Some simple arguments against the UK’s unrestricted arms trade

Moral point: If we regard economic gain as only as good as the good it can do people, then economic gain (especially for an industry that enjoys significant tax favours) cannot be used to justify support for human rights abusers. Doubly so, when the support is so direct as to be one step back from providing British soldiers to actually do the repressing.

Pragmatic point 1: it’s naive to arm unstable (any dictatorship is unstable) regimes with reasonably advanced weapon systems. You never know when they may be turned on you. (Yes, yes I know we’re not sending state-of-the-art tech, but we’re considerably hardening an unstable potentially hostile military).

Pragmatic point 2: arming a repressive regime does your image no good with the repressed citizens. Again, it is unknown, but likely that at some stage their favourable view of us would be useful. Having fresh memories of fighting oppressors armed with British weapons (oppressive regimes don’t always bother to change the markings on planes and tanks, and records have a habit of leaking) won’t make them like us.

Zero-hours contracts, criminality and incoherence

I’d like to correct a bit of clumsy language I perpetrated this morning on the train, kept deliberately terse so I could post it to both Facebook and Twitter. Here’s what I wrote:

I think I’d rather be a criminal than take on a zero-hour contract, or spend life in a temp job. More self-respect.¬†http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/06/david-cameron-britain-dockers-line-up-back

I re-read it just now, and it looked like I’d meant that I think people on zero-hours contracts or temporary contracts had no self-respect. That definitely wasn’t what I meant. I was very upset by what I’d read in this article, and wanted to convey the idea that I think I’d feel happier as a criminal than as someone working on one of these contracts because at least a criminal is accorded the recognition of having locks used, and guards employed against him. Zero-hour contracts appear to be the modern equivalent of serfdom, and so, are strong messages by society that the signatory of such a contract is regarded as next to worthless.

This is a horrifying notion – the idea that a fellow citizen can be denied the rights of civilization: health care, a pension, self-sufficiency – simply because he or she is not lucky enough to be a member of the plutocracy or to have skills sufficiently rare in this overpopulated time that there is a significant demand for them.

Censorship and searching

As the UK begins the fight to force ISPs to implement filternets, I’m reminded of the four horsemen of the infocalypse. Currently, paedophiles and a 5th horseman, armchair child psychology, are the tools of choice.

The argument goes that children should be technologically prevented from stumbling across porn or other “harmful material” by forcing DNS filters on service providers.

Currently, one problem I have with the proposal is that”child” appears to be defined as “any internet user”. The default for filtering is “on”, so if I’m using a UK endpoint in my quest for utter filth, extreme views (whatever the hell that means), or anything else frowned upon by the government, I need to tell my ISP about it (or easily TOR round it).

Here, I’ll focus on porn because it’s controversial and ubiquitous, and because it seems to be receiving the lion’s share of the debate.

Since many people aren’t savvy enough or disciplined enough (that’s me) to use other methods for domain name resolution, or indeed to proxy their internet traffic, this will prevent many people from accessing a variety of legal content. This is a form of restriction of information – an activity extremely useful if you want to control a population. For this reason, any attempt at filtering the internet, even one as easily circumvented as this, should have a cast-iron, peer reviewed scientific justification, and should be subject to continuous independent public oversight to prevent the usual misuses. To be clear, freedom of information is so crucial to a democratic civilization, that even if it caused (it doesn’t) harm to children, there’s still a strong case for keeping it and finding another way to deal with the resulting harm (if any).

As you can probably infer from the last paragraph, I’m unconvinced that any harm comes from children, or other groups that we tend to feel entitled to curb, accessing controversial content. The bar of evidence should be astronomically high before any attempt is made to regulate what we or our children can read. I don’t think the evidence is even close now. What little evidence about the effects of pornography does exist, actually contradicts the received wisdom that porn is bad.

Another danger area is interpretation. If we agree that porn should be hard to reach, what do we call porn? Does satire involving sex count? What about sex education? Art? What the heck is art? That’s another loosely interpreted word that could be (and has been) used for censorship. I think the whole idea from concept to implementation is at best ineffective, and at worst, dangerous.