Patterico's Pontifications

12/12/2019

Pornography and the Right

Filed under: General — JVW @ 7:03 pm



[guest post by JVW]

Over the past week a giant debate has arisen on the right regarding whether or not the government should do more to regulate the spread of pornography here in the U.S. The debate in the most general sense seems to pit the traditionalist wing, at this point largely driven by Catholic polemicists, against the regulation-skeptical libertarian wing. This is not the first time that the right’s disposition towards erotic and explicit content has been debated — many of us remember the Meese Commission during the Reagan Administration — but given the easy access to raunchy materials in the online age and given a President who campaigned on tighter regulation of adult content yet himself has a history of consorting with, as the euphemism goes, “adult stars,” it is probably logical that this debate would rear its head (bad pun, I know) yet again.

Once upon a time, kids had to access adult content by swiping their dad or brother’s girlie magazines or by sneaking into the back room at the newsstand or video store to furtively leer at the X-rated content. Nowadays, of course, children are but a couple of clicks away from, quite literally, tens of millions of images and probably hundreds of thousands of hours of video content that just over a half-century ago would have been considered illegal even for adults to view. No matter what your disposition on what consenting adults ought to be allowed to do, this easy access for minors has to strike one as problematic for a healthy society. On the other hand, this matters really are most properly regulated by parents, not by bureaucrats and courts. It is a conundrum for all of us where supposedly “easy” answers often have potential unintended consequences that need to be considered.

Vox, for as much as we tend to ridicule it here, has a pretty good piece on how and why the right has taken up this debate. Last Friday, four Republican members of Congress sent a letter (embedded at the Vox piece) to Attorney General William Barr asserting that current law allows the Justice Department to prosecute the creators and distributors of pornographic content and calling upon the department to be more active in that regard. The Vox piece also mentions that some anti-pornography groups are arguing for laws that would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer customers Internet access in which pornographic content is filtered out, require all pornographic websites to use a .xxx domain and have age-verification logins, and to use the legal if malleable definition of “obscenity” to crack-down on sites which produce content that is violent or degrading.

And so what this all boils down to in the end is the question of whether or not pornography is fully protected by the First Amendment. Catholic convert Sohrab Ahmari of The New York Post takes the position that it is not, writing:

Online porn isn’t that bad, the Twitter libertarians insist. Plus, there is no way to restrict access to online porn, and even if there were, such regulation would sound the death knell for our ancient liberties.

All nonsense.

[. . .]

Happily, there are perfectly constitutional ways to at least limit access. Reno v. ACLU, the 1997 Supreme Court decision that deregulated Internet smut, was decided on narrow, outdated grounds. Justice John Paul Stevens held that Internet porn doesn’t fall under existing law allowing government regulation, because “the Internet is not as ‘invasive’ as radio and television.”

LOL, as the kids say.

Mr. Ahmari is joined by fellow Catholic Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire in defining the easy accessibility of pornography as a public health problem and calling for more regulation. Also weighing in at the traditionalist Catholic magazine First Things is Josh Hammer who accuses conservatives of going soft:

Once upon a time, opposition to the spread of pornography was a unifying political principle for self-described conservatives. Alas, it seems that in our increasingly liberalized conservative movement, such opposition is no longer unifying.

That the attacks on pornography are coming largely from Catholic intellectuals and journalists is notable. Pope Francis, hardly ever a favorite of traditionalist Catholics, has recently been sounding the alarm about porn’s corruption of the human spirit, and joins in the concern that easy access is harmful to the young. While other conservative religious sects have always taken a negative view of the obvious availability of hyper-sexual materials, Evangelical Christians, to cite but one example, appear to be taking a more front-line and involved approach to fighting its spread into their communities rather than lobbying government for action.

And it is the personal effort to curb one’s own addiction to online porn and prevent one’s children from developing bad habits where the libertarian wing of the right believes that the emphasis ought to be. In a podcast entitled “Are We Really Gonna Have Another War on Porn,” the editors of Reason reject the calls for the government to be more active in combatting porn access. They stipulate that children today do have easy access to adult materials, but reject the claims that violence against women and sex trafficking — which they say is separate from human trafficking — is on the rise. They also note that advocates for a crack-down are using language which criticizes porn as a social evil, suggesting that inevitably there will be attempts to restrict its access to adults. While agreeing that the government should continue to combat sex trafficking, especially where minors are concerned, they accuse the anti-porn strand of conservatism of harboring pro-regulation sympathies similar to those of the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democrat Party.

