Monday, October 13, 2008

Return of the Censor Slayer

In The Prolefeed Menace, I argued that, when it comes to dealing with the kink haters who oppose our lifestyle and demonise what we do, we have to go on the offensive. It's all very well to back-slap each other here in the spanking community, and it has its uses - honing our pro-kink arguments, offering moral support, showing like-minded individuals that they are not alone. But what we really need to do is add our voices out there, in the wider public discussion. That's where the real struggle is taking place, not here in the safety of our ghetto.

Besides, who doesn't love a good flame war once in a while? As Heraclitus was fond of saying: "War is the father of all things." Not the mother, mind you - women are usually too smart for this kind of macho crap. But seriously, the quote shouldn't be read as an endorsement of mindless jingoism. What he is saying is basically that conflict and crisis are the motors of change, and I agree with that. Whether it needs to be violent is another question. In any case, bring your fireproof jackets as a precaution - anti-BDSM crusaders tend to get angry when they are confronted with reasoned arguments.

Their own arguments, it must be said, are usually less than stellar. They are mostly based on unwarranted claims and subjective preferences rather than empirical facts or logic, with a healthy dose of "the end of civilisation" hysteria thrown in. Ironically, the individual freedom they seek to restrict is the main foundation of Western civilisation and its successes, but hey - a proper zealot is not deterred by (nor usually aware of) self-contradiction.

Here are some points from the recent "violent pornography" debate. For the record, these are not strawmen arguments I'm inventing to easily tear them down. They were all actually put forward by the pro-censorship crowd - I've seen it with my own eyes. Of course, none of this is new, and neither are my rebuttals. I just wrote this (and the companion piece) as a personal take on the issue - not because I think it's a stunning new insight or something you haven't heard before.

"Violent porn encourages violent behaviour" - This is the central claim of the censorship supporters, so I have already addressed it in great detail.

"Children must be protected from seeing violent porn" - I agree, they should be protected. What I object to is the notion that it is primarily the job of the state to do so. Not only is the idea that you can just legislate a perfectly safe and child-friendly environment into existence utopian, it is also dangerous, because it discourages individual responsibility. First and foremost, protection lies within the responsibility of the parents. There are various laws and tools already in place to help them with this - age verification systems, adult content blockers, cybernanny software, and so on. Ultimately, as any expert on the protection of minors will tell you, personal supervision and education work best.

But there is no case for banning things outright simply because they are (or perhaps might be) inappropriate for children. Such censorship would restrict the freedom of every adult and of society in general. Bluntly speaking, why should my freedom be limited on the grounds that some parents are too incompetent or too lazy to keep an eye on what their kids are watching? If you let your children surf the internet unattended for seven hours per day, you have no one but yourself to blame. It is not the state's job to take over your parental duties.

"People must be protected from seeing violent porn" - It's hard to see why. We have already debunked the claim that violent porn encourages violent behaviour. So the argument seems to boil down to the notion that people should be protected from inadvertently seeing material that they might find offensive.

Needless to say, this is a ridiculously weak rationale for introducing sweeping laws that restrict the freedom of everyone. If you ban everything that someone, somewhere might find offensive, you won't have any media left before too long. Subjective tastes vary considerably and are no basis for legislation. Why should my freedom of viewing the images I like be taken away because someone else dislikes them? Does their subjective taste matter more than mine?

As well as that, the chance of inadvertent exposure to "violent porn" is extremely slim. Compared to mainstream pornography or mainstream horror films, violent pornography is a niche product. You have to actively look for it - so the only people who really risk exposure are the ones who presumably want to see it. And even if you do stumble across such a website by accident, what do you think all the disclaimers and adult content warnings are for? No, the only protection I need is from patronising nanny-state supporters who want to tell me what sort of material I should and should not see...

"Most people find violent porn repulsive" - This is a variation of the above argument with an emphasis on numbers. "But most people are offended by this filth! No one likes it except for a handful of perverts!"

For one thing, this isn't true. In fact, I don't see all that many people who have a huge problem with violent porn. The ones who do are the usual suspects - over-zealous moral guardians, religious conservatives, radical anti-porn feminists. It goes without saying that they hate all other forms of porn and kink, too - even the "tamer" ones. On the other hand, it would seem that most people just aren't interested in violent porn one way or another. They don't watch it, they may find it weird and unerotic, but they are not bothered or alarmed by its existence, either. They simply don't care.

But let's grant the proposition that "most people" would, if you confronted them with it, find violent porn repulsive. Actually, I consider some of it to be rather icky myself. But why shouldn't it exist? No one forces me to watch it. More importantly, why should the subjective preferences of many be more valid than the subjective preferences of a few? What it comes down to is a matter of taste, nothing more. A free and fair society does not discriminate against people on the grounds of taste (the fallacy of the pro-censorship argument is that it equates "distasteful" with "morally wrong").

"Violent porn is degrading" - It is hard to see how the acts of consenting adults, who engage in them for fun, self-exploration and to live out fantasies, could possibly be degrading. Not to mention that "degrading" is a very vague term, especially in a legal context. Maybe people who are not into it themselves do find the material degrading. But then, we are talking about subjective taste again, which is not only insufficient for censorship, but also poses the question: why should their taste matter more than the preferences of the kinky people who willingly engage in these acts?

"Violent porn is degrading against women" - The usual addendum to the above argument, seeking to embellish the prejudices of the anti-kink movement with the noble cause of feminism. Of course, it inherits all the aforementioned problems. When it is hard to see how violent porn could be degrading against anyone, it is even harder to see how it could be degrading to women in particular. Are women more easily degraded? Are they weaker and more vulnerable than men, do they need special protection, like children? If there is any chauvinism here, it is not inherent in the kinky practices being targetted by the argument, but in these patronising implications.

