Tag Archives: John Stuart Mill

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.

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Lavartus Prodeo nights.

14 Feb

by Linus Ekenstam via flickr

It wasn’t my intention to visit the Lavartus Prodeo blog. I was on my way to somewhere else when an enticing little link popped up and before I knew it I was right in the middle of the Lavartus Prodeo On Line Opinion thread.

My first post was an alternative perspective on moderating from that dominant in the thread. This brought an immediate response, to the effect that those with enough wit are capable of composing comments that don’t require the intervention of a moderator, and the witless were deleted and dispatched elsewhere. LP is a cyber club, the post continued, and if I didn’t like the rules of the cyber club I should also move elsewhere.

I was a little taken aback at this reaction to what, after all, had only been a personal observation on alternative moderating.

Later on, another commenter told me that I’d announced my alternative opinion in a way that was too challenging and provocative, and I shouldn’t go onto blogs for the first time telling everybody I had a different opinion, because that immediately got them all off side.

In spite of the uninviting nature of the initial reaction, or because of it, my curiosity was aroused. Many people would have run a mile and never returned, but I have a compulsion to continue even when, or especially when, someone tells me right off I don’t belong.

I think it’s a consequence of experiencing severe marginalisation as a child. Freud’s repetition compulsion. I’m still trying to resolve the original trauma of not being allowed to belong, so I compulsively take on anybody who tries to shut me out. Daft, but a compulsion is a compulsion.

As well, I had my own strong opinions about the OLO controversy, and didn’t mind expressing a few of them at LP. I’d go for it, I decided, and girded up.

My decision to subject myself to the experience was also influenced in no small part by the effects of large doses of painkillers I was taking after surgery. These gave me an exaggerated sense of my own capabilities, and made some things seem funny that probably weren’t.

Choosing the best hat for the occasion

Some years ago I read an account of the psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim’s experiences in a concentration camp. He’d survived, he felt, because he had been able to observe and record the experience through the framework of his training. He’d used it as an opportunity to observe human behaviour under extreme conditions. He’d learned a great deal, and given himself a purpose that kept him going. The result was some fascinating insights into the human animal under intolerable stress, and his survival.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that visiting LP was anything like Bettelheim’s ordeal, but since I read how he survived, I’ve often employed his methods when I’ve found myself in testing situations.

I also got a bit of encouragement in this direction from Foucault, who’s mission it was to always find the back story – “My problem is essentially the definition of the implicit systems in which we find ourselves prisoners.” Well, that.

To add to all that, being curious about nationalism, border protection and sovereignty in all its forms, even when manifested on a blog, I sensed there would be a great deal there for me if I took the time to engage in a few encounters.

I also spent years as a clinician, a lot of that time running groups. That specialised interest is probably also a consequence of being chucked out of my original group at an early age.

The past does indeed determine the present, and the future.

This is not the first time I have done this

One more disclosure. I have conducted this experiment (being the only disputing voice and seeing what happens) on a Melinda Tankard Reist comments thread. Though in that case I was quickly joined by others, and the burden of sole dissent was removed from my shoulders. LP is the only blog where I’ve been absolutely alone.

Don’t talk about the PhD

Many of the insults directed at me by MTR’s followers were repeated at LP, especially, strangely, insults about my academic qualifications. I would have thought that both places, the one Christian feminist, the other apparently catering to the educated, would have taken them in their stride, and found them unremarkable, but not at all. I was roundly ridiculed in both places for having mentioned my PhD.

Even though in the MTR case someone had demanded to know what my qualifications were, and I obligingly told them.

And in the LP case Mark Bahnisch corrected me when I addressed him as Mr, saying that he was in fact Dr. So I signed my very next post as Dr, seeing as it seemed to matter.

And brought down on my head an outpouring of mirth from what seemed like a zillion commenters, some of whom revealed their own academic credentials, (no doctorates) and others who made a few up.

Dr Bahnisch was having a joke, it seems, and in signing myself Dr, I apparently responded too seriously. I know him very well, someone posted, and you’ve got him all wrong.

