Last week, I faced another round of the sort of censorship that I described in “Smut!” It involved the same software that had blocked Feminisn’t for being “pornographic,” although the settings were apparently different. (I can’t remember offhand what software it was, although if memory serves it was either Site Kiosk or another piece of software working in conjunction with Site Kiosk.)

This time, the blocked site was Jim Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation. Ooh, bad, it has “fuck” in its name; dirty, dirty, inappropriate. The reason that CFN was blocked, however, was even more absurd: the words “Sieg Heil.” CFN was judged to be a Nazi website. Jim Kunstler is evidently a member of the Nazi vanguard.

Which he of course isn’t. The problem for the filtering software is that Clusterfuck Nation hosts in its peanut gallery a number of racist nutcases and sarcastic characters who use Nazi references as verbal projectiles or satirical devices. Very odious things are written in the comments section on a nearly hourly basis, but they don’t go unchallenged. The debate may be repetitive, tiresome, and shrill, but there’s no denying that it’s a real debate. Despite their best efforts, in no way have the authoritarians actually staged their putsch.

As a matter of free speech, where does one draw the line for such noxious arguments? One doesn’t. Sure, there are exceptions for libel, criminal conspiracy and direct incitement to violence, but to restrict speech merely because it is deemed disagreeable is an affront to a free and open society. I’m siding with Voltaire and the Founding Fathers on this one. Some people are asshats, and CFN’s chief racist, who uses the handle Vlad Krandz, sometimes distorts the hell out of what others have written in order to cover everything under the sun with a vile racist gloss, but it really is a slippery slope to start banning certain kinds of speech just because they’re unpopular or widely considered, say, evil in intent or untrue.

In some ways, it all boils down to the definition of truth. We’re wandering into the Twilight Zone here, but this is an important point. One man’s truth is another man’s crazy falsehood. Yet more opposing viewpoints: “Masturbation: an effective way to relieve sexual tension” vs. “Masturbation: a surefire way to ruin your psyche and go blind and lame.” All right, that’s a dispute that can be answered satisfactorily through self-help, but the questions aren’t always that easy: “Earth: as far as scientists can tell, pretty damn old” vs. “Earth: It doesn’t look a day over 6,334!” That’s one debate you can’t resolve by playing with yourself and seeing how it feels. It involves a lot of math and geologic mapping and mineral samples and shit, complexities that are easy to obfuscate or to get wrong through simple human error or methodological imperfections. It also involves scientific conclusions that may sound a bit crackpot: giant meteorites and dinosaurs, continents that can’t say in one place even if they try, beavers the size of tigers. Often pieces of evidence are found to be misleading after additional research, resulting in completely reworked conclusions. If a government’s policy goal is to keep the public from being misled, then, might it not be wise to censor scientific reports for the sole reason that they may well turn out to be a bunch of rubbish? Or because they contradict holy scripture?

At some point, the public has to be allowed to make up its own mind about these things. Sure, some citizens will adopt the most batshit ideas, but the accuracy rate for officially sanctioned versions isn’t 100%, either. Aside from the innocent mistakes that anyone can make, officials have a host of reasons to promote delusional or intentionally false stories to the public. Vigorous free speech at least gives the public the opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff and discern the truth for itself.

Even more bizarre than the blocking of Clusterfuck Nation over its alleged Nazi propaganda was the blocking of an LA Times article about some celebrity blowhard who claimed to have been celibate for 30 years and a comment page on the Agitator, both because, I kid you not, they contained the word “sex.” Mighty wide net, I’d say.

Of course, private individuals and companies have no legal obligation to permit access through their computers to material that they deem objectionable. The caveat for the rest of us is that we ought to therefore be very wary of allowing previously public services to be transferred wholesale into private hands, because doing so may cause substantial de facto damage to constitutional rights.

Absurdly, the hotel where these sites were blocked by this puritanical software and its overbroad definitions of impropriety had one of the dirtiest guest libraries I’ve ever seen. Many hotels, if they provide a library for their guests, make an effort to Bowdlerize it, or at least to display books that reasonable people would consider tasteful.

This one featured “The Red Tent,” which is one of the most insipid works of pornography I’ve ever read. All right, I didn’t read the whole thing, just as I didn’t read even half of “Sister Carrie” before bullshitting the rest of my high school book report and rereading “The Good Soldier Schweik” instead (“The, to Carrie, very important evening” was the last straw), but the appearance of a bestiality scene by page 30 was filth enough for my taste. Rarely have I come across such atrocious writing, although in “Sister Carrie” I sure did; I’d have thrown in the towel on “The Red Tent” a lot sooner had it not promised so much obscenity.

Why that shitty novel is so resonant with so many people is beyond me. It allegedly speaks to sisterhood and the female condition and so forth, and apparently a fair number of women are interested in getting back in touch with the old time menstrual cycle and the feminine wisdom derived therefrom. Whatever. I can certainly say that I’m not interested in getting back in touch with ancient Israelite family life; it sounds like a ready-made catfight for the ladies and an endless sausagefest for the gents. Speaking of sausage: the protagonist chick (don’t hit me up for names) married a dude with a giant schlong–excuse me, “sex.” As I said, this is exceptionally bad sex writing. It is to historical sex fiction what “Sister Carrie” is to literature about Chicago. I find Chicago fascinating, but I wouldn’t if the only things I knew of it came from a boor like Dreiser.

Luckily, the hotel also had some brilliant sex writing in one of its books about the Soviet Union. (It had well over a dozen.) Ca. 1980, the author, the chair of the Moscow bureau of a British newspaper, interviewed a Moscow sex therapist. The therapist had a patient who was only able to get aroused by beating his sex partner with a new dress belt. The only way it worked was to buy a new belt every time. His concern wasn’t that his fetish was embarrassing or disruptive to his sex or social life; it was just too damn expensive. The solution, of course, was for the therapist to work with him until he was able to get it up by reusing the same belt.

Now, that’s what I call beating one’s meat!

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