fun to speculate what will follow that. Perhaps the future will prohibit the disparagement of artificial intelligence or the humiliation of clones – “You’re not a real human, you copy you…”
SDk: You’re well travelled and well studied; bearing in mind significant differences in their societies and political and economic systems, have you found, or do you suspect, there is any common thread in Anglo–Saxon culture that connects the countries of the English-speaking world or leads to some kind of interplay between them when it comes to moralism and attitudes to “obscenity” and, latterly, what appears to be parallel moves (which does not mean the same moves) to censor the internet?
S: New York is such a melting pot – as is London, and you have mentioned that your own Bristol is vibrant too – that it is difficult to imagine specifically anglophone tendencies toward repression. But then our hometowns may not be representative of our countries. It’s funny – the notions of “exoticism” and “colonialism” have been impoverished by communications technology, global travel, and deconstructionist intellectuals, yet I
wonder if there isn’t a new form of exoticism emerging, one that has less to do with faraway lands than with internal differences, “foreignness” not as a place but a state of mind. This would help to explain why New York is so alien to the rest of America. We have mentally seceded – or perhaps never belonged.
This may also point back to your question. What these censorious moves have in parallel is the desire to suppress internal differences – differences in the expression of sexuality, differences in the conception of art, differences in the evaluation of freedom.
SDk: “Our hometowns may not be representative” – I don’t think they are. I’d probably include Bristol; would you also include San Francisco?
S: Definitely. San Francisco is a peninsula and New York is an archipelago. Perhaps there is something about dense populations huddling at geographical extremes that isolates us mentally as well as physically.
SDk: A number of UK laws that effectively restrict creative expression
on the internet are supported by the joint industry watchdog, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), “the UK Hotline for reporting… [c]riminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK”. Members of the public can report anonymously to the IWF, which then notifies the police, who then investigate. Any comments on this modus operandi?
S: I only wish there were a mechanism for reporting criminally juvenile content hosted in the UK. I’d report… uh…
SDk: One of the IWF’s “visions” is to “[m]ake the UK internet free of…” etc. etc. What do you think of any attempt to censor or purge the internet of certain categories of material within any national jurisdiction?
S: Government attempts to censor the internet are doomed to fail. Police raids sometimes make it harder to buy sex or drugs but they don’t eradicate prostitution or addiction. So too will it be with online vice squads. The internet will continue to offer so many communications opportunities that ultimately there will be only one way for a tyrant to suppress a speech act – by killing or inflicting direct personal violence on the speaker. Has history
not already shown that it is easier to organize a genocide than to play whac-a-mole with the web?
Government attempts to censor the internet are
doomed to fail.
SDk: It’s not just about governments and law, either. What is your opinion of the growing power of private sector censorship that is now being enforced by the likes of PayPal, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook? Would you agree these entities are effectively circumventing national legal systems to ban digital material that isn’t actually illegal?
S: While this is worrisome, in the sense that business decisions can have the same results that moral prohibitions used to have, I’m not sure it’s truly censorship – yet. In the first place, none of these companies has the authority to inflict violence. Amazon can refuse to carry my books but it can’t jail me or kill me. The state can. In the second place, if any of these companies cuts off an entire market – pornography, prostitution, drugs, gambling, terrorism, self-harm – other businesses are free to fill the void. In the third place, it’s private