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Explaining Censorship - Why We Need It

Updated on September 8, 2014

What is Censorship, and why should society practice it?

Censorship means restricting the distribution of literary, artistic, and other content, for a variety of purposes. In reality, only the GOVERNMENT can practice censorship. This is because of the legal issues involved. A private person or company can restrict content allowed on its resources, but this is not true censorship. The Supreme Court of the United States said that the First Amendment right to freedom of speech includes the right to deny a forum to speech with which you disagree.

The map depicts world censorship of the internet, by country. It can be found on Wikipedia, under "Censorship".

Some basic legal principles

I will first touch on the topic of TV and radio censorship. Both TV and radio use the airwaves. The airwaves means spectrum space, i.e. electromagnetic frequencies that are available for broadcast purposes, where individual frequencies are assigned to various stations by license. Some libertarians argue that the government should not license the spectrum space. However if it is not assigned to specific users, then anybody with the strongest transmitters can drown out everyone else, or they become so muddled nobody can receive anything coherent. Because spectrum space is limited, it can properly be considered part of the commons. The idea of the commons originated with the town square. This was a square in the middle of town, usually with grass and trees, where anybody who wanted to, was allowed to come and sit, play, or engage in other activities. The rule was that you had to preserve the commons for the general good. You could not pollute the commons. You could not strew garbage everywhere. This carries over into any other resource which is so limited that only a few people can use it. Thus, it is entirely proper to control WHO uses the airwaves and WHAT they broadcast, for the good of the community or nation.

Other media

Nowadays, we have cable TV, which is much less limited as a resource. It might be argued that while we have a legal right to restrict people from using spectrum space in a way that is detrimental to the community, because cable TV is, for all practical purposes, limitless, there should be no censorship of cable TV. The same thing might hold with respect to any other expression that uses private resources, but which is made available to the public. However, I will show why this is not the case. When thinking of other media, you can also think about art galleries that might display lewd art, or art that insults a religious viewpoint, and so forth. Market forces sometimes come into play, but not always. If the art gallery is open to the public, then people can choose to boycott the gallery, but what about children who wander through the door? Some children are older and capable of walking in the neighborhood on their own. Some current cultural forces have caused our government (United States) to subsidize art, and for this purpose, they collect taxes. When your taxes are used to pay for an art exhibit you find repulsive, are they violating your rights? Absolutely!

My husband likes to talk about there being five different categories regarding behavior. I have also seen the same analysis elsewhere. It is as follows. An activity must be one of the following, by definition:

1. prohibited by law

2. discouraged by law and society

3. permitted

4. encouraged

5. mandated by law

Why Censorship?

The main reason is to protect children. Children are, by definition and observation, especially when young, not capable of protecting themselves from undesirable influences. It is our responsibility as citizens, and it is the responsibility of the community, to protect children who cannot protect themselves. Children are entitled to special protections. They do not have rights in the adult sense. But they do have the right to our protection.

There was a time when parents could count on the community to reinforce their teachings and rules. Not anymore. Nowadays, parental teaching is undermined by the media, peers, schools, and just about anything else children come into contact with. I have had people tell me it is the parents' job to control what their children are exposed to. That's very nice, but the ONLY practical way to do that is to lock your children in your home 24/7, which is both inhumane and ridiculous for just about every other reason I can think of. If a parent locks up his children in that way, most likely eventually government will find out about it, and take the children away. You can't win!

Properly, children should be able to go to school and visit friends without being exposed to destructive influences.

What They Are Doing to Our Children

These books show what happens when anything goes in exposing children to ideas. At one time, society supported the efforts of parents completely. Now it is the exact opposite. Unless parents subscribe to Political Correctness, the efforts of schools, TV, and many other influences, are an attempt to destroy parental teaching and guidance.

The first book describes a method being used in the schools by the ADVOCATES of the method. Read it with discernment and see if you think children should be subjected to this kind of teaching.

