Censorship, “Gates” Article
The recipe for a strong argument is comprised of two main facets. One is its ability to persuade and the other its ability to reason. It’s possible for an argument to persuade without reason, but if an article lacks reason and fails to persuade it’s left completely exposed. Alice Bailey and Laura Tallman’s article, “Internet filters are gates, not erasers, to protect kids in library” which appeared in 2009 in The Press Democrat, exemplifies an argument that attempts to persuade while lacking credibility, reason and accountability. The focus of Bailey and Tallman’s article is to persuade the reader to support the idea of internet filters in public libraries in attempt to protect children from pornographic images, to which they claim carry incomparable danger. The article uses fear as a means to persuade and to make up for its substantial lack of evidence and organization. It is is scattered with loaded language and proof surrogates while all together presenting a false dilemma to the reader, which is intolerable in a topic that surrounds the First Amendment. For these reasons the “Gates” article is unacceptable and fails as an argumentative piece of writing.
The issue of censorship in public libraries is an issue of freedom; more specifically it is an issue surrounding our intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom can be defined as the right of every individual to seek out information from all points of view without restriction. It allows us free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. Bailey and Tallman are not alone in their support of censorship. Those in support of censorship believe that there exist materials are too offensive, or present ideas/images that are too destructive to society to stay accessible by the public. I say Bailey and Tallman are not alone because this particular censorship involves images approachable by children, which has raised controversy over the subject for many years. Most of the information we have access to is protected by the First Amendment, but there are limitations. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that there are certain narrow categories of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment: obscenity, child pornography, defamation, and “fighting words,” or speech that incites violence. The “Gates” piece is a one that envelopes the definition of “obscenity.” Who gets to declare something as obscene? What exactly qualifies something as such? The first issue of Bailey and Tallman’s piece is that it fails to qualify pornography. We’re left to interpret their article equipped with our own definition of porn (which isn’t easy to come up with) without knowing how they would define it themselves.
The “Gates” article seams to group all levels of the obscene into one entity to which they call “porn.” The strong statements the article makes from paragraph to paragraph are confusing for that reason. “Porn places children at risk.” “Porn encourages promiscuity.” “Porn desensitizes viewers to violence.” I believe many would agree that pornography is capable of all those things. I also contest that there exists media that could be classified as porn while being incapable to transcend any of these effects. The trouble is that up to this point the word “pornography” does not have a consensus definition or inherit meaning. This is demonstrated by its varied definition across dictionaries. Merriam-Webster classifies pornography as printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. Meanwhile, Oxford defines porn as obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit. Both these definitions arouse questions that would need answering before understanding something such as the Gates article. Who gets to qualify something as having or not having artistic merit? How can we be clear of the intentions behind a certain media? Without knowing these things the definition of porn can’t be clear and therefore an argument that fails to explore these things can’t be clear. Bailey and Tallman also use loaded language to mask their real intentions. The reason Bailey and Tallman can’t simply use a petition to change library rules is because their goal of adding internet filters scratches the surface of something much bigger than they chose to admit. Obviously we’re dealing with an issue of censorship here. There’s no way around it. Adding internet filters is a form of censorship, and that’s what makes this such a tricky issue. You’d think then, that the authors would acknowledge this. They don’t acknowledge this, and that’s what disturbs most about their article.
