Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Problem with the Problem of Censorship

Censorship, like it has been for a while, is a hot topic. Too often, though, censorship is discussed in an immature manner. The issue is most often discussed in terms of the binary myth and so the question becomes: to censor or not to censor, or, is it right or wrong to censor. In North America, our political structure has conditioned us to think of issues in this binary and dichotomous manner and we like to think that sticky or complex issue like censorship can be understood along party lines. So, whenever the issue of censorship is raised (which usually happens in the wake of tragedy, such as the Columbine of Virginia Tech massacres, and when scapegoats are needed) the question is rarely "Should this game/movie be censored" and is more often "Should anybody censor anything."

This, I think, is not the most useful way to approach the question. Censorship itself is not the issue. What is being censored and who is doing the censoring is the issue. Censorship is the outside application of a certain type of morality; it is an authority saying what can be allowed and what cannot. As a society, though, North America has deluded itself into thinking that the only morality is the morality of freedom, which seems to always mean the ability to do whatever one wants to do without he threat of punishment. Unfortunately, humans -- and especially humans in North America -- have proven themselves unable to properly control their appetites and urges and pleasures and have proven themselves to be in great need of guidance and authority, regardless and perhaps because of their continued efforts to live free.

In the same way that we wouldn't want to abolish Law just because one law may inconvenience us (speed limits, for example), we should not want to oppose censorship just because it may target something we enjoy. Often, when the things that we enjoy are made the subject of moral scrutiny, we respond immediately and passionately and make what really amount to stupid claims or radical suggestions. The knee-jerk reaction to blame or criticize governments or churches for "meddling" or interfering with personal freedom is really a veiled attempt to justify a specific sin by attacking or discrediting the very notion of sin itself. For instance, when a particular game or movie becomes the heated subject of debate and the question of censorship is inevitably raised, we almost automatically dismiss the general idea of censorship itself instead of the particular idea that this particular thing should be censored. However, there are very few people who would actually claim that nothing is sacred. The question of morality is always a paradox in an amoral society for, on the one hand, that society must champion the "anything goes" mentality or be condemned by its own actions and yet, on the other hand, it recognizes that certain actions must always be abhorred and punished if for no better reason that self-preservation. Murder, after all, must be punished by those who do not wish to themselves be murdered. In a similar way, those who attempt to discredit censorship and the application of external authority do not actually believe what they are saying -- they only wish to justify a continuance of sin and immorality.

If a convincing argument against a specific application of censorship and external authority and morality is to be made, then, it must be made in such a way that recognizes that law must exist and that certain things cannot be permitted. Attacking the very notion of law or censorship gets us nowhere. In other words, if one is defend a particular thing against censorship, the argument must be made on that thing's own merits and not on a belligerent rebellion against law and authority.