Friday, May 27, 2005

Revisiting the "Church of Me"

I was reading a recent issue of Time magazine (May 23) and many of the editorial letters were about the selection of the new pope, with a number of them critical of the Catholic church for picking a pope so out of touch with the liberal members of his flock.

Now, I'm no apologist for the Catholic church. But many of the doctrines these liberal Catholics want changed are the same doctrines that separate liberal and conservative Protestant churches, and I cannot stomach their arguments.

The first problem I have is that these people don't seem to understand the way doctrine is supposed to work. We read the Bible and allow the words, given to us by God, to dictate our doctrine. We do not develop the ideas we like and then read them back into scriptures. Why is this distinction important? Because one of the major complaints of the liberals is that the conservative churches need to conform to "modernity," to cast off the old doctrines that are not relevant to the people and the times, to abandon a spirituality that does not reflect the new relative morality.

The problem, though, is that the Bible supports none of these ideas! "Enlightened" ideas about abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity . . . Biblical principles reject these things. You can't just change the Bible because you don't like it. Paul wrote about these people who follow doctrines which "tickle the ears." Of course we want to move away from Biblical morality. Real morality is hard, because mankind isn't moral. But that doesn't mean lowering the standard . . . as if that were even an option.

The next problem is that these guys just don't seem to understand the purpose of the Church. Many of the letter writers in times say that the Catholic church would see a lot of growth and the return of its liberal parishoners if the church would simply acquiesce to their doctrinal demands. This is not as much of a problem in Protestant churches, as most people will simply leave the conservative denominations for a liberal one. However, denominations that are locked in battles to determine which one they are, the United Methodist Church for example, do apply.

"Church" is not about getting people to sit in the pews. The goal is not to just get people in the door. It's not like it's a social club, and the church with the most members gets bragging rights (and tithe money). The responsibility of the Church is to spread the message of the Gospel, tell the world about the salvation offered by God through Christ, and to live obediently to the Lord while doing so.

That means that it's not good enough to just get people in the door. That also means that altering doctrine to get people in the door is also unacceptable. If the doctrine changes, then the Gospel being preached is a false one. If the doctrines are altered, then we are not being faithful to God in serving Him.

I'm wrapping this up with this: God doesn't change just because we want Him to. In fact, He doesn't change period. The liberal "Christians" (in parentheses because this is often questionable) in this world would do well to note this.

A voice for the loonies

So, I'm not a big newspaper reader. I might read a little bit of the national/international news, but mainly I stick to two sections: the comics and the editorials. I love the editorial page. However, despite the conservative nature of the Belleville News Democrat's editorial page, sometimes some extremely nutty liberals have their letters printed. I thought I'd share some of the nuttiness with you today from one of those letters.
... We can maintain our greatness by doing the following: Keeping a more than one-party system to keep check on the other sides. Keeping three branches of government to protect the minority side. It's called a check and balance system. Otherwise you end up with a dictatorship. This is what conservatives really want.

You gotta love liberal moonbattery, eh? Conservatives really want a dictatorship? I don't recall Bush campaigning on that. C'mon people, you want to say that conservatives are trying to ursurp the checks and balances and overthrow the rule of law? Bring proof to the table. This empty rhetoric means nothing, especially with such wild, unsubstantiated statements as that.

The writer continues:
And one of the biggest steps we could take is to start deporting all foreigners, and I mean all. This is not 100 or 200 years ago. This is today. The huddled masses are here, we need no more. This country is overpopulated and 9-11 would not have happened if we had taken a hard line on immigration. I would stop it completely and anyone who came in the past 10 years would have 30 days to leave. But this takes backbone, not political correctness, and real leadership. Bush hasn't got either.

Wow. How many ways is this wrong? Too many to count. If this guy had his way, our country would be in desparate times. Legal immigrants bring great diversity and strength to our nation. I can just think of all the people who affected my life. If this guy had his way? My chemistry research advisor from Columbia: gone. My philosophy professor from England? Gone. The many graduate students in the sciences from China or India? Gone.

I know not all liberals feel this way, but that people are out there clamoring for these ideas scares me dearly.

So much for that deal

You know that "Filibuster Deal," the one that everyone's hyping up right now? The one everyone is talking about? The one I couldn't understand the merits or pitfalls of?

Turns out it doesn't apply beyond judges.

The senate voted yesterday against a cloture motion on John Bolton 56-44. For those not in the know, a cloture motion would have ended debate so that a final vote could be taken. Ending debate requires 60 votes, while confirmation only 51. The vote against cloture seems to indicate a filibuster of Bolton is coming down the pike.

So much for that deal. I hope the senatorial Republican leadership is happy, because their constituency is calling for blood right now.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nobody saw this coming?

CBS reported tonight on mounting evidence that Viagra can cause blindness. No, really.

Believe me, I'm not unsympathetic. But the entire story feels like a dirty joke that's just crying out for a punchline.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What's going on in the news?

