PORNOGRAPHY AND ETHICS
Free speech or Civil rights
A Position Paper
Prof. Michael Haliprin
William Paterson University
Pornography is another one of those issues that borderline between free speech and sensibility. It has been defended by free speech activist as a mater of free speech. However, where does one draw the line between free speech and bad taste? What do we mean by free speech, bad taste, sensibility, decency, and degrading? Some have argued that womens civil rights are violated by pornography while others have cried censorship. Here well examine some of the arguments for and against pornography.
FIRST POSITION: Reno Vs. ACLU.
The Supreme Court ruled that the communications decency act as unconstitutional for regulating and providing criminal penalties for the transmission of obscene or indecent information on the internet. The Court decided that the act abridged the freedom of the speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. "The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship." (Bonevac, 1999. P. 240)
SECOND POSITION: an attack on civil rights of women.
Catharine MacKinnon argues that pornography violates womens civil rights. She states that pornography constructs what a women is in terms of its view of what men want She maintains that pornography is harmful to women. That harm might not be noticeable because "pornography succeeds in constructing social reality it becomes invisible as harm." She contends that obscenity laws never considered pornography a womens issue. She argues that obscenity is a moral idea whereas pornography is a political practice of power and powerlessness. Whereas obscenity is abstract, pornography is concrete and substantive. Pornography, she contends, defines the treatment and status of half the population.
THIRD POSITION: Commissions findings:
Here the commission examines the issue of harm. They argue for the governmental control of pornography that involves violence. The commission found "that the available evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials bears a causal relationship to antisocial acts of sexual violence and, for some groups possibly unlawful acts of sexual violence." The commission also found that this exposure leads to the propagation of the "rape myth" that women enjoy being coerced into sexual activity. They are harmful not only to the viewer but also to those that they come into contact with. The commission did find other forms of pornography less harmful and therefore warrants no governmental control.
Fourth POSITION: Feminist defense of Pornography.
Wendy McElroy takes a firm position against the opinions of fellow feminist MacKinnon. She believes that women who produce and consume pornography are exercising their freedom. She chastises MacKinnon and other "gender" feminist who work with the conservatives to enact legislation to censor pornography. Her reading of the law reduces women to children "who can not be legally held responsible for their actions because they are psychologically impaired by cultural influence". She maintains that "[t]o deprive women of the right to make their own contracts is to place them, once again outside the constitution "
She argues that censorship of pornography means effective censorship of women. Whereas Nadine Strossen finds that pornography does not harm women, on the contrary it helps them. She contends that according to censorship we would have to censor many pieces of literature including the Bible. She argues that censorship would do little to reduce peoples exposure to sexist, violent imagery, both because censorship is ineffective and because the mainstream media brims with such images. She argues that pornography has no effect on the viewer, her response to those who claim otherwise by listing numerous examples of classical literature and film that were used as a reason to why some criminals committed their ghastly crimes.
Those who fear censorship of pornography conjure up the slippery slope argument that if we give in to this we will have to lose our other freedoms. They also argue that if you drive this underground by making pornography illegal you will get a scenario similar to that of the prohibition period in American history. Some of the feminist mentioned above admitted that they have no moral issue with porn. To them they did not mind seeing women abused some seemed to enjoy it. However, the issue here is what to do with such a creature as the porn industry.
Now porn is available on the Internet and on every conceivable type of media that humans can conjure up. Is our cultural so entangled with the sex- and its various of forms of permutation- that we can never be free of its web? Should our society to save itself from itself outlaw the hardcore porn and stay with the soft? Should we leave the issue as is? Should we turn our society into a puritan society and be rid of all reference to sex?
The liberals from a hedonistic utilitarian point view that censorship harms our way of life. Further to them, the harm is not really that clear and well defined based on scientific research. Some even see a benefit and cite that some couples have revitalized their marriage by using porn videotapes as learning material.
The conservatives contend from a deontological point of view that we have a duty to protect our women from this evil. Further degrading the women and using them only as sexual objects to be controlled is a violation of the civil rights of women. This can not bode well for our society to be so obsessed with sex. It hurts our humanity and we sink deeper into baser values and forget about the important things in life that really count. The gender feminist has conjured up Mills harm principal that this porn industry does women grave harms and is a violation of their civil right.
To say that pornography has no effect on the viewers and on society at large is a blatant ignorance of the facts on the ground. How can someone say that these images have no effect much less a positive effect is beyond belief. A mere showing of these images does have an effect on the viewer for evidence of this why do you think television advertising is so successful. Advertising industry knows that sex sells products. Advertisers sell many products by using suggestive sexual overtones. The porn industry claims that if there was not a market for it we would not be in it. These charges are misleading, they know that they play on a human weakness. They play on and cultivate the darkest most carnal fantasies through the visual imagery that they use.
To use a slippery slope argument that if we let the porn industry go free without any control it will get farther and farther into pure hednoistic sadism. The abuse of children and minors in sadist masochist acts will make the Marqis de Sade seem soft porn. Where do we draw the line? Do we need to? If we are to have freedom, are we to have absolute freedom or do we need to invoke the harm principal? But, as we have seen that the application of the harm principal seems to have assailants who contend that there is no harm. The woman on the screen is screaming with agony and the viewer is lead to believe that they are the screams of pleasure.
McElroy contends that yes means yes and when a women contracts an agreement her yes means yes not as MacKinnon states that women were deluded and forced into these agreements and therefore are null and void. To use her line of argument, harm means harm, a scream of pain is a scream of pain, sadistic torture is painful, when we visually see women are degraded it means degradation for women. It can only mean good by stretch of the imagination and brain washing. The women who are depicted on the screen are the daughters, sisters and at times of mother of someone. Do we wish this on our kin? We are talking about human beings and not animals in heat engaging in ritualistic mating play.
One can not argue with such logic if we both look at the same thing and we contend it is different thing there can never be reconciliation. The ancient Arabic adage that states "It is a goat even if it files" applies here. The origin of this adage is that there were two people traveling and saw a dark shape in the distance one claimed that it was an eagle and the other claimed it was a goat. As they got nearer to the object, it became apparent that it was an eagle. The bird flew up in front of them and one of them looked at the other and replied: "It is a goat even if it files!"