The second book is a CRITIQUE of some of the things being taught to children. The author is considered controversial, but mainly because she rejects a particular form of Political Correctness. For some reason, you can't tell the truth even in a kindly manner without being labeled a crackpot.

The two books available on Amazon:

Values Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies

Not My Child: Contemporary Paganism & The New Spirituality


There are some people who argue that there should be no censorship. Usually, those are people who want to sell things which are likely to be addicting and harmful to make lots of money, or people who want to do harmful and destructive things and want the means to be readily available, and they don't want to be hindered in any way.

Libertarians often oppose censorship. They argue that the government should not restrict anything. (But if a libertarian is running a private discussion group, and you say something unpopular in the discussion, repeatedly, they'll usually monitor or ban you. So much for a consistent outlook, eh?)

Such libertarians often want drugs and all manner of vices legalized completely. They argue that this will make it less attractive to organized crime, for example. Actually, it doesn't work that way. There is a segment of the population for whom the law is a teacher. They will obey the law. If there is no law against destructive behavior, they will regard it as safe. There will be more of that behavior, and the detrimental effects will increase. Take abortion for example. It was legalized, and now we have somewhere between 10 and 15 times as many abortions as before, more women are being hurt and killed, and more future children are developing serious birth defects. And they're still being done by back alley butchers, who now operate with impunity and actually advertise. It doesn't matter for sake of this argument whether you think abortion is good or bad, or whether you think it should be legal or not. The purpose of this example is to show that when you legalize something, there will be more of it.

Law serves two purposes. The first is to discourage the behavior among people who will obey the law. The second is to give the authority to punish those who engage in the behavior anyway.

Being self-sufficient

This is not directly on the topic of censorship, but it is something to consider when thinking about censorship.

Some people think that once a person becomes an adult, he should be allowed to do anything he wants as long as he doesn't hurt anybody else. Ay, there's the rub! What activities harm others?

There is no such thing as a truly self-sufficient person. We are all born helpless. Someone must feed, clothe, and protect us, and provide us with an education of some kind, or living skills. We learn how to take care of ourselves during our childhood years. Eventually, we can go live on our own. But are we ever truly self-sufficient? I would say no. We weren't self-sufficient as children. Unless you are prepared as an adult to live out in the wilderness someplace, satisfying ALL of your needs for yourself, you cannot be self-sufficient as an adult, either. When you are out in the wilderness, you are on somebody's land. It might be yours. How did you acquire it? Either someone gave it to you, or you bought it. If you bought it, either someone gave you the money to buy it, or you earned it at a job. If you have a job, someone gave you the job. If you are on someone else's land, either you have his permission, or you are trespassing. Just the question of where you can walk around shows that self-sufficiency and total independence is impossible. Next, you have to have shelter. Will you cut down your own trees, or someone else's? What tool will you use? Did you make it yourself? If so, where did you get the raw materials? Did you buy it? Ah! You are not self-sufficient and independent in terms of providing your own shelter, either. Nor are you self-sufficient in providing your own clothing and food for similar reasons. Even people who live out in the wilderness habitually usually get tools and supplies from others. The truth is, we are INTERDEPENDENT. We don't like the sound of that in the west, but Asians understand it quite well. They use it as an excuse to dominate people who are weaker or who have less status, and I don't agree with that. But failure to acknowledge that we are interdependent is simply deceiving ourselves.

The photo is Hindu hermits in India. It came from Wikipedia and is in the Creative Commons under share alike and attribution. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. Many people who are considered holy men in India and elsewhere are fed by others. They aren't independent, either.

Making destructive behavior legal

Some people will argue that self-destruction should be legal as long as we are not harming anyone else. Let's look at that for a moment.

Suppose someone says drugs should be legal. People use drugs on themselves, and this should be allowed. But most people have obligations to family or at work. If they drug themselves silly, they will neglect their duties and harm other people. They may neglect their children, or spend the grocery money on drugs. They may decide to drive. If they do, and they are on the road near me, they endanger my life, and may actually kill me. Drug use is not a victimless crime.