As for me, while I am generally skeptical of compromise simply for the sake of compromise, I could see a few avenues where we could improve upon the current situation. I like the idea of requiring websites which feature sexual content (and yes, I fully recognize that we are venturing into “eye of the beholder” territory here) to carry a .xxx domain name so that parents, and more helpfully ISPs, can take steps to block them, though I am against the idea of requiring registration to access those sites or requiring ISPs to offer filtered web access options. Obviously we should do everything that is Constitutionally permissible to stop underage kids from being exploited by the adult industry, and there might be some steps that government can take to help prevent young adults, especially in that difficult 18- and 19-year-olds range, from being conned into participating in filming sex acts for money. Beyond those steps, however, I’m not sure that I trust government to determine what constitutes “obscenity,” let alone granting them the power to regulate it.

– JVW

36 Responses to “Pornography and the Right”

  1. This is a pretty vexing topic with no real easy answers.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  2. Genie. Bottle. Some assembly required.

    I do agree that pornography has led to a debasement of society. So has social media. So has 24/7 news. So has promoting socialism/communism in our school system.

    What do we do about it?

    NJRob (4d595c)

  3. So has atheism for that matter which is likely the reason for the other issues mentioned.

    NJRob (4d595c)

  4. Dog in the manger. The DC jerkoffs don’t like internet porn because they don’t know how not to be found out when they download it.

    nk (dbc370)

  5. Given that online pornography is here to stay, does anyone here want to argue that the government should not mandate that porn sites operate under the .xxx domain? Does anyone want to argue that government should require ISPs to offer a service in which porn sites are automatically filtered out, or that consumers of pornography should be required to register for adult sites in order to verify their age? Should things remain status quo or do present circumstances justify additional enforcement and/or regulation?

    JVW (54fd0b)

  6. No, non, nyet, nein, οχι to all that, JVW. The only obscenity I want banned from all public view is named Donald John Trump, and even for that there’s a legitimate argument that he serves a societally useful purpose as an appetite suppressant for people who tend to overeat.

    nk (dbc370)

  7. Increase availability of tools for parents to control what their children can access.
    Beyond that, it’s not anyone’s business, especially government’s.

    Kishnevi (91d450)

  8. JVW (54fd0b) — 12/12/2019 @ 7:55 pm

    One complicating factor: a website not hosted in the US can safely ignore registration and domain name requirements. Which means, in effect, every website can ignore them.

    Kishnevi (91d450)

  9. One complicating factor: a website not hosted in the US can safely ignore registration and domain name requirements.

    Yeah, that’s a tough one. I think I read that about half of the pornographic websites originate from other nations. It would require some degree of international cooperation.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  10. I think we have quite enough regulation to struggle with in our daily lives right now, thank you.

    Capsaicin Addict (c866c5)

  11. I do not believe in letting religion legislate, even my own. No. I am not against requiring the age of actors to be 21 and for there to be increased industry standards re health and safety codes, but really, if you don’t want your kids viewing porn, don’t give them devices that let them do so in private.

    There isn’t any really way to entirely prevent kids from getting to at least some adult material if they have internet access and they want to (there were breasts in Nat geo magazines back in the day, even before the net) even with really strong nanny netting like in schools. All of our computers have the strongest nanny net available AND we have a live monitoring program that tells the teacher what website each student is on and I still have to talk with several students a week over accessing inappropriate material. I am told that if you search for “lime green” in google images, you will eventually come across a lime green um artificial erection (I’m not sure what the profanity censor catches, but you can figure out what I mean). I haven’t seen this (so now you know how clean my browser history is 😛 ) but I am told it is there.

    There also isn’t a way to make them all use some kind of xxx domain name. Maybe you could force US sites, but nobody else.

    Parents should parent and sometimes you have to have difficult conversations with your kids about sex and reality vs fiction and respect for yourself and other. If you don’t, I have to have those difficult conversations with your kids and nobody (especially NOT ME) wants that.

    Nic (896fdf)

  12. I do not believe in letting religion legislate, even my own. No. I am not against requiring the age of actors to be 21 and for there to be increased industry standards re health and safety codes, but really, if you don’t want your kids viewing porn, don’t give them devices that let them do so in private.

    Now I, on the other hand, have a problem with raising the age to 21. I’ve always been against the idea that we have this weird age between 18 and 21 where citizens have some rights but not others. They can join the military, serve on juries, vote, and flaunt their bodies to their heart’s content, yet they can’t drink a beer, purchase a cigarette, or, soon enough, purchase a firearm. I would like to see us unify the concept of adulthood and either allow folks to do all of this at 18 or prohibit all of it until they are 21. But I know that I will never win that argument.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  13. @13 I work with kids. And, God love them, our society does not teach them to be adults by 18. I’m not against it all being 21.

