We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Pornography: society, law and reality

Many of the e-mails I got as a result of my last remarks about pornography raise the same points, some politely and some very rudely. As all the objections came from conservatives, I will address them. One of these objections to pornography is that it is ‘harmful to family life’ or ‘is responsible for causing divorces’. I in turn have several objections to this approach.

Firstly it is impossible to know if that is true with any certainty. Regardless of anecdotal evidence that I am sure I can match to the contrary, the truth is relationships break up for many and varied reasons. I very much doubt pornography is the actual source of those sort of problems. They are just pictures for goodness sake and to blame such things is usually going to be a gross simplification.

Secondly, even if it were true, so what? Whilst socialists might not have a problem with the idea of the state interposing itself between the most personal of relationships, is that really what conservatives want? If the state can restrict what a person reads or watches on their video player because it might damage the institution of marriage, then I would suggest banning all televised football, both American and Soccer, as that has probably caused more marital tension than 1000 copies of Playboy. And if you accept the principle that the state has a role in family matters, why stop there? I hope it is clear where this leads. It is not a slippery slope, it is a cliff.

Not all the letters to me were advocating legal suppression of pornography however. Many just wanted to discourage it socially and in that I have no problem. I personally would tend to ignore those sort of pressures but that does not mean I regard the social norm I may be ignoring as being an inherently bad thing. One person said that ‘no one would read a Playboy in public and that was a good thing’. Well maybe not where he comes from but that is not the case everywhere, even within a single country. In America I have only ever been to New York City yet I suspect what is fine socially in some parts of New York might not be fine in Utah. But in truth I do not think that social customs are a bad thing as most enduring customs have an objective, even if fuzzy, basis for their existence. I will touch again on that point at the end of my article.

Another point made by several people was that pornography leads to sexual violence, by which I assume they all mean the non-consensual kind. Once more I think that this is a simplification. I think that people who rape have what we all have, a sex drive, but lack any objective moral capacity and empathy. They do not really require a motivation beyond the physical urge, just an opportunity. On that basis it occurs to me pornography, particularly violent pornography might actually be a useful outlet rather than a cause, though that is just a logical supposition on my part. I have seen what large numbers of people do when a state has partially or completely collapsed and taken the values of a state centred society down with it. When that happens young men kill helpless civilians and they rape even more of them. It does not require pornography to make that possible but rather a collectivised view of the world and a subjective sense of morality. Nothing more and nothing less is required.

Even the few with latent sexually violent urges who might be somehow triggered by violent pornographic images do not provide any justification for banning these things however. Look at a bottle of vodka: most people can drink from it, enjoy the drink and then get on with their lives. Yet a few will drink it and then start a fight or drive a car and kill someone or rape a woman afterwards while drunk. Would you therefore ban all alcohol?

If you would ban violent images, quite apart from the impossibility of doing so in the Internet era, where do you draw the line? How about pictures that are just suggestive of sexual violence? Well you can find those even in women’s magazines occasionally. For example there was a photo shoot of lovely Dutch model Karen Mulder in the French edition of Glamour that was clearly playing on sexually threatening and potentially violent themes. But guess what? I think those are quite exciting pictures. That does not mean I personally want to be chased for real through the Paris Metro but the pictures ‘work’ for me with their frisson of sexual danger.

My whole point here is that I think when people worry about pornography, they are worrying about the wrong things. Pornography is just an expression of what goes on in people’s heads and the vast majority of people who look at it are no more harmed by it than by a glass of red wine. War movies do not cause wars either. The things that cause violence against women and relationships to break up are complex and inter-relative. Social pressures to not do things are just fine by me. I like the idea that attacking me when I am walking down the street is frowned on by society.

But when we start involving the state, rather than society and reason, then we enter a realm of downward spiralling consequences. If the only reason a man does not attack and rape me is that he fears the state and its laws, then if he encounters me alone in a remote place, what is to stop him now? So I think that societies which encourage reason in people rather than just fear of the law, are surely going to be safer. To try and legislate away all the possible influences that cause perceived ills is not only going to fail, soon we are back heading in the direction all state-centered orders eventually end up going, which is the replacement of society itself by the state. Trust me when I tell you that does not turn out to be the better route to a safer society. It is in fact the end of society all together.

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