by Mary Harrington
Friday, 1
January 2021

Don’t pity the pornographers

by Mary Harrington
The attempt to conjure pity for out of work pornographers doesn’t wash. Credit: Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Won’t someone think of the pornographers? is lamenting thousands of tragic job losses in the porn industry as a consequence of Pornhub’s recent cleanup. Who, sighs progressive pro-porn sociologist Angela Jones, “is speaking for the hundreds of thousands of pornographers whose economic livelihoods have been served upon an altar for penance?”

Jones decries the ‘anti-porn lobby’ as a front organisation for the religious right, but in truth it spans left and right, comprising feminists, sex industry survivors and ordinary men and women as well as people of faith. All these groups view self-expression as one value to balance against numerous other moral harms inflicted by the proliferation and normalisation of porn.

“This is not a zero-sum game, even if the politically savvy master illusionists in the anti-porn lobby want you to believe it is”, Jones asserts. Ostensibly her concern is for the economically precarious sex workers struggling to make a living, and for the free speech of groups whose ‘self-expression’ is being brutally stifled by Big Religion. While sex trafficking is of course bad, she says, “censorship is not the answer.”

Except, of course, in a contest between mutually incompatible moral norms, it absolutely is a zero-sum game. There is no reconciling the perspectives of porn advocates and socially conservative porn abolitionists in any abstract ‘marketplace of ideas’. The only remotely effective way of settling an irreconcilable difference of public values is, in fact, censorship.

And indeed this technique has been used to great effect in recent years, by a networked and confident vanguard of progressive moral entrepreneurs who seek to inflict reputational, political and economic damage on any individual or institution that violates their preferred moral norms. Recent examples are too numerous to list but include (in the US) the defenestration of the New York Times’ comment editor for publishing an article calling for the military to suppress BLM protests, and (in the UK) the recent dropping of Julie Burchill by publisher Hachette after she called the Prophet Mohammed a ‘paedophile’.

Having noticed progressives’ facility with this approach, the anti-porn lobby has accepted a reality which still seems to elude many opponents of the progressive juggernaut: that winning the argument is futile unless you also have power. That is, the best arguments in the world are meaningless until you can use them to inflict — as David Hines put it recently — ‘actual material damage’ on your opponents.

But decrying the apparent progressive hypocrisy of ‘censorship bad except when it serves me’ achieves nothing. Better to recognise the terms on which this contest for control of moral norms is actually being fought. Those on both left and right with reservations about the emerging moral consensus are waking up to the reality that it’s not enough to win the argument; you have to win the arm-wrestle, and that means having your ‘side’ in leadership roles.

So, one prediction for 2021 (which I hope will be better than 2020, for all of us). The intensifying contest over who controls public moral norms will reflect this dawning realisation, and migrate accordingly from an increasingly disorderly ‘marketplace of ideas’ to the boards of public institutions.

Join the discussion

  • Someone needs to follow up this article with one examining the alliance of left wing feminists with right wing fundamentalists in their attempt to dictate to the rest of us what we are allowed to see, hear, think, feel and say.

    Because that’s what unites these two otherwise opposed ideological camps- the shared notion that, being in possession of the “truth” , they are our moral superiors, and have the right to dictate to their moral inferiors.

    All of which reveals the hidden reality that feminism is more like a religion than it is a political position, more a matter of faith than reason. That’s why those of us who still cling to classic liberalism find both camps to be so repugnant.

    In the end, they’re both just self-righteous bullies.

  • Condemning one’s ancestors to keep up with modern fashion always ends up with selective outrage, unprincipled exceptions, and sanctimony.

  • I don’t agree. Mainly because I wasn’t referring to speech. Say what you like – I do. Just don’t beat up women and film it for the sexual stimulation of others. It certainly isn’t good for the women, whatever some are paid to pretend, and it isn’t good for children who get a somewhat skewed view of what constitutes the good life. And you know what? It probably isn’t good for you.

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