The only degradation of women that I can see in relation to violent porn is this presumptuous and condescending arrogance of the anti-kink movement, telling women how they should and should not explore their sexual desires, and what desires they ought to have in the first place.

"Violent porn portrays dangerous acts" - Believe it or not, I have actually heard this argument, too. So now, the good censors are concerned about our health. The implication here is the old canard that viewing automatically encourages imitation - another nanny-state theory that failed. Sure, people (presumably vanillas who accidentally watch a violent porn clip) will all think: "This is great stuff! Let's do a mock hanging!"

Back on planet Earth, the vast majority of the kinky people I know frequently and repeatedly emphasise the guidelines of safe, sane and consensual. Of course, there are some cases of irresponsible BDSM play resulting in death or permanent harm. However, they are much fewer in number than deaths or serious injuries in boxing, bungee jumping, skiing, mountain climbing, hunting or motor racing - activities that are seen as perfectly normal and unobjectionable.


Anonymous said...

A nice debunking of the reasons to censor. Logic and the love of freedom are not in their favor.

Irelynn said...

And now if only we could get a newspaper to print this. Mind you, they'd turn it into a "look at what the weirdo's are saying" thing anyway, but don't you think it would open many people's eyes if they read something like this?

The problem is, people don't wake up one day and decide, "hey, let's go out today and find out why people are against all this censoring business!" And most newspapers would be afraid to print something like this I think, precisely because it goes against 'public opinion' in general. It's a shame really!

Great post, Ludwig.

PaulH666 said...

You said "mind you - women are usually too smart for this kind of macho crap."

Look at the women who have come to power Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi,Benazir Bhutto and Queen Lili'uokalani: and wives with ultimat power: Imelda Marcos, Evita Perón, Jiang Qing and Soong Mei-ling.

Whenever a woman is in power, they are usually very warlike and fascists. ...

Ludwig said...

Irelynn: You say that newspapers would be afraid to print this because it goes against public opinion. The implication is that the papers are a mirror of "what the people think". Which is one possible take on the situation.

I think there is an alternative theory worth considering - that, for the most part, things work the other way around. The major, influential papers (and other media) present a certain point of view, and even though many people privately hold different views, they are afraid to speak out because it goes against the overpowering sentiment of "public opinion" (as presented and dictated by the media).

The "extreme pornography" legislation is a classic example. I think that a fairly large number of people "in the know" (MP's, lawyers etc.) are well aware of its weaknesses. They know that it is very vague and ill-conceived, that it won't reduce crime in any way, that all it will probably achieve is criminalise harmless, innocent people.

However, they go along with the proposed legislation because they are afraid of the media backlash. They know that, if you speak out against the "extreme pornography" legislation, the tabloid press will portray you as a would-be rapist and tear you to shreds. Politicians dependent on votes can not afford that kind of controversy.

So the most damning statements we have on record against the legislation amount to a cautious "Yes, but..." at the very best. Not the thorough repudiation and ridicule it deserves. It's a textbook example of the government (and the parliament) giving in to a moral panic created by the yellow press.

That is my take on it, like I wrote in the original post: the majority of people doesn't actually have a problem with "extreme porn" and doesn't consider it dangerous. It's fairly obvious when you look at the gist of what is being written on various forums and comments sections (not just the kinky ones!).

The ones behind this legislation are small, but "loud" groups of self-appointed moral guardians, the "usual suspects". And of course the tabloid hacks, who thrive on that kind of fear and hysteria.

PaulH666: Yes, that is why I qualified my statement. "Women are *usually* too smart for this kind of macho crap." Actually, the whole sentence is firmly tongue in cheek. I was waiting for the first person to pick it up.

Of course, there have been female tyrants, and the fact that they are fewer in number than male ones doesn't mean that women are better human beings, it's simply a reflection of the fact that there are fewer women in power in the first place.

I stand by the following interpretation of my statement, though: when women eliminate their enemies, they usually (!) do it without the chest-beating, posturing and other macho crap that men love to indulge in. Again, there are exceptions, but I think women tend to be a bit more pragmatic, goal-oriented and stealthy overall.

(The interesting question is, is this because of "inborn" female character traits, or simply because women have to use different tactics to succeed in a male-dominated environment (politics, big business etc.) than men do? Probably a bit of both, inborn and environmental. I think it will change as these environments become more gender-equal.)

As you know, I'm all for a fully equal society, and it will be intriguing to see if and how our politics change as more women come into positions of power. The world probably won't become a saner place after all. But in any case, it can hardly get more volatile than it has been under (mostly) male guidance for thousands of years...

In addition to the women you listed, I think Elena Ceausescu deserves a (dis-) honourable mention. According to a lot of sources, she was just as ruthless as her husband, if not worse.

John said...

Excellent post, and further interesting comment on the press issue. I believe in Britain politicians now find it almost impossible to speak against the "Daily Mail'" concept of morality at least in what we might call social issues. We see a similar phenomenon in US politics although the absence of a national press means this function is more the province of Fox TV or talk radio...

This attitude makes us vulnerable in a way which at the moment seems hard to resist. But intelligent debate provides information which cannot but be useful. Thanks for providing for this.

Oh, and as to flame wars, another of your heroes put it well:

"denn wo kühn Kräfte sich regen,
da rat' ich offen zum Krieg."