The frog of post-modern Britain is boiling to death
I think I’ve told the story about the ‘frog that boiled to death’ on this site before. On the first day he hopped into a pan of hot water and, feeling immediately uncomfortable, quickly jumped out. On the second day he hopped into the same pan of water a few minutes earlier when it was cold. As the water slowly heated up to boiling point, his frog skin heat sensors failed to recognise any quantifiable increase in temperature. He boiled to death.
The moral of the tale is that we, like the frog, can easily detect sweeping cultural changes but often not small, incremental cultural shifts. And as a consequence we are in danger of being boiled to death by our own society. We are not realising that, in our bid for personal freedom and social liberality, we are reaching a boiling point.
By ‘society’ I simply mean the aggregate of internal impulses and external forces at work as we engage with each other in groups, and our capacity to respond to them in a manner that evolves the consciousness. By ‘boiling point’ I mean the point at which our civilization will kill us off as functional human beings – long before global warming does. Morality is the foundation of any civilized society, and we risk everything when we play too loosely with time-honoured values.
So I was heartened to see yet another ‘Boiling Frog!’ cry this morning by Melanie Phillips:
So Minister, when did porn-users’ civil liberties trump the protection of children?
As any responsible parent knows, the internet has introduced a vile new hazard into
the upbringing of children.
It is inordinately difficult to keep an eye on just what they are accessing on the
net through the PC in a corner of their bedroom or the iPhone in their pocket.
And lurking but a few clicks of the mouse away are images and videos of hard-core
In a cross-party report published last week, MPs warned that a whole generation
of children was growing up with their minds affected by images of depravity from
which most adults would avert their gaze.
We’re not talking here about mere smut, but the most degraded and perverted sexual
acts that warped minds can devise.
The number of children freely accessing this material is horrifying. No fewer than
four out of five 16-year-olds regularly view pornography online, while one in three
ten-year-olds has similarly viewed images of this nature.
What a wholesale corruption of childhood has suddenly overtaken us – and with what
Yet the response of the companies making this filth available online has been astonishingly
irresponsible and even contemptuous.
The four biggest internet providers will this year give new customers the chance
to block obscene material from their computers when they sign up. Big deal!
Only one of these providers, TalkTalk, will offer new customers controls to block
pornography from all internet devices, including games consoles and laptops.
The three others – Sky, BT and Virgin Media – simply refuse to apply blocking filters
as a default setting for all devices.
In any event, the companies are only talking about new customers rather than existing
ones. And none of the firms is prepared to take the simple and logical step of demanding
that those who want pornography should opt in, rather than the rest of us opting
The industry claims that the call in the cross-party report for an automatic block
on internet pornography is unworkable.
Nonsense! It is not unworkable at all. What they actually mean is that it would
hit the profits they are raking in from this tawdry trade.
The firms’ professional body, the Internet Service Providers’ Association, even
had the gall to bleat about the threat to freedom of speech if pornography was filtered
out as a default setting.
Freedom to corrupt and deprave, more like.
In any civilised society, freedom comes with responsibility. By refusing properly
to police provision of this vile material, these companies are in effect making
themselves complicit in child sexual abuse.
Through this cynical stand, Sky, Virgin Media and BT should be regarded as nothing
less than online pornographers.
In any event, adults who want to view this stuff would not be deprived of the freedom
to do so. They would still be able to access it, but would merely have to opt in
to do so. Where on earth is the denial of freedom in that?
Rather than accept responsibility for the effects on children of what they are putting
on to the net, the providers are trying to shunt it all on to parents, claiming
that parental controls are more effective than any technical measures.
Well, it would indeed be preferable if parents didn’t allow their children to have
computers in the relative privacy of their bedrooms. More than 60 per cent of 11
to 16-year-olds have internet access in their own rooms, as do no fewer than 41
per cent of seven to ten-year-olds.
But with so many children with their own portable internet devices of one kind or
another, even that potential safeguard has now been over-ridden.
In addition, many parents have little if any idea quite what horrific images are
all too accessible on the net. And even those who want to stop their children from
downloading unsuitable material find it very difficult to monitor such access.
The use of protective filters in homes has actually fallen from 49 to 39 per cent
in the past three years. In their report last week, MPs concluded that parents often
felt outsmarted by their web-surfing children and did not feel confident in their
ability to download content filters.
In other words, parental controls cannot be expected to protect children from online
porn. Therefore, the Government has a positive duty to step in.
Yet its own response has been feeble in the extreme. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt
says merely that provision should be made for all internet users to opt out of receiving
What a cop-out. The current system is based on opt-outs, and this system is demonstrably
It can’t be said too often: the answer is not for people to opt out of receiving
such material but for those who want it to opt in.
The presumption should not be that online porn is acceptable unless anyone objects.
It should be considered utterly unacceptable, with those who wish to indulge such
tastes having to spend time signing up to the service.
Pornography warps and brutalises adult minds. The damage that it can do to immature
and still-developing children scarcely bears thinking about.
At the very least, such images will foster a distorted and degraded view of sexuality
and human nature. Indeed, there are fears that the current unlimited access to it
is leaving teenagers unable to foster and maintain normal relationships.
Child abuse experts have further warned that children can be desensitised by such
sexually explicit images, which leaves them vulnerable in turn to sexual abusers
who may arrange to meet them in person.
To add to such concerns, children are finding it hard to stop accessing such material
when they want to.
The inquiry cited figures showing that more than a quarter of young patients being
treated at a leading private health clinic were receiving help for their addiction
to online porn.
As Miranda Suit, the founder of the campaign group Safermedia, told the MPs’ inquiry:
‘This generation is going through an experiment. No one knows how they will survive
this unprecedented assault on their sexual development. They are guinea pigs for
the next generation.’
The Government says it is opposed to an opt-out on ‘civil liberties’ grounds. But
since when did the civil liberties of porn users trump the protection of children?
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is yet another instance where a powerful
lobby of commercial interests – internet service providers rake in an estimated
£3 billion a year — is able to wind ministers around its little finger in its attempt
to protect profits.
It is a sad fact that our society has become steadily ever more sexualised, brutalised
In a ratchet effect of perversion, what was once considered pornography is now deemed
fit for mainstream cinema or TV viewing, leading to ever more depraved images under
the supposedly frowned-upon heading of porn.
Once, all such images were confined to the newsagents’ top shelf or behind some
kind of pay-wall. Now, they are accessible to infants at the click of a mouse.
This has become nothing less than a public health risk. The appropriate government
response to such risks should not be to load the responsibility for dealing with
them on to the public. It is to take action itself to remove them and safeguard
the vulnerable, in the public interest.
The Culture Secretary’s response is thus wholly inadequate – a refusal to take effective
action to prevent the online abuse of children. Can this really be what is meant
by ‘compassionate Conservatism’?