Why, Mr. Kettle, you grotty little fascist

Martin Kettle that is:

Morality and the rule of law should apply on the internet as elsewhere in human conduct.

This is absolutely true.

What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that Sarkozy is right about the principle. The internet cannot exist in some undiscussable and untouchable dimension of human activity. It is a human creation. It affects human lives in all sorts of increasing ways. Morality and the rule of law should apply on the internet as elsewhere in human conduct. As such, it is an absolutely proper subject for governments to consider, though naturally with sensitivity.

And when placed in its larger context, that there should indeed therefore be regulation of the internet, it becomes fascist, near totalitarian. No, not in the rhetorical sense, but in the true sense.

That morality is something to be regulated by the government.

This is something that we\’ve just spent an entire century getting away from. We\’ve rather changed why adultery is immoral, from a crime against God\’s Order to a crime against the partner betrayed, but we do still regard it as immoral. But at the same time we\’ve moved it from being something the law, government, should concern itself with to a position that what adults do with their gonads, consensually, is no concern of the law.

The same with Teh Gayers, with tipping the velvet, divorce, illegitimacy, porn, speech, religious observance and so on.

Morality has been privatised.

Thank goodness.

The law still exists of course: but in these areas we are closer to the classical liberal nirvana than we were, for even when something distinctly illiberal is suggested, it is couched in the language of liberalism. Smoking should be banned for the harm it does others, not the consenting adult. Porn should be controlled for the kiddies. Booze for the costs to society. However much these are fig leaves to cover those old Puritan desires, that people shoujld be stopped from doing what I disapprove of.

To retreat from this, to argue that government should regulate morality simply because it\’s something that exists and therefore government must regulate it is truly fascist. Franco and Salazar regulated \”their\” populations in such a manner. Ceauscescu did so banning both contraception and abortion: shagging should produce children.

Now, it may or may not be true that aspects of the internet need regulation: that is indeed something worthy of discussion. But what isn\’t is the reason you give: that the government should be regulating morality. That\’s something we\’ve just escaped from, not something we should be embracing.

Don\’t forget, Mr. Kettle is the grotty little shit who claimed that a Cabinet Minister possibly attempting to pervert the course of justice was no biggie, something that it would be disproportionate to investigate.

33 thoughts on “Why, Mr. Kettle, you grotty little fascist”

  1. Governments and people who think themselves important hate the internet because it gives power to us ordinary oiks. They haven’t worked out how to control it yet- the Cuban or Chinese solutions being politically impossible in a democracy (andc not very succesful anyway). But they will keep trying, I’m certain. One day we will tell out grandchildren about the great early days and the things we did that they can’t believe we were allowed to do.

    It goes without saying that, as the Internet is purely a means of exprfession and communication, it is very hard to hurt anyone with it, in any way which need concern the law. Serious libel, conspiracy to commit serious crimes, and child pornography (properly defined) are the obvious examples, perhaps. Even so, to what extent do these possible offences justify snooping, intrusion and blanket prohibition of activity? Almost not at all, but they will be used as the excuse.

  2. On this argument, you might as well accuse everybody who has ever agreed with the concept of the rule of law of being a fascist. I know you’re not that daft so I must be missing something here.

    Surely morality isn’t simply a judgement on personal motivation? We are morally failing if we are unable to create collective structures to protect the vulnerable (or – seeing as we’re in classical liberal territory here, let’s substitute ‘the vulnerable’ with ‘property’).

    I do hope you’re not on jury-duty next time I’m up before the beak.

  3. Paulie. Now define vulnerable. Define protect.

    There’s an easy way not to be vulnerable on the internet. Don’t use it.

    The internet is simply a method of communication. Like any other. It can’t physically cause you harm any more than making a phone call or writing a letter can. Or do you want to control speech & censor letters as well?

  4. To be fair, Kettle did mention the rule of law as well as morality, so to that extent, I think he was right. If we have law about privacy, for example, it should apply on the Internet. It’s only a form of human interaction, after all, not a magic realm.

    And we would want our laws to be moral – or, at least, even-handed, wouldn’t we ?

  5. On rule of law vs morality, I think Tim’s point is that the moral prodnoses intend to pass laws on enforcing morality.

  6. @bloke in spain

    So you won’t mind if I find out who you are, what your address is and publish some bizarre allegation about you then? Or perhaps you have some pre-teen relatives I can publish some dirty pictures of?

    As I say, this argument is either a bit potty or something has been lost in the edit….

  7. We know precisely what that ‘morality’ imposed by the State would be: progressive ‘goodthinking’, with dissent censored.

  8. @bloke in spain: “Or do you want to control speech & censor letters as well?”

