FREEDOM IS OUR COMMUNITY STANDARD
I believe we do not solve our social problems by ordering our police to keep them out of sight, but rather by open, honest, and tolerant examination of the truth in all our activities. The very concept of "forbidden communication of knowledge" seems to me an invitation to social horror. When I announce myself a Libertarian, and a champion of the letter and spirit of The Bill Of Rights, I have sometimes been accused by opponents of literary freedom of being against any law that limits people from doing what they wish. Since all laws limit something, these accusers would brand me an anarchist. I am not against law, but strive to defend a law: The Constitution of the United States. I stand against the idea that an exception to that law should be granted to permit any ordinance restricting free publication because of alleged obscenity. That does not make me pro-obscenity, nor does it make me a porn-addict, nor a rapist, nor a child-molester.
I do not call for a policy of "anything goes", but for the exercise of responsible freedom. I believe it was the intention of the Fathers of the Constitution that citizens should not be permitted the expedient of falling back on government use of internal armed force to maintain the moral standards of their communities, but must seek other ways to inspire social excellence. I do not take this American-rights defense position to call for free license to fornicate in the streets, but for responsible voluntary avoidance of the highly-corruptible use of enforced prohibitionary law in maintaining community standards of morality.
What a strange and backward attitude the erotic-censors’ seems to me, their moralist position strangely inverted. The sexual violence they claim to be caused by "pornography" is not found in the X-rated stuff, which is pictures of people having sex and enjoying it. However, in the PG and R films, sexual vulnerability and temptation are used to enhance scenes of horror, pain, extortion, power manipulation, murder, and dismemberment. The women of prime-time TV soaps wield sexual power like a chainsaw, and viewers cheer their cruelty with moral self-indulgence because the producers refrain from showing the scenes wherein they take off their panties with the guest stars. It is not that pornography will engender sexual violence that moralists fear, but that forbidden acts might appear pleasant. By their standards, those who enjoy freedom of knowledge of erotic subjects are branded lascivious perverts, sickos from whom the community must be protected, while those whose reactions are disgust and loathing declare themselves most moral and sane. Insisting their self-righteous revulsion should be the standard by which the whole community is measured, promulgators of obscenity censorship demand the power of law enforcement to deny to all whatever offends their personal emotions and tastes.
If such a law is permitted in a community, what will prevent the overzealous from amending it to prohibit that which they find offensive for heresy, blasphemy, political subversiveness, ethnic sensitivity, or disrespect to sacred symbols and figures of authority in church and state? God save us from "public servants" who believe they must protect our children from their own visions of evil by using social shame, enforced ignorance, and criminal status to build stronger and higher walls around their minds...and ours.
Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder. Some people cannot tolerate even to think certain things, so they try to ban anything which stimulates forbidden images in their minds. Unmoved that the acts they abhor may be harmless, voluntary, even considered desirable by others, they can not acknowledge that each individual’s reaction to any stimulus is uniquely his own. Blaming the publisher of the words or pictures, they cry for the power of law enforcement to protect them from their own feelings. From one point of view, a person who cannot control his own reactions ought to be committed to institutional care for incompetence. Those who would impose public censorship to protect themselves from seeing things that upset them would make such an institution of the entire community, and would commit us all into it. What is worse, they would have themselves (that is, their uncontrollable reactions) be the judges of what should be forbidden to all of us inmates for our own good.
The obscenity ordinances some are trying to propose for our communities would specifically authorize the use of armed police to confiscate from our shops any literature deemed prurient, that is, pertaining to or showing anything sexual, and to take those books and tapes out and destroy them. Have we forgotten those piles of books burning in the streets of 1930’s Berlin for the crime of pertaining to or showing anything pro-Jewish? There is no easier way to create a sick and oppressive society than by declaring common human qualities to be evil and therefore illegal.
The typical obscenity ordinance (usually based on Miller vs. California) serves principally to define in legal terms what is obscene. Specifically, it defines all that which is erotically explicit to be obscene. Further, it would impose the ban of censorship on all such material by forbidding the "promotion" of it by: "manufacture, issue, sell, rent, give, provide, advertise, lend, mail, deliver, transfer, transmit, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, display, exhibit, or to offer or agree to do the same." Should you write an erotic love poem, or take a snapshot of a naked friend, and offer to let someone else see either, you could by the letter of such an ordinance be convicted of "pandering obscenity", and for a first offense fined and imprisoned.
