The Guardian, without embarrassment, has a section devoted to the topic of Pornography. The latest article entitled The strange alliance between #MeToo and the anti-porn movement, details, well, the strange alliance. I’ve been listening to Jordan Peterson lately and one can’t help but see the world a little differently.
My first thought, on reading the article, was to see the fingerprints of what Jordan Peterson might call “Neo-Marxism” on the left and the right. If you haven’t heard of Jordan Peterson or are unfamiliar with his usage of the term, then (to be brief) he interprets it as this: Marxism was an ideology that reduced all societal and individual disadvantages to a primary cause—those who have and those who have not. And if you were one of those who had, then you were, by definition, an oppressor. So, at its very simplest, the central tenant of Marxism, as Peterson explains it, is to reduce and explain all societal conflict and/or suffering as the conflict between the oppressor and the economically oppressed. In order for anyone to have an economic advantage, he must, by definition, oppress. This makes finding your enemy and identifying a solution quite simple. As Peterson argues, the effort to identify “the oppressors” led directly to the Gulags and the deaths of tens of millions of people.
After the utter failure and dismantling of Marxism and Communism, the Marxists, according to Peterson, didn’t just go away: the Manichean appeal of the Marxist paradigm was and is too convenient and too powerful to simply give up. They removed economics from the Marxist critique, but retained the central Marxist paradigm of the oppressor and oppressed—hence: Neo-Marxism. Whether one agrees with Peterson or not, the idea of Neo Marxism can provide a useful analytical tool. Hence, when reading the Guardian article, the effort to frame the evils of pornography as that of oppression could easily be defined as Neo-Marxism. To whit:
“The anti-pornography movement has always been an unusual coalition of religious conservatives and radical feminists, dating back to Andrea Dworkin, the feminist icon who wrote Pornography: Men Possessing Women. “
If one adopts or accepts Peterson’s definition of neo-Marxism, then Dworkin’s critique of pornography was nothing if not a Neo-Marxist critique. No allowance is given for, as Peterson might put it, the multi-variant reasons men and women might want to pursue, and might enjoy, pornography in its various forms. No, to Dworkin and to the feminists who have adopted her rhetoric, all pornography is reducible to the dynamic of oppression. Women are, by definition, oppressed by pornography. If they can’t recognize their own “dis-empowerment” then, like the peasants of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China, their re-education is in order. If the quote above doesn’t make their position plain enough:
“As activists saw it, porn and sexual assault were but different points on a single continuum of sexual violence.”
Equating pornography with “sexual assault” is to equate it with the most vicious kind of criminality. In order to enjoy pornography or erotica you must, by definition, be an oppressor. When framed in those terms there can be no legitimate defense of pornography just as there could be no legitimate defense of capitalism. This is dangerous thinking of the worst kind. But if the link between the current war on pornography and the dialect of the oppressor and oppressed isn’t clear enough, Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and the founder of the San Francisco-based Prostitution Research and Education clears up any doubts:
“Porn has been cast as empowering by some feminists. But Farley and other like-minded activists say that misses the “choicelessness” of the vast majority of women who work in the industry, many of whom are forced into it by economic necessity or other circumstance.
What’s worse, they say, is that assuming sex workers have a choice in their profession implies they signed up for the abuse and other mistreatments to which they are often exposed.
“Slaves have been blamed for their own enslavement, children have been blamed for provoking their own sexual abuse,” said Farley, “and women in prostitution have been blamed.”
Equating women in pornography to slaves brings her critique fully into the paradigm of the economic oppressor and oppressed. A few paragraphs later, Valiant Richey, a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office in Washington’s King County, will cross the t’s and dot the i’s:
“It’s a “system of inequality perpetuated by race, economics and gender,” Richey said. “We should be talking about demand [for sex] as a system of oppression on its own.”
There it is: “oppression”. As the author of the article immediately observes: “Such language might seem surprising coming from a group of social conservatives.” But the adoption of ostensibly Marxist rhetoric by conservatives and Christian conservatives shouldn’t be surprising. The lure of framing pornography in terms of oppression and victim-hood is the same as that of conservative ‘Christianism’. Both ideologies facilely and dangerously simplify complex issues. Both make identifying the enemy and the victim easy. And both reward their proponents with the tremendous power of an easily grasped political message. The allure is too irresistible.
And what are the motives of anti-porn activists?