The word “censorship” is carefully avoided when describing internet filters, instead they describe internet filters as “devices for responsible sponsorship.” The article attempts to largely downplay the goal of altering the First Amendment. Another reason “Gates” fails as a persuasive article is that it is loaded with proof surrogates while neither Bailey nor Tallman own any expertise. Rather than postulate certain effects pornography could have on children, Bailey and Tallman present their claims as fact. The reader is left to take the authors at their word despite neither owning proper status in a field to make such claims. Neither Bailey nor Tallman have received education in any sort of sexual or child psychology, and both of their professions are in the realm of real estate. Without admitting to the reader their lack of expertise, they make strong claims about the effects of porn. Their first example of this is when they claim that “For myriad reasons, porn places children at risk. It distorts their view of sexuality and harms their mental and emotional health.” They go on to say that “exposure to porn can haunt children for years to come.” Rather than cite the specific research that supports these claims, the authors leave a link to a website. In order to verify the validity of Bailey and Tallman’s statements, the reader must follow their link to a research data base and attempt to track down the needed information without any form of direction. Unless the research is cited properly in the article, it gives off the impression that such information cannot be found. As the article progresses, claims by Bailey and Tallman become more outlandish and require even more proof, which there still lies none. The “Gates” article states in the following paragraph that “even the tamest porn encourages promiscuity, ridicules the sanctity of marriage and exploits male and female performers.” Only one of these three claims could possibly be backed up with evidence, (porn encourages promiscuity.) The other two claims do nothing but side track their argument, as they only offer an opinion from an author without any credibility on the subject. There are times in the article where one can see the potential the piece has to be persuasive at times, if only certain evidence could be brought forward. “Studies have shown that addiction to porn desensitizes the viewer to sexual violence…” This originally came across as something of interest; it’s a plausible idea. But after declaring certain studies exist the author fails to provide them, and the argument immediately loses necessary water. What’s most important is that the piece isn’t designed to reason with the reader; it appeals to fear.
It tries to rally people to its side by presenting a false dilemma that simply takes advantage of a parents protective nature. The article uses language which suggests that to disagree with the text is to accept sending your child to his or her inevitable doom. “We opt for the protection of children. Restoration of access to legitimate sites is easy. Restoring a child’s molested mind is not.” The false dilemma presented by this article is that one either is in support of censoring library computers, or they don’t value the protection of children. If one were to not look past Bailey and Tallman’s proof surrogates and accept their outlandish claims as fact, then an impression is made about porn that is strong, and impervious to rational deconstruction. I compare the possible effect this article could have on the non-critical reader to the effect the film Jaws had on most of my family. Jaws, of course, featured a great white shark of improbable size and habitat. He swam in shallow water and preyed upon helpless beach-goers with devastating force. Everything we’ve learned about sharks would suggest that Jaws’ nature would be impossible in the real world, and rational analysis would tell us that less than six people are killed by sharks each year. Despite the facts, the movie was successful in changing people’s image of sharks into objects of terror and ruthless violence. Emotion was stronger than reason, and my parents never took me to the beach. Fear has the ability to shut out reason, and it is because of this that the “gates” article is dangerous. The un-critical reader might subscribe to the idea that without internet filters children across the country will have their minds corrupted and lean towards lives of deviancy. I say the article is dangerous because it uses this fear in the reader to encourage abandonment of certain rights that will affect future generations for years to come. Protecting children from obscene images shouldn’t be the job of our government. The primary responsibility for protecting children rests with parents. If parents want to keep images or forms of expression away from their children, they should assume the responsibility for preventing it at home. Governmental institutions cannot be expected to interfere with parental obligations and responsibilities when it comes to deciding what a child may see. There is no point in the article that acknowledges another possible course of action in protecting children from the dangers in cyber space. I see internet filters as a means of trying to make a parent’s job easier.
The reality is that raising a child can’t be an easy job. No matter how many “gates” you place over the outside world, your kid will come home with questions you don’t want to answer and parents have to do the best they can. People like Bailey and Tallman believe that certain individuals, institutions, even society itself, will be endangered if particular ideas are circulated without control. What people like Bailey and Tallman fail to understand is that if they succeed in suppressing ideas they don’t like (such as pornography) today, they will effectively lay a foundation and others may use that foundation to suppress the ideas they do like tomorrow. The “Gates” article used many techniques to bring people to its side, and I’m sure it was successful in some ways despite the article being flawed in so many categories. Neither Bailey or Tallman were credible in their opinions, they littered their piece with proof surrogates and designed an article to take advantage of fear. The problem with false dilemma arguments is that some people believe them. This article is dangerous in that if a reader makes the mistake of trusting the authors as credible sources, their idea of intellectual freedom could be destroyed in the same way Jaws destroyed my parents’ idea of the beach. “Gates” by Alice Bailey and Laura Tillman is irresponsible and fails as a persuasive piece.
Internet filters are gates, not erasers, to protect kids in library Alice Bailey, Laura Tallman. Press Democrat. Aug 25, 2009