, easier to compromise rather than to knowingly allow yourself to be misrepresented.

Except that, like surveillance laws, the problem isn’t necessarily the regime present now, but the regime that may be present in the future.

All it would have taken would have been one, particularly stick-arsed campaigner seeking to make a fuss or someone like me who believes the policy is broken – either of whom would also have to be willing to ruin the convention for a lot of people – to disrupt the convention for all the other attendees. After all, by the interpretations we see often in arguments, a great deal of the book covers, displays and particularly the art on display would have contravened the ‘sexualised material’ clause if anyone had chosen to be a dick about it.

This culture war needs to be an argument, a conversation, an interplay of thoughtful positions backed by evidence. Not a screaming match in which false accusations fly and nobody feels able to offer even the slightest apology, even if they’re wrong, no matter how damaging their accusations can be.

Hopefully we can move to a position where that ideal becomes the case, or at least come to accept that it’s sufficient to be innocent and to be right, rather than to have one’s opponent’s admit the fact. To thine own self be true, at least first.

Here’s to a new year with less drama, given I have concerns beyond myself now and am not as free to be as antsy as I would like, that would seem to be the case.

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