Not much, from the look of the blogosphere. The three big things being blogged on right now are the Newsweek debacle, the Judicial filibusters issue, and the commencement speech by Indra Nooyi. I've written all I care to say about the first and the last. I haven't written about the second lately, and for good reason. I'm tired of the issue.

In fact, it's "over" now, apparently. It looks like they reached some agreements. Captain Ed has some great analysis:

Deal Reached?
Deconstructing the Deal

Well, congrats to them. I'd offer an opinion on the issue, but quite frankly I just don't know what to think at this point. Some people are upset, some are mildly annoyed, but I'm just glad the issue is moving along. It'd be nice to be able to blog about something else for a while.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Playlist Carnival II

Well, Slublog is at it again with another "Carnival of Playlists." I must admit that this time around, I'm just not consuming that much music. Well, not my own music, anyhow. I'm listening to the radio a lot lately (WIBV "The Alien", 102.1 FM Mt. Vernon, Belleville . . . sorry, no website). So, I hear a lot of songs to which I know neither the titles nor the performers. But here are a few that I do know, along with music I'm listening to from my own collection:

SR-71 - Tomorrow, the title song of their most recent (?) album. To tell the truth, I'm not sure why I like this song. It's just . . . catchy, I guess. Hypnotic, maybe?

Taking Back Sunday - I can't tell what the announcer says the title of the song I hear is. Either Cute Without the 'E' or You Know How I Do.

Thrice - The Artist and The Ambulance, another title song from an album. This song is really cool, and has incredibly catchy tunes and lyrics. I'm surprised it took me this long to discover these guys. Weird.

Dennis Bayne - Songs from his album, Ascents. Former trombone player for FIF does an album based off of the Psalms of Ascents. It's pretty sweet.

Supertones - Songs from their album Hi-Fi Revival. Hey, nobody ever said I listen to brand new music. It's such a shame these guys are calling it quits.

Holland - A few songs from their CD Photographs and Tidalwaves. I don't like too much of the album, though. Some of it is just a little too emo for me.

Denver and the Mile High Orchestra - Always lovin' these guys. This time, I've been listening to their remake of It is Well With My Soul on their first album. I'll tell you what, I love their remakes of classic hymns, but they make it hard to sing them in church; after hearing them redone in an upbeat, big band style, the versions played at church seem like a funeral dirge (as opposed to any other kind of dirge?). Last time Peter said he was curious about Christian Big Band. I'm telling you Pete, head on over to their website and listen to their stuff. They simply don't disappoint.

Other things gracing my mp3 playlists right now are sermons from Ravi Zacharias. Hey, some people listen to music at the gym, I listen to Ravi. Peter said this was about what's on our playlists, right?

So there you have it: music I've been listening to lately. I wouldn't listen to it if it wasn't good, so check it out if you haven't already.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Talk about a nightmare

In all of this talk about "conservative extremists" who are "outside of mainstream America," the Democrats opposing Bush's nominees forget their own sullied histories.

The link above goes back to a post on a new NRO blog on judicial matters, Bench Memos. The story begins as a playful exercise in postulating an "extreme left" judicial candidate, someone who ruled in ways or opined on cases things that would make most Americans' toes curl. Things like constitutional rights to prostitution and polygamy; mandating an end to Mothers' and Fathers' days because they are discriminatory, to be replaced by "Parents' day;" calling for the integration (of sexes) of both the Boy/Girl Scouts and the prisons (well, not integrated together . . . that would be really bad). Those sorts of things.

Turns out that this isn't an imaginary judicial boogeyman. This is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Well, not quite. The hypothetical nominee I have just described is, in every particular except his sex, Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the time she was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993. President Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 22, 1993. A mere six weeks later, on August 3, 1993, the Senate confirmed her nomination by a 96-3 vote.

I shudder when I think of people with such opinions making the decisions that guide our country. And Bush's nominees are too "extreme?" Give me a break.

A Few Minor Changes

Just wanted to announce a few changes to the blog.

First, I added a column in the sidebar with links to my classic posts, the ones I think everyone ought to read. I'd add others of my favorites, but I like most of my posts, so I'd hate to make a huge list.

Also, I updated the description box at the top to contain a quote from Dogbert, patron saint of computers. Well, according to Dilbert. It seems appropriate to quote Dilbert in some manner on this site, as his was the inspiration for this blog's name.

Someday, when I get this whole "html" thing figured out, I'll actually change the appearance of the blog to reflect its namesake. Until then . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Newsweek Roundup

Jim Gerraghty over at TKS has a great roundup of opinions on the Newsweek/Qu'ran flusing incident (see link in title).

I wrote on this too. But darn it, these other guys do it a whole lot better than me.

More on PepsiCo and the commencement address

Powerline has included another post on the Columbia commencement speech by Ms. Nooyi here. I find the amount of feedback remarkable. Personally, I'd love for something like this to have happened at my graduation.

