Monday, March 05, 2007

COPA: redux on the cultural wars


It’s good to take a look back from all of the legal technicalities about the First Amendment (discussed at length by earlier entries in this blog and many other blogs on COPA) and keep a perspective on the “cultural war”.

Some people will demand of me, if I don’t have kids myself, how dare I raise my concerns and “fantasies” in front of kids and burden “grown up” parents who have a lot more “responsibility” than I have (through heterosexuality) with extra challenges in “protecting” their kids from getting “ideas”. All because of this new technology and search engines let non-men like me become famous without paying their dues. Get it? Is this really about "protecting kids" or pampering parents some of whom, admittedly, have trouble with raising their kids while keeping up in a society where technology can change "the rules" so quickly. It does sound like a calculus problem with "the derivative" doesn't it.

Of course, you can easily turn this argument around. It’s not just that these parents “chose” to have kids. It’s that kids themselves have a right to explore their entire culture once they are old and mature enough – and striking that balance is always tough.

Furthermore, some of the plaintiffs have kids, and certainly many other parties who ought to be plaintiffs (say executives at Amazon) are likely to be people with kids and families.

But courts – as with Justice Breyer’s remarks in the 2004 Supreme Court Opinion – have repeatedly expressed concern over the economic and educational lines. It’s not a battle between those with and without kids. It’s more that better-off parents believe that they can teach their kids to use the explosive new technology correctly (like teaching kids to drive cars) and less well-off parents don’t know to or can’t afford to do this. Of course, corporate vendors should have a lot of responsibility in making it easy for parents to install filters and labels. They have been pretty good about offering their tools free (despite Breyer’s concerns) and it is certainly good business to do so.

One philosophical point – you see this with ideological debates on gay marriage – is that, people with kids need deference from others, that is an admission of lack of full personal responsibility. On the other hand, society could cast this whole question differently: if everyone is expected to have a stake in inter-generational and family responsibility, regardless of having one’s own kids – this claim of unfairness goes away. But you have to have a certain openness in public speech to be able to make even an argument like that. So that’s another potential Catch 22.

Picture: Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington DC on PA and Constitution Ave's, site of a scene from the upcoming film The Bourne Ultimatum, based on a Robert Ludlum novel; blogger entry here.

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