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The knowledge revolution and Conroy's 'Index'

By Greg Lees - posted Monday, 2 August 2010

Recently it was shown that the government has been getting ISPs to record their customers’ web surfing. Apparently this has been going on for a few months though the exact nature of the government directed “spying” has not been revealed. (See: "ISPs Spying On Australians: Government Document Heavily Censored".)

We can only speculate this is related to Senator Conroy's mission to filter the internet, which has little or nothing to do with child abuse and everything to do with political control.

All of Conroy's assertions about why he needs to filter the internet have been demolished by various critics. Yet he persists, and therefore it appears that Conroy is deaf to reason and wishes to blind the eye of the public, to fashion the internet according to his world view. Which is what?


Lacking all reason, a sensible explanation suggests he is continuing the Catholic tradition of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Papal blacklist of banned works that sprang up in the 16th century.

Included in the Index were banned scientific publications that challenged the medieval view of the world such as the writings of Johannes Kepler, and the work of Giordano Bruno who was later burned at the stake, as well as the perceived heretical writings of Martin Luther and other Protestants.

In later centuries the Index grew in size and covered more areas including atheism and also publications that were sexually explicit, until it was abandoned, but only in 1966.

I'd like to make a connection here with the present. The Index arose only about 50 years after the Gutenberg press heralded the explosion of knowledge, so enabled by the printed text. With printed books more commonly available, knowledge travelled and ideas flourished and the world changed forever.

Before this knowledge revolution, few could read or write in Europe. There were few books and the main one, the Bible, was central to the Church and set the moral tone of the culture and imbued the theocracy with a political power. It then was fitting that this was the first book Johannes Gutenberg printed. Few could have realised the proliferation of writing that was to follow.

We are now in a similar position to that revolution started by Gutenberg where the free flow of information around the globe, enabled by the internet, is as liberating and exciting as it was the first time. And like before, the orthodoxy and the governing elite feel threatened by it: for if knowledge is power, there arises the tendency to control that knowledge.


Today the internet poses a potential challenge to traditional government control of politically sensitive information because, first, it gives the powerless a wider range of material and, second, connects them via the network. While the internet has not brought down a government yet, it must be giving some strategists food for thought.

But why is Conroy so on edge about this? Censoring the internet places us in league with China, Iran and similar authoritarian regimes. Perhaps our political system is actually more authoritarian than our flag-laden Australia Day broadcasts would have us believe.

Perhaps he is just a religious zealot who wants a return of the Restoration and does not believe in separation of Church and State. For to hold the two separate would see the Australian Christian Lobby unwelcome in the halls of power.

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About the Author

Greg Lees was born in Bendigo and educated there, majoring in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. He is now retired and 'settled' in Melbourne for the last four years, after much travelling in this country and overseas.

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