(The article below was printed in The Towanda Daily Review on March 18, 1996. The material is copyrighted by The Review and appears with their permission. A special thanks to Danille Turissini for the opportunity to be interviewed, and for her ability to convey information to her readers in a much more organized fashion that what was presented to her. -- John L. Ferri.)
Man Behind Pen Doesn't Cower From Controversy.
by Danille Turissini
Special Projects Editor
TOWANDA -- Renowned for his frequent letters-to-the-editor debates, John Ferri, or "firstname.lastname@example.org," as he's known by his fellow "Net-surfers," has earned admiration by some for his expression of liberal thinking, while at the same time, has been the target of scrutiny by others for his same stance.
And while the controversy over the character of John Ferri, "the writer," remains open to his readers' interpretation, the "person" John Ferri is somewhat of a mystery.
Is he really a "devil's advocate," as many readers suggest because of his approach to the many issue-related debates he engages in? Is he really party to a "calculated conspiracy" set forth by "liberal conspirators" or is he really sincere in what he professes?
John Ferri, 48, originally from Old Forge, moved to Towanda in 1968, where he still lives with his wife of 27 years, Helen Rose. Together John and Helen[Rose] raised three children, John 27; Gina 25; and Juliet, 22.
John was raised in the Catholic faith and attended parochial school for five years, but sometime after graduating from high school, he relaxed in his church attendance. After he and Helen[Rose] married, he said he began attending church again, at Helen's prompting.
However, having a natural bent toward research, as evidenced by his studies in chemistry at Wilkes College, his interest in technical novels and his current employment as a computer-network administrator with a large, local industry, John began to question the teachings and philosophies of the "church."
He began to pursue other opinions and perspectives on contemporary society, and how it has been influenced.
Three years ago John came across an author, Peter McWilliams, and in particular McWilliams' book, entitled, "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," subtitled, "The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society," which he said had a profound influence in the perspective he holds today.
According to John, the primary philosophy of the book is, "You should be able to do with your person or property whatever you please, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of another," -- i.e. consensual crimes.
In the book John said McWilliams addresses the issue of censorship, using numerous quotes from Jesus Christ and other Biblical references, to express his views regarding the origins of consensual crimes.
John recalled that McWilliams' book prompted him, for the first time, to actually check the references made from the Bible.
"Even with the strength of conviction," John explained, "you can never know if you're right. The only way I can know if I am headed in the right direction is to research and confirm and find the facts."
John refers to this type of research as a "scientific method."
"Sometimes I'll even argue against myself to test my own position," he said.
"When someone asks me to make any decision, I like to research both sides," John added. "It's always possible to make a wrong decision."
Today John considers himself to be a cross between a "soft-atheist -- someone who says, 'There is no God, but if you prove there is a God I'll change my mind,' and a Deist -- " a person who believes in God and life after death, but who discounts the Bible as works of men."
He said he holds views similar to those expressed by Thomas Paine, American forefather and revolutionist who professed to believe in one God and eternal life, but who disbelieved in the "creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church," Paine said.
But even in light of what may seem to be a preoccupation with religion, John said he really only thinks about religion when someone brings it into an argument that he feels it doesn't apply to.
He noted the evolution discourse currently being debated in The Review's Letter's-to-the-Editor column.
He said he doesn't feel belief in evolution necessarily eliminates the existence of God. He said he gets the impression, from some Christians, that "If you don't believe (in Creation) that you're immoral."
John asked, "Did dishonesty become wrong when the Ten Commandments were written, or was it wrong before then? If God would have said, 'Thou shalt be dishonest,' would dishonesty have become morally right?" He pointed out that there are many people who practice moral behavior without the influence or religion or the church.
First Amendment issues are very important to John as well.
He said he takes an interest when something starts to attack the First Amendment -- guaranteeing freedom of religion, speech, of the press and the right of petition.
For instance, last year The Scranton Times featured John as a guest columnist, publishing his response to an article by Joseph X. Flannery titled, "Times Were More Pleasant When Society Policed Itself."
Flannery's column alleged that today's society is characterized by "rampant crime which has crept into every nook and cranny of our country," compared to "the good old days," when Flannery said the only problems "usually involved a family squabble."
