Censorship: the first step toward tyranny

I said recently that there isn’t much point in having any rights if you don’t have free speech. Free speech is the one that allows you to fight for all of the other ones. What good is the right to free association, or the right not to be arbitrarily detained, if the government can punish you for speaking up when those rights are violated? I am born incredibly lucky to live in a country that, more or less, understands that censorship of unpopular ideas is not only impractical, but deleterious to the welfare of society as a whole. We take it for granted in this country that I can call Stephen Harper a helmet-headed pig-fucker on the steps of Parliament, and the only recourse he has is to call me an awkward, pudgy ignoramus (or better yet to simply ignore the crazy person).

People in Sri Lanka are rapidly losing that privilege:

Sri Lanka has impounded the latest edition of the Economist, which has an opinion piece critical of constitutional changes in the country. The magazine said last week’s charter revision granting the president sweeping powers and potentially unlimited terms was dangerous. Sri Lankan authorities now regularly confiscate or delay distribution of the news and business magazine.

You’ll remember from last week that Sri Lanka has just granted extraordinary constitutional powers to its president, contrary to any extant example of good governance.

What baffles me is the fact that anyone thinks that censorship works. Especially now in the days of the internet, where the barrier of censorship better resembles a sieve than a drumskin. Just in this last century we’ve seen the French underground using print media to undermine the rule of Nazi occupiers, counter-propaganda campaigns tear down both the tight fist of United States and British imperialism and the iron rule of Soviet communism, and Iranian government corruption being exposed by a bunch of kids with iPhones. Even the fabled Great Firewall of China is subject to periodic massive information leaks that the overwhelming power of the party cannot seem to plug. Scientology is coming apart at the seams thanks to a handful of bored internet users exposing their ridiculous doctrines. Julian Assange is baffling the largest intelligence network ever conceived.

Censorship doesn’t work.

The drive for free expression will always outpace the ability of power to suppress it. It’s like a dandelion that grows up through a crack in the concrete. I am seriously baffled why I, as a (relatively) young and (relatively) ignorant student of a handful of history seems to understand that better than political leaders all over the world. Especially when there are groups of intelligent, driven people all over the world working tirelessly to baffle the forces of censorship:

Software created to help Iranians escape government control of the web has been withdrawn over security fears. Haystack was designed to help people in the country communicate via the web without revealing their identity. However, independent tests showed that Haystack’s creators had little control over who was using the program.

On the face of it, the above seems like bad news I suppose. The important thing to remember is that there is a community of people who are committed to advancing the cause of free speech, who won’t stop until it is realized. The other thing to remember is that there’s an entire internet community that is also devoted to shutting down government filters just “for teh lulz”. If you want to stay in power, govern well.

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