Clive Hamilton doesn’t quite win “Cnut of the Week”

Photograph of jet airliner tail with Qantas logo and Cnut of the Week title

I’m surprised. I thought that given Senator Conroy’s three-in-a-row victory as “Cnut of the week”, this week’s winner would be Clive Hamilton for his irrational rant in favour of Internet censorship in Crikey yesterday. But no.

Hamilton is certainly Cnutworthy, trying to hold back two strong tides of change: the change of the Internet, which will deliver whatever people want to send down its pipes, whether you try to block it or not; and the tide of rationality which increasingly renders shrill fear-mongering and name-calling irrelevant. But no.

The winner was Qantas for continuing to resist a tide of public opinion which clearly shows their reputation slipping thanks to unreliable service — which appears in turn to be the result of cuts to maintenance processes.

Last night’s episode of Stilgherrian Live is online for your viewing pleasure, though it’s not the same without the live chat.

But Clive Hamilton… Two hints, Clive.

First, in a hyperconnected world, we can see that your depiction of the opponents of censorship is a lie, because we can just look up their words directly. We can see that you’re continuing this crap about “They want to flood the world with dirty, dirty pornography”, Conroy’s grubby name-calling tactic. No, Clive. The arguments are really about ISP-level “filtering” being a total waste of money because it’s easy to circumvent and detrimental because it degrades Internet performance and blocks legitimate material.

Second, just wanting something doesn’t make it possible — or even desirable when you think through the ramifications. Even if we take at face value the assertion that “93% of parents of teenagers… [support] automatic filtering of internet porn” — and I must admit I’m sceptical of that figure because Newspoll has form — that doesn’t mean it can actually be done. Unlike fear-filled parents, Internet technology’s behaviour can’t be changed by telling it scary stories about “Net videos of a woman having sex with animals” or “Watching someone being raped”.

You can assert all you like that…

Independent expert opinion appears to be that filters can sharply reduce the availability of material deemed offensive or unsafe at the cost of a small degree of degradation of the system…

… but it isn’t true.

We’ve linked to the actual report before. We’ve read past the government-pleasing Executive Summary and looked at the actual numbers. We’ve seen that deceptive people have cherry-picked the numbers, always using the best of the best score for effectiveness and the best-of-the-best score for speed degradation when they were for two different filters. We’ve read how none of the filters can deal with peer-to-peer traffic. We know from network engineers that just encrypting the traffic and sending it through anonymous proxy servers defeats central filters.

This. Has. All. Been. Done. Before. And. Wishing. Really. Really. Hard. Will. Not. Change. It.

What’s truly appalling about Hamilton’s rant is that the man trained as a mathematician. He should be well aware that computers do not respond to rhetoric. He should have more respect for numeracy, and respond to the numerically and technically literate arguments which point out that ISP-level Internet filtering simply will not achieve the aim of “protecting the children”.

This. Has. All. Been. Done. Before. And. Wishing. Really. Really. Hard. Will. Not. Change. It.

We have dismantled your lies before, yet you keep repeating your lies. Why is this?

Photograph of Clive Hamilton

A quick visit to Clive Hamilton’s website reveals that immorality is his current bête noire.

[T]he paradox of modern consumer life is that we are deprived of our inner freedom by our very pursuit of our own desires. [Hamilton] turns to metaphysics to find a source of transformation that lies beyond the cultural, political and social philosophies that form the bedrock of contemporary western thought.

His search takes him to an unexpected conclusion: that we cannot be truly free unless we commit ourselves to a moral life. The implications of this conclusion are profound, and they challenge many deeply held beliefs in modern secular society.

Now a man may certainly choose a moral path. Morals can be debated, though, and morals change and have changed over time. Merely claiming that one has morals doesn’t give one the right to slur others.

“Logic without moral clarity is no logic at all,” says Hamilton. Alas, Dr Hamilton, you are wrong. They are two different axes of measurement. More to the point, Logic without logic is no logic at all.

Hamilton, like Conroy, has slurred those criticising the government’s poorly-thought-out and technically useless plan to “filter” the Internet. Hamilton has, like Conroy, simply avoided addressing the coherent arguments being put forward and has instead resorted to name-calling, fear-mongering and outright lies.

Hamilton may think he’s taking the moral path, but he’s wrong. He’s behaving unethically. He’s being a hypocrite. In my view that’s truly filthy.

8 Replies to “Clive Hamilton doesn’t quite win “Cnut of the Week””

  1. Cutting through the steamy crap efficently, thanks Stilgherrian.

    Hamilton’s debasement of logic is deplorable throughout his sad diatribe. The troops of flimsy strawmen, vain appeals to belief and authority amongst the litany of fallacies throughout indicate that reason has been hung, drawn and quartered on the altar of a spurious moral absolutism.

  2. There is a amusing problem with this statement:

    “that we cannot be truly free unless we commit ourselves to a moral life.”

    Here Clive Hamilton appears to be urging that we all take personal responsibility.

    Yet in the mandatory filtering debate he wants to replace the inner moral core of each citizen with a Government-specified CISCO filter spec.

    Or perhaps he just wants us to commit to that filter spec?

  3. Thank you all for your comments.

    @Jon Seymour: You’ve spotted an excellent point there: Clive Hamilton seems to want people to make responsible moral choices, but then wants their ability to make moral choices removed from them and instead put under government control. There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy there.

    I always worry when someone believes their viewpoint is so right — or should that be “righteous”? — that everyone else should be forced to follow that viewpoint rather than be persuaded to make that choice.

    @max: Execution? I think not. Clive Hamilton may be wrong, but he’s entitled to express his view.

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