    Nail/head interface successfully achieved, I think 🙂

  9. @Rob: “We know precisely what that ‘morality’ imposed by the State would be: progressive ‘goodthinking’, with dissent censored.”

    With the likes of Paulie in charge? His blog is pretty well-named. We should take it as a salutary warning…

  10. The Pedant-General

    “We are morally failing if we are unable to create collective structures to protect the vulnerable”

    Rather than defining “vulnerable” and “protect”, I would Paulie to define “we”.

    My morality suggests to me that I should act to protect those around me that I consider to be vulnerable.

    There are two important caveats though:
    1) I reserve the right to choose how I will define “those around me”.
    2) I must make my peace with myself (or flavour of omnipotent being to taste) for the level to which I do so.

    If Government moves in to mandate or otherwise force me to do so, it is vanishly unlikely to make the same decisions regarding
    a) who I should support
    b) how they should be supported
    c) how much that support is going to cost.

    Government, whilst purporting to act in the name of morality, is vastly unlikely to concur with my views of morality in this regard.

    “Surely morality isn’t simply a judgement on personal motivation? ”

    No: it is the act, plus the motivation. If it is forced or mandated by Government/law, it is not morality. Period.

    To be clear, if your only reason for not killing someone/stealing their car/releasing pictures of their teenage children onto the net is that it is against the law, then you cannot claim to be moral.

  11. Martian Kettle said: “What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that Sarkozy is right about the principle. The internet cannot exist in some undiscussable and untouchable dimension of human activity.”

    Straw man? The tinternet is already well embedded in the real and messy world of law, litigation and morals.

    Which internet are Sarkozy and Kettle using because I do not recognise it?

  12. Pauli, chum.
    If you can find my name, address & personal details on the interweb you’re welcome to use them for any purposes you choose. If you can locate any photo’s of my beautiful nieces, likewise, feel free. You won’t because none of regard the internet as an infant school playground.
    There’s some wonderful smooth strips of tarmac in the UK. They’re called motorways. Do you advocate kids using them for skateboarding? No doubt we could institute all sorts of laws & regulations on cars & trucks to make this possible, in perfect safety.

  13. @b-i-s & Pedant General: Surely you see I was making a general point and not a personal threat? Are you saying that there should be no legislation of any kind protecting privacy/reputation/intellectual property/incitement etc?

    Please understand that I’ve read anarchist textbooks and I understand that there are arguments against the very concept that a liberal democracy should frame laws of any kind (however expansive, and for now, I’m not making arguments for an expansive state). I think they’re adolescent arguments and I don’t believe that Tim shares them which is why I raised the question.

    If you think that there should be *no* laws of any kind, do talk among yourselves but I’ve been over that one quite enough.

    I’m challenging the simple assertion that the proposal of *any* regulation of the Internet = fascism. I’d suggest that setting the bar for the accusation of fascism so low is a bit silly.

  14. The Pedant-General

    In which case Paulie, can I recommend that you re-read Tim’s post where he states quite clearly:

    “Now, it may or may not be true that aspects of the internet need regulation: that is indeed something worthy of discussion. But what isn’t is the reason you give: that the government should be regulating morality. That’s something we’ve just escaped from, not something we should be embracing.”

    The argument is not about whether *any* regulation of the internet = fascism. It is that pretty much any regulation *of morality* = fascism.

  15. Paulie,
    There’s two ways of looking at privacy. There’s the way you see it, where people have a ‘right’ to privacy guarded by the law. Trouble with this is what we’re seeing in the super-injunction cases. The ‘rights’ tend to get enforced for the rich & influential whereas the ordinary folk have neither the money or the pull to get the same treatment.
    There’s another way. Nothing’s private. You can say anything you like about anyone. That way, there’s so much information available that no particular part of it is of much interest. If you can make any accusation you fancy then, to the listener, the onus of proof rests much more on the accuser to stand it up than the accused to deny it.
    As for ‘incitement’. Define that one. Incitement to invade Iraq?

  16. They hate the internet because it works. Because it has been working for nigh two decades now as a mass medium, and stands as proof that regulation is not needed. The dispersed nature of it has been a major problem for them; previous draconian, illiberal censorship regimes have been easy to impose because of the centralised nature of industries- cinema, television, magazine/book publishing. On the internet, everyone is a potential publsiher. You can’t just control companies. You have to control everyone. That is hard.

    By stoking moral panics and myths- as with the tiresome “child pornography” panic- they can derive a justification for totalitarian speech control. It still is hard to actually do it, though. And that is why governments despise the internet. Because the longer it stands, broadly uncontrolled, the longer it stands as proof that all their previous meddling was unncessary.

    We never needed a Lord Chamberlian’s Office, we never needed a BBFC, we never need standards of taste and decency for the telly. We don’t need it for the internet. We know it, they know it, and they know we know it. And that keeps them awake nights.

    Of course there’s always people like “Paulie” who fall for their spiel. That’s the sad thing.

  17. Firstly, “It is that pretty much any regulation *of morality* = fascism” *facepalm*

    The idea that there is no moral considerations whatsoever in legitimate lawmaking doesn’t really bear examination. I say this as someone who’s not keen on laws driven by petty morality, but the consideration, for instance, to protect someone who is vulnerable (which *can* be defined in a democracy) from abuse (ditto) – that is going to be driven my the moral consideration that it’s wrong to abuse vulnerable people. I don’t see how law and morality can be entirely divorced in the way Tim seems to be implying here and I doubt if it’s an argument that could really be sustained for very long.

    BIS: I don’t know where to start with that argument. Are you really saying that it makes sense to abolish all rights to privacy? Good luck with persuading anyone with that one…. (BTW, please email me the passwords to your online banking while you chew that one over? I’ll stick them on my website)

  18. Paulie, it is perfectly possible to avoid morality in lawmaking. The basic laws of every society- from ancient history on- against murder, theft, assault, etc are not moral laws. They are laws against the violation of defined property. Nowhere does one need to declare a social moral code in order to derive them.

    Every moral code of the kind being discussed here ends up obsolete and ridiculous. How we laugh at the Victorians! It really is time we stopped making the same stupid mistake over and over again.

    Or shall we start arresting gays for “gross indecency” again? How do you fancy that?

  19. If you don’t know where to start try this for a route map:
    If you can get your hands on my banking passwords you’re welcome to post them on your website. If you can get copies of my door keys you’re welcome to distribute them free with the copies of the Guardian.
    You won’t.
    If you want to accuse my 85 y.0 father of hanging about with S. American whores, his neighbours in his tiny English village would find your revelation slightly less than credible. If you want to make the same suggestion about me you’re on a lot firmer ground. On the other hand, my choice of this evening’s dinner companion s unlikely to be of any particular interest to anyone. If I was an MP who’d used his faithful wife & 3 photogenic children as a prop for his election campaign it might very well be of passing note.
    I’d have no particular objection if the Infernal Revenue took it into its head to publish out tax returns on line. I earn money, I pay tax. Why should that be a secret between me & the taxman. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn how many journalists railing against tax avoidance have clever accountants?
    A few hundred years ago we all used to live in small communities where everyone new everyone’s business. Very hard to be dishonest in that world. That’s where most of your so called ‘moralities’ originate. Thanks to the internet we’re moving back to that world, where crooks & the privileged can’t hide behind their money & influence.
    Suits me.

  20. @Paulie

    As far as I know I have no legal protection against someone making my banking details known (even the bank itself doesn’t know my PINs etc, and such info as they do have is subject to contract law, which is why the police, for example, can’t actually do what they do in TV series, which is click a few buttons and access all my accounts, but I digress). I have a duty to myself, which I recognise in my own interest, to keep that information secret. It is no matter for the law.

  21. The Pedant-General

    BIS,

    Just to be clear because Paulie might not understand, I think you mean
    “If you can get your hands on my banking passwords [by legitimate means] you’re welcome to post them on your website. If you can get copies of my door keys [by legitimate means] you’re welcome to distribute them free with the copies of the Guardian.”

  22. The Pedant-General

    Paulie,

    Whilst we are about it,
    (BTW, please email me the passwords to your online banking while you chew that one over? I’ll stick them on my website)

    That I do not have a defined “right to privacy” does not require me to publish everything about myself. Nor does that lack of a right to privacy give you a claim right to know everything about me.

    Just so we are clear – sometimes your end of the spectrum has trouble with positive and negative rights like that.

  23. The Pedant-General

    And Paulie, to go back to your original comment:
    “I do hope you’re not on jury-duty next time I’m up before the beak.”

    You really are a moron. The job of the jury is specifically to stop you from being fitted up by the state for a trumped up non-crime. Tim is sticking up for your freedoms you pillock.

    He spends a great deal of time calling out stuff that the government really ought not to be doing and to be defending the rights of scumbags not to have their liberties curtailed on the whim of some organ of the state (vulgar pun intended). This is because if the law protects the rights of the scumbag, we can remain reasonably certain that they will protect our rights too.

    It is because the state is so powerful – in order that it can resolve disputes between individuals – that we need a LOT of protection from the power of the state.

    That is why we want it to deal with the stuff that it really ought to and not the stuff that it shouldn’t. Straying into morality is the stuff we really don’t want it to as per Tim’s argument above.

  24. “That I do not have a defined “right to privacy” does not require me to publish everything about myself. Nor does that lack of a right to privacy give you a claim right to know everything about me.”
    And for Paulie’s benefit, if a photographer happens to chance by a charming little restaurant down by the playa & snaps a rather aged Brit with his hand on La Colombiana’s shapely thigh, then let him snap away. If he can con the News of the Screws to cough a few quid for the pics, good luck to him & them. It’s a public place. If I didn’t want anyone to know about it, I shouldn’t put myself in that position in the first place .

  25. Reading your post Tim reminded me of something which has occurred to me before, and broadly reflects what Ian B said: the Internet is such a success precisely because it hasn’t been interfered with by the State in one form or another. It meets all sorts of human needs and uses – communication, entertainment, self-expression, work, marketing, with virtually no regulation.

  26. Is there not serious penalties for adultery – loss of partner ,loss of home and children , almony etc. Seems serious to me.

  27. The Pedant-General

    There are indeed serious personal penalties to pay for adultery, but [deep breath] THEY ARE NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE LAW OR THE STATE.

    Breach of contract between individuals almost certainly, but that’s about it. Imagine if the state were involved: it would be vastly unlikely to get it right, either because one side is happy to forgive and the punishment is therefore adding to the distress, or because the offended partner wants the adulterer taken to the cleaners for every single penny s/he has, and the law would never allow for that eventuality.

  28. bloke in spain @ 15:

    “There’s two ways of looking at privacy. There’s the way you see it, where people have a ‘right’ to privacy guarded by the law. Trouble with this is what we’re seeing in the super-injunction cases. The ‘rights’ tend to get enforced for the rich & influential whereas the ordinary folk have neither the money or the pull to get the same treatment.”

    Firstly, the rich and famous are more likely to need to exercise their rights in this way. If Joe Bloggs the binman has an affair, it’s unlikely to be of much interest outside his circle of friends. If the Rt. Hon. Joseph Bloggs MP PC has an affair, it’s likely to get reported in the papers. So Joseph Bloggs MP is more likely to need to get out an injunction in the first place.

    Secondly, that’s not an argument against privacy laws per se, but against access to the law as it currently stands. The solution would be to improve legal aid so that more people can exercise these rights, not take these rights away from people who can exercise them at the moment.

    “There’s another way. Nothing’s private. You can say anything you like about anyone. That way, there’s so much information available that no particular part of it is of much interest . If you can make any accusation you fancy then, to the listener, the onus of proof rests much more on the accuser to stand it up than the accused to deny it.”

    If you can “say what you like about anyone”, then what’s to stop someone putting unfounded accusations that you (say) raped a small child on the internet? And you can try and argue that nobody will care or that nobody will believe you, but I think you’d be wrong. Your friends would care, and at least some of them would take a “There’s no smoke without fire” attitude. Accusations like that can ruin lives. Making it possible to fling them around willy-nilly is not the way to go about things.

    (Conversely, of course, if there really is “so much information available that no particular part of it is of much interest”, then it’ll make it much harder to find information that actually is in the public interest. If you have to wade through scores of unfounded and irrelevant tittle-tattle to find the story about the government minister who’s taking bribes to change policy, people are going to be far less likely to find that story, and he’ll be far more likely to get away with it.)

  29. Ian B @ 18:

    “Paulie, it is perfectly possible to avoid morality in lawmaking. The basic laws of every society- from ancient history on- against murder, theft, assault, etc are not moral laws. They are laws against the violation of defined property. Nowhere does one need to declare a social moral code in order to derive them.”

    “Violation of property is wrong” is itself a moral law. As is “You shouldn’t harm others,” which is another basis for many laws. Which laws we think it is reasonable to pass is tightly bound up in our moral systems, and it’s foolish to try and claim otherwise.

    “Every moral code of the kind being discussed here ends up obsolete and ridiculous. How we laugh at the Victorians!”

    We laugh at the Victorians because our moral code has changed, so some laws which were thought reasonable then aren’t thought reasonable now. That doesn’t change the fact that our laws are still bound up with our moral systems.

  30. “Violation of property is wrong” is itself a moral law.

    It can be, but it doesn’t have to be a generally hasn’t been. For us egghead internet arguing philospher types, it is quite straightforward to derive a non-violation principle from Hume’s subjectivist is/ought split. That is, it arises from the absence of an objective moral code.

    Which is rather cool.

    You then just have to decide what counts as property and what doesn’t, which is an arbitrary agreement between a society’s members. One society might decide that land is, or isn’t, or is only under certain circumstances, for instance.

    But you don’t need an objective moral code at all. Liberal individualism (which is what this boils down to) most naturally arises by reason from a morally subjectivist position.

    That’s why objectivist societies (like our current one) always end up as some sort of ghastly tyranny.

  31. I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand your last post. Could you please rephrase it for the benefit of us non-philosophy-egghead types?

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