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viewpoint

Fuel for the porn filter fire

| Wednesday, November 7, 2018

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the student who re-started the porn filtering conversation in the fall of 2016, I write in response to the author of the wittily-titled op-ed on the subject, “Give me Pornhub or give me death,” to whom I wish to offer insight. I’ll admit that my research for and composition of a Glynn Honors Senior Thesis on the porn industry and pornographic culture in America limits my appreciation for his humor.

Mr. Murphy, I think it worth briefly noting for the sake of transparency that Wendy McElroy, with whose quote you opened, is personally an anarchist who believes that rape culture is a myth. Rather than commit the ad-hominem fallacy, I offer the Supreme Court’s answer to some of your free speech concerns, as it has more authority and speaks more eloquently than I.

In Roth v. United States (1957), Justice William Brennan, writing for the majority, elaborates:

All ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance — unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion — have the full protection of the guaranties, unless excludable because they encroach upon the limited area of more important interests. But implicit in the history of the First Amendment is the rejection of obscenity as utterly without redeeming social importance.” I repeat, obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.

Justice Burger, in the 1973 majority opinion for Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, offers further explanation:

The sum of experience, including that of the past two decades, affords an ample basis for legislatures to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits a State from reaching such a conclusion and acting on it legislatively simply because there is no conclusive evidence or empirical data.”

These words warrant further contemplation by all of us, especially in light of the #Metoo movement. And while the extent to which the government merits our trust is up for debate, I think we can agree on our faith in the Constitution, whose Bill of Rights is designed to protect us from the government. If only we all took the time to carefully read it — and the court opinions relating to its interpretation.

Examining Jeffrey’s point about countries that oppress women, if the argument is that a society that oppresses women also usually bans pornography, correlation does not equal causation. So it doesn’t logically follow that the men seeking the filter also are oppressing women in other ways, or that their intention is to oppress and restrict women through the porn filter or that the filter will promote continued or further oppression of women. To the contrary! We also must contrast what may be these countries’ problematic justification (“sex is bad and dirty”) with ours (“the production and use of porn is detrimental to women’s dignity and equality”) behind a decision (restricting porn access). Poor justification for a decision doesn’t necessarily mean the decision is a poor one.

As an aside, Martin Luther King, Jr., would roll over in his grave to hear of the weaponization of his example for the pro-porn argument, especially in light of the fact that racist pornography was one of the “most watched porn categories” of 2017 (as were step-family and teen genres).

Jeffrey, I’m a Capitol Hill staffer who handles the sexual exploitation legislative portfolio for a Congressman in the House of Representatives. As you may know, rule of law refers to the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to established laws, passed by Congress and signed by the President. Universities also have “laws,” or rules. The current rule at ND forbids students from accessing porn on the wifi network. I stand by the rule of law, and the men and women who wrote to ask the administration to enforce this rule. If you want to challenge the rule itself, you are free to do so. But to challenge its enforcement isn’t in the spirit of the founding fathers or the articles they drafted to protect our liberty.  

Finally, I’ll boldly suggest that my thesis may convince you not only that the community should willingly disengage with the porn industry, but also that university administrations — as well as state and federal governments — would do well to take meaningful action to that end in the meantime. I thank those that have already started to do so.

Abigail Balmert

class of 2017

Nov. 4

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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