posted by on Oct 10th, 2009Arianna Huffington Knows What’s Obscene

I’ve just begun reading Paul Krassner‘s essay anthology Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?: Politics, Culture, and Comedy in America Today. Normally I’d wait until I’ve finished a book before writing a review, but in this case I have some comments about the foreword by Arianna Huffington.

In her foreword Huffington condemns censorship, decries government intimidation of media, and applauds the maverick speakers and writers brave enough to express themselves no matter what those in power might want.

This seems strange and amusing to me because of how Huffington came to my attention back in 1996. In those days she was billing herself as a conservative, and when I first heard of her she was beating the drum for the Communications Decency Act, an Internet censorship bill designed to let the government stop all of that nasty pornography people were learning to access right from their computers. She argued the point in print and teamed up with Wiliam F. Buckley and friends for a televised Firing Line debate in which she tried to smack down the ACLU and the EFF and practically argued that anyone who does not want the federal government restricting the Internet must hate children.

The CDA passed, and was promptly struck down by the courts as contrary to the First Amendment. However, unless Huffington has recanted her position in some forum I cannot find I can only assume that she is still in favor of the of restrictions attempted by that Act.

So, how does this square with her grand defense of free expression in the foreword to Krassner’s book? In the usual way, I suspect: Huffington seems fiercely, morally supportive of government intervention to block expression she deems offensive, and fiercely, morally opposed to government intervention against expression she favors. She may hate internet porn, but she urges Krassner’s readers “Don’t miss the bit on Palin Porn (‘No anal required’).” She may crow about letting the government protect children, but don’t dare act against Krassner’s famous poster of a sex orgy filled with Disney characters.

In her swing from right to left Huffington illustrates the reality that spans both sides of that false political division: the belief that we should rely on the government to control how people live. And, by extension, that we should have a government that is as large, expensive and intrusive as required to get that job done.

I’m not putting the kind of pornography condemned by Huffington in 1996 on the same level as the political commentary found in Krassner’s book. I suspect that the internet porn she found so hateful would be hateful to me as well. It sounds stupid, grotesque and terribly offensive. But then so does the “Palin porn” Huffington finds so amusing.

However, I don’t get to decide what may or may not be published. Nor does Arianna Huffington. Nor should the government. As long as those involved are consenting adults then none of us has the right to force them to behave differently. Nor do we have the right to sanitize the world to make all communications acceptable for children.

Certainly we should make our moral and ethical positions clear. We may shun those who offend us, we may speak against them, but we must draw the line at the use of force — which government intervention is, inescapably.

Huffington represents a different view. She seems all for using government force to restrict speech as long as it is never pointed at her or her friends.

Who’s to say what’s obscene? Apparently Arianna Huffington knows what’s obscene. And she wants a government made in her own image to protect you from it.

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