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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jennifer Wilson on anti-pornography campaigners

This post is really very good. As Wilson says, the censorship laws relating to pornography are already very restrictive in Australia, so what more do these campaigners really want? Perhaps some restrictions on pornography can be justified, as I've always said (most recently in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State), but they do need justification, and I don't see why we need laws that go even further than the restrictive Australian classification code. Perhaps that code even needs to be liberalised when you look at the detail. So what, in the Australian context, is really up with these campaigners?

It seems that they must want something that goes much further than could be justified on any plausible feminist grounds, for example. The recurrent theme seems to be that they want to ensure that our society decisively privileges sex within committed, loving, monogamous (though, to be fair, not necessarily heterosexual with all these campaigners) relationships. This should be privileged to such an extent that no messages favouring other kinds of sexual activity should be tolerated - all such messages should be subjected at least to strong moral(istic) criticism and possibly to some kind of legal deterrence.

If that's not what these people are really saying, let them clarify it, please, because I agree with Wilson that that's how it often comes across from the likes of Emma Rush and Clive Hamilton. Wilson quotes Hamilton as saying: "Perhaps this is why many people are left with a vague feeling that each time they have casual sex they give away a little of themselves, that something sacred is profaned and they are diminished as a result. Casual sex truly is meaningless sex."

Well, it may be that "many people" feel like that, especially if they've been socialised to feel like that. It may also be that many other people do not feel like that at all, and perhaps we shouldn't support socialising young people to feel like that.

Wilson says:
Claims of the rightness of a sexuality confined to “loving relationships” and the alleged profanity of casual sex must refer to the commandments of some metaphysical authority, unless Rush and Hamilton assume an infallible authority for themselves. Alternatively, their positions are social constructs, and if that is the case, we need to be convinced why they ought to have more influence over us than any other social construct. Empirical evidence for claims is the best way to establish this. Rush and Hamilton et al need to prove the “sacredness” of sex, the profanity of casual sex, and the need to confine sex to loving relationships, or risk being perceived as founding their campaign in a crypto theology that is of no real consequence to anyone other than those who believe in it.
Read the whole thing! Wilson has been producing some brilliant material of late.

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