Once again, Jordan Peterson might be a guide to answering that. Peterson refers to a moment in George Orwell’s life when Orwell went from being a believer in the socialist/communist cause to disenchantment. It happened, as Peterson explains it, when Orwell recognized that what motivated Leftist activists wasn’t love for the poor, but resentment of the rich. What did communists do with their political currency once they obtained it? They didn’t help the poor. Political power is/was the money of communism—and once communist officials obtained it, they hoarded it, and finally lived like the rich bourgeois they had just murdered.
Likewise, what motivates anti-porn activists isn’t the right’s love of moral rectitude or the left’s love of women but resentment—resentment of women on the right and resentment of men on the left. And both resent the power that pornography grants women’s sexuality. To that extent, the fit between conservative Christians and “neo-Marxist” Feminists is natural and obvious, both being predicated on resentment. Both the right and left resent that the purveyors and consumers of erotica don’t think like they do. If thought can be considered the money (or currency) of cultural power and influence, then pornography is nothing if not a direct threat to the monopolization of conservative and leftist orthodoxy.
The attempt to legislate away pornography is nothing less than an attempt by those in power to control how “the governed” think. If “the governed” disagree, then they are labeled oppressors and in need of re-education (or dis-education), beginning with their children.
Likewise, it’s not love of children that motivates anti-pornography activists. While activists, with no evidence to support their claims, continue to trumpet the alleged harm caused to children by accidentally stumbling on pornography, a consistent concern with children’s well-being would also question why we allow children to be exposed to pernicious political and religious leaders (and their respective teachings) that endorse bigotry, racism, sexism, misogyny, violence, and prejudices of every kind imaginable. One has to ask why anti-pornography (or anti-sex) activists continue to legitimize their assertions with cherry-picked, misleading, and easily falsifiable assertions According to a recent New York Times article:
“It turns out that the research suggesting that teenagers and pornography are a hazardous mix is far from definitive. In fact, many of the most comprehensive reports on this subject come to conclusions that amount to “we can’t say for sure” shrugs (….) Most important, “causal relationships” between pornography and risky behavior “could not be established,” the report concluded. Given the ease with which teenagers can find Internet pornography, it’s no surprise that those engaging in risky behavior have viewed pornography online. Just about every teenager has. So blaming X-rated images for risky behavior may be like concluding that cars are a leading cause of arson, because so many arsonists drive.”
None of this is to say that children shouldn’t be able to enjoy a childhood without exposure to the sexual preoccupations of adults, but at some point children turn into sexually curious (if not obsessed) adolescents and the notion that their sexual health will be irreparably harmed by exposure to erotica of any kind is, to date, simply not supported by any consistent scientific studies, even though anti-pornography advocates, in defense of Britain’s new “porn site age check” still make utterly unsupported claims like the following:
“Protecting children from exposure, including accidental exposure, to adult content is incredibly important, given the effect it can have on young people,” said its chief executive Will Gardner.” The Guardian
As it is, the policy, which was supposed to have taken effect this month, was delayed in order “to give the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) regulator time to launch a public consultation on its draft guidance this month.”
As critics have pointed out, the database (of every man and woman choosing to watch pornography) would be “ripe for Ashley Madison-style hacks or leaks.” The risks are self-evident, as well as the potential for future government abuse. That any government official might themselves be exposed is probably the surest reason the program has been delayed. But the stated justification for the policy, that accessing pornography is harmful to minors, has as of yet no scientific or psychological standing. How to shield children, as opposed to minors, from pornography is a worthwhile pursuit, but not if it’s used solely as a rationalization to suppress sexual expression.
So, beyond resentment, what else might be going on?
As far as conservatives go, recent studies have indicated that one reliable predictor of political affiliation is an individual’s response to disgust, fear and anxiety. Online pornography offers nothing if not new experiences, and a fear of new experiences makes online porn a minefield for the conservative-minded.
“Evidence suggests that harm avoidance and the need for fairness underlie people’s moral judgments in a number of cultures. While liberals rely primarily on these two values, conservatives also rely on desires for group loyalty, authoritative structure, and, most importantly here, purity. Following this logic, Kevin and other researchers became interested in the potential for a relation between disgust and political orientations. They speculated that conservatives are more disgust sensitive than liberals as a result of their concern with purity-related norms and that this difference would manifest itself on issues that some may associate with sexual purity (e.g., homosexual sex and, therefore, gay rights).” ¶ Sure enough, Kevin and his co-authors found that conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals. Not only did they find an association in self-reported measures of disgust sensitivity and political ideology asked on questionnaires, they also found it in involuntary physiological responses (i.e., changes in skin conductance levels) to a series of pictures, some of which aroused disgust.”