For those that don't know, I graduated from Illinois State this past weekend with a BS in Chemistry. Like all graduation ceremonies, it was long and boring. Tradition dictates that it be boring, I guess. Anyhow, we didn't have anybody famous or distinctive giving our commencement address, only our university President, Al Bowman. Even then, I'd have loved for a controversial speech. Instead, it was boring (tradition!). What was it about? I couldn't tell you. It was so utterly unremarkable that I have completley forgotten it. Oh, what I'd have given for some anti-American remark or an argument about Jesus being a gay transvestite (but that's okay!).

Predictably, some people are deciding to cease use of Pepsi products until the company apologizes for Nooyi's comments. Meanwhile, I've been told by people at school not to drink Coca-Cola products, because they use unethical business practices in their 2nd and 3rd world facilities.

I guess that means RC Cola for me. Dang.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Pepsi-Snafu?

Powerline has reported on a speech given by Ms. Indra Nooyi, Chief Financial Officer of PepsiCo., given at a graduation ceremony at Columbia University. You can see their reports here, here, and here.

In her speech, Ms. Nooyi made an analogy of the world as a hand, and the continents as fingers. I'll let you guess as to which one she decided represents North America (and primarily the US). Therein lies the controversy. Many people walked away from this speech with the impression that Ms. Nooyi had just declared that the US is flipping one large "bird" at the rest of the world. PepsiCo. released statements assuring people that her remarks were completely pro-American. After some squirming, Pepsi finally released the full text of her speech. You can find it in the link at the top, but here's the relevant portion:

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.

However, if used inappropriately –just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can
convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I suspect you’re hoping that I’ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I’m not looking for volunteers to model.

Discretion being the better part of valor … I think I’ll pass.

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. – the long middle finger – must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand … not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. – the middle finger – sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally. Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand – giving strength and purpose to the rest of
the fingers – but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.

After this, she proceeds to tell a story of some boorish American businessmen at a Chinese hotel.

Looking at the actual text, I don't see anything overtly wrong with it. It's a softer version of the typical liberal rhetoric about America. "Everything we do is wrong, the world would hate us less if we hated ourselves more, blah blah blah." But she is right in part; America being the one global superpower right now, how we act can have major consequences. However, some people are going to find a way to hate America no matter what we do, and I don't think we should resist doing the right thing and working for positive change in the world just because someone might mistake our scratching an itch for a rude gesture.

That being said, I have no way of knowing if this is the actual speech she gave, or a doctored version thereof. She might have delivered this in a careful, unoffensive way, or she might have spoken these words in such a way that everyone knew she was giving the "American finger" back to America. Presentation is everything.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Prolonging the Corruption

Some of you may have been following the adscam scandal that has been plaguing the Canadian government. You can check out Captain's Quarters to get caught up. Essentially, the liberal government has been using public dollars to line its own pockets and bribe others in order to maintain power. It is corruption at its finest.

Right now, the conservative party is trying to topple the government with a no-confidence vote (remember, they're a parliamentary democracy; they work differently from the US), but one of the "conservative" parliament members has succumbed to the temptation of bribery, and has accepted a cabinet position in the liberal government, changing the balance of power in parliament, and making a no-confidence vote passing very difficult. (Well, technically, the no-confidence vote was already lost by the liberal government, but they chose to ignore those results; democracy at its finest).

If you look through some of the comments on the post at CQ, you'll see that many of the Canadians are distraught at the outright corruption, and the brash chutzpah with which Martin and the other liberals carry it out. Some contemplate (perhaps jokingly, I can't really tell) leaving Canada.

So, many liberals in America threatened to move to Canada should Bush become president (twice). In Canada, many are considering a move out of Canada because the governing party is showing itself to be thoroughly corrupted.

Oh, the irony.

What do we call this thing?

A few of the guys at NRO have grown tired of referring to this as the "blogosphere." The word is awkward, and it doesn't apply to a lot of the new media. Phrases such as "new media" and "young media" haven't really applied or stuck, either.

Ace over at Ace of Spades has suggested the term "Shadow Media." I like it. Catchy, mysterious, descriptive. My own thoughts involved pajamas. Something like "Pajama Media," or so forth. I think Ace's label is much better.

What do you think? What would you call the new media, which includes the "blogosphere"?

Introducing the end of the NYT

So, has anyone heard about this? The New York Times is going to begin charching $50/year for access to its online op/ed page. Yowza. They must think that's some mighty good opining going on there.

Honestly, I understand that newspapers have been inevitably moving towards a paid-access situation for their websites. Their circulations have decreased over the last several years because of the explosion of online journalism (among other reasons).

But c'mon. Fifty dollars? The NYT is not worth that much. You can find much, much better opinion amongst the blogs and other sources for free. And they usually give you useful information.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Insert flushing joke here

Okay, by now, I'm sure most of you have heard about the now discredited Qu'ran flushing story. If not, a quick recap: Newsweek reported that, during an interrogation of suspects at Gitmo, some military personnel flushed a Qu'ran down the toilet. The outrage sparked by the story has led to riots in the muslim world which have killed several people. Investigation of the claims has shown them to be false, and Newsweek has apologized for the incident and backed away from the story.

