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democracy, freedom...
and loud typing

Democracy demands a burning crucible of public debate, requires a pulsing marketplace of dangerous ideas. The democratic thread that flickers through our culture is the impulse that grabbed the military technology of the early Internet and wrenched it to the very human construct of Cyberspace, this great wrestling field of hearts and minds, joined through furiously tapping fingers. And while it insists on fierce grappling, this great meeting of the minds still permits tender bumbling attempts at persuasion.

Image of Goddess of Democracy
Dear beloved friend who hopes to eliminate indecency and preserve democracy:

So good to be here with you. Whee, nice, isn't it? What a glorious and disturbing gift to have at our disposal. The freedom of the press, for you, for me... And yes, sure we each want to squander it exploring our fantasies, our relations to one another, and hardly ever get around to our relations to our ideals... but still, how fine.

Or perhaps it's not so uncommon to have the personal swing round to the political. For me, each day slams the freedom of one of us down on that of another. Boundaries, often honored in the breach, are the heart of our mutual online adventure.

Oddly, my personal qualms about online pornography were an agent of great change for me. Like others, I found aspects of cyberculture to be considerably less fettered than anything I'd seen before. And viscerally male, before I ever saw the gender stats. I'd stumbled into a realm dominated by boyish cultural values, and due to explode in many ways as the cultural mix increased. But obviously about evolution and group identity in a way we've never felt before. Of course I saw the seeds of my own freedom, and I embraced the medium. A social being, my motivations were probably pretty common... wanting to be liked and influential and true to myself, I found I needed to explain exactly why I couldn't see content I strongly disliked, and simply take-it-or-leave-it. It was an amazing test. I learned that simple lesson:

I do not need to be silenced, nor do I need to silence others.

I can roundly, even passionately criticize expression I don't like, and not attempt to suppress its circulation, nor to allow myself to be bullied into invisibility.

This shift of awareness might seem obvious or namby-pamby, but I learned it the hard way, fighting for the ability to impose my own values every step of the way. I can choose to talk back, to look away, or to say nothing, and I honor the rights of others to respond to me in these three ways as well. This acceptance of the existence and circulation of ideas I don't like changed everything, metamorphosing every cell in my body like rock which deforms under pressure and slowly becomes sparkling, crystalline, irrevocably transformed.

My newly tempered beliefs in freedom of the personal press and of speech, in minds unbound but never uncriticized, might seem weird to you who would impose a decency. And I wonder about you who would arbitrate decency, I suspect that just as likely you still don't see me, that you've missed my point entirely.

I invite you to look away, avert your attention, delete and filter me from your universe when you don't wish to be bothered. I won't pursue you past those barriers. I put up no unavoidable billboards up for your morning commute... why, you can get out of this page with a simple click!

But don't exclude me from the minds of other citizens, sisters, brothers, fair-minded foes. Let each of us take up the true strands, to weave the world of ideas we need to explore.

Living out loud, to the degree we can, is what lets us be authentic, and to aspire to authentic democracy.

And if I were to loudly type that When in the course of human events it is time to get unruly...
Or were I to cry out "Ain't I a Woman?"
Or were I to tear down a jail or an international wall stone by stone
Or were I to sit down and sing "I ain't a marching..."

Would I not be indecent to an established order, true to the spirit of democracy, and fully intending to offend?

The day I cannot challenge the use of a word, a thought, a political initiative here in my own little text file brings me a day closer to the time I can't make fun of stupidity by taking up a pen and drawing a comic strip, or making a speech on stage, or by waving a sign on the street or even by circulating a petition.

I feel the chill wind of that day, and I reach out to you not for warmth, not for sympathy or consensus, but for the willingness to live in a plural society, and yes, for the responsible and frightening freedom that is the spark of democracy.

- Gail Ann Williams, February 22, 1996

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