Consider the spectrum of fetishes to which online pornography exposes viewers, and it makes sense that conservative attitudes toward pornography would be conflicted at best and outright hypocritical at worst. As far as the public face of conservatism goes, in the US, and doubtless in the rest of the world, hypocrisy is the default. During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (2016), porn searches increased by 648%, including a 7.9% increase in gay porn:
“The GOP just adopted a platform that declared internet porn a “public health crisis,” but many of their members may not have received that memo. There has been a huge surge of porn watching in Cleveland and we don’t think it’s just that the locals have gotten lonelier.”
Obviously, the conservative’s public opposition to pornography can be safely labeled as political expediency. Opposition to porn, even if feigned, is an expedient path to power. Just ask Ted Cruz, who was caught liking hardcore porn, and who just as quickly found an intern to throw under the bus (apparently Cruz gives low-level interns unfettered access to his Twitter account).
But none of this is remotely a sufficient reason to ban pornography. Even US conservatives, who are normally strong free speech defenders (except when they’re not) understand that they can’t suppress pornography simply because it doesn’t suit their tastes. Hence their adoption of the language of oppressor and oppressed.
What motivates the far-left (liberal) feminist critique?
There’s a fascinating study that suggests one possible explanation. Apparently, given certain triggers, conservatives can be made to adopt liberal stances and liberals can be made to adopt conservative stances.
“‘Research has shown that you can make liberals more conservative by threatening them and making them somewhat afraid,” Yale psychology professor John Bargh writes in his new book, ‘Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do,” which was released Tuesday. ¶ Several studies have shown that when social scientists get liberal-leaning experiment subjects to think about their own deaths or make them feel threatened, some left-wingers adopt more conservative values.”
Radical feminism almost universally, as far as I know, defines masculinity and masculine desire as something to be feared and resented, as violent and threatening. Andrea Dworkin famously defined sex, by definition, as rape. Short of murder, I can’t think of a more fear-soaked definition.
Think of the term Masculine Toxicity. By definition, it suggests something to be feared and avoided. Understood in this light, it makes sense that feminists (who one would normally associate with the left or liberalism) would find common ground with conservatives. Insofar as pornography is concerned, it’s possible that the far left and conservatives are motivated by the same emotions—resentment, disgust, fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Conservatives are disgusted by the many and alternative kinds of sexual expression found in pornography, while radical feminists resent and consider pornography an expression of male aggression, violence and oppression. None of this is helpful. As another article posted at Psychology Today argues, shaming men doesn’t build healthy sexuality. The same applies to adolescents who may accidentally discover pornography and like it.
But is pornography really about the oppression of women by men?
Absolutely, but only insofar as such oppression is no different than any other institution where women can be exploited. In various fundamentalist religions, the oppression of women is arguably far more insidious and widespread than anything a woman experiences in the sex trade. Don’t forget that the oppression of women is a central tenant in many fundamentalist readings of Abrahamic doctrine: Jewish, Islamic and Christian.
The production of pornography is undergoing a radical democratization. Ron Jeremy is quoted as saying that the porn industry is going out of business and the demise of the San Francisco Armory can be squarely placed on the availability of free content:
“But it was the proliferation of free online content that ultimately made it impossible for Kink to stay afloat in San Francisco, which once had a thriving porn industry centered in the historically gay Castro district.”
And where is this free content coming from? You. Amateur pornography has exploded. Webcam couples, for instance, probably produce as much if not more online pornography than professional studios, and make money doing it. Not only that, but they can do so from the safety and “privacy” of their own homes. It’s absurd to call such pornography the result of women being oppressed. Webcam girls, sex bloggers and women in committed relationships are hardly victims. The whole paradigm of pornography as the “oppression” or exploitation of women by men, given the explosion of amateur pornography, is increasingly and flatly unsustainable. The assertions of exploitation and oppression can no longer justify the suppression of sexual expression.
In short, the claims that sexual expression is harmful, leads to violence and/or the oppression of women, remains flatly unsupported by the evidence.
An honest debate as to sexual expression can only be had when opponents of free sexual expression stop fabricating evidence, stop misstating the evidence, and stop misleading the public as to the reasons for their antagonism.
William Crimson | April 9th 2018