Banning Porn to Own Libs

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a piece by Ross Douthat entitled “Let’s Ban Porn”.  Given that he’s the only self-identifying conservative on the NYT’s editorial board who seems to write like one, it’s worth giving a look for those of you that haven’t yet had the chance.  He broadly addresses the commodification of sex and sexual education into a pre-packaged consumer product and the subsequent dehumanization of both men and women as a result, avoiding the more tedious critiques against porn that involve statistics about erectile dysfunction, testosterone levels, and depression.  Since his piece isn’t that long, it’s no surprise that he keeps his overview limited to a generalized criticism. 

Douthat’s piece rides on a growing wave of anti-porn interest.  Anti-porn groups have been active for pretty near as long as the modern concept of porn has been around, though their ultimate end goals have varied from mere censorship campaigns to outright prohibition.  As technology progressed, the means of distribution and the sheer prevalence of pornographic material spread like wildfire.  To make matters worse, as pornography got more popular, its extremities got pushed further into depravity; what constitutes a mere billboard advertisement nowadays was considered borderline-unpublishable if not outright pornographic a mere 40 years ago, for example.  And we can thank the sexual revolution for that.

Predictably, those defending pornography are as loud as they are gross, often defending a litany of other terrible practices—from casual sex to abortion on demand—in the same breath.  Somewhat less predictably, these defenders aren’t limited to one side of the political aisle.  In the wake of reasonably popular porn actress August Ames’ suicide, it was a number of conservative media outlets who offered public recognition over her short-lived career as an over-glamorized whore.  Attempting to give stirring defenses over a life that revolved around a debasing career goes well beyond the scope of offering thoughts and prayers for her family and friends—but such is the state of the ‘conservative’ social platforms in the United States.  Maybe they were doing to try and stay current with the culture; all it did, though, was make them look even more degraded than they did before.

That pornography should be defended on the grounds of free speech confuses the libertine freedom as an end in itself with the virtue-ethic freedom as a means toward higher purpose.  Pornography, as with any misuse of sex and pleasure, sacrifices or obscures that higher purpose.  Leveling the field to assert pornography’s right to exist on the same scale as the writings of Herman Melville or Shakespeare is to give equal attention and merit both to a nutritious meal and poison.  It’s egalitarian nonsense.

Meanwhile, take ask yourself if you’d honestly defend pornography from an outright ban.  Would you be willing to take to the public sphere, plant your rhetorical flag in the ground and declare, openly, your support for an entire industry based on videotaping acts of prostitution for your vicarious enjoyment?  Support is tantamount to admitting your own indulgences—something once considered shameful a mere few decades ago.  Where once nerds got bullied in locker rooms for getting caught with porn, now it seems those same nerds are taking out their pent-up frustrations out on the rest of the world by vehemently declaring that assaults on pornography are assaults on freedom.  Freedom to what?  Freedom from what?  The licentiousness pornography breeds shackles the human spirit greater than any political system could possibly hope to.  It’s only natural that social forces seek not only to capitalize on it, but to force it into every avenue of entertainment.

With this in mind, consider this guy’s twitter defense of pornography in response to the recent string of articles attacking it.  We can start by being as charitable as we can to his presentation; maybe he isn’t trying to push an agenda and maybe he is genuine in his opinion when he mentions how teenagers have always used the big screen as role models for their sexual activity—“nothing new”, as he puts it.  Nothing new, he seems to forget, now that pornography is so readily accessible.  Dirty picture books distributed among boarding school boys in Victorian England were not nearly as prevalent or easy to get as full-length hardcore films anyone with a smart phone can browse at literally any time, nor, as a general rule, were they as depraved.

His argument continues in much the same vein, oblivious and completely illiterate to any perspective that accounts for history.  He explains how only those who work in the sex industry—the prostitutes and their pimps holding the video cameras—can be qualified to speak on the subject.  Pornography is an art form, apparently, and art can only be commented on by the artists who make it.  No matter how you parse it, such a statement is false on every conceivable level.  Contemporary artists are the last people who should be asked to explain their own work.

His defense is the standard liberal defense for anything: you don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t have to explain myself.  The right has begun to learn that this style of rhetoric has its merits and are using it themselves, at least for as long as they can.

It is, admittedly, quite refreshing to see anti-porn sentiment being dragged back into the spotlight, although this time by reasonably centrist people who are finally catching on to the dearth of its negative effects.  Outright prohibition is the right idea, despite flaccid attempts to call that unenforceable or technologically naïve, and despite outcries that limiting the accessibility of vice is infringing on someone’s liberty.  Listen, Modern Man: you live in a world with increasing levels of barbarism and savagery, decreasing cohesiveness of cultural glues, and a widening gap between what is good for your people and what the leading figures in the government, entertainment, and academic industries are telling you.  Don’t you think it’s time you put the energies you’ve been expelling into tissues for the last ten years of your life to better use?

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