    Nic (896fdf)

  14. ”if you don’t want your kids viewing porn, don’t give them devices that let them do so in private.“
    Nic (896fdf) — 12/12/2019 @ 8:54 pm

    Take that, real world!

    Munroe (dd6b64)

  15. @15 *shrug* If you knew what they did with the devices, you’d probably agree with me. But most parents don’t and/or they can’t stand to listen to the whining and/or deal with the inconvenience to themselves, so they give in and get devices that kids aren’t ready to handle yet.

    Nic (896fdf)

  16. Porn (and whatever public policy should be on it) is downstream from the larger cultural forces that have wrought destruction upon the nuclear family and its place as a haven for child rearing and a refuge for men and women in society. D.GOOCH

    GOOCH (d83d3a)

  17. There is no way the U.S. could maintain a volunteer military of sufficient force if people had to be 21 years old to serve. So, we are stuck with 18. And, since it is immoral to deny the vote to those who fight and die for their country, we are also stuck with allowing 18-year-olds to vote. If they can fight and vote, then they should be allowed all the other things as well.

    norcal (47a1ac)

  18. Trumps autobiography titled “no kids or animals”

    asset (d91f5a)

  19. The catholic church knows all about porn.

    mg (456edd)

  20. @15 Great point and succinctly put in a funny way.

    Time123 (b0628d)

  21. In balancing the need to protect children against the rights of people to live life as they please I have to say that Porn should be legal. This is double true when we cant’ define what obscene is very clearly.

    That said, it sure would be nice if it were easier to make sure my kids media consumption were more appropriate to their maturity level. I try my best, and I’m not too worried but the the misses are annoying.

    Time123 (b0628d)

  22. 18. That’s what the draft is for, Nor. Last time I checked, the Selective Service Act was still in effect. It’s just that the politicians don’t want to be held responsible for invoking it again.

    Gryph (08c844)

  23. “According to a major Christianity Today survey, at least 50% of Christian men view internet pornography, and nearly 40 percent of Christian pastors are struggling with it.”

    (https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/porn-phenomenon-survey-finds-more-than-one-in-ten-youth-pastors-addicted-to).

    I suspect the number is much higher. I recommend this site for tools to help: https://fightthenewdrug.org/

    also, Covenant Eyes. has a good filter and accountability system. But you have to want to help yourself and let yourself be accountable.

    My advice, treat it like a drug. Don’t touch it. If you’re addicted get help.

    JRH (52aed3)

  24. This is a great post, JVW.

    A number of years ago I read a study that was rather revealing: hotels that hosted pastor/church leader retreats (for men), saw their adult channel usage go up exponentially. The Church (Catholic/Protestant) is not immune from viewing porn in spite of raging against it. From what I’ve read, and seen in churches, those who are at the forefront of the fight against easily-accessed porn sites are not necessarily living out their public outcry. Far from it.

    There is a lot of hypocrisy involved in this. The Catholic Church being at the top of the list (see 20), church elders/leaders next.

    Dana (643cd6)

  25. #6 Given that online pornography is here to stay, does anyone here want to argue that the government should not mandate that porn sites operate under the .xxx domain? Does anyone want to argue that government should require ISPs to offer a service in which porn sites are automatically filtered out, or that consumers of pornography should be required to register for adult sites in order to verify their age? Should things remain status quo or do present circumstances justify additional enforcement and/or regulation?

    JVW (54fd0b) — 12/12/2019 @ 7:55 pm

    whembly (51f28e)

  26. There used to be a lot of public pornography. Peep shows, strip clubs, and prostitutes walking around openly. Boston had the Combat Zone, and lots of towns had similar areas. I drove past XXX movie theaters in Davenport, Iowa, and I was grabbed by the collar on my suit coat walking across Times Square and urged to view a live boy-on-boy show, “Check it out!” That’s gone now. If some guy is looking at stuff on his computer in his basement, I don’t care. This “everything is getting worse, and we’re all going to die” stuff is tiresome.

    Fred (056bb0)

  27. **weird glitch, wordpress didn’t post my comments, sorry JVW!**

    #6

    Given that online pornography is here to stay, does anyone here want to argue that the government should not mandate that porn sites operate under the .xxx domain?

    While I like that idea, I’m not sure its so practical. This was voted on by ICANN numerous times without avail even with support from the pr0n industry.

    Does anyone want to argue that government should require ISPs to offer a service in which porn sites are automatically filtered out,

    Not only no, but hell no. This would be inviting the camel into your tent.

    or that consumers of pornography should be required to register for adult sites in order to verify their age?