Too little, too late, I suppose, for those who were killed. But there's a lot to be upset about in this story.

1) Journalistic integrity. "Hey, why bother investigating a potentially inflammatory story? Let's just print it, regardless how shady the sources, and the consequences be damned!" Has the traditional media gone completely insane?

2) The culture of violence. I know a lot of muslims really hate the US for reasons that are not always logical or compelling. But there is a broader culture out there that seems to think that violence is a reasonable response to insults and offense. Remember the reported anti-Japan "protests" in China? Those were supposedly over textbooks. What do we do to counter such a bizarre worldview?

3) Overreacting, maybe? Seriously, there are worse things they could be doing to the prisoners in Gitmo than desecrating Qu'rans in front of them. Psychological stress is an important part of the interrogation process. People who consider the Qu'ran holy and protesting over this is one thing, but those in the US who don't who protest over this might be in severe danger of hypocrisy. A crucifix in a jar of urine is an NEA funded piece of artwork. But a Qu'ran in a toilet? "Barbaric!"

I don't know what else to say about this that others haven't already said. People at Newsweek need to be fired. Their irresponsible reporting has led to deaths that shouldn't have happened. Are there no consequences for such actions, anymore?

School's out for summer!

Ah, I feel a song coming on.

So, now that finals/graduation are said/done, I am free to resume blogging/playing video games all day. I'm glad to be done, but I could have done without the 2.5 hour snore-athon of reading people's names. With so many people graduating, it took forever just to have them file in, much less read the names. There has to be a better way to spend our tuition dollars.

In any case, the futures of my diploma/final transcipt are uncertain at the moment. Let me tell you a little story.

Last summer I took part in a study abroad program in Japan to fulfill part of my academic obligations. Peruse through the archives if you haven't read about my journey before. I was supposed to receive 6 credit hours for the experience. Upon returning to the US, someone from the Office of International Studies Programs (OISP) was supposed to be in touch with us and let us know what we needed to do to receive credit for the course. Typically, you just write a paper about your experience.

Well, we never heard from anyone. It turns out, the guy who was supposed to be in charge of that program and telling us what to do had gone on sabbatical (I can't recall; he either went to Tailand or India . . . either way, he wasn't in Kansas anymore, Toto). In his absence, we received "grades" of "CR." Basically, we were "credited" for the course.

Except we weren't. Apparently, as I've recently found out, a grade of "CR" means that while you've been credited for taking the course, that credit cannot be applied towards any graduation/degree requirements. And as my graduation audit explained to me, without a final transcript from that program of study, I'd be short one diploma come fall.

Well, this has had me in a tizzy, trying to figure out how to solve the problem. I really hate people who work at ISU. Their philosophy seems to be, "If you can't solve a student's problem, ignore them until they go away." No no, please don't tell me who I should contact to get my problems fixed. That would be playing right into my insidious hands.

And Dr. Padavil, the guy who was supposed to help us out last summer, is the guy I was supposed to finally get in touch with this summer. And guess what? He's out of the country again! The best part is, I had to call his secretary to find out and inform OISP about this. "Wait a second Hal, are you telling me that the International Studies office didn't know that a professor, in charge of one of their programs, had left for another country with students involved with said program?" Yes, dear reader, that is exactly what I'm saying. Yeesh.

Normally I don't make my entries so personal, but there's a lesson in here somewhere about procrastination (on the part of professors) and inflated bureaucracies and so on, but it's hard to find them in my frustration with this stupid, stupid school. Thank goodness I can forever leave that school behind once they send out that transcript.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Shoot me now

Well, if you haven't read my long, long paper by now . . . why haven't you? Seriously, it'll still be another few days before new content appears. I've been bogged down by finals and graduation and such matters.

Incidentally, I went to sell back a few books today. I received $7 for two books for which I probably paid about $40 combined. Another book, which I bought for my logic class, I was told had zero value. ZERO value. Yeesh. If it has zero value, then why did I pay so much for it in the first place?

*Grumble* . . .

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Applied Ethics Paper

Below I have posted the text to the philosophy paper I wrote for my ethics class last semester. I finally figured out how to get the endnotes to work properly. It's a long piece, so I'll leave it up for a while, and I hope you take the time to read it and absorb what I've written. Comments are encouraged on the issue.

The Case for Eliminating Pornography

This is a research paper I wrote for an ethics course my senior year of college. It's a little rough around the edges, despite the great marks I received for it. Feel free to read, criticize, and reference the paper. Do not feel free to steal my work.


