In February of last year, Ross Douthat penned a column about banning porn. It was a kind of feminist argument.
“If you want better men by any standard, there is every reason to regard ubiquitous pornography as an obstacle — and to suspect that between virtual reality and creepy forms of customization, its influence is only likely to get worse.”
Those who wave hands about censorship and free speech, but who simultaneous treat porn as a “product” are disingenuous. Porn is a product — a very vicious product which destroys human dignity and love — it is “something made and distributed and sold,” and therefore, Douthat argues “subject to regulation and restriction if we so desire.”
We regulate and restrict many things that we deem harmful, or potentially harmful to some portion of the population or all. Defenders of porn must face the empirical data which shows that porn harms people on every kind of measure. Of course, lonely emasculated men in basements will tell you how wonderful it is, and those caught in the financial dependencies of the market will suddenly become eloquently insincere defenders of free market capitalism, but very disinterested data disagrees.
I am teaching a course this semester on “Christianity and Politics” at Catholic University, and to illustrate a point about the limits of liberal social contract theory, I told the students that I supported a national ban on porn. The lifestyle liberalism of John Stuart Mill has trained us to gasp at bans. But my students were intrigued.
I gave them a version of Douthat:
“The belief that it should not be restricted is a mistake; the belief that it cannot be censored is a superstition. Law and jurisprudence changed once and can change again, and while you can find anything somewhere on the internet, making hard-core porn something to be quested after in dark corners would dramatically reduce its pedagogical role, its cultural normalcy, its power over libidos everywhere.”
To my great surprise, weeks later, two undergraduate senators in my class sponsored a very modest bill which simply asked that porn no longer be accessible on the University Wifi Network. The John Stuart Mills of this world were on hand to limply argue about slippery slopes, but hundreds of students supported the restriction. They cheered at the passing of the bill. The student body president defended the bill on more or less secular libertarian grounds — in contrast to the bill itself, which argued the grounds of natural law, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church — which is interesting in itself. But the message has been sent.
It is only one small anecdote. But I believe it could signal a generational change that is very promising. Perhaps it will be the young who take the old and exhausted by the hand, and lead us where we have not wanted to go. If they do, we should listen to them. They’ve seen the fruit of “sexual liberation” as bitter bondage. They are having none of it. May their tribe increase.
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