Originally posted as part of the 24 Hours of Democracy web event thing, back when we thought that sort of thing would matter. All spelling errors and dead links are preserved (the HotWired link is particularly amusing, in that ow-laugh sort of way).
When I was a kid, I used to wish for a REAL encyclopedia. Since I hadn't ever seen one, I was moved solely by faith. REAL encyclopedias, I was sure, would have the answer to any question I could possibly ask, if I would just look hard enough for it. ANY question. Especially the ones that my parents wouldn't answer. (Well - I assumed they wouldn't have answered them - I for sure wasn't going to find out by *asking*!)
Now I've got that encyclopedia - the Net. Powered by the pointless enthusiasms, unstoppable curiousity and innumerable talents of millions of people, it's ALL out there. Stuff you like. Stuff you don't like. Stuff you can't believe! In other words, the human race. Not pretty, but good for a laugh.
If people have any value, the Net has value, because all it is, is people.
If people should be free, the Net should be free.
You know *you* should be free, you're a nice person. But letting everyone else be free - scary. Some of them aren't too bright. Some aren't too nice. A few people downright suck. If they're allowed to talk to everyone and anyone, bad ideas will spread.
I think that's how unrestricted expression looks to people who are frightened by it. As if we were letting people infected with horrible contagious diseases run around and spread their disease. That's why it's not enough to control what you see and what your own family sees. The trouble is not the bad idea but the consequences of the bad idea. If you believe that pornography incites men to rape women, keeping it out of your own home won't make your daughter any safer. That's not a trivial fear, and it deserves respect.
This is the only answer I can make:
I never did get a REAL encyclopedia when I was a kid. Pretty soon I found out that even a Britannica didn't have all the answers, but that was all right - other kids did. OK, so the fact checking wasn't rigorous - babies don't REALLY come from a man going to the bathroom in a woman's stomach. A wrong answer is still better than no answer.
Except... it's not. After a while you find out that the truth is almost always better - usually after you've gotten yourself into trouble because you were acting on beliefs based on bad information. The truth isn't more pleasant, it certainly isn't comforting. It's just what you need to know.
You can't prevent wrong answers, you can't pull them out of people's heads. The only thing that can correct a wrong answer is the right answer. You don't make sure that humanity never forgets the Holocaust by stopping anyone from saying that it didn't happen. You fight amnesia with memory.
This country has always been a bit strange for believing that people - all people - should be able to know the truth. A bit reluctant to follow through on that belief, too, understandably. Now we have the best chance we've ever had to make it a reality. Those of us who have been living in the Net for a while owe it to everyone else to help them learn the strange new ways of a world where anyone can be heard. It's no small act of faith, to trust in the truth that much, to trust people that much.
But for the sake of every kid that's out there now, asking questions, we have to try.
Mr Potatoe Head
Another perspective on truth