As an industry of the United States, pornography[1] generates approximately one billion dollars each year, and is estimated to grow by five to seven billion dollars over the next five years[2]. This alone is testament to the incredible popularity of pornographic material. In the United States, the right to make or view pornography is an almost unlimited right, in most places regulated only by vague community standards of obscene material. This right is traced right back to the first amendment, with pornography being a protected form of free speech. Many contest that understanding, claiming that pornography cannot be protected speech because of the very nature of the product. Speech that incites to violence or speech acts that actually harm someone are not considered protected speech[3]. Determining whether or not pornography should receive the protections of the first amendment depends on whether or not it falls into the category of speech which causes harm or incites violence. The goal of this paper will be to reasonably show that pornography should not be considered protected speech under the first amendment. To show this will require several steps. First, a look at judicial and philosophical decisions surrounding pornography, in relation to the first amendment, will be necessary. The next step will be to examine the effects of pornography on men and children. Then, the similarities and connections between pornography and prostitution will be explored. Finally, the effects of pornography on women will be explored. Does pornography really harm women? Does it degrade the rights of women and reduce the equality sought after in society? The summation of these factors should show reasonably that pornography should not be protected as “free speech.”

The first stage of this paper will be to explore the background of the pornography debate: jurisprudence and the statements of philosophers. In her work, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights, Strossen writes that the Supreme Court, when analyzing freedom of speech issues, has two guidelines: Speech cannot be restricted simply because it is offensive to an audience; and that speech may be restricted if it causes harm, and then only if this harm may be averted only be restricting this speech.[4] In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the court determined that it could restrict “fighting words” that inflict injury simply by being spoken.[5] It is not certain if the courts have always followed this standard. Before 1973, obscenity was always the reason for any restriction on speech, such as in the case of Roth v. United States in 1957, where obscene material was judged to be without constitutional protection.[6] Later, this was only allowed if the material in question was “utterly without redeeming social value.”[7] In 1973, the decision of Miller v. California changed the criteria for obscenity by laying out three guidelines:

(1)[T]he “average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest” in sex; (2) “the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law”; and (3) “the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”[8]
It is clear to many that this definition is entirely too vague to be a satisfactory guide. As things currently stand, pornography is still largely unrestricted.

When discussing the philosophical ramifications of pornography, the name of Catharine MacKinnon must inevitably come up. No philosophical discussion on pornography would be complete without examining the work of one of the most passionate feminist advocates against pornography. MacKinnon’s view of pornography is more or less summarized in her speech, “Not a Moral Issue,”

Pornography, in the feminist view, is a form of forced sex, a practice of sexual politics, an institution of gender inequality. In this perspective, pornography is not harmless fantasy or a corrupt and confused misrepresentation of an otherwise natural and healthy sexuality. Along with the rape and prostitution in which it participates, pornography institutionalizes the sexuality of male supremacy, which fuses the erotization (sic) of dominance and submission with the social construction of male and female. Gender is sexual. Pornography constitutes the meaning of that sexuality. Men treat women as who they see women as being. Pornography constructs who that is. Men’s power over women means that the way men see women defines who women can be. Pornography is that way.[9]
MacKinnon’s work has been analyzed to great degree for years. Stark sums up MacKinnon’s attitude towards pornography by writing that first, she identifies the harm of pornography as harm done to women in general, not merely those who consume pornography; second, that this harm is not of offense but of subordination; and third, that it is not only causally related to the subordination of women, but that it subordinates women in itself.[10] As McGowan relates MacKinnon’s argument, pornography harms on a level that is beyond conscious awareness.[11] MacKinnon herself acknowledges that she frames the issue in terms of civil rights for women, an approach which largely avoids issues of obscenity. If the speech subordinates a woman, MacKinnon argues, why should any other value matter?[12] If it can be shown that women’s civil rights are violated by pornography, then an issue of harm can certainly be used to justify the removal of constitutional protection for pornography.

MacKinnon is not without her critics. Amy Allen, for example, writes on the various interactions of the viewpoints of between MacKinnon and those she terms “radical sex feminists.”[13] Stark criticizes MacKinnon’s approach to the relationship between speech, actions, and their effects in her paper, “Is Pornography an Action?”[14] Nadine Strossen focuses very heavily on arguments made by MacKinnon in Defending Pornography. It is not helpful to this paper to examine all of the dialogues between these authors, but some of their arguments will return to play when the arguments of MacKinnon and others are examined.

With groundwork laid, the next step is to examine the arguments and evidence for establishing a principle of harm. The first stage of doing so will be to look at how pornography affects men and children. In MacKinnon’s arguments, men are not considered “harmed” by pornography, to any great degree. Pornography helps to establish a social construct in which men receive a viewpoint subordinating and objectifying women. Despite this, men still are the aggressors, those with power who make women powerless. She does, however, allow for some harm to men. She recounts, from the Minneapolis civil rights hearings, a story from a man who had been kidnapped and forced to perform in pornographic videos.[15] Additionally, Amy Allen argues that while male power might be increased at a cultural level by pornography, it may also be undermined at a personal level by the unrealistic picture of male virility and sexuality created by pornography.[16]

The harm that men receive from pornography extends much further than that. While few of the men involved in pornography are likely harmed in such a way as previously stated, many men suffer from addiction to pornography. According to some researchers, millions of people in the US are sexual addicts, and a great number of them are addicted to pornography.[17] For men, much of this problem stems from the fact that they are built vulnerable to this. Men can receive sexual gratification visually.[18] Pornography feeds this habit powerfully. As pornography consumption increases, desensitization increases the need for it.[19] For those addicted to pornography, any semblance of a normal life is lost. Their social lives, their marriages, and even their jobs can become affected by their addiction. While there exist many organizations and religious ministries whose goals include helping men escape pornography and any addiction to it, they only help clean up the damage after it has been done. One such organization, XXXChurch, states that their goal is to help men begin to escape the problem by talking about it.[20] As our society constructs it, “addiction” to pornography is normal. Men should want to view pornography. However, in looking critically at the destruction such addictions wreak, and the powerful nature of the addiction,[21] it is clear that men can be said to be harmed by pornography.

