Up Front by Emma Hart


The Up Front Guide – How to Make a Stupid Law

Recent events consuming the Kiwi blogosphere may have got you thinking, as I have been, 'how could I go about making a really shit piece of legislation?'. Now, I have no expertise in copyright law, and there are plenty of other people discussing how this particular stupid law came into being. What I have done, however, is note some trends in the development of stupid law internationally, and I think I know how to go about it now. You don't have to understand law: in fact, it's better if you don't.

Your first step to creating a piece of gob-smacking shite is to get yourself an ideology. This will immediately do away with all the trickiness of moral grey areas, indecisiveness and the concept of there being two (or more) sides to an issue. Things are so much simpler when there's only Right and Wrong and you know you're Right.

Next, look around for a Moral Panic. There are usually a couple of these lying about, and while their targets change through the ages, they're basically all the same at heart. It's gangs or taggers or satanic ritual child abuse in day-care centres or paedophiles behind every website. The important thing here is to be discriminating. You need to get your timing right. Each individual moral panic won't be around for long, so you need to get one that's about to crest. You could try to generate your own, but this could be hard work. If you're okay with hard work you may as well think, in which case this column probably isn't for you.

If you can personalise your moral panic by attaching it to a recent crime, that's fabulous. The relative of a victim (always so much better copy than actual victims) will give you a crumpled emotionally-vulnerable face people will find it hard to argue with. It's pretty safe to say that Britain's Extreme Pornography law wouldn’t have happened without the murder of Jane Longhurst by Graham Coutts, and the efforts of Jane's mother to find someone other than Graham to blame.

Your moral panic should come ready-equipped with a target scapegoat. It'd be especially peachy-keen if this target group is a small minority used to keeping its head down: disorganised, and not very articulate. If you've got your moral panic picked right, it may also be too embarrassing for people to speak up against you in public – who wants to say they're big fans of violent porn?

So if you've got your ideology and your moral panic well chosen, you should be not just argument-proof, but proof-proof as well. So boot camps don't work. So filtering doesn’t stop paedophiles accessing child pornography. So increased access to pornography correlates with decreased violence against women. So Graham Coutts was practising erotic asphyxiation for five years before he started accessing internet pornography. So what? Jane's mother is crying. Something Must Be Done. You don't support murderous pornography do you? Do you? We can slaughter women for sexual gratification now, is that what you're saying? Result: a 50 000 signature petition calling for the banning of "extreme internet sites promoting violence against women in the name of sexual gratification" even though that's completely impossible. (Note that it's apparently still okay to bash men if that's what gets your rocks off. For moral panic purposes, women are children.)

Basically, you now have a free licence to counter reasonable practical objections with emotional screeching. It appears to be impossible to overplay this. Try to insinuate that your opponents are paedophiles as much as possible. Also, accuse them of hysterical over-reaction. That's fun. For extra bonus points, imply that the hysterical over-reaction is faked for political benefit. You know, like yours. Except they can't say that to you, because Jane's mother is crying!

Once you've garnered your media attention and got a few "OMG I need to stand for something" pollies on board, your next step is consultation. Avoid it at all costs. So if you’re proposing a law that affects prostitution, the last people you want talking about it are prostitutes. They might say inconvenient things like 'this law is dangerous and impractical and will get people killed'. They're victims: they're for talking about, not to.

Once the legislative process starts and people can see fine detail in your stupid law (i.e. there isn’t any, just a bunch of very vague terms open to interpretation), you will start getting more questions about specifics. This is the point at which you start reassuring people that, in practice, everything will be just fine. Say something like "We will keep a close eye on how the new law works in practice. We are prepared to look at further changes if they prove necessary. There, there. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. We'll clean up the mess after we make it, not before."

And bingo, Bob's your uncle and he won't be downloading any porn, violating any copyright, wearing any gang insignias or looking sideways at any children, just in case. If you've done your job properly, your new law should be so incoherent and scary that nobody can tell if they’re breaking it anyway.

Next on Up Front Guide: how to destroy a thriving internet community. Stay tuned.

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