Saturday, 27 December 2008
Burnham's barmy State
One of the outcomes of a decent education is the teaching of discrimination. Discrimination is, contrary to the hijacking of the word by every victim group in the country, a good thing. We discriminate between substitute goods when buying. We discriminate each time we reach for the TV channel controller. Education, particularly advanced education, equips us with the intellectual tools to discriminate between what is printed in the National Enquirer and the New York Times, or between a book written by David Irving and one written by Antony Beevor. Dicrimination allows us to look at a government website or press release and know that at best it's only partly truthful. Discrimination allows us to look behind the distorting and misleading claims - 'ID cards will protect your children from paedos' - and see the reality beyond - 'ID cards will give the government an increased measure of control over the population'.
Now I believe that each one of us should have developed scepticism, caution and a talent for discrimination to a high degree. In an information world, the ability to find, to filter and to discriminate between millions of sources of the greatest mass of information man has ever known is not an optional extra; it is an essential skill.
I also believe that our youngest citizens who have not fully developed their senses of discrimination need some protection, and that this is primarily the job of their parents. As far as the web goes, ISPs have already gone some way in classifying content to assist parents and families. This is good and should continue to develop as a voluntary resource for families.
Burnham, being a Labour fool, sees little of this; he reveals today that he thinks it's the State's job to regulate the web and make these decisions on people's behalf. Given the choice between increasing individual discrimination and the State doing it for you, he of course wants the State to do it. It doesn't seem to occur to him that robbing the nation of their power of discrimination also robs the nation of competitive advantage in an information age. Or perhaps, sinisterly, he does.
A government and its ministers soon come to believe the lie that the interests of government and the interests of the nation are one and the same; inevitably they become less tolerant of informed criticism, frustrated at the countervailing ideas being freely floated around, angry that we aren't listening to them with the attention they demand. Before the web this could be countered by two things - money and regulation. Money to pay for 'push' propaganda, and regulation to threaten any publisher not to step too far from the State line. Labour, and Burnham, have never fully understood the 'pull' nature of the web, nor its resilience, nor its internationality, nor even the global impact of the US First Amendment since the rise of the web.
So I wouldn't get over excited about his latest lunatic pronouncements. He might as well have stated he wants to ban the colour yellow, or turnips. This won't stop Labour, of course. That the State has no role in controlling the web is a matter of deep frustration to them, and they'll keep pushing lunatic schemes such as this until we consign them to history's dustbin.