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What Nukes and Porn Have In Common

There are always quite a few news stories about porn, and this week was no different. This week’s porn stories included: a toy shop saying sorry because somebody was using one of the display laptops to look at porn; a teacher accidentally sharing some self-made porn with her pupils; and Britain’s former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, revealing she is not happy that her husband watches porn. The human fascination with porn is easy enough to understand. Porn is about sex. Humans are interested in sex. We are all here because of sex. Saying that, these stories are rather unedifying. They are not really ‘news’, in the sense they are not very informative. We all know what the world is like. Taboos are there to keep things polite, but only the naïve are ignorant of the fact that sexual urges lead to the use of porn and the use of porn can sometimes lead to embarrassment when it becomes public. If I saw porn on a laptop in a toy shop, I would mention it the nearest shop assistant, but I would not run to local newspaper to share my story. Mistakes happen. There must be some kids who have seen or heard their parents having sex but we are not planning to ban marital sex just in case. No toy shop is going to make money by erecting a big screen and putting Best of Big Booty Buttf*cks Part 7 on continual loop. In the second story, a woman made a home film of herself doing something lewd. She was pretty careless to then stick it on a DVD and give it to her pupils, but it was an accident. It was a very peculiar accident, unless the woman has delusions about being a low-end Paris Hilton. The safest conclusion is that it was an accident. The likeliest outcome is that the fathers will be taking an unusual interest in their children’s schoolwork. Finally, a woman reaches high political office, but her husband masturbates to porno flicks. Is that a news story? Of course not. Nor is the ‘revelation’ that a wife might not be keen on her husband’s auto-gratificatory habits. This is contrived step number 1 in Smith’s attempt to rebuild her reputation, trying to get sympathy as a woman/feminist/whatever who has to put up with her husband’s need to bash the bishop now and then. As a man, my sympathies are with the husband, and I entirely understand why he wants to play his pink oboe with a little accompaniment. A nagging wife will not change that instinct, no matter how much she cites Simone de Beauvoir or Andrea Dworkin whilst trying to intellectualize the reasons why porn is bad. Instead of changing the subject, she should to stick to apologizing for why she has such bad judgment to employ a member of staff (her husband), at taxpayer’s expense, who is so incompetent or greedy that he tries to gets his wank aids paid by the taxpayer too.

Nuclear weapons, in contrast to porn, get less reliable news coverage. If a ‘bad’ nation wants to have nuclear weapons, it is a big story. North Korea and Iran can starve and shoot their own people as much as they like, but the big story to Western media is that they are, or might be, striving to get the bomb. That is why you hear a lot less about the swines that govern Burma. They beat their monks and imprison their nobel laureates all the time, but have no nuclear aspirations. In contrast, everybody is pretty much relaxed about the fact that ‘good’ nations, like the US, Russia and China, have enough nuclear weapons to kill us all. And then enough to kill us all again, just to be on the safe side. And when it comes to the Israelis, we know that talking about their nukes is a bigger taboo than talking about the masturbatory habits of Jacqui Smith’s husband. The emerging story is that we have a US President who is seemingly keen to reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles. We also have some Russian despots who are willing to go along with the talk so long as it does not usurp the exaggerated importance of their nation (2nd largest nuclear stockpile, but only the 8th largest economy). Plus we have some Europeans leaders happy to offer to cut their nukes too, not least because nobody has promised anything yet and because they are a bit short for cash thanks to their economic mismanagement. We found out this week that the world’s super-bullies, the governments of the USA and Russia, intend to talk about cutting nuclear weapons arsenals. It is an oddity that the power to kill countless people and devastate our planet has become part of the wallpaper of life, barely mentioned unless something comes along that threatens to shift the ‘balance’ of power (meaning from those who have more power to those who have less). Meanwhile, we never tire of hearing about pornographic peccadillos.

Some feminists, quite a few parents, and various religious folk dream of a world without pornography. Obama talks about a world without nuclear weapons, and maybe a few people take him seriously. A few more pretend to take him seriously. However, there is little effort required to imagine life without porn or nukes. First, think of this world. Then imagine this world, moving through time. Then imagine it moves back to the Dark Ages. We had a world without porn and nukes, and it was awful. People were ignorant, the world’s population fell, plague killed many, there were wars and religious intolerance, and little in terms of cultural or architectural achievement. I am not saying that the Black Death would have been cured by Hustler magazine, but there is a connection between why we have nukes and porn today, and why the world is a better place than it used to be. Science and technology changes lives. Improved knowledge of how the world works drives the improvement of humanity’s lot. With greater capability, we have greater potential to improve human lives. How we organize and manage our communities also makes a difference, but societal changes are unpredictable in terms of whether people benefit, who benefits, and by how much. In contrast, knowing how to do new things has pretty consistently meant better lives for real people. It enables us to share information, cure diseases, feed more and create material wealth. However, there will be the occasional downside – just ask any surviving First World War soldier about the merits of machine guns or mustard gas. One problem with useful knowledge is that, once it is known, it is hard to make it unknown, or to keep it restricted. That problem gets worse every year, because the individual’s ability to communicate and spread information keeps getting better. The other problem is that useful knowledge can be used to do things that some people might consider less than useful, such as broadcasting images of people’s private parts, or constructing ‘deterrents’ to war that work by guaranteeing holocaust.