    Not sure how this would square with 1st amendment and privacy rights.

    Should things remain status quo or do present circumstances justify additional enforcement and/or regulation?

    JVW (54fd0b) — 12/12/2019 @ 7:55 pm

    Education. Parenting.

    Seriously, I have at 16 yo and 13 yo boys… I’m well aware how much pr0n is at their finger tips, such that my teenage-whembly psyche is seriously pissed that I was born in the wrong decade. However, I decided a long time ago to talk to my boys about porn and the issues that arises from it. I want to keep that channel of communication open with them… but, I did tell them that if I find out they posted pictures of their junk or passed around pics of others on their phone/PC… I would go all dictator on them.

    Frankly, I’m more concerned about their generation romanticizing suicides than porn.

    whembly (51f28e)

  28. I don’t understand the attraction to porn. The real thing is so much better!

    Yes, I looked at porn magazines when I was a teenager, but after I became an adult, and saw the promised land, so to speak, porn did not appeal to me.

    norcal (47a1ac)

  29. The first time I ever saw porn was when I was sixteen. There were these two brothers who lived in a ranch home on the outskirts of town. Their parents were away for the weekend, so they decided to throw a party, invited everybody.

    I showed up, knocked on the door and entered a living room where there were over thirty girls, standing around, bored out of their minds. This was strange, because I couldn’t possibly be the only guy that came to the party. Where are the guys? They pointed to a room down the hall.

    I walked over there and opened the door. Inside a darkened room were over thirty guys, watching Swedish porn on 16 mm black-and-white film. It was two people screwing.

    So I’m standing there, thinking, are you freaking kidding me? Here’s this dark room full of guys, watching porn, rubbing their crotches. Down the hall was a lit room full of girls. I closed the door and walked back to the living room. Hey, girls, let’s have some fun. I ended up making out with five girls at the same time, while the other guys watched porn and rubbed their crotches.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  30. > does anyone here want to argue that the government should not mandate that porn sites operate under the .xxx domain?

    how do we define ‘porn’ well enough for that to be a concrete enough rule to enforce?

    i don’t think this can be done as a practical matter.

    aphrael (971fba)

  31. > find out they posted pictures of their junk

    no joke, whembly. there are actual cases where teenagers have been successfully prosecuted for distributing child porn *because they sent someone pictures of their own genitalia*.

    the law has not caught up to teenage behavior with smart phones.

    aphrael (971fba)

  32. @25 I like to be charitable and say they rage against it because they’re aware of its pervasiveness, the damage it does to relationships, and the difficulty of dealing with it on a small scale.

    @27 It is getting worse and it’s currently safe to say we’re are all going to die. Not saying they’re related but I agree that conflating them is getting tiresome.

    @28 I’m not sure which tent we’re talking about. The government is already embedded in ISP’s and has access to your internet activity. On the suicide thing, those are related and not seeing the linkage between a number of different things keeps most people from even asking the question in @3 and @4.

    Porn, like smoking, causes harm that extends beyond the primary consumer and while it may be more harmful to kids it is also harmful to adults.

    frosty (f27e97)

  33. @31 I don’t know. Maybe start with 1 or more people engaged in sexual activity. Define sexual activity to include simulated sex acts. You’d still have nude images but it would be a start.

    Honestly, where’s the harm in restricting this stuff? What social good is there in images or video of explicit sex acts that we would lose by restricting them?

    Dealing with foreign porn is a problem but most countries already have agreements dealing with child pornography so it’s not impossible to have some sort of agreement and there is already a framework in place for some of this.

    I’m personally not in favor of legislation even though it looks like I’m taking that position. I’m just pointing out that “we just have to learn to deal with because we just can’t do anything” isn’t really true.

    frosty (f27e97)

  34. The proles must have their entertainment and stupefaction. Their porn, their pot, their booze, their sports, their gambling to occupy their hopes and daydreams. It keeps them pacified, and saves money on secret police and re-education camps.

    Party members, the people whose mental and moral health matters, already know better. Should they stray, they can be rehabilitated informally within the Party or relegated to prole status.

    nk (dbc370)

  35. 34. Does that mean no more sex scenes in movies? At all? Ever? In certain jurisdictions, media does not have to even depict sexual activity to qualify as porn if it depicts nudity that “serves a prurient interest” or “has no artistic value.” Okay. Great. So how do we define artistic value, or what is “prurient?” Realistically, the courts take these issues on a case-by-case basis, and it’s one area where precedence really hasn’t done much to assuage the ambiguity.

    Gryph (08c844)


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