As for children, it would not seem that any principle of harm need be established, because it is almost unanimous that pornography does harm children. It is taken as prima facie that pornography is detrimental for them. Every organization involved in the debate surrounding pornography agrees that children should not be exposed to pornography, though the debate often centers on how best to accomplish this without violating the current rights of adults to view pornography. For example, in a 1998 congressional hearing on the topic of internet pornography, teachers, school administrators, librarians, and computer programmers offered a multitude of opinions about internet filters and censorship. In all of the arguments and debate, the central idea remained that children should be protected from viewing pornography.[22] Even pornographers agree on this topic, according to Foster and Gross. Another aspect of their organization is to promote protection of children from pornography at porn conventions and trade shows, and the response is overwhelmingly positive and supportive.[23]

Unfortunately, while all parties agree that children are harmed by pornography, the courts do not see this as sufficient reason to censor pornography for adults. However, this is another instance of harm arguably caused by pornography.

The next stage in establishing the harm of pornography is in a comparison between pornography and prostitution. The two are quite arguably similar. Prostitutes are paid to have sex in privacy. Porn actresses are paid to have sex in front of a camera. Granted, one major difference between the two could be that the latter would be considered a speech act, while the former would not. Indeed, the prostitution rights group, COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), argues that decriminalizing prostitution will allow women maximum control of their bodies. Freedom of speech, for the prostitute, is not the issue.[24] Is the distinction so great, however, to make one illegal and the other not on the basis of the number of people who witness the event? The distinction seems arbitrary. Perhaps it is due to limited imagination, but it is difficult to think of another scenario that is illegal in private but legal when publicized.

Another similarity between prostitution and pornography is the reasons for women to enter the “business”. Women who enter prostitution often do so because they lack options of doing otherwise. Selling one’s body for sex could certainly be seen as better than starvation. Another reason can be that a woman was sexually abused as a child, putting her on the path to a mindset that her only value comes from sexually pleasing men. Sometimes it is even coercion.[25] It is not unreasonable to say that all of these reasons, attributed to prostitution, could just as easily be attributed to pornography. All of these reasons constitute very obvious harm to a person. In leaving, women fare no better. Women often fear for their lives because of those who kept them in the business, such as pimps and drug dealers.[26] Women who escape pornography tell similar tales. Many of the women who testified during the pornography civil rights hearings as former porn actresses have been subject to slander and libel, have received threatening calls or mail, and have even been violently accosted.[27] Though these may not be considered a direct effect or consequence of either pornography or prostitution, they certainly do establish a principle of indirect harm.

While the arguments regarding the illegality of prostitution are important, it is the comparison of the harms attributed to prostitution and pornography that are of the highest importance. It is that harm towards women which makes up the final, most important piece of the puzzle in showing that pornography should not be protected by the first amendment. The best way to look at it is to first examine the indirect causes of harm, and then to look at the direct causes of harm.

Indirect harm is tricky to establish. Normal rules of causation do not always apply in cases of indirect harm. For MacKinnon, the silence pornography induces is a violation of the civil rights of women, a harm they need not suffer. The law purports to bring sexual equality. Because pornography brings about the objectification of women, they become silent about the abuses they incur. This silence becomes interpreted as consent, as the absence of any harm being incurred.[28] McGowan analyzes this train of thought. If pornography prevents women from performing certain speech acts that they should be able to, they are silenced. If it prevents women from being able to refuse sex because her “no” can only be understood as “yes,” then she has been silenced. If rape is made acceptable, or sexual arousal by violence towards or humiliation of women is made acceptable, then women are being subordinated. However, as McGowan goes on to state, if pornography does these things, it does them in a very covert manner.[29] As Stark notes, however, this causes quite the dilemma for MacKinnon and other feminists in her camp. If pornography and other sexist images have the power to subordinate and impose social inequality that MacKinnon would attribute to it, then should not a wider variety of text and images be implicated?[30] Indeed, as Strossen argues, if porn is barred because it is sexist speech, why not ban other forms of sexist speech?[31] It would seem that, by MacKinnon’s accounting, every Victoria’s Secret commercial, every sexy billboard, every media item utilizing female sexuality in public, would have to be eliminated. A cursory glance would seem to indicate that these items are just like pornography in their utilization of female sexuality. However, it can be argued that these items use a much more subtle version of female sexuality than does pornography. Perhaps it is not reasonable to say that any sexist use of female sexuality in media should be eliminated, but only that which is incredibly powerful. Pornography would qualify as powerful. Sexy ads are just not as comparably powerful.

