#BanPorn? A Q&A

By John Zmirak Published on December 11, 2019

There’s no legislation before Congress on this subject. But a debate has risen among conservative pundits and onlookers. Were it possible politically, should the right seek to limit the enormous, profitable, woefully unregulated pornography industry, most of which is distributed online? The argument raises core principles of liberty and the common good. So it’s worth looking at — whatever the political realities of the moment.

Remember: the nightmare we live in now started small, too. A world of fantasy “genders” replacing biological sex, abortion till after birth, and ubiquitous porn of every variety? All that was once just a gleam in the demented eye of the Marquis de Sade. And before that, a quixotically ambitious battle plan in hell.

I’m no expert on this subject, so I’m going to shamelessly mine essays from a special issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy on pornography (which you should download and study). Thanks to Stream contributor Josh Craddock for putting that issue together. It’s a genuine service.

 

Q: Isn’t this just some fringe culture issue that we should ignore? We have bigger battles to fight. Impeachment. Immigration. China.

A: I’d say that the reproduction of the human species is a crucial subject. Likewise, the means by which we rear each new generation. And the family, as the building block of society. All those things are in trouble. Our birth rate is falling, all across the developed world. Divorce is epidemic, and millions don’t even bother to marry in the first place.

More and more of us rely on the federal government as our primary means of support. So instead of being joined as building blocks, we’re tiny electrons, whirring in orbit around the vast nucleus of the State. That’s not how America was founded to operate.

Forty Three Percent of Men

Q: Okay, but why focus on this?

A: Because it’s clearly relevant. Gerard V. Bradley reports that

up to one-quarter of all search engine requests relate to pornography; pornography sites attract more traffic monthly than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined; and a 2017 survey by a University of Texas research team found that forty-three percent of men intentionally accessed pornography within the previous week.

Whatever you think about porn, it’s not some marginal issue. If you believe it’s wrong and destructive, you’ll see it as bigger than the opioid epidemic. Bradley notes that part of the power porn exerts extends beyond its orbit. It helps to mainstream activities and fantasies long considered taboo. Like a vast black hole in space, its sheer mass exerts a gravitational pull.

Maybe this will be helpful. For “pornography” above, plug in “white supremacist.” Imagine how seriously public policy types would be taking those numbers. Now imagine that you realized porn has an impact on how its users see the world, women, themselves, sex, marriage, and life.

No wonder (as Bradley reports) that two-thirds of Americans think using porn is immoral. And only 39 percent of us oppose legal restrictions on it. Another study he cites shows “eighty-one percent believe federal laws against Internet obscenity should be vigorously enforced.”

Still think it’s a fringe issue?

Hot and cold running heroin, pumped into every American’s home. Just keep your kids away from the tap!

An Addictive Technology Cocktail

Q: Our society survived the launch of Playboy magazine. Surely we’ll get through this. How is anything more than just a technological development?

A: Some technologies have much more pervasive impacts than others. Just as synthetic heroin is more powerful and addictive than natural poppies, techno-porn seems to be vastly more powerful than simple naked pictures. Bradley writes:

online pornography sets up a powerful triangular dynamic among the viewer’s conscious choices (clicking away), his subconscious, and the kaleidoscope of images at his fingertips and on the screen. This complex interaction breeds an increasingly idiosyncratic, even solipsistic, sexuality.

Bradley quotes psychologist Norman Doidge to this effect:

“[S]ooner or later the [Internet] surfer finds a killer combination that presses a number of his sexual buttons at once. Then he reinforces the network by viewing the images repeatedly, masturbating, releasing dopamine and strengthening these networks. He has created a kind of ‘neosexuality,’ a rebuilt libido that has strong roots in his buried sexual tendencies.”

And it lasts: online pornography viewers report hours of continuous trolling and clicking. No one looked at Playboy for nearly that long.

 

Q: Okay, but people watch a lot of violent entertainment too. Do you want to ban that?

A: Do they spend a lot of time watching “snuff” films? Videos of legal executions in China or Saudi Arabia? Compilations of fatal accidents, suicides, and ISIS slaughter videos? No. They watch mostly simulated violence, which they know is simulated, in the context of stories where it makes sense. Even the lurid and repulsive genre of “slasher” movies relies entirely on fake violence. What would you think if 43 percent of men were watching videos of real deaths of real people, often for hours at a time?

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Well most of porn isn’t simulated, but real. And people know it, and seek it out for that reason. There is “virtual” stuff, designed to look like children are involved and get around kiddie porn laws. The real women who accept a few hundred dollars to make these videos have their real faces and bodies out in cyberspace forever. For their kids to grow up and see. As Butler observes, “a significant number of those who appear in pornography today are trafficked women and children, who are more or less forced into performing.”

Kind of hoping that you’re troubled by this point. …

Not Covered by the First Amendment

Q: Fine, but wouldn’t laws restricting porn trespass on our fundamental liberties?

A: Not that it’s reliable, but the Supreme Court never ruled that. Certainly none of our founders (not one, not even the Deists) had pornography in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. You know the main thing they had in mind (besides religious freedom)? Political speech. The very thing that “campaign finance” laws try to strangle. To its credit, SCOTUS realized that in its Citizens’ United decision. The same leftists who scream about “totalitarianism” when we try to rein in porn howled at that decision. Hillary promised to pack the Court so as to overturn it.

 

Q: Yeah, but maybe making and selling porn ought to be so protected. Don’t we own ourselves? Can’t we do what we want with our bodies, and film that and sell it if wish? It’s called the “principle of self-ownership.”

A: I’m familiar with it. It’s useful, but only up to a point. For one thing, self-ownership, according to one of its leading advocates, Murray Rothbard, absolutely allows for abortion. And worse. Rothbard denied that parents had any obligation to feed or care for infants once they’re born. Of course, in a purely self-owned society, there’d be no government welfare of any kind. Nor would there be any rules limiting racial discrimination. (You own your business, and can ban whomever you choose.) Maybe you’re a radical libertarian and you want that. But at least be consistent about it.

We can’t legally sell our organs. Or (outside a few counties in Nevada) sell ourselves in prostitution. We can’t buy, sell, or use certain drugs. We can’t legally form suicide pacts. Nor can we sell ourselves into slavery, which seems like the closest analog to the porn industry, frankly. Or how about this: Hot and cold running heroin, pumped into every American’s home. Just keep your kids away from the tap!

Collapsing Right on Schedule

Q: Why are you so sure that any of this matters?

A: Because the verdict of history is in. Societies that control and direct the mighty force of male sexuality in healthy directions flourish and grow. Those that dissipate it? They falter and collapse. Check out this massive historical study, which considered 86 past cultures, finding the same pattern in each. It notes that many different peoples, at various times, experienced their own versions of the Sexual Revolution. Each time, within three generations, they collapsed. We’re on that third generation right now. And we’re right on schedule.

 

Q: Wouldn’t putting any kind of limits on free expression via the federal government just give the left new weapons to use against us? More precedents, more power?

A: The left is already trying to silence us, using every means public and private. Enforcing indecency laws wouldn’t give the left a single new weapon. And they don’t need or rely on precedents. These people are ready to abolish ICE and the Electoral College, to toss out the Second Amendment and eviscerate the free exercise of religion. We should be fighting them on every front with any weapon that comes to hand. That should include an end-run assault on the Pornotopia they have created.

 

To learn much more, see the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism.

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