It is good to know that a committee of British MPs, as this magazine reports, have had some harsh things to say about pornography. Everything they say strikes me as sensible and obvious: they see pornography as socially corrosive, as impacting negatively on women, and encouraging violence against them. Porn panders to sexual appetites, presenting them as normalised, and surely must result in more sexual aggression – that seems to be the inescapable truth.
That the MPs think this is encouraging and another setback for the defenders of pornography. For such indeed there be, though they rarely come out and fight for their corner. Apart from a rather feeble defence of pornography as part of our right to freedom of expression, the main defence of porn is usually to attack those who disapprove of it as prudish or else as ‘dogmatic’.
But Catholics are not Puritans and any accusation against Catholics who criticise pornography as prudes tends not to stick. This did happen to me when I appeared on the Moral Maze to attack porn. Funnily enough, however, I do not want to stop women in Saudi Arabia driving, and the accusation that I did was absurd. On the same programme one of the participants said that the habit of ‘sexting’ – that is ending pictures of oneself in a state of undress to another person – was a harmless teenage habit. That too is self-evidently false. Several teenagers have committed suicide when their indiscrete pictures have been used to blackmail them. Allowing oneself to be photographed naked is just such a bad idea, full stop. That is advice we should not be frightened to give.
Of course, such advice might seem dogmatic in an age where all dogma is viewed as a bad thing. But the pornography issue should enable people to see the worthwhile nature of dogma. Some things are just plain bad and wrong – and that is a certainty. To pretend that pornography could be beneficial in any way is deeply misleading. On this matter we have to be dogmatic, and this matter illustrates a truth: there are moral certainties in life. There are intrinsic evils and woe to us if we forget this.
The Parliamentarians compare porn to smoking, and this is not a bad comparison. Smoking is harmful per se and comes with a social cost, as does pornography. In addition, the way we deal with smoking shows us the way forward with porn. It would be counter-productive to try and make it illegal. It has been illegal in the past in many jurisdictions, but the advent of the internet makes it very difficult to cut off the supply; even when pornography was printed matter, it was difficult.
What needs to be done is to educate people, particularly the young, on the dangers of pornography and the dangers of porn addiction. That is the only way forward. We have to cultivate and inculcate a moral disdain for pornography. Needless to say, this brings us back to the question of dogma: to educate people about pornography we have to convince them and ourselves that it is wrong in all circumstances.
I have been amazed by how many people are unwilling to accept this view, probably (they rarely articulate reasons) because they are unwilling to accept the logical consequences of the idea of intrinsic evil: after all, if pornography is wrong in all circumstances, what else might fall into this category?
The porn question leads us to the moral question which some of us would like to avoid. But as the MPs make clear, we need to talk about pornography, and it is a problem that will not go away by being ignored. Moreover, it is a threat to women, and indeed all human beings, being a direct attack on human dignity. It is reassuring that for once our parliamentarians are right.