Tag Archives: Internet filters

The right to harm ourselves: advice for anti porn activists

7 Nov

It was John Stuart Mill who considered that the law should intervene only in other-regarding actions, but never in what we do to ourselves:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his [sic] will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. (My emphases).

Mill acknowledged that what we do to ourselves can seriously affect others. However, with the exception of something that can be clinically proven to cause harm such as passive smoking, establishing how and how much harm comes to others as a result of self-harming actions is a tricky business, and likely impossible to legislate.  Mill recommends that society and public opinion take responsibility for the control of self-harming actions that offend others, not the law, and that this be achieved primarily through education.

The question of pornography 

If adult performers choose for whatever reason to participate in the production of pornography, does the state have the right to stop them? Even if someone else believes them to be brainwashed, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, or so badly damaged by life that the question of choice doesn’t really come into it, nevertheless, unless they are under age or of diminished mental capacity do they, like everyone else, have the right to choose what they will do?

Then there’s the definition of harm. While viewing pornography may cause a variety of reactions, not all of them pleasant, is experiencing an unpleasant reaction the same thing as suffering harm? How does porn actually hurt us? What damage do we sustain? Is it realistic to demand a world in which adults must be protected from the possibility of suffering harm, and what would we have to lose to gain such a world?

The consumption of pornography by adults is generally a private affair conducted within a private space. The law cannot invade these private spaces. We are unable to prevent domestic, child and sexual abuse within the private space of home, even with laws in place against all three. In the case of pornography, who will be the complainant?

A great deal of internet porn is amateur, uploaded from the privacy of bedrooms by people who want to share their sexual experiences. Does the state have the right to censor this with, for example, the introduction of an internet filter?

Kidnapping, sexual assault, false imprisonment, inflicting bodily harm, etc are already criminal offences in Australia and if they are perpetrated in the production of pornography they are criminal acts, just as if they are perpetrated in any other circumstances. To this degree adults participating in porn production are already protected by the law. Whether or not adults complain about abuses is another matter, and likely beyond legislation. How is it possible to force a woman to make a complaint? We don’t currently attempt to do this to rape victims. Are we to make exceptions when sexual assaults occur in the production of pornography?

The production of porn films is already restricted or illegal in Australia, with varying laws depending on the state. We also have a strict classification system, albeit at times confusing and mysterious. It’s worth remembering that the government’s proposed list of banned internet sites is itself banned. That is, we have no idea and will not be told just which sites the government intends to prevent adults accessing once the filter is in place. If this isn’t an attack on liberty, I don’t know what is.

What I understand Mill to be saying is that human beings, regardless of the apparently self-harming choices they might make, are entitled to respect by virtue of their humanity. If you want people to stop engaging in self-harming behaviour you don’t go about it by first shaming and marginalizing them. You first acknowledge their inalienable right to their subjective experience, however vastly it may differ from your own.

It’s a matter of respecting the human being without having to endorse her choices, and respecting her right to make those choices on the basis of  her life’s experiences. Anti porn activists totally fail to appreciate this. Instead they frame women in porn as a deviant underclass exploited by other members of that same class. They make them “other,” outside of what is considered mainstream “normality.” They construct women in porn as victims, brutalized, and incapable of choice and they seek to appeal to them as such. In this they are completely misguided. It doesn’t matter how damaged one might be, human beings still desire and need recognition of our inalienable right to totally fuck ourselves up, and unless we get it, we’re unlikely to hear anything else.

So my message to anti porn activists is, read your JS Mill. Learn a bit of respect for women who are different from you. Lose your morality and your ideology, gain some humanity and humility. Your middle class moral outrage only serves to alienate just about everyone, particularly those you claim you want to “help.”

There endeth the lesson for today.


No clean feed. Try education instead

25 Sep

Steven Conroy’s determination to press on with his plans for an internet filter early next year is ostensibly founded on his desire to “think of the children.” To what degree that emotive appeal is a cover for more sinister intent such as total government control of the internet in Australia is difficult to discern, but it doesn’t pay to assume that what you see is what you get with politicians. It’s in their nature to be duplicitous and power-hungry. I’m not a fan of the slippery slope fallacy but give governments an inch and they take a mile when it comes to curtailing personal freedoms and an internet filter “to protect the children” can only be the thin edge of the wedge.

Moving on, after getting the clichés out of my system:

The very fact that Conroy remains committed to his filter indicates a much broader intent than the protection of children. ISPs already voluntarily block child pornography sites for example, and there’s considerable debate as to whether or not a filter would add anything to those measures already in place. What it will do is block an unknown number of sites of an unknown type, because Conroy’s List of Undesirable  Websites is secret. As Leslie Cannold points out here, the list of to-be-banned sites is banned from public scrutiny, and this in itself should ring the alarm bells.

I have a great deal of sympathy for parents raising children in the digital age. The challenges they face are more numerous and complex than ever before in terms of the types of material  kids can access on the Internet, and the undesirability of much of that content.

However. Governments should not be attempting to control kids’ viewing habits by preventing site access to the entire population. Governments should be supporting parents by developing and supplying low-cost software parents can use to control what their kids see on the home computer. They should be educating parents and children, starting with some decent sex education in schools.

The bottom line is, as always, that parents are responsible for what their children get to see. Clever kids will find their way round parental controls, that’s a given. So keep the computer in a public area, monitor use, heck, it’s not rocket science and we all had to learn it for television.

Personally, I’m squeamish about the existence of violent sexual content on the net. It’s not something I can watch. The thought of young kids learning about sexuality from such images is distressing to me. I’d like it if that wasn’t a risk we had to take.

But the risks of government censorship are greater, IMO, particularly a government such as this one that refuses to disclose what it intends to censor in the first place. The government certainly has a role to play in the protection of children and support of their parents, and it isn’t censorship. If they can fund a very dodgy chaplaincy program in schools, why can’t they fund some serious sex education, and protective software?

As I’ve said many times before, as a society we need to be teaching our young to value themselves and others. Conroy’s filter won’t achieve any of that. Conroy’s filter is all about government control, not government contribution to the well-being of children. We need a paradigm shift on this issue to one in which children really are the central concern and are not cynically employed by those with vested interests to further their own controlling concerns, be they political power, religious tyranny, or moral dictatorship.

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