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Lecture 11

PHL 606 Lecture 11: PHL Module 11 – Pornography

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PHL 606
Christopher Thomson

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PHL Module 11 Pornography Can Liberals Support a Ban on Violent Pornography? One type of argument alleges that violent pornography harms women and that banning its produc- tion and distribution would prevent much of the harm Another argument is that the abuse and degrada- tion of women depicted in violent pornography is often real rather than simulated and inflicted on unwilling models or actresses afraid to report their victimization because of their vulnerability to further harm. This argument implies that we should ban violent pornography for more or less the same reasons that we currently ban child pornogra- phy violent pornography produces and/or strengthens in its male consumers de- sires to sexually assault women. Objections: not enough proof, and even if it were true, a ban would be a silence of speech which goes against liberals views categories of pornography: Pornography which is not sexist or degrading to women; ma- terial which those feminists who regard "pornography" as a pejorative term prefer to call "nonsexist erotica" Pornography which does not contain an explicit degradation or domination theme, but which is nevertheless sexist (e.g., portraying women as silly, stupid, and eagerly servile to men) Nonviolent pornography which does contain an explicit deg- radation or domination theme (e.g., photos of a naked woman being urinated on, or on her hands and knees while wearing a dog collar and leash) Violent pornography, containing depictions of women being raped, tortured, tied up, and so forth; in some of this material the victim is depicted as both enjoying and consenting to the sexual abuse she (or occasionally he) suffers, and in some as unwilling and terrorized "harm principle," which says that the only good reason to restrict speech (or conduct) is to prevent harm to vital social institutions or nonconsenting third parties "persuasion principle," namely, that the prevention of a risk of harm created by the persuasive effects of speech does not ordinarily justify restricting that speech. Dworkin says, "Morally responsible people insist on making up their own minds about what is good or bad in life or in politics, or what is true and false in matters ofjustice or faith. Government insults its citizens, and denies their moral responsibility, when it decrees that they cannot be trusted to hear opinions that might persuade them to dangerous or offensive convictions." A ban on "any public speech likely to elicit a violent audience response," though content neutral in formulation, seems clearly unac- ceptable, and the fact that it violates the persuasion principle explains whythe function or purpose of pornography is to arouse, not polemicize. But its having that function does not pre- clude it from implicitly endorsing a viewpoint as well A ban enacted with the aim of preventing harms so caused is still viewpoint based. And it will almost always be forbidden by the liberal's persuasion principle. At the extreme nonpersuasion or nonrational end would lie the following, if it were possible: oral speech with a certain pitch and modulation excites the aggression center in the brains of its listeners, causing in them strong urges to act violently even if they do not understand what is being spoken. Pornography is composed of pictorial or verbal representations, which can arouse only if one grasps their content or reference. In this respect it differs from both speech which causes aggression via its pitch or modulation and mechanical "sex aids." A ban on all pornography, enacted because it nonrationally causes what is claimed to be the harmless immorality of lusting for someone who is not one's spouse, would not violate the persuasion principle, but it would violate the harm principle. (what needs to be shown is that violent pornography causes misogynistic beliefs and/or desires, not just arousal, in a substantially nonrational way) it produces new or reinforces preexisting desires or urges to harm women through a process akin to operant conditioning. Operant conditioning rests on the "law of effect," which says that rewarding or reinforcing a behavior x in circumstances
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