The central issue in censorship is whether or not adults in a free country can be trusted with the right to make their own decisions. Pro-censorship’s position says where sex is concerned, we cannot be trusted, and the power of law enforcement must be applied to impose correct standards -- that is, their own. The reasoning: given choice, we make wrong exercise freedom. In compassion, they must therefore assume the burden of usurping our Constitutional right of individual citizen’s power and exercising it on our behalf to control our unrighteous urges.
Given freedom, I might look at erotic pictures of naked people. I might get naked with friends and take pictures. Heck, we might even sell copies. Moralist authoritarians assert such acts are evil and obscene, and they take that as a mandate to impose control by civil force upon my untrustworthy abuse of my freedom. If they succeed in making that which is erotic illegal by calling it obscene, I will have a choice: let them cleanse my home of whatever offends them, or draw my curtains and become part of a brand new criminal underground.
The sanctimonious and self-righteous idea that one has a moral obligation to take command of another’s life if he will not conform to one’s own taboos is bad enough in the individual. When it is given the power to impose behavior with the force of law, it quickly engenders the most intolerant tyranny, wherein dissent is evidence of moral weakness, and disobedience of the law is a fundamental sin. It is evil’s most insidious trick that one who would defend freedom must appear to defend evil. For one group of people to forcibly usurp the freedom of choice of another group is evil, even if done with the best of faith in their own righteousness, and in full compliance with the process of law.
I believe the Fathers of our Constitution were wise to guarantee that certain rights shall not be abridged, by law or in fact. Such freedom demands that standards of morality must be maintained by some means other than the power of civil law enforcement. It must come from the community, not as a cry for government to exercise more power by law, but as a collective act of establishing the community’s standards in fact. Merely electing the rulers who command the police is a poor excuse for democracy. In democracy, silence is abdication.
We who oppose the so-called "anti-obscenity" laws do not seek to promote obscenity, though our detractors are quick to accuse us of just that. I should like to believe no citizen calling for such an ordinance wishes to destroy the basic rights which make our way of government the most just in history. I can acknowledge those socially-conscious citizens are attempting in good faith to define the "responsible" part of "responsible freedom", whereas we are attempting to defend the "freedom" part. The point of contention is the use of enforced prohibitionary law. If one group would ban obscenity, and the other would ban tyranny, then clearly the resolution must come from tolerance and respect of each other’s rights and desires. We must all act upon the common goal of preserving both our communities’ high moral standards and also our country’s precious guarantees of freedom.
Some sects’ morality exhorts abstention from certain acts which others might call normal sexual behavior. The penitent may voluntarily choose to accept such limitations as a sacrifice made in faith, and they violate the rights of no one. However, when moralists insist that to avoid temptation for such penitents to violate their vows, everyone else must be forced to behave as though we were also abstemious penitents, then they violate the rights of all, and invalidate the faith of the penitent.
The censorship ordinance would abridge the right of the citizen to inform or amuse himself, would restrict the right of parents to determine the moral upbringing of their children, would usurp the power of the school board to select the curriculum, and abrogate the power of the free market to determine which products are desired and which are spurned. By creating resentment, it would even undermine the power of the churches to create high moral standards through inspiration. And that is where our moral standards should come from, not from enforcement, but through inspiration, example, encouragement, and active participation of the citizen in the affairs of the community.
Some attempt to justify censorship with the declaration that community standards demand it. If that were true, availability of obscene material would not lead the community to buy it. When one faction feels it must arm itself with the power of law enforcement to suppress a willing market among others, then cries of "community standards" are specious. Those who would impose some bizarre, paranoid, and oppressive obscenity ordinance are not reacting to community standards. They are attempting to dictate standards, and to impose them by force. I find that obscene.
Given a free market for ideas, community behavior will reflect community standards, for better or for worse. However, enforcing an unwilling show of officially-moral behavior can only result in the cruel hypocrisy of a society in which people steal forbidden cookies with their left hands, while with their right hands they arrest their neighbors for the same. Suppression of a willing market among those who would be free produces a criminal underground -- which is taken by the suppressors as justification for further persecution, which is taken by the suppressed as grounds for active social dissent.
I have only the highest regards for the Good Sheep of our communities, but I know it is the nature of sheep to be easily frightened, and to feel safe only in a secure fold guarded by a strong shepherd with a big stick. Having been around the block a few times, I know also that not all the good guys are sheep. If the world of the sheep is built of limitations and securities, then the world of the goat is built of opportunities and risks. Given our Bill of Rights, and our tradition of multi-cultural tolerance and cooperation, America is a good place for both. However, if the taboos and fears of the Good Sheep are imposed on all by force of law, it gets to be a pretty hard place to be a goat...or an eagle, or a stallion, or anything else.
