Rise of Radical Religiosity in Representative Democracies

We are living in dark times as radical religiosity the world over rises to punish ordinary, innocent, citizens in representative democracies where government-legislated values of faith are made to reform the law of the land in the name of a niche morality that presumes the best interest of the majority.

Religious censorship of sexual freedom by pressuring government is not new, but to understand this current phenomenon in the United States, we need to travel back in time to 1873 and the hyper-religious sin punisher Anthony Comstock:

The infamous Comstock Act, passed in 1873 at the urging of Anthony Comstock, secretary of the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, made it a crime to send material on birth control and abortion through the mails.As a special unpaid agent of the Post Office Department, Comstock went after people like Margaret Sanger and her husband, William, because they campaigned for accurate birth control information. Margaret Sanger was arraigned on eight counts of violating the Comstock Act in 1914 for publishing newspaper articles on birth control; William Sanger was convicted in 1915 for selling a single copy of “Family Limitation,” a pamphlet on birth control.

As a result of Comstock’s crusade, publishers were forced to censor their scientific and physiological works, druggists were punished for giving out information about contraception, and average Americans had to live with censorship of their mail, and without access to reliable information about contraception. Two years before his death in 1915, Comstock bragged that he had been responsible for the criminal conviction of enough people to fill a 61-coach passenger train.

In 1996 we dealt with religious ferocity in our government again with a provision in the Telecommunications Act criminalizing speech on abortion on the Internet with fines and imprisonment Then Janet Jackson’s boob caused religious outrage and governmental fines in 2004. Later that year when some pharmacists refused to dispense birth-control pills because birth-control was against the pharmacist’s belief system, the moderate nation sighed, and then held its breath, for the next religious thumping.

Today, in the USA and in the UK, religious radicals are once again munching at the panties of porn, and then punishing the tastes they discover while also hoping for a wafting salaciousness from your private WiFi network.

If you weren’t offended by the religiously-inspired federal fines against Janet Jackson’s boob, and then by the fact that pharmacists are no longer chemists — but rather enforcers of religious morality — then you should be insulted by the religious threat to your home WiFi network done in the name of keeping children safe:

[On December 5, 2007] The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000. That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi.

It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

In the UK, the Home Office is cracking down hard on — we hope without a hard-on — “Violent Pornography” with a religious fervor that is both foreign and confusing:

Under new laws announced by Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker, it will be illegal to possess pornographic images depicting scenes of extreme sexual violence. This would include, for example, material featuring violence that appears to be life threatening. The proposals are part of the government’s response to its consultation on the possession of violent and extreme pornographic material launched a year ago.It is already illegal in the UK to publish or distribute the material covered by the ban, but violent pornography has become increasingly accessible from abroad via the internet. The new law will ensure possession of violent and extreme pornography is illegal both on and offline. Mr Coaker pointed out that the vast majority of people find xtreme pornography deeply abhorrent. He added, ‘Such material has no place in our society, but the advent of the internet has meant that this material is more easily available and means existing controls are being bypassed – we must move to tackle this.’

He pointed out that the government was supported on this issue by women’s and children’s groups, as well as police forces. In addition, a petition signed by around 50,000 people objecting to the extreme websites that promote violence against women as sexual gratification, has been presented to Parliament.

The administrative vagueness of this faux UK porno war — isn’t one war front in Iraq enough? — is being waged with wiggle words like “appears” and “vast majority” and one can only wonder about the real reasons behind governmental desire to punish all sexual satisfaction by linking the expression of passion to the abuse of children, just as one in the USA is linked as un-American by the current religious regime because you do not “support the troops” by protesting the war with the Middle East.

Few are able to stand against the majority to claim sexual exploitation must not be vague or that a politically-motivated, jingoistic, war stance must not be tolerated by free minds — even if they are in the shouted-down minority. Where will this religious/political obsession need to publicly punish private lives lead us? Are we bored with our own lives and we want to prevent others from enjoying their personal joys?

Are we running from corrupt government and its ongoing need to colonize the world beyond our national borders? Why is this happening now and why is this happening with such intense animus and vitriol?

I believe, as Foucault, Chomsky and Pinker before me, that the power majority reserves, wrongly, the right to name and label. You demonize your opponent by labeling their good intentions with negative connotations. “Freedom of expression” becomes “publisher of pornography” and “war protesters” become “Nazi/Communist/Terrorist sympathizers.” It’s all a name of gaming and while the words change, the definitions do not.

As Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in his new book — “The Stuff of Thought” — the democrats lost the war of words with the republicans and they gave up the White House. Pinker suggests the only way to beat the conservatives at their own game is by actively re-naming current labels. “Activist Judges” need to become “Freedom Judges” — spinning “freedom” for political gain just as the conservative congress re-named “French Fries” as “Freedom Fries” and “French Toast” as “Freedom Toast” in the House of Representatives cafeteria in the most ridiculous mock-protest against the French for being against the 2003 Iraq invasion.

That’s how you win an argument in politics to get elected: You spin labels, change names, accuse and misdirect and invoke the name of God and supporting the troops as you stab your opponent in the back with the cross in one hand while bandaging your self-inflicted wounds with the flag with the other. You lose in America by being rational and thoughtful and not being knee-jerk.

I fear the continued rise of religious zealotry in American and UK politics will only continue on with a harsher tone and a more immediate mandate because, as Noam Chomsky suggests — “politics is the shadow big business casts across the people of the land” — and to suggest there is any goodness or honorable intention in government is to ignore the greater bottom line that God and War are good for lining private business pockets in the name of national security; and we, the citizenry, are mollycoddled into religious conformity and lullabied into the acquiescence of our real human core values by feigning outrage over the loss of childhood innocence while clasping our hands in determined prayer as we try to sniff the WiFi panties of our nearest neighbor to see if their porn is better than our porn.

24 comments

  • It’s like we’re moving towards the KGB system with people afraid to confide in their neighbors for fear that they are secretly part of the KGB. Sad.

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  • That’s a fine comment, Gordon. I remember after 9/11 we were told locally to be on the “lookout” for “groups of men” speaking Farsi in public and if we were suspicious they might be terrorists, we were to call the FBI right away.
    That was chilling enough, but how many Americans recognize Farsi being spoken? I think probably fewer than .005%, I’d wager, so the real intent of that warning was to report dark-skinned men in groups since you didn’t know if they were speaking Farsi or not.

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  • Being in Disneyland (until this afternoon) conjured up the following funny yet sad scenario. Just imagine a small group of Iranian men having this conversation:
    “That Space Mountain ride is really intense. Did I show you the photo we bought of my son and I on it? We look terrified!!”
    Passerby to himself : “Uh oh! A possible terrorist! I should call homeland security.”

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  • That’s exactly what happened here, Gordon! A neighbor of mine made a report to the FBI because a “gang of men” were “speaking funny” in the parking lot and “laughing a lot.” I doubt they were terrorists laughing about 9/11, but the paranoia was so sad and so deep for several years after 9/11 I know a lot of reports were made to the FBI that were based on suspicion and accusation only.

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  • Oh, and Gordon, you should write up every detail of your Disney experience here. Send me images if you have them!
    As well, you should write a story about getting “measured for robes” — whatever that means — and don’t tell us here ! Tell us in an article!

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  • You may be disappointed! I’ll give it a go when I return :)

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  • I’m never disappointed in fun or funny or in learning something, Gordon! :grin:

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  • Firstly – what a beautiful image you have chosen.
    Where to start on the rest?
    I dislike immensely the proposed potentially divisive method of approaching this. Setting up Internet cafe’s and ISP’s as policeman.
    The wording of the proposed USA legislation if anything is more vague than the UK version.
    Is there any definition of what constitutes “illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings” – or is this for each person to make their own very subjective judgement about?
    (Talk about giving Zealot’s free reign!)
    Under the broad definition the USA act has the potential to criminalize millions of Anime, Manga and Hentai readers.
    Would you be in the situation where watching South Park on TV would be fine – but downloading it onto a computer to view would be illegal?
    Under the proposed UK law – it will be OK to watch certain classified films at the cinema and on TV – but will be illegal to download video clips or stills from the same film if they are considered to be *violent and sexual* and to contravene the act.
    I do like the idea of reclaiming and renaming our labels – I think that is one strategy that we should be looking at and developing.

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  • Hi Nicola!
    This is a very slippery topic because all “good people” are against porn and the exploitation of children — but threaten their cartoons or their afternoon football match or MMA fight under the same umbrella mandate and you’re asking for trouble — and if the common person understood the power of these vague words beyond the reactionary adjectives, they’d be horrified in the core.

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  • Heaven forbid if we tried to ban sport because it is violent – or its supporters are violent! Or what about banning WAR because it was violent ?
    What about all the other damage done to children?

