Confessions of a Censor

by Trapper John
From: Trapper John 
Subject: Censorship
Date: Fri, 08 May 1998 12:13:07 -0400
Organization: International Brotherhood of Censors Local 007

A number of people in this group have expressed concern about censorship. They should be concerned, because censorship runs rampant across this group. I know this to be true because I am the King of censors. I have been one of biggest and most successful censors in this group. In fact, I can honestly say that I have yet to meet anyone more successful than myself. I have censored surveys, humor and observations. I have censored opinions, explanations, and justifications. I have censored nearly every subject that has come to mind. I invoke absolute censorship whenever it pleases me (its nice to be King). So to those of you who were concerned about censorship in this newsgroup, I will confirm your worst fears in what follows. But I will also provide some hope. For you see, in confirming your fears, I will expose my methods and the subjects of my Kingdom. I ask that you have mercy upon my subjects, and try to rehabilitate them. Most of them are good people that I simply kept in the dark. I censored the feedback that would have allowed them to see the consequences of their actions (damn I'm good), and so most have no clue that they contributed to my conspiracy. With this post, I am telling the world that I am abdicating my throne. I can repair much of the damage I have done, but quite frankly, I have not kept a record of all that I have censored (I censored that too), and hence have only my memory to guide me. But I assure all that I will try my best to correct the mistakes of the past. But still, be concerned, for my Kingdom is one of many, and each Kingdom has a King.

Now some of you are wondering how I have been able to ply my trade without revealing myself till now. It will become obvious as I explain, as it does lay at the heart of the matter. But first, a little background on censorship is in order. I ask everyone concerned to go to the dictionary and look up the four words: censor, censorious, censorship, respect. The censorship discussions to date indicate to me that a visit to Webster (visit Webster = check American, English language dictionary) is in order for most of the participants.

I'll talk about censors first, as two of the three types that exist here on Usenet can be disposed of quickly. They are the sysops and the hackers and me. When I refer to sysops, I mean the owner of the newsfeed. As has been mentioned in a recent post, whoever owns the newsfeed, determines what is carried by that feed. They can delete newsgroups or individual postings as they please. It may not make good business sense, or be politically correct, but it is perfectly legal and is their right. It has not been done to this group, and is not likely to be done to this group. Then there are the hackers, those that know how the newsgroup protocols work, and use that knowledge to their (illegal) advantage. This appears to have been attempted in this group in the form of canceled postings (by other than the author). This is merely annoying and sometimes not even noticed. The author simply posts again, and those that respond before the cancel take place usually repeat the post anyway. If this were prevalent you would hear, "I didn't see the original post..." or "what are you responding to..." or something of that nature, fairly often, and there would be accusations and complaints (probably to or against the wrong person). In any case, this has been extremely rare and is too obvious to be effective. The first two censors (by Webster) do not have any effect on this newsgroup. The third (me) I'll discuss later.

Next we have the censorious. I'll discuss censorious in terms of the on-going discussion of charters. Some consider charters to be some kind of censorship. And this has generated some concern (and more than a little noise) in this newsgroup. Perhaps in another forum they might be, but in a newsgroup, not a chance. If everyone in the newsgroup, but me, decides unanimously on a charter and its contents, I can simply ignore it and post what I please. Let's get real for a second. Ed wrote a charter. What happens if I call this a charter ? Who is to say which is the real charter? How does any new-comer even know that either one exists? But what actually occurred with Eds charter? There was an attempt by the censorious, to censor the charter (is this case, ideas expressed by an individual, who was looking for consensus among the group). Thankfully, this attempt at censorship was not successful. (I'll comment more on charters in another thread which will be titled "Charter Stuff"). As for the censorious, I suspect that a number of individuals in this group, after visiting Webster nd re-reading their posts in the charter discussions, will find (and be quite surprised) that they perfectly fit the description of censorious. I will suggest that we all are censorious at times, whether we mean to be, or not.

Then there is censorship (the system). I'll describe this in terms of the shills. A shill is a person who by less than honorable means, assists a seller of goods. Their object is to sell something and their method is lies, distortion, and repetition, and the result is censorship. Usually, they try to produce a 'herd' effect (safety in numbers). Individuals (or in newsgroups, a single person posting as many) pretend (lie) to be satisfied customers. You then make decisions based on false information ("everyone else is happy with it, I will be too" is the false assumption). The truth has been censored, for even if the product is good, it has been tarnished by association with deceit. The second method of the shill is repetition. Once the lie has been exposed, a shill only needs the slightest excuse to continually repeat the lie. Eventually, the lie becomes background noise and we become immune by censoring the lie. The shill wins. Shills must be exposed quickly, and dealt with severely. And we must not resort to the methods of the shill as this not only reduces our own credibility, but also encourages the shill and serves his agenda. As newsgroups go, this group gets a gold star for identifying and ridding itself of shills. However, there is still a problem, as there is still at least one successful shill in the group (censorship wins one). I will address this further in another thread titled "Don't Feed the Shills".