Suppose someone says that prostitution and porn should be legal. Children who get involved in porn are victims. So are adults who have decided they don't want to be involved, but find they cannot leave because their boss has hooked them on drugs they would never be able to afford on their own, or because the images they have made can be used against them as blackmail, and for purposes of extortion. Some women of other countries want to come to the United States and are offered free passage with promise of a job when they arrive. They find the "job" is prostitution or as a model for porn. That's not what was promised them, and they were defrauded. Some people may initially choose to be involved, but most change their minds eventually, only to discover they have become sex slaves. If a married man goes to a prostitute, he is breaking a covenant (or contract) with his wife, and she becomes a victim. Porn often influences people to commit sex crimes. Porn and prostitution are not victimless crimes.

Oh, but you say, if a man allows himself to be influenced by porn, it's his own fault. Well, let me ask you something. Do you really think porn is not designed to entrap someone into behavior he wouldn't otherwise do? It's a form of advertising actually. And we all know advertising doesn't work. Yeah, right! If it doesn't work, they wouldn't do it.

What about gambling? The biggest victims there are people who become so addicted to gambling they spend their savings, or borrow money they cannot repay. They may be entrapped by organized crime when they borrow. The largest group of victims is elderly people who don't have quite enough to live on, so they gamble what savings they do have and lose it all, and become destitute. That's a huge problem in my state.

Finally, when people self-destruct through the use of such behavior, the last victim is the taxpayer. The government plunders the people through taxes, and uses the money to pay these destroyed people so they can stay alive. I say, until my taxes are not being used to support people who refuse to protect themselves from destructive things, don't tell me what they are doing is victimless!

Getting back to Censorship

So what is censorship in the final analysis? It's cutting off access to something detrimental in some way. Only the government can legally practice censorship, but individuals and organizations can also limit access to detrimental things. Porn can be censored. It should be, because far too much porn is used as motivation to commit sex crimes, and too many children get access to porn left lying around. Disgusting images that trash a religious belief can be censored. Certainly I shouldn't have to pay the artist for that stuff, with my taxes. Usually what isn't prohibited in some way becomes either permitted or subsidized. We see that over and over.

Let's take a moment and talk about things that trash a religious belief. Nowadays, if you say anything the least detrimental about Islam, you may be the victim of terrorist violence, or someone totally unrelated to you might be. This doesn't mean there are no legitimate criticisms, or that we should single out Islam for special protection against criticism. In fact, where there is freedom of speech and religion, valid criticisms against any religious belief should be tolerated. But does putting a crucifix into a vat of urine, or spreading elephant dung on a painting of Mary the mother of Jesus constitute valid criticism? Not in my opinion. If you want to do that and display it, don't make me pay for it. And keep it away from children. If you cannot ARTICULATE why a religious idea is bad, hang it up, for cryin' out loud!

The final analysis is about children

Censorship, therefore, is necessary because we have children, and children must be protected. EVERYONE owes it to everyone's children NOT TO CORRUPT THEM, and not to subject them to other detrimental things. Corrupting children is a form of aggression.

If a person is legally an adult, but refuses to be responsible for his own life, if he engages in self-destructive behavior, takes my tax money against my will because he misbehaved, or takes welfare from the government, he should also be limited in what he can do. He should not be allowed to vote. If he has committed a crime, put him someplace where he can't hurt anybody else. Only people who support themselves and behave responsibly should be allowed to influence what government does.

And don't corrupt movements for liberty by invading and equating liberty with licentiousness. There are two different words for a reason. Our Founders recognized that if the people were not virtuous, the free country would not endure. Virtue is a prerequisite to liberty. You have the liberty to act virtuously, but you do not have the liberty to corrupt or harm anyone else.

In the final analysis, you don't have the right to harm yourself, either. You owe a duty of care or contribution to those who cared for you, including your parents, those who provided your education, and anybody who was involved in bringing you to a relative state of self sufficiency.

© 2012 Pat Goltz

Respectful comments about censorship are welcome here

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