The next instance of this to consider is the inciting to violence that is argued to be a source of harm to women. Does pornography legitimize violence towards women? Is rape made acceptable under the guise of pornography? It is true that some pornography depicts scenes of brutal violence towards women. Graphic presentations of rape scenes, even those which are entirely synthetic, are nonetheless a target for this argument. MacKinnon argues that women, as subordinated by pornography, become something less than men. Because pornography reduces their position in society, it becomes okay to be violent to women. This is an indirect endorsement of violence towards women. MacKinnon argues that sometimes the effect is actually quite direct. She gives several examples. One is of a group of hunters in the forest, looking at pornography, who gang-rape a thirteen year old girl who happened upon them. Another is of a man who kidnapped a fourteen year old girl off the street, brutally raped her, mutilated her body with knives and pins, urinated and defecated on her face, and finally returned her to where he took her. When police captured him, they found in his possession books describing the horrific crimes he had committed against the girl.[32] As MacKinnon argues, sex offenders use pornographic material of this nature as a stimulus to acting upon such desires. It is akin to practice for them. When they can no longer live vicariously through the fantasies depicted in the pictures, they have to act them out sexually.[33]

Strossen argues strongly against this type of argument. She writes that exposure to violent sexual material does not leave men more prone to act violently towards women. While MacKinnon may cite studies where men were more likely to abuse people with electric shocks after having viewed pornography, this does not prove her case. MacKinnon’s argument is based on anecdotal evidence. Strossen stresses studies from groups such as the National Research Council that “Demonstrated, empirical links between pornography and sex crimes in general are weak or absent.”[34] The correlation of data does not support any connection of this variety, either. She cites the examples of Utah, where availability of pornography is ranked 49th of all the states, but the ranking of rape incidence is 25th; and the example of New Hampshire, where the rankings for porn availability and rape are 9th and 44th. [35] Strossen argues this point much further, but suffice it to say that she brings up a lot of scientific studies and data which conclude that there is no connection. Even if the connection were made, it would have to be proved that pornography intentionally incites men to violence.[36]

Strossen brings up another very good point: By the way MacKinnon structures the qualities for “violent pornography,” some material could unintentionally be caught in the crossfire. One example given of this is the painting, The Martyrdom of St. Agatha. According to legend, the Christian saint Agatha rejected the love of a Roman governor and was summarily thrown into a brothel to be subjected to violent tortures, which included the cutting off of her breasts.[37] This classic work of art, depicting a scene of a brutal sexual crime, could very well be subject to such a law. Is this desirable? No, and this is perhaps one of the arguments where anti-pornography arguments must yield. As good as arguments might be that violent pornography causes men to not only believe that violence against women is acceptable, but to become more likely to commit violent sex crimes, the science simply does not support these suppositions.

The final aspect of this to consider is the direct harm that women receive from pornography. This is not hard to establish. As previously stated, many women enter pornography against their will. MacKinnon would argue that women cannot actually choose pornography. The societal subordination of women into thinking of themselves as merely sex objects and the lack of economic alternatives should give pause to those who think pornography is a free choice. Just because a woman thinks she is freely choosing it does not, in fact, mean she is.[38]

One famous example of a woman forced into pornography is Linda “Lovelace” Marchiano. Linda starred in the now infamous movie Deep Throat. In the movie, she played the role of a woman whose clitoris was not in her crotch, but instead in the back of her throat. This enabled her character to receive great sexual pleasure from performing oral sex. While many think of this movie as being very sexually exciting, Linda does not recall it as such. As she recounts, she was kidnapped, systematically beaten, and forced to perform for the movie. Her life and the lives of her family were threatened if she should attempt to escape. She even talks about being hypnotized in order to perform the acts she did in the movie, which required getting around the natural gag reflex. It was not a “career move” she made by choice.[39]

Some opponents of MacKinnon argue that, while this illegal coercion is the case for some women, it certainly is not the case for all of them. Many women enter for the money, the opportunity for fame and glamour, or simply because it allows them to have a flexible “work” schedule.[40] For women who choose porn because they find it empowering, MacKinnon must argue that their “female power” is a contradiction in terms. It would seem to be contradictory to feminist principles to ignore or to take lightly the accounts of other women’s experiences.[41] As Allen quotes Sally Tisdale:
(Anti-pornography feminists) are concerned with how men act and how women are portrayed. Women cannot make free sexual choices . . . What a misogynistic worldview this is, this claim that women who make such choices cannot be making free choices at all--are not free to make a choice. Feminists against pornography have done a sad and awful thing: They have made women into objects.[42]
On the surface, this seems to make sense. One consequential example that could be examined is the husband and wife “amateur” porn seen on the internet. Surely these women, having sex with their own husbands, are not being coerced or forced into performing. However, the case against MacKinnon is not sealed. If these women, any woman, are freely choosing pornography, how can one know the difference? Linda “Lovelace” certainly appeared more than happy on camera to be doing what she was, although she was really miserable. What if those women who say they willingly chose pornography really did not, but cannot bring themselves to say it or simply do not realize it? Unless it becomes possible to assure that only those women who legitimately chose to be in pornography were present, it would seem that the issue of harm is strong enough to warrant rescinding the first amendment rights of pornography.