In his column Flannery blames television and movies for their sex, violence, language and generally non-moral content as a key contributor to contemporary problems.
In his response John wrote that he agrees with censorship as long as he gets to be the censor. He added that "no rational person would consent to that" -- beginning what he referred to as the classic argument about where censorship starts.
John asked, "Who decides what gets censored? The only reasonable answer," he said, "is that parents decide for their minor children and adults decide for themselves."
John continued, "I want no one except myself making decisions about what I can see or read," adding, "As Flannery almost correctly asserts, things would be more pleasant if we were allowed to police ourselves."
John, being a devoted Internet user, gets questioned a lot about some of the content on the Net. He said family, friends and acquaintances frown upon the accessibility of pornography and other types of resources, supposedly available through the service. He said they lean toward censorship based on the outcome of certain government studies.
According to John, a recent study conducted by Playboy concluded that the information used for the governmental studies was derived from "Usenet" groups, who represent only 11.5 percent of Internet users. John said that when all was said and done the pornographic content on the Internet represented only .35 percent of all Internet traffic.
He agrees with the magazines conclusion, "If you look for smut, you'll find it."
Along the same vein, John also holds strong convictions about the "drug war" and where he feels the solution lies.
"A number of letters (to-the-editor) have been directed toward the war on drugs," he said, "I am opposed to the war because I don't feel the issue is a legal problem."
John explains, "If a person is addicted to some elicit substance and can't publicly appeal for help because of fear of being arrested they won't pursue the treatment for fear of repercussions."
John feels that decriminalization and taxing drugs would immediately take the crime element out of the drug problem, leaving illegal drug traffickers with no immediate profit, thereby lowering the need for organized crime.
He added that legalizing certain drugs would be beneficial because their use in medicine would be more widely accepted -- he noted marijuana, which has been used successfully as a muscle relaxant, hypnotic and analgesic.
John's views on the drug war were recently referenced in an article published by Parade magazine in which readers were asked to respond to an appeal by Carroll O'Connor to find solutions to the current drug problem. O'Connor's son recently committed suicide as a result of illegal drugs.
Because of John's open-mindedness, many of his positions have been formulated by outside influences; however, his opinions are his own. When he takes a stance, it's his.
"I've never been a joiner," John said in describing himself.
He said he's an "individual" and doesn't need a "club" to motivate him. He said he isn't opposed to organized clubs, he just feels that self-directed activities can be more effective in bypassing bureaucracy, allowing more of the effort to go to the need or person.
He has joined some teams. He plays volleyball in the Towanda City League. Other hobbies include bike riding and reading. His Internet, at home, he uses like a library for it includes collections of uncensored reading material.
Regarding "reader" speculation about his relationship with other regular contributors to The Review's Letters-to-the-editor column -- Jeff Gonzalez and Clark Moeller -- John said he's never even met Moeller, and although Gonzalez and he are friends, he said they don't plan their responses.
"Well, one time Jeff did," he offered. "When I wrote the letter about Santa Claus, Jeff advised me not to do it." John said he should have listened.
On a more serious note, he added, "We may look at each other's letters and comment after they're printed, but there is no coordinated effort."
John maintains that he is a open-minded individual and can agree to disagree without harboring any condemnation.
He reported that even [Helen]Rose disagrees with him as often as she agrees with him.
Sometimes he said they even disagree on what type of wallpaper to have in their bedroom.
He recalled, "[Helen]Rose wanted to change the sports wallpaper that was in our bedroom when we moved into our house," but he explained that because he went from living with his parents, who decorated his room, to his wife, who also wanted to decorate, this time he wanted to decorate his room.
John won the wallpaper debate. The football wallpaper still adorns the couples' room.
Looking at the pigskin paper, he's got a number of things to recall. The happiest memory, he notes, is the birth of his children. On the other hand, the death of his mother was the saddest moment in his life. She was the first close person in his life to have died.
They might not agree on what type of covering should be pasted around them, but when asked about the most notable experience in his life, John notes marrying Helen Rose was just that.
"Sometimes," John said, "I come across sarcastic. Maybe I am," he concedes. "I'll try to change. I have an open mind. If it's proven that my argument is illogical, then I'm willing to change my mind.
"So far," he added, "I haven't been influenced."