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  • That’s the disconnect that I do not understand, Nicola. I can sort of understand the need for war — but why hide the dead? Why refuse to show flag-draped coffins unless you’re hiding something and unless you are ashamed of what you’ve done?
    There was a time in the USA when boxing was to be outlawed for being too violent. Then the MMA came along –
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/08/10/mixed-martial-arts-the-bloodthirsty-bloodsport/
    – and it is even more violent than any previous “sport” and yet it is big business and all the warriors thank God for their wins and all is right in America.

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  • I can understand the need for war – or the need to protect yourself and your own. I am less happy with the pre-emptive strike and the aggression.
    My other problem you have picked up on is with all the aggression and war in the name of religion.
    Money – seems to be the root of all evil here – money for weapons and money for MMA promoters.
    Sorry to have drifted off an excellent starting topic.
    I do find it a little strange that in this area we will trample over everyone’s freedoms to protect children – but they still expose children to all kinds of other dangers, neglect in the home, violence on TV, additives in food , fast food diets, poor nutrition etc etc etc.
    I do believe that children are suffering from too early an exposure to violence and sex. I think childhood should be protected from sexualisation and violence. Everybody needs to do this on every level.
    Providers of adult material on the internet should be behind similar black windows that sex shops are on the high street. They should be well signposted – Over 18/21 ( whatever the age of consent) – they should be net nannied etc and registered with ICRA – http://www.fosi.org/ .
    I also believe that parents should know what their children are doing on the internet and that parents share a large responsibility for making sure their children are safe.

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  • Right, Nicola! Well argued as ever!
    Protecting Children and Fighting Evil — those are two topics where we are forced to surrender our civil liberties in the grand stretch of being good citizens — and governmental powers know this and exploit those two ideals for their own darker demands. If you stand up and say, “Waitaminute!” you are branded a pornographer and an infidel.
    I’ve always felt, as you know, that children should not be imaged on the internet or allowed to surf without direct parental control until the age of majority. What’s the rush? Make friends in person first. Practice your social skills with your family. Create a place in reality for yourself first before going virtual. Then, once you’ve learned to read people in person you can work on the harder task of “reading” them on the web.
    The web has become a series of insane cul-de-sacs where those with vested interests create their own truths outside of an unbended reality and they claw and scratch each other trying to prove they are right and the rest of the world is mad. This is the path of the familiar the hate mongers with political ties.
    Kids are too set on growing up too fast and the parents let them grow up and shoot away because it is the easier, selfish, path where they no longer wish to be bothered with a life that is not their own even though they, The Parents — in one of the original and native acts of “power labeling” — named their kids but failed to provide expectation.

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  • Finally home. :) I just got a great product idea – wifi panties! All you need to know if you are in a good wifi signal area is to look down your pants – or someone else’s, if you are friendly enough! :)

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  • David and Gordon – patent that idea now – I can see them appearing on Christmas lists.
    Can you imagine the pick up lines? Can I munchon your Wifi panties?
    Sorry couldn’t resist!

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  • Back to the more serious conversation – a parents primary functions are to bring up their child so they are safe and that they develop into stable adults.
    This covers teaching them how to eat with a knife and fork, what to eat to be healthy, that fire is hot and it burns, how to cross the road, giving them a framework for their own ethical compass – how to recognise dangerous situations and patterns of behaviour.
    ie keeping them safe and risk aware ( ie climbing trees, swimming in rivers etc ) until they have the tools and understanding to do it themselves.
    These days this also includes using a mobile safely and using the internet safely.
    Children are not accessories!

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  • Excellent idea, Gordon, and the WiFi panties can come in a variety of sizes: a, b, a/b, n, g… :mrgreen:

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  • Nicola!
    Yes, panties munching will be a whole new public fad! :lol:

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  • Yes, Nicola, it is the parent’s job to teach the kids how to behave online. The problem is, for awhile, it was the kids teaching the parents how to surf and use email because the parents were Luddites!
    Now, however, with the silver generation getting online all day in massive numbers — there is someone watching the door when it comes to kid safety online. Grandma and Grandpa won’t be fooled with network talk or logging on problems or password stealing…

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  • That’s a great Google article, Nicola — if there’s one power on the internet to force parental responsibility on the web it is Google!

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  • Protecting Children and Fighting Evil

    In a recent article — Rise of Radical Religiosity in Representative Democracies — I argued that the purpose of the religious right and conservative politicians is to punish the humble majority by provocatively creating false fears: Protecting Childre…

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