As with life generally, life on the Net is not about blaming others for the ills of society but accepting the responsibility for ourselves. (See the article e-THICS (SM) on this site.) However, to look at the way we behave, behave by electing those legislators who reflect our lack of personal responsibility and so pass legislation such as the CDA, one might begin to believe that the world actually was about blaming others. Our children, the idea seems to be, are corrupted because we have somehow lost the values of decades ago. Thus, the idea continues, we should legislate those values and all will be right with the e-world.
By acting with a sense of responsibility for ourselves, we empower ourselves. Taking control of our own lives is what being free is about. Turning over control of our lives to others, in the guise of blaming them for something that we create, is to render ourselves powerless.
It is easier to blame others for our lack of control over our lives. We can blame the purveyors of what some have called "indecent" material for corrupting our children, the same children who live in our homes, who are subject to our influences far more than they are to the influences of postings on an Internet newsgroup. We can blame cigarette manufacturers for making us smoke and giving us cancer, heart disease and the like. It is easy to do this. Disempowering to do so, but easier. It makes us victims and many of us enjoy remaining victims in our lives. It seems to relieve us of responsibility.
If, on the other hand, we accept responsibility for our lives, then there is no one to blame. And if there is no one to blame, many of us find that to be an uncomfortable position in which to live. Personal responsibility in this context means the responsibility to teach values to our children so that they are free to learn and experience without being adversely affected by that which exists both in the real world and on the Net.
The government asserts that shielding minors from access to indecent materials is the compelling interest supporting the CDA. It cites in support the statements of the Supreme Court that "'[i]t is evident beyond the need for elaboration that a State's interest in `safeguarding the physical and psychological well-being of a minor' is`compelling,'" New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 757 (1982)(quoting Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 607 (1982)), and "'there is a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors. This interest extends to shielding minors from the influence of literature that is not obscene by adult standards.'That the state has such a compelling interest is not a point we should quickly be prepared to concede. Surely the state has a compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children from such menaces as guns, the horrors of war, the lack of equal educational opportunities, and the dangers of unhealthy water and unbreathable air. It does not appear however that there is as much enthusiasm for such regulation as there is for regulating photos of people making love.
Making love is far more uncomfortable for many adults than making war.
Where is the state's interest
in protecting children from ideas? In this area, it appears a better argument
that such is best left to parents. And if best left to parents, then for
parents to abdicate such responsibilities appears to send the precisely
opposite message to the children. The message it sends is that we as adults
and as their parents are unwilling to teach them about moral values, about
sexuality. We prefer prohibition to instruction. It is the very act of
prohibiting access that creates its appeal. The surest way to create a
"yes" is to mandate a "no." We deny others the right to access this material
because we are ourselves afraid of it. Pretending that we are doing so
in the guise of protecting children is hypocrisy.
If the parents have defaulted, punishing a sysop or some dirty old man in the hinterland seems ridiculous in the extreme. But such is the "logic" of the idea of such regulation.
There is no one "out there" that is creating the e-world. We are creating the e-world. It is not like that world is there and we are here. After all, "the world is only all of us added together." (Hoffman, The Tao of Money, p.29) What our new world can become is a product of what each of us can become. As we find our own personal ethics, we can create new ethics on a collective scale. But we can only find such ethics within ourselves. It is not out there.
And if that ethic is to come from us, we must have it inside to give. But many of us refuse to accept personal responsibility because we are not free. We are not free because we feel we are victims of the purveyors of dirty pictures. So instead of trying to become free, trying to teach our children about becoming free, we perpetuate the very victim mentality that inevitably leads to the child seeing himself or herself as a victim.
Only those who are free can cease being victims. Only those who are free can teach their children to be free. Blaming others because we are not free does not work no matter how loudly we may scream. But there are apparently a fair number of loud screamers.
It is not a pretty picture.