Tuesday, July 3, 2007

French families

An association named Familles de France [Families of France] and a group of family associations in the rural département of Ardèche [not far from where I live] recently used the law court in Paris in an attempt to gag the US Internet website called Second Life. More precisely, they wanted the editor of this famous website, named Linden Research, to introduce some kind of filtering device (?) that would prevent the under-age youth of France from viewing stuff they described as "pornographic, scatological and zoophilic". They also declared that the website contained publicity for tobacco, liquor and drugs.

In France, there's a time-honored profession of huissier. Such individuals—who might be designated in old-fashioned English as bailiffs or sheriff's officers—perform legal tasks such as notifying people who are pursued by the law, and making official circumstantial recordings of various situations, to be used as evidence in future legal affairs. Well, the above-mentioned associations hired such a huissier to produce evidence backing up their charges against Second Life. Intrigued by this task, I'm trying to imagine how a little bespectacled and balding man in a gray suit [that's how I imagine a huissier: much like myself when I'm dressed up for mass of a Sunday morning] would go about the challenge of demonstrating that Second Life displays stuff that's pornographic, scatological and zoophilic. Obviously, he would need to be an expert in the art of screen captures. But how would he then go on to prove that the captured screen shots had been corrupting the moral fiber of French youth? That challenge reminds me of one of the greatest texts of all time, Plato's Apology of Socrates.

Half a century ago, I had the privilege of studying this momentous text under the great Scottish-born professor of philosophy John Anderson at the University of Sydney. Socrates had been accused of corrupting the youth of Athens [in much the same way that Anderson himself would be accused, two millennia later on, of corrupting the youth of Sydney... like me in 1957]. Today, I look back with nostalgia to my sitting in that Sydney lecture theater [whose walls were adorned with classical frescos] and listening to the aging professor talking about Socrates and his alleged crimes. During that year, the boy named Billy from South Grafton became an adult... and a philosopher.

Let's get back to Second Life. A wise French judge threw out the whole affair, and demanded that the plaintiffs foot the legal bill. Will this judgment discourage other antiquated French moralists from trying to attack the Internet? Surely, as they say in French... at roughly the same time that hens start to be born with teeth.

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