Well, as I’ve never met him, and heard of him only vaguely for reasons I can’t recall, I can’t think of one reason why I’d be expected to know him, much less be au fait with his sense of humour.

God, it’s hard when you don’t know the group norms!

Eric Sykes then showed great insight when he commented that perhaps the blog was not for me.

Somebody then expressed the hope that I would go away.

I took another pain killer. It was time.

Starved of radical dissent

I posted a few times about the OLO situation, and my thoughts that in attempting to close OLO down, an attack was being launched on free speech, among many other things. What did I mean by free speech, Dr Bahnisch demanded. Was I referring to John Stuart Mills? Was I making claims about OLO and the Socratic dialogue? OLO and the principles of the Enlightenment?

By now there were numerous LP commenters attacking me like starving feral cats will set upon a bowl of food left out by a kindly human. I began to think that these people probably didn’t often have the opportunity to talk to someone who completely disagreed with them. They were starved of radical dissent, desperate for someone other than themselves against whom to test their brute intellectual strength, and I was it.

Whoa people! I wrote. You are many and I am but one!

Yes, someone called Fine replied. You might be feeling overwhelmed but if you would only argue properly instead of using rhetoric!

I move blogs

Later that day I meandered over to Club Troppo where I left a comment about the OLO situation. Only to have Mistress Kimbrella (one of the made up qualifications) from LP pursue me like one of the furies.

Well, hello there, Dr Wilson, she wrote. Sorry you didn’t make any friends and influence people at LP.

Really, Mistress whatsit, I admonished as the drugs kicked in, I have given you a day and much of the night. Are you not satisfied? I never said I was interested in commitment. Are you going to demand my attention on the flimsiest of excuses?

The Mistress then reminded me that she had been at Club Troppo and LP for many years. Her point apparently being that I, on the other hand, had only just arrived.

Oh, you mean I’ve landed illegally in a leaky boat without my proper papers, in sovereign territory where I was not invited? I wrote.

What was it again? Oh yes: “We will decide who comes to this blog and the manner in which they come!”

And they’d better assimilate straight away, having first been suitably humble, or they can go right back where they came from.

By now it was becoming clear to me that these people were not fans of Levinas’ theories of radical hospitality.

Group dynamics

Anyone with superficial knowledge of how a group works, knows that one of the basic bonding rituals used to strengthen and reinforce the group is for its members to unite against an outsider. The herd mentality does not have the capacity to embrace the other. It is entirely dedicated to preserving its sovereignty.

The outsider offers a perfect opportunity for a closed group to reinvigorate itself. Members who may feel themselves on the outer for some reason are given the opportunity to return to the fold, as they unite with their fellows against the stranger.

This process is essential from time to time, as the closed group inevitably becomes incestuous when deprived of external contact, turning on one another and splintering into factions. The appearance of a stranger can cause the group to temporarily abandon its dysfunction, re-bond, and celebrate its strengths.

Or as Costas Douzinas puts it “The foreigner is the political precondition of the nation state…”

Getting a good kicking

I have to say LP was much, much worse than MTR. MTR does welcome very opposing commentary. Some of her followers will give you a good kicking, but they don’t tell you to find another blog because you don’t fit in. They thrive on dissent. In this I can only admire them, though many of their views are, in my view, bordering on the insane.

Finally, I accept that I’m not wanted.

I have taken the advice of the LP commenters, and removed myself from their site, probably never to return, unless I have more surgery requiring pain relief.

I probably won’t go back to Club Troppo either, as Ken Parish told me metaphorically to bugger off because my arguments are relentless. I was only trying to rebut statements and opinions he’d attributed to me that were not mine. But I was a foreigner there, too, and perhaps foreigners aren’t supposed to get so uppity right off. Even if they do feel they’re being misrepresented. Maybe foreigners are supposed to just suck it up till they’ve been initiated and accepted? I don’t know.

The last word I give to Derrida:

“For hospitality is not some region of ethics…it is ethicity itself, the whole principle of ethics…”

There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

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