None of the arguments against censoring pornography stand up

It takes a bit of time, but eventually politicians do catch up with reality – one only hopes that they do so in time. Ed Miliband has made a speech in which he says some very sensible things about, among other things, pornography. I quote:

“There is a culture of increasingly sexualised images among young people: a culture that says that girls will only get on in life if they live up to the crudest of stereotypes; a culture where pornographic images, some violent, are available at a click on a smartphone or a laptop.”

This is exactly the sort of thing that the good priest who taught me religious education when I was 13 used to say (apart from the reference to computers, of course), namely that pornography and sexualised images cheapen women. And now, over three decades on, we hear it not just from Ed Miliband, but also from Diane Abbott  and David Cameron too. It seems that there is a building consensus that pornography is harmful. This consensus must have been boosted recently by the cases of Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell. 

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So, what can be done? Because not only do most, if not all, of our legislators realise that pornography is harmful, they also seem unable to act in face of the danger. They should act, and restrictive legislation should be introduced. What are the counter-arguments?

Firstly, any ban would be “censorship”. Yes, it would be. But we have numerous restrictions on expression as it is. Racist material is illegal in this country. Why shouldn’t porn be?

Secondly, such legislation would not work, as it is possible to circumvent any bans thanks to technological sleight of hand. This may be true. You are never going to stop theft, either; but that does not mean it should be legal.

Thirdly, where do you draw the line? True, this is a difficulty, and lines drawn are often arbitrary, but some such line can be drawn – that’s what lawyers specialise in.

Fourthly – and this is the only real argument against legislation: if people want to look at porn, they have a perfect right to do so, and neither state nor anyone else has the right to interfere.

The counter-argument is that no one has a right to do what is evil, and that the personal will cannot transform something that is intrinsically wrong into something right. Just because I want it does not make it right; the thing has to be good in itself or morally neutral to be right. Porn is of itself evil. That assertion should of course be verified, and can be verified by examining the nature of porn itself, something that exposes what should remain private (i.e. consenting sexual acts between adults) or deals with wat is already illegal (acts involving those who do not or cannot consent.)

On top of this comes the argument about the effects of porn, which our politicians have made. It coarsens society. People need to be protected from it, especially the vulnerable, and the young. The freedom to enjoy porn is not a freedom worth having. In fact it is not freedom at all. Porn leads to slavery.

Those who argue for a free market in porn are morally irresponsible. The state needs to enforce the laws we already have more effectively, and do its best to protect all of us, children especially, from this menace.

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