Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guarino's relativism

For the three of you from Greensboro who may have missed the latest goings on, a fierce debate has been raging over whether the public library should install filters on its computers to reduce the amount of porn that's allegedly being downloaded.

The debate was ignited a few weeks ago when a poorly informed and ill-prepared councilman, Danny Thompson, waved a thick stack of papers implying that the majority contained examples of porn-viewing and other indecent behaviors in the libraries. The councilman then introduced a motion to install filters on the computers. A subsequent examination of the papers revealed that only a few indecent incidents had occurred and that such incidents had actually been substantially reduced over the last year. Nevertheless, the intrepid councilman pressed on.

The matter was revisited at a subsequent city council meeting, which voted the councilman's filtering motion down but asked library staff to provide more data.

The ever-excitable Joe Guarino immediately hyperventilated that council members had voted "to permit porn surfing" (nevermind that the available evidence showed that existing library policies were reducing these incidents, not increasing them). Brother Joe has since been on a tear accusing library staff and those who oppose the filters of "moral relativism."

Sayeth Joe,
We are worshipping the idol of unrestricted access to 'library information,' and placing that at a greater level of importance than protecting minors.
He goes on to accuse the library of "peddling" porn.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The library actually has a comprehensive approach that includes registering users, having them agree to usage terms, running throttling software, and having staff and security personnel present. In fact, the councilman's papers are evidence that restrictions are present and result in sanctions. Yet Joe equates these layered restrictions to peddling porn and suggests that the library staff be arrested for distributing child pornography.

Another local blogger, Tony Wilkins, now reports that "two anonymous sources" have told him that 21,000 visits to porn sites occurred last month in the local public library. Multiply by 12, and the number rises to 252,000 annually. Naturally, this has inflamed Joe who now says that "the burden is now on the relativists and the nihilists to demonstrate why filters are not appropriate."

Let's put aside the obvious question of why Tony's sources might have requested anonymity and go with his figures. It appears that Joe is the true relativist here. The most optimistic estimates for the filters indicate that they might screen 97 percent of objectionable material (albeit at the cost of lots of non-objectionable material also being blocked). Apply that likely inflated screening rate to 252,000 page visits, and Greensboro still ends up with over 7,500 porn views.

Joe and the councilman got their knickers in a bunch over a few dozen incidents, yet they would have us adopt a technology that would permit thousands of porn views each year. You tell me who's a relativist.

The only "correct" absolutist position is to immediately remove the execrable internet from the public library. While we're at it, the internet should also be removed from public schools and any public place where children might see someone else surfing--that includes all public wi-fi in non-adult venues (don't want those kids who wandering through Caribou Coffee to accidentally view "Debbie Does a Double Latte" or some such).

Until Joe is willing to remove all possibilities for inappropriate browsing in public places he is the moral relativist.