If we were doing a “who would you push off the cliff and who wouldn’t you push off the cliff” sort of thing, I’d probably choose one person in my office to push off a cliff. I’ve disliked her from the beginning; after spending eight years at a company that sort of prided itself on being a Psychological Thunderdome, I have a pretty keen eye for even the most subversive bitchy bullshittery, and because of that, it takes a lot to fool me into thinking you’re a decent person. I’m certain that the person I dislike thinks she’s fooling everyone, but unfortunately for her, she hasn’t had nearly as much practice as me. I don’t appreciate her ruse, ma’am, mostly because as ruses go, hers is pretty weak. She’s a mean, gossipy, thinks-she-knows-it-all wench with a bad attitude, and all of this was obvious within the first hour of meeting her.
Everyone else can stay on the cliff. I mean, there are days when I think otherwise, but for the most part, they’re all okay. The general intelligence level is compromised at times, though, as evidenced by the conversation I had today with the one who got into a fight in a Wal-Mart parking lot once:
“Me and my cousin were doing homemade pregnancy tests last night,” she said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Homemade pregnancy tests.”
“How do you perform a homemade pregnancy test?”
“We looked it up on the Internet. You can use bleach.”
“…Are you maybe confusing this with a homemade abortion?”
“No! It tests for pregnancy, you just put it in your pee!”
“You put toothpaste and bleach in your pee?”
“Yeah! Even though it said I was pregnant, and I’m not.”
“That’s a relief.”
I spent the next few minutes wondering why anyone wouldn’t find the result “GO TO A FUCKING DRUGSTORE AND BUY A FUCKING PREGNANCY TEST” on Google, but then again, this person has three kids and I have none, so what do I know?
Later, I overheard a conversation about the type of bomb used at the Boston Marathon, and once again I imagined that cliff and how ripe it is for pushing:
Person I dislike: You know, you can find out how to make those bombs on the Internet. You can just Google “pressure cooker bombs” and it tells you. And I heard that there was an article about it in Pakistan or whatever, in the Taliban magazine that they have.
Person who only wears turtlenecks for some reason: They need to block people from finding that stuff, it shouldn’t be available to people.
Cryptkeeper: I know, it’s just unbelievable, right?
Other person: I heard that people over there [in the Middle East] were training in plastic surgery here and going back and making people look more like us.
Sigh. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “These are people who vote.” You’d think that Americans would have learned better by now, especially since the report on torture came out and made us all look like the worst people in the world (which we probably are, but now there’s paper evidence!). As ugly as the report is, Asa Hutchison, a task force member and former Congressman “said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.”
Which sounds a lot like what the women in my office are saying, albeit on a simpler level. No, you can’t detain just anyone (or tell your listenership that the authorities have detained just anyone) because they’re Middle Eastern. No, you can’t racially profile anyone or crack down on them for preventing you from doing so. No, you can’t ban publicly available information from the Internet just because some asshole might use it to harm someone.
You can’t do these things because they’re an offense to liberty most of all, but also they don’t fix the problem. Detaining the wrong people based on their nationality makes it that much easier for the right people to slip through (because ahem, Timothy McVeigh looks a lot more like me than does Osama bin Laden). Profiling people based on the way they look is just fucking racist, for starters, and now we’re making it illegal to…what? Get plastic surgery? Have skin color or facial features that don’t entirely fit our prejudices? And are you fucking kidding me about the Taliban magazine? Are you a gigantic fucking moron?
As terrible as the above things are (read: very), the idea that the government should ban bomb-making instructions from the Internet gets me really fired up. Look, I understand that you’re upset and scared and think that no one would ever do anything destructive if no one else – a video game, a writer, or anonymous amateur chemist on the Internet – taught them how, but despite your very sincere feelings, you don’t know what you’re fucking saying. The government can’t ban the information because that’s censorship. And censorship is wrong.
Because once censorship is in place, it isn’t limited to specific articles about the construction of pipe or pressure cooker bombs. You can’t say that only that information should be banned and nothing else. For one, censoring information about bombs can and will lead to censoring information about anything that anyone claims is destructive, harmful, or offensive to them. Whether the claims are true (or to what extent they’re true) is debatable, but the definition of what should be banned is a slippery slope. The implications of attempting to wipe the knowledge of a thing just because it scares you are far, far more dangerous than the thing itself.
For two, banning the information regarding a thing isn’t the same as banning the thing itself. Setting off a bomb is already illegal, so available information or no available information, a wrong has already been committed. Yes, it’s awful, but blaming an article on the Internet for Boston is just as stupid as blaming GTA for your kid being a dick.
For three, information on bomb-making was available to the public long before the Internet was available. “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” was published in 1971. Did your family have the Internet in 1971? Did some guy living in a dirt house in Afghanistan have it in the early ‘80s? Information doesn’t begin and end at the Internet, and when that’s not the only way for it to spread, what do you do then? Burn books? Shutter libraries? Execute pamphleteers? Information – and the people willing to supply and find it – will find a way for better or worse. That’s the way it has to be for you to continue living in a country where events like the Boston bombings (or 9/11, or Oklahoma City, et al) are far still rarer than they are in so many other parts of the world.
Torture doesn’t work. Neither does racism. Neither does censorship. And neither does bleach or toothpaste in your pee.