Because good knowledge sometimes has bad uses, the human race often engages in a push-me-pull-you wrestling match with itself. We promote science and technology, invest in its progress, deplore and try to eliminate the bad uses that result, whilst investing yet more into those bad uses for the promise of financial gain and national security. Listening to politicians, the seeming solution to porn and nukes is the same: monitoring, control, audit, and restriction. This is nonsense. When a president, oligarch, autocrat or monarch asks for something to be monitored, controlled, audited and restricted, they mean for it to be monitored, controlled, audited and restricted by them. They do not mean for anyone else to have the power to monitor, control, audit or restrict. They especially do not mean for anyone else to have that power over them. That is the square that cannot be circled.

The debate about good versus bad uses of technology, whether it be printing presses for Playboy or D. H. Lawrence novels, whether it be communications protocols used to share this blog or pedophilia, whether it be nuclear reactions for controlled generation of electricity or uncontrolled explosions, comes down to some people trying to overrule everybody else in the debate about what is good, and what is bad. Needless to say, like Jacqui Smith and her porno-grazing husband, the people who like to say what is good and bad are likely to put their own interests, desires and needs ahead of the interests of everybody else. Whether talking about the movement of money, electronic communications, weapons controls, or censorship standards, the forward progress of ability has cast many of the world’s leaders in the role of wanting to go beyond national boundaries and ‘work together’ for the common good. The leaders of countries now find their power is usurped and undermined in an international world, where nuclear secrets, videos of riots and sexual images are increasingly easy to transmit across borders. In turn, it becomes harder and harder to stop this collective tide of information, entertainment and filth from being exploited by weaker and poorer nations, by smaller organizations, or by individuals.

The instinct of rulers, when faced with diminished power, is to respond by tightening the leash. They will work together to monitor, control, audit, and restrict more. In the process, they will put their own nation’s interests ahead of those of other nations, and put the interests of rulers above those of the people they supposedly serve. That is why you never hear US politicians talking about nuclear disarmament in Israel. Meanwhile, they rant on and on about controlling the nations they can still control, or at least try to influence. That is why Gary McKinnon, a British man with an obsession with UFOs and a gift for hacking, is being threatened with punishment for showing up the gaps in the so-called security of US intelligence. This is an individual who wanted to find out about little green men, not a foreign power infiltrating code to shutdown America’s power grid, yet the laws to punish the people are used to punish the people that can be punished, and are powerless in the face of the real threats to peace and security. As part of the price of international co-operation, the British government is once again lying down and playing dead for the sake of good relations with the US, this time by stifling parliamentary opposition about McKinnon’s extradition. What is the supposed reason why Britain’s democratically elected representatives can say nothing about this proposed brutalization of this man? What reason is there to allow American authorities to cover their arses and divert attention after they incompetently left security loopholes that even a lone hobbyist could exploit? McKinnon should not be punished. He should be put on the payroll and asked to help these buffoons tighten their security. British MPs are not allowed to speak out to defend McKinnon, because supposedly they might prejudice McKinnon’s appeal against extradition. In other words, if British MPs exercise their freedom of speech, and their parliamentary right, to say that a bad thing is happening, that might influence the judges who have to decide if McKinnon’s appeal has merit. What poppycock. And what exactly is McKinnon appealing? He is appealing that Jacqui Smith, the woman who uses taxpayer’s money to employ her husband to claim for wankfilms from the taxpayer, might have made yet another bad decision. Given Smith’s track record for blundering, that seems like a good enough argument on its own. Case closed. Excuse me if I am suspicious of whether Britain’s rulers, in trying to stop debate of McKinnon’s case, are motivated more by their own interests than by the interests of the people.

With power comes choices, and with new powers comes new choices. Human know-how is increasing, and this creates new powers and new choices. But the human instincts, human intellect and human selfishness changes a lot less rapidly than the pell-mell of new capabilities, whether they be used to make bombs or titillate base desires. It is because people do not change that new capabilities are made to serve old human pursuits. People still lust for power and they still lust for flesh. Our leaders wear modern suits, but they are essentially no different to the people who ruled throughout history. For every Charlemagne, there is a Stalin. For every Fidel Castro, a Julius Caesar. For every Nehru, a Herod. For every Alexander the Great, a George W. Bush. Our current rulers are unlikely to be wiser or better than the average over history, and even if they are, there is no guarantee that the next rulers will keep beating the averages. They will want to monitor, control, audit, and restrict for the same reasons as earlier rulers tried to do the same. New technology gives them new excuses to do so, and new capabilities to do so. The option to achieve greatness by military victory is all but gone, but will be sublimated into programs to create clubs of world leaders, jockeying for power amongst themselves, but also with greater power over their subjects. If they work together, it is harder for pesky rogue states – or rogue individuals – to circumvent their authority. That means more than changing the balance of power between nations. It also means changing the balance of power between rulers and the people they rule. Every excuse will be called upon to justify the shift, be it nuclear weapon proliferation, the war on terror, preventing prostitution, ending human trafficking, stifling pornography, protecting children, or reducing tax evasion. In some cases they will be right, and in others wrong. But if the see-saw of power sees the emergence of a club of world rulers, as some of them would seemingly like, then there will be only one force left to balance them – the common people. That might mean learning to tolerate the occasional auto-erotic faux pas, for the sake of protecting us from something far worse.

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