And finally there is respect, the lack of which is central to my success. In this newsgroup, there are not only people from all walks of life, but also from many different cultures. Many are not aware of the extreme differences among individuals and cultures in this group. Some are so rude as to assume that the culture is the same as is in their own living room! And the truly disrespectful immediately join my kingdom by ignoring the differences after they have been shown to exist. Take, for example, the people that got angry about suggestions on writing at a particular level. Judging by the reactions of a few of them, I would have to guess that they think that the internet belongs to the United States. Sorry to disappoint, but the internet was invented in France. Unix, the workhorse of the internet (and Usenet) was written in "C" language (invented in England) and Usenet, I don't know, but I think it originated in North Carolina (somebody correct me please). We Americans have merely adopted a good idea. So as to the multicultural nature of this community, it is inherent. If you will not respect that, then you are unwittingly a member of my Kingdom. Then there are the differences among people. We have members fond of discussing and using off-color humor, members fond of discussion with filthy language, members who are, well uh, fond of their members, and who knows what else we have here. I'll use off-color humor as the example, as this form of disrespect has served me well in my censorship activities. Off-color humor (jokes that make use of biological functions, in particular, defecation) is considered inappropriate in mixed company in most parts of the American society. Many people find it truly disgusting and are extremely offended by it. Some are so offended that if you were to tell them that a cure for psoriasis was in a posting that began with an off-color joke, they would not read it. What does this have to do with respect ? Well, if you have an extreme position on something, or you like to discuss things that typically offend, it is likely that you are of aware of that fact. Having respect does not mean 'shut it down it mixed company', but rather tone it down. Respect also means giving the benefit of the doubt in mixed company. I need not give my siblings the benefit of the doubt in my own living room as I know where they've been and I know exactly what they mean. But as for the some stranger in Seattle or Florida or Italy or Japan, I have no clue where they have been or as to what are their norms. If they tone down the known extremes and others tolerate whatever else that filters through, we have respect. If not, we have a subjects for my Kingdom. I don't mean that we should not argue, neither do I mean that disagreement is bad, it is just how we handle the disagreements that will inevitably occur in a mixed society. Do we disagree with diplomacy, or with war? I would suggest that diplomacy shows respect and promotes understanding, and that war, well, welcome to my Kingdom.

And now, before I hand you my Kingdom, I will describe it to you. Do not be surprised by its simplicity, for that is the key to its (and my) success. First, there is me. I am the only censor, and only I decide what will be censored (after all, I am the King). Then there are the censorious. They create a hostile environment. Further, they are a wonderful distraction. And many of them are also in the last group, which I refer to as the hunters. The hunters are characterized by their lack of respect for either themselves, or others. And they are the key to my success. They find the majority of topics that I censor. I find very few on my own. Here are the most common scenarios:

  1. I want to ask a question. So I hit the archives for background. Then someone else asks the question. The censorious immediately bash the individual for asking such a question. A few still try to answer the question. The hunters begin their offense. I censor it. Mission accomplished. Lesson learned - don't ask that question!
  2. Person A does something that I would have been likely to do. Person B, instead of saying "I disagree because of this, that and the other thing, says "I respect all the work you do for this group, but fuck you and your ideas". The total disrespect that person B has shown for person A immediately makes B a subject of my kingdom. I censor any building on the idea.
  3. Someone asks an ambiguous or poorly phrased question (which gives rise to a question I would like answered). Two different questions are answered. Arguments break out over who meant what. Total disrespect ensues. More people join my Kingdom. The original question is lost. I censor the posting of the question I would like answered.
The contributions I could have made were censored by me. The factual errors I could have corrected were censored by me. The foundation for building knowledge has just lost a few stones and so even future truths have been censored. And I did it. When I saw a problem in the symmetry discussions that was preventing knowledge building, I said nothing. When I saw possible solutions to the various charter problems, I said nothing. When I discovered solutions to avoiding possible problems, I said nothing. When I saw the opportunity for a good laugh for all, I said nothing. The list goes on and on. I am the King of censorship. And I abdicate my throne. As for my subjects, I will not identify any of them by name, but that matters little, you know who they are. Without their help, I could not succeed. Without subjects, there is no King. But as I said (way) back in the beginning, I am not the only King. If you have ever decided not to post because of expected abuse, you are a King. If you ever failed to post because you expected boorish behavior as a result, you are a king. If you remained silent when you felt you should not, you are a king. And by the way, Kings are often known by another name... Lurkers.

John Tully
King of Censorship (Retired)