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viewpoint

Response to ‘The men of ND request a porn filter’

| Thursday, October 25, 2018

I completely agree with “the men of Notre Dame” about the dangers of pornography. But I cannot sign their petition, because imposing the campus-wide filter they propose would cause more problems than it would solve.

First, there is the problem of defining when something is pornographic, the issue the Supreme Court wrestled with in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Even a publication as staid as National Geographic has published pictures of minimally-clad adults and children.

Second, the proposed filter would throttle research all over campus. It’s impossible to investigate history, literature, the arts, religion, anthropology and many other fields without coming across sexual material that would offend some people today (or even back then). The Sistine Chapel frescos are full of naked bodies, for instance, and seeing them in the Pope’s personal chapel has bothered people for centuries. Liberals and conservatives are offended by different things, but there’s plenty out there to upset everybody. Even the Bible and the writings of some Christian mystics present stories, imagery and attitudes about sex and violence that many people find problematic. All this is unavoidable, since our God-given sexuality is a fundamental aspect of our humanity — and a primary source of cultural metaphors for life, love and creativity for Christians and non-Christians both. Indeed, the facts and statistics presented in “the men’s” petition are only known because university professors had the academic freedom to research pornography itself. We would know so much less if their employers had placed tight restrictions on what their computers could find or store.

Third, some people are in difficult family situations. I had a seriously psychotic brother who often sent me emails about sexual violence.  He suffered from many of the problems that “the men of Notre Dame” list in their petition. After his employer fired him for reading pornography on company computers, he ran out of money and killed himself in a spectacular suicide. But I loved him, and my whole family is better off because I made the effort to maintain contact with him. The kind of filter advocated by “the men of Notre Dame” would have made it more difficult for me to help him, and his own employer’s policies did nothing to help him help himself.

More constructive approaches could follow the models already in place for problems like excessive drinking, assault and harassment on campus. They could include (a) educational efforts on how to recognize the problems and deal with them effectively and (b) support groups and other interventions tailored to specific cases. How will we know what really works? Research.

Peter Jeffery

Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies

Oct. 23

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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