Yesterday the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, signed a resolution to make pornography illegal. If the law is passed, those in Utah who possess pornographic material such as magazines or films, or watch pornography on-line, will face penalties and potential imprisonment for repeat offenses.
There is nothing worse than finding that you oppose a law that bans something you hate, but here I am, looking at this news from Utah and feeling despair. While it is true that pornography has grown astronomically since the advent of the internet, and while the material itself has become notably more violent and more physically risky for the “actors” involved, I do not agree with making it illegal.
It makes me sick to see that hardcore pornography has become mainstream pornography, that to be successful, makers of pornography have to put women through increasingly physically painful and emotional hurtful situations. Pornography often shows women enduring anal and vaginal penetration simultaneously with larger and larger objects or penises thrust inside them, being gagged with oral sex , being shown as rape victims or gang-rape victims (I could go on).
I don’t even like the soft porn options–not that they are so “soft” anymore. Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I hate pornography, yet here I am defending it. Am I not the same person who while researching the topic became unbearably angry at the sidebar on pornhub in which a drunk eighteen year old lies comatose and naked with the invitation to see what you could do to this drunk virgin?
Do I not detest the dreadful language used by all such sites, talking about the “bitches” and “whores” who need to be fucked? All that violence and hatred toward women concentrated into short segments thick with disdain. Why would I defend those? And the websites, making fortunes off people who want to see women as detestable, worthless objects good for nothing but sex, don’t I want to see those gone forever?
Yes, but I don’t want them made illegal.
Why not? The average age of children first watching internet pornography is 11.5 years old–don’t I want to protect those young minds? And the profiteering from an industry that does not care who it hurts–don’t I want participation in that industry through paying for and watching its chilling videos made illegal?
No, I don’t.
Not because I like pornography or find it excusable in any circumstances, but because everything we’ve learned about prohibition in the twentieth century or the “war on drugs” demonstrates the unintended fall-out from such laws. What happens? We make criminals out of people who aren’t really criminals, but misguided and suggestible and often very lonely. We break up families, incarcerate ordinary citizens, tear apart communities, and waste a great deal of money destroying the very people the government purports to protect. Don’t believe me? Look at the history of the war on drugs.
I just wonder how many peoples’ teenage sons will be fined or incarcerated for looking at images their fathers looked at with impunity. I wonder how a wife will feel as she watches her husband, who is at-heart a good man and father and provider, being taken away to prison.
Who will profit from this law that punishes the end-user and not the makers of the pornography itself? If we look at the lessons learned from the war on drugs we see that making illegal the use of pornography will bring financial gain to gangsters who can use the prohibition to make money, run gangs, and create a whole underground market that puts everyone at risk.
And what about the pornography, itself? What happens to it when we make illegal “the new drug?” In an Op-Ed piece, Johann Hari, whose three year research on drugs in the United States resulted in his New York Times bestseller, Chasing The Scream, The First and Last Days Of The War On Drugs, writes that “as crackdowns on a drug become more harsh the milder form of that drug disappears and the more extreme strains become widely available.”
Why might that be? In the case of alcohol during America’s prohibition it was because if you are going to serve up a whole lot of alcohol, you get more intoxication from hard booze than beer. As for drugs, the same things applies. The kick is what is important and you get a lot bigger kick from stronger drugs than weak ones.
What does that mean for pornography? It may mean harder porn will be what is seen in states like Utah that prohibit it altogether. Who would bother risking jail time for soft-porn? The real criminals will become more sophisticated in their delivery of pornography and make sure that the “stuff is good”, by which I mean it is very bad, indeed. And if a man who once liked to look at non-violent images of pornography can no longer do so legally, but he’s really quite hooked on the stuff as any addict can be, he’s going to have to take what is available from the black market. He’s going to have to watch the most violent and debasing of pornography, which will become his new norm.
Life is so complicated, is it not? I hate pornography but here I am defending it. Will the government of Utah see the damage they will do to the people of their state through this legislation? Will the children of Utah be brought up in fear their parents and relatives and friends will face arrest for the crime of resisting censorship laws? Will they build a wall around Utah the way Trump proposes against the Mexicans and keep all those “bad people” out?
Or will they pay attention to the lessons of history and see that their good intentions will only hurt people, and hurt them very badly?
At this moment we embark on a debate in which pornography will be defended even by those, like me, who oppose it. I defend pornography with gritted teeth, not because I think it is good but because the people who watch it are not bad people and do not deserve to be criminalised.
Will the government in Utah understand this, or will they insist on their own righteousness and course of action even it means jailing ordinary citizens? We need to educate people away from wanting to watch pornography, not punish them for viewing what society has groomed them to find erotic. I am not excusing pornography as an industry, but forgiving people for being people.
Just listen to the Russian novelist and thinker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned in a labour camp for eight years, whose suffering was beyond anything most of us can imagine. His crime? He violated censorship laws (he wrote ungenerous remarks about Joseph Stalin). What we see in Solzhenitsyn is not bitterness but humanity. His 1973 title, The Gulag Archipelago, he writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Utah needs to understand what Solzhenistsyn understood. There are no good and no bad among us, only inside us. As bad as pornography may be, the proposed law in Utah against its use is even worse.