It’s not just “hate speech,” and speech questioning climate change, and conservative speakers on campus, and professors using offensive words to discuss how we should treat offensive words, and political speech by citizens banding together to support candidates and express issue positions. and employees making jokes that others choose to find offensive. Increasingly prominent progressive elected officials, activists, scholars and pundits are advocating the elimination of free expression in realms that have been long protected by the Supreme Court, and that are currently protected as First Amendment speech by the Constitution.
Witness New York Times columnist Ros Douthat’s recent op-ed flippantly titled, “Let’s Ban Porn.” Buried in the essay’s Authentic Frontier Gibbberish designed, I assume, to numb the ethics alarms is a call for content-based government censorship, meaning that communicating “porn”–which the Supreme Court never got closer to defining than Justice Potter Stewart’s famous and pathetic “I know it when I see it”—would be a crime.
How can a journalist, of all people and professions—excuse me, “professions“—advocate doing what the Bill of Rights specifically prohibits? By stooping to an argument like this one..
“But we are supposed to be in the midst of a great sexual reassessment, a clearing-out of assumptions that serve misogyny and impose bad sex on semi-willing women. And such a reassessment will be incomplete if it never reconsiders our surrender to the idea that many teenagers, most young men especially, will get their sex education from online smut….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. That we cannot imagine such censorship is part of our larger inability to imagine any escape from the online world’s immersive power, even as we harbor growing doubts about its influence upon our psyches.”
No, Ross, the reason that we can’t imagine such censorship is because the United States of American is predicated on the core principle, among others, that the government restricting what can be imagined, said, expressed, written and published is far, far more dangerous that any content that can be imagined, said, expressed, written and published, and thus the remedy for controversial, ugly or otherwise controversial speech is more speech, not laws. What Douthat’s op-ed translates as, and heaven knows it needs a translation though there is no “Leftist Virtue-Signalling Bloviation” to English handbook that I can find on Amazon, is that porn is bad for people, though apparently only men, because the Left’s official position of the moment is that Men Are The Problem.” For example, douhat writes,
“So 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.”
We cannot trust people who reason like this. Progressives and Democrats whose brains and values still thrive cannot trust people who reason like this. The reason is obvious. Douhat wants to ban a form of expression, art, and speech because one of the Left’s core constituencies don’t like it. All righty then! That’s good enough, don’t you think?
I’d go through the usual slippery slope exercise of listing all the other forms of expression, including campus speeches, demonstrations, and courses, literature, artwork, films and more, that some segment of the Left would happily make illegal—all the better to indoctrinate us with—but I have a headache, and I assume that if you’re visiting Ethics Alarms you’re smart enough to do it yourself. And you should. It’s fun. Scary too. Fun and scary, like “From Dusk ti Dawn”!
Over at Reason, the excellent libertarian site, Peter Suderman actually thinks about what a competent columnist should have thought about before writing such junk, namely, what would banning porn entail? After enumerating what would be required and why it still wouldn’t work, he concludes,
“The real barrier to banning pornography, the objection that matters, is not cultural defeatism or lack of public will. It is that attempting to ban porn would at best be a foolish, expensive, and futile project, and at worst a path to a new and radically expanded police state devoted to punishing people for engaging in acts of consensual self-expression. A federal war on porn would be just as winnable as the federal wars on drugs and alcohol—in other words, not winnable at all”
Of course, drugs and alcohol aren’t speech, either.
Day by day, drip by drip, the modern American Left is signalling its contempt for core democratic values, and giving off the increasingly strong and noxious stench of totalitarian rot and an “ends justify the means” approach to government and social policy. Until it comes to its senses and the odor abates, it will be irresponsible to entrust it with power over our lives.
Correction: In the original post, I incorrectly labelled Douthat a progressive(and misspelled his name.) That was careless—I tend to get him mixed up with Rod Dreher, who is a progressive. I removed the label. None of the Times columnists are really conservative after they have been marinating in that culture, and this column proves it. The feminist push to ban pornography blows from the Left now, as do all attempts to abridge individual rights. In advocating to ban speech, Douthat is promoting a progressive component group’s current crusade. His personal label is irrelevant.
Thanks to Chris for the correction.