The Fathers of our Constitution were not lascivious anarchists, but they did have the wisdom to make responsible freedom of choice the very foundation of our unique way of life. I call on those citizens who agree with them to raise your voices against the book-burners, finger-waggers, and keyhole-peepers who would turn the power of law enforcement against that foundation of fundamental American rights. Please help to retain our right to make our own decisions about what we choose to read, view, or hear. Stand against any attempt to impose a so-called "anti-obscenity" ordinance on the citizens of your state. Let us keep our communities clean and safe places to live by being tolerant and respectful of each other’s ways, neither denying anyone the right to his own, nor forcing one’s own upon others.
James Nathan Post
If an artist of recognized expertise elects to turn his talent to the world of high-heeled boys in rubber suits, well, so what? If someone else wants to buy the pictures and laminate them into the floor of his hot tub, who cares? Why should anyone feel so strongly about any subject of communication among others as to insist it must be forbidden to all? How is it possible the government even considers the notion that certain people have a right to be "shielded" from all exposure by others to ideas which offend them. If that is correct thinking, then why should it be limited to those who are offended merely by that which reminds them of their primal bodily functions? For others, it is obscene that the media may be used to brainwash the public to consume alcohol, tobacco, and a huge pharmacopoeia of legal drugs. Should we not then ban all advertising of that which is dangerous? Others consider blasphemy (speaking irreverently of their name of God, or gainsaying their doctrine) even more offensive, and cry for pious suppression, as Salman Rushdie discovered. Some people think cutting forests to sell political propaganda and pictures of yesterday’s automobile accidents in the newspapers is obscene. If the government were to ban all that which is considered obscenely offensive by any of the hundreds of activist groups in America, there would be nothing left.
Supreme Court notwithstanding, I believe obscenity should not be used as a reason to impose censorship. Even if we concede it is justified in the interest of public safety to prohibit yelling, "Fire!" in a crowded theater, there is no such rationale to prohibit yelling, "Fuck!" Censorship so imposed is usually justified by the declaration that the community standards demand it. However, if that were true, then the availability of the most obscene literary and artistic material would not lead the community to buy it, and there would be no profit in selling it. If, however, one element of the community feels it must arm itself with the power of law enforcement to suppress a willing market among others, then its cries of "community standards" are specious.
Given a free market for ideas, and for the lifestyles they engender, community moral and ethical standards will be reflected in community behavior, for better or for worse. However, trying to enforce a show of moral behavior which does not represent true community standards can only result in cruel hypocrisy. This sadly widespread practice produces a society in which the people steal forbidden cookies with their left hands, while with their right hands they arrest their neighbors for the same -- like a cop who busts a hooker, then trades her favors for privileges in his jail. Suppression of a willing market among those who would be free produces a criminal underground -- which is taken by the suppressors as justification for further persecution, which is taken by the suppressed as grounds for active social dissent. "How can good Americans become rebellious traitors for the sake of dirty pictures?" wail the conservative in disbelief. "Surely if pornography will so pervert their minds, we must be even more thorough in wiping it out." And so it goes.
The Mapplethorpe issue involves a second concern, public funding, which makes it a particularly good example of how government can doubly screw up what it should leave alone. It should not be the province of government to make official pronouncements as to what is or is not obscene, pornographic, or prurient; it should not be the function of government to make laws restricting the creating or publishing of any work of literature or art on the basis of such pronouncements. Nor should it be the business of government to subsidize any work of art, regardless of its subject matter! If a culture values art, it will support its artists. Individuals will buy the works of their friends, and of the acclaimed whose themes they admire. Those who can be patrons will support those whose works find their favor. Those who must be artists will as always create the art that moves them, even if they must scratch it onto the walls of their cheap flats and prison cells.
If we are to oppose the growth of Empire, we should stand firmly against any government program to spend public money for works of art. Every dollar so spent is taken from the citizen by force and spent without the donor’s consent. We should of course also stand firmly against any government move to use the power of law enforcement to abridge the right of free Americans to paint, photograph, write, sculpt, or film anything, and to propagate such material through any media for sale or any other reason. Robert Mapplethorpe’s work -- just like everybody else’s work -- should be neither evaluated, censored, nor subsidized by the United States government.