What is ultimately left? While the first amendment is a sacred aspect of the U.S. Constitution, it simply cannot be justified to include pornography in its protecting reach. Protecting it is not reasonable when the arguments are viewed against the background laid by the philosophical and judicial arguments. Men and children, it can be shown, are harmed significantly by pornography. Prostitution, already an illegal act in the U.S., bears a very strong resemblance to pornography, both in act and in effect. This correlates directly to the harms women receive. Some of the harms pornography causes to women are direct, and some are indirect, but all are very real. It should be granted that some of the arguments of those who would defend pornography as speech that should be protected by the first amendment are powerful and convincing. It does seem difficult to tell consenting adults what they can and cannot do, and there is a natural reluctance on the part of Americans to limit freedom of speech. However, these arguments ultimately fall short in the face of the incredible injustice and harm perpetrated by pornography. The tragedy of losing such freedoms would pale in comparison to the benefit this country would see with the restriction or even elimination of pornography.

[1] For the sake of this paper, “pornography” will refer almost exclusively to heterosexual pornography, as most of the arguments examined in the paper will refer, to great degree, to the relationship between women and pornography. While it is not unlikely that homosexual pornography could fall under the same arguments due to its effects on those that participate in and consume it, the introduction of other variables take it beyond the scope of this paper.
[2] “Porn Inc. Factoids.” XXXChurch – The #1 Christian Porn Site. Eds. Foster, Mike and Gross, Craig. December 9, 2004. URL
[3] Boss, Judith A. “Freedom of Speech.” Analyzing Moral Issues. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2002: 425.
[4] Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 2000: 41-42
[5] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Francis Biddle’s Sister.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 192
[6] Boss, Judith A. “Sexism, Pornography, and Violence Against Women.” Analyzing Moral Issues. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2002: 467
[7] Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 2000: 52
[8] IBID, p. 53
[9] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Not a Moral Issue.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 148
[10] Stark, Cynthia A. "Is Pornography an Action? The Causal vs. the Conceptual View of Pornography's Harm." Social Theory and Practice. 23.2 (1997):277
[11] McGowan, Mary Kathryn. "Conversational Exercitives and the Force of Pornography." Philosophy & Public Affairs. 31.2 (2003):169.
[12] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Francis Biddle’s Sister.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 175.
[13] Allen, Amy. "Pornography and Power." Journal of Social Philosophy. 32.4 (2001):512-531.
[14] Stark, Cynthia A. "Is Pornography an Action? The Causal vs. the Conceptual View of Pornography's Harm." Social Theory and Practice. 23.2 (1997):277-306
[15] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “The Road on the Other Side of Silence.” In Harm's Way : the Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997: 13.
[16] Allen, Amy. "Pornography and Power." Journal of Social Philosophy. 32.4 (2001):516.
[17]Morrison, Keith. “Battling Sexual Addiction.” MSNBC Interactive. February 24, 2004. December 9, 2004.
[18]Arterburn, Stephen, and Fred Stoeker. Every Man’s Battle: Every Man’s Guide to Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2000: 65.
[19] MacKinnon, Catharine A. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 267.
[20] “Get Involved.” XXXChurch – The #1 Christian Porn Site. Eds. Foster, Mike and Gross, Craig. December 9, 2004. URL
[21]Associated Press. “Addiction to Porn Destroying Lives, Senate told.” MSNBC Interactive. November 19, 2004. December 9, 2004.
[22] United States Congress Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Internet Indecency: Hearing Before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, One Hundred Fifth Congress, Second Session, February 10, 1998. Washington D.C.: Congressional Sales Office, 1999.
[23] “Porn Road Show.” XXXChurch – The #1 Christian Porn Site. Eds. Foster, Mike and Gross, Craig. December 9, 2004. URL
[24] Weitzer, Ronald, ed. “The Politics of Prostitution in America.” Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry. New York : Routledge, 2000:175
[25] Davis, Nanette J. “From Victims to Survivors.” Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry. New York: Routledge, 2000:150
[26] IBID, p. 153
[27] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “The Road on the Other Side of Silence.” In Harm's Way : the Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997: 12.
[28]MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Francis Biddle’s Sister.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 170.
[29] McGowan, Mary Kathryn. "Conversational Exercitives and the Force of Pornography." Philosophy & Public Affairs. 31.2 (2003):162.
[30] Stark, Cynthia A. "Is Pornography an Action? The Causal vs. the Conceptual View of Pornography's Harm." Social Theory and Practice. 23.2 (1997):304.
[31] Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 2000: 39.
[32] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Francis Biddle’s Sister.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 184-186
[33] IBID, p. 185.
[34] Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 2000: 250-251
[35] IBID, p. 254.
[36] IBID, p. 