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“Suppose you were fond of books”

This week’s assignment was based on the regulation lens in the Circuit of Culture. The task included finding a Usenet Newsgroup conversation and discussing how members restricted other members’ speech in early chatrooms. In order to optimize what I could learn about regulations in past discussion groups I chose to look at one of the more controversial topics in recent history, gun control. The specific newsgroup I looked at, Alt.ultra-conservatives.crazies-with-guns, was a pro-gun group and therefore opposed gun control laws. One concept that piqued my interest early on in my newsgroup search was how people who are fully against regulating guns go about regulating a newsgroup. This concept inevitably became another reason I chose the group because I wanted to understand whether or not being anti-regulation in one area would correspond to being anti-regulation in other areas. 

I started by looking at the name of the newsgroup and how this would regulate the people using the chat room before even looking at the actual discussions. The title, “ultra-conservatives.crazies-with-guns,” is an interesting form of regulation in itself. The first impression you get from the title is a newsgroup that makes fun of what they consider overly exuberant gun-loving Republicans. After analyzing the title a little longer, you realize it could also be a pro-gun room that created the title with the intention of making light of how liberals view their stance on the subject. So what does this do? The extremity of the title immediately regulates the room by restricting a large portion of neutral newsgroup readers looking for an interesting by not overly passionate discussion. This leaves a much smaller group of people who either want a fiery read or are deeply moved by either side of the debate. The title is also important because it almost acts as a hook. What I mean by this is if you are someone who finds the gun control debate interesting, the title “ultra-conservatives.crazies-with-guns” would immediately draw your attention because of all the buzzwords. Ultimately, the title sets strict boundaries for what’s likely to be discussed inside the newsgroup. This includes anything that is pertinent to the gun control conversation. 

Diving into the topic of direct self-regulation for the group is a bit more tricky as there isn’t a specific set of rules that define what’s okay and what’s not okay. This extends further, due to the fact that during my research I couldn’t find a single discussion where someone was directly regulating the conversation in any way. The closest thing I found was someone calling another person’s beliefs stupid or moronic. This left me the ability to choose a discussion purely out of interest for the topic and so I landed on “Suppose you were fond of books”. This discussion is based on a short essay from Neil L. Smith titled “Suppose you were fond of books”. The essay uses an extended analogy to compare the regulation of guns to the regulation of books. There are a number of interesting points but also a number of places where it’s not hard to find errors in the reasoning. This makes the discussion extremely interesting and somewhat childish at times.  The first responder in the thread argues against the essay’s point that books can influence people to kill other people by stating that when someone reads a book and decides they want to kill another person they need a gun to do so. Therefore taking away guns would greatly reduce books’ ability to influence murder. The next responder argues the difference between the violence potential of guns and books by comparing a paper cut to a hole in the head and describes the ideas discussed in the essay as moronic. The next responder simply states books promote ideas and that ideas are powerful. The last responder I’m gonna discuss absolutely explodes on anti-libertarian ideas. This is seen in the below picture.

So what’s the point of all these responses and how do they relate to regulations and the circuit of culture? As you can see no one is really regulating inside this specific discussion and this is the same for the rest of the chatroom. For this reason, I believe the actual regulation inside this chat room is in itself not regulating others. This is definitely a weird concept but in context makes sense. First off this newsgroup was created with the intention of creating discourse. The topic is extremely polarizing and debate is inevitable. One might even consider debate a central component of such a chat room. If one of the chatroom’s major goals is debate and by regulating comments you would be decreasing debate, then the anti-regulation stance makes sense. Secondly, the group is made up primarily of people who consider themself libertarians. This term is defined as, a person who advocates civil liberty or simply opposes government intervention. If such a group of people were to regulate a chat room it would completely go against one of their core beliefs since regulating a chatroom isn’t far off from the government regulating free speech. There is another aspect of chat rooms and this is the unwanted advertisements often including porno. The group regulates these and other irrelevant messages by simply ignoring them. The chat room users fully embody the motto if you don’t like it ignore it. The overall success of their anti-regulation policy seems to work extremely well in the specific newsgroup. Would this policy work everywhere? I doubt it due to most newsgroups being made up of a more neutral audience. However in this case, where fiery passion rains supreme, and the more extreme the statement the better, regulation doesn’t seem necessary.

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