Penn & Teller    PCC articles by Penn Jillette        Reprinted with permission.

Penn Jillette

23 million people are hooked up to the Net and 10 million were first on-line in the past year. (What are the odds of those two exact, neat, even 8 digit numbers showing up in one factoid? - it's amazing, like 1 in a million or something). That means between the time this column was due and the time my editor got it on her hot little disk, 27,397 humans went cyber - crimminy!. The barbarians have typed their way through the gates and they're throwing netiquette out the window. (How pompous can you afford to be after you've come up with ":)" and "Netiquette?")

Netiquette Schmetiquette - (you'll want to read that aloud - it's more fun than you might think) - if a news group can't ridicule neophytes into playing by the unwritten rules, it doesn't take much to delete-without-reading inappropriate dilettante flames. It wastes time and it's way irritating but it's better than running to Daddy. We can't afford to give the government another electronic inch.

We need as much peaceful anarchy as we can keep. We can suffer bores, but we mustn't tolerate cops limiting or invading what we send and receive on the Net. I'm all for the Thin Blue Line between us and murders, rapists, muggers and thieves, but we can't have the nosey, control-freak, bureaucrat "cops" walking that unconstitutional and immoral communications beat.

History shows that when only the elite have something, the government doesn't give a good goddamn. There's been pornography and dangerous politics floating around the uppercrust since there was crust, with next to no censorship. Why bother? Censorship was Gutenberg's toxic byproduct.

As soon as the press was up and running, fascist-wannabes were writing laws to control what was printed on it. The government didn't bother with unpleasant, nutty, fringe stuff when it was hand written. If I had to scribe out all 903,102 (what are the chances of that number being on a random back page? Almost 1 in a million!) copies of each PCC column by hand, I might not think it was worth writing "goddamn" over and over just to enjoy a handful of goofy, angry letters. I hate longhand - call me arrogant - but I think it wouldn't take me that long to invent an "Uma Thurman" stamp. (I would never think of moveable type though - never - I know my limitations). Gutenberg gave books to the masses and government is about messing with the masses.

The powers that be are usually pretty cool with fancy modern dancers hoping around nude but when men and women start dancing naked for the "No cover, no minimum, no buck knives, no colors" majority, the government is ready to protect us from what some of us are enjoying.

What I didn't realize before reading this great paper, "New Technology and the First Amendment - Breaking the Cycle of Repression" by Robert Corn-Revere, was that, as Robert says, "By adopting the First Amendment, the United States became the first nation to embrace the new technology as an essential component of its political system."

Our revolutionaries weren't just rebelling against the suppression that they had experienced, they were rejoicing in letting this new technology (maybe over 300 years old doesn't seem new to you, but this was before MTV - things went slower) be part of democracy. We must not get so excited about all the cool bells and whistles on our new technology that we forget that, at the end of the day, it's just communication and that's what our founding brain trust meant by "speech."

The Net is wild and free. It's a zillion personal and anonymous conversations going on all at once unfettered by time or space. Yup, it can be disgusting, unpleasant and just plain straight-ahead wrong, but that shouldn't be stopped. Justice Brandeis was right when he said the answer to "bad" speech is "more speech."

We lost the battle for freedom on radio, movies, TV, and cable - we can't afford to lose it on the Net just because it's no longer elite.