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McGrath bills insult students

By Charles Dodson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 2, 2000
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To the editor,

I've tried to hold my tongue hoping that this community's usual civil liberties watchdogs would do their jobs, but in my view they are not demystifying things adequately enough on such issues as Representative McGrath and company have been recently bringing up. It has got to be understood that McGrath's proposals are not really about blocking "sexually explicit" images or getting back to the alleged "good old days" of the "white gloved" 1950s, but are an integral part of a much broader routine of influence professionals waging a kind of warfare upon a largely unprepared and unrecognizing public.

That the focus of the fight is centered now upon an institution of alleged higher learning should also not be surprising. After the CDA (Communications Decency Act) failures, students constitute a much weaker target than the general population, since they are quite unorganized when it comes to serious politics.

Of course, students aren't supposed to be seriously involved in politics. After all, you're just "kids" as the sentiment goes.

So you must remain symbolically sleeping, as any properly distracted member of the so-called "stupid" masses, and just go along with scientifically developed ride, while succumbing to the type of cynicism and complacency that mark the larger culture, while "those who can run things" put on their "white gloves" and manage your lives. If you've ever read the internal-intended writings by Walter Lippmann (i.e., Public Opinion), Edward Bernays, Reinhold Niebuhr or Wilbur Schramm, you'd understand this more clearly instead of just assuming I must be nuts.

What emotionally potent oversimplifications like the gist of McGrath's proposals actually mean is not about "protecting" academic purity, but blocking experiences and information that can allow largely honest, yet ill-prepared young people to think and visualize beyond an increasingly psychologically caged existence (by that I mean not only in a sexual sense, but also in a politically aware sense).

Now, if even the most skeptical amongst you look at what the popular blocking software programs (such as "Cybersitter" and "Net nanny") actually do, for example, you'll note that their definitions of what constitutes "inappropriate" material is quite far-reaching even though on the surface you'd imagine them to be as seemingly innocent as even the most feasible of McGrath's assertions. Web sites that even only independently discuss or defend unpopular sexual ideas are fully banned. But that's not all. Even Web sites that have nothing to do with sex, but instead dare/challenge visitors to discover ways of looking at things beyond what we often take for granted to be "norms" are also being banned.

One example is "Peacefire" (http://www.peacefire.org/censorware/ ). It is a youth-originated Internet watchdog group that is a kind of gateway to increased awareness as it directly challenges professional and parental dominance over student use of this valuable tool called the Net. To people like Representative McGrath, such speaking-up surely constitutes something that's "dangerous" and "bad" and must be legislated against.

Once people allow themselves to wake up and investigate the same old patterns behind attacks on freedoms (which many before us have often fought long and arduous battles for), the more citizens will be capable of ignoring hype like that which comes from Representative McGrath and orient themselves to realizing meaningful education that make for meaningful democracy. I myself believe that only by a systematic enrichment and close scrutiny of all possible potentials can society guarantee sincere protection from the kinds of alleged dangers that McGrath and company want to you think they stand up against.

Charles Dodson

Tucson resident

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