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Bruce Taylor vs. John Perry Barlow, in HotWired's Brain Tennis
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 08:17:22 -0700 (PDT)
From: Declan McCullagh <[email protected]>
To: [email protected]
Subject: Bruce Taylor vs. John Perry Barlow, in HotWired's Brain Tennis
Taylor and Barlow have been battling it out in a HotWired Brain Tennis
match for the last week. Check out some excerpts lobbed across the, um,
Linkname: Wired Online: Brain Tennis
Bruce Taylor, president of the National Law Center for Children and
Families and a leading advocate of the Communications Decency Act, was
also formerly a US Department of Justice and city of Cleveland
John Perry Barlow is an Electronic Frontiers Foundation co-founder,
member of The Well's board of directors, author, retired Wyoming
cattle rancher, and lyricist for the Grateful Dead.
Friday, 27 September 1996
Post No. 5 of 8
by Bruce Taylor
I got you now, John Perry. You say "First Amendment!" However, not all
detrimental speech is protected - treason, false advertising,
defamation, obscenity, child porn, and incitement to violence.
Indecent speech that's not obscene is protected among adults, but
there's no constitutional right to provide it to minors. If you call
up the rule of law ("This is a Nation of laws, not of men"), you are
bound by its limits.
The Supreme Court recognizes limits for indecent mass communications.
The Court didn't say "less" restrictive (as the ACLU does - no law,
less law, parent's problem), but asked whether the method chosen by
Congress is the "least" restrictive means that is still effective in
achieving its purpose. Big difference.
State display laws don't say parents keep kids from stores, it says
stores put porn out of reach. Dial-a-porn laws don't deny phones to
kids or say warnings are enough, but require credit cards or PINs for
adults to access sex messages. Responsible adults should take good
faith steps that are effective for all but "the most enterprising and
disobedient young people." Can adults obtain adult speech while
shielding it from most kids? That is all the law and Supreme Court
Why ask adult society to help protect our children? Why not just leave
it up to each parent? Why not rejoice in the public profanities your
children hear on the subway? Because children have rights to a "decent
society." Your child may hear cursing on subways, but New York's
display law keeps Hustler centerfolds off walls and news racks. So
you, too, benefit from what other adults must do in deference to your
children. The Internet should not remain an "adult" bookstore for kids
any more than Times Squares' should be open to kids.
I also got you on philosophy, dear John. Our "'60s humanitarianism"
was for social commitment, working together, selfless love for all the
peoples of the world. Remember? Your refusal to hide your precious
porn from the public Web seems like callous indifference to what kids
will endure. To me, your position is appositive to true "liberalism."
You sound like an elitist technohippie who can take care of his own,
but doesn't care what kids would see, seek, suffer, or be seduced by.
You're probably richer than I, maybe even smarter, but your protest
has a bit of a whine. The CDA only asks Internet users to shield kids
so kids can use it, too, and asks industry to give us the means of
doing online what we do everywhere else. Use your brain and heart to
help find the ways, to pressure the techno-industrial complex, to help
make the Internet safe for kids. Try it, you'll like it.
On Friday, Bruce Taylor said "children have rights to a 'decent
society.'" Today, Barlow replies "You will not be happy until you have
imposed your moral code on the rest of humanity." Can we expect the
world to share the same concept of "decency"? Discuss in Threads....
Monday, 30 September 1996
Post No. 6 of 8
by John Perry Barlow
Bruce, remember what I said in my first post about shadowboxing? We're
there, pal. You and I are not talking about the same "place." You're
talking about physical, walking-around reality within a quaint conceit
called the United States of America, and I'm talking the seamless and
global continuity that is cyberspace.
Now I will confess I misdirected the flow myself by referring to the
First Amendment. I never should have done that, but I was strangely
drawn into your reality-distortion field by all that talk about what
"no one has the right to say." Utterly knee-jerk of me. I apologize.
But here's the terrible truth of it: These obscenity statutes you
cite, along with the First Amendment itself, are all local ordinances.
Even the treaty to which you apparently refer offers spotty coverage
as it has only six official signatories, as far as I can tell. There
is not a single government on this Earth that has the right to
regulate the rest of it. For better or worse.
There are days when I wish there were. Certainly I would be delighted
if I thought the protections in the Bill of Rights could be afforded
to all God's children, just as you would no doubt be delighted if the
sexual-conduct laws of Saudi Arabia could be applied to all
"enterprising and disobedient young people," wherever their dirty
minds be housed. But they can't. And unless the United Nations becomes
a lot more effective, there will never be a world government
sufficient to convey such rights or restrictions.
So, should either of us wish to restrict or maintain liberty on the
Internet, we can't turn to government to assist us. We are stuck with
governance, which is to say, the order that arises from social
etiquette, cultural ethics, practicality, and technological
There is, in fact, plenty of comfort both of us can take from these.
Since I am, as you charge, a technohippie, I'm convinced that as long
as the Internet remains a packet-switched network, it will be very
difficult to control the content of the whole.
On the other hand, as long as there are folks like yourself who wish
to construct sanitized zones within it, that same technical
characteristic makes it fairly easy to filter out most of the tainted
packets and to observe very carefully, as they do at both my
daughter's high school and in Singapore, who is attempting to get
We are looking at opportunities for global liberty and local
authoritarianism, and that should make us both happy. But you and the
rest of your kind in the US Congress wish to think locally and act
globally. You will not be happy until you have imposed your moral code
on the rest of humanity. And I can imagine few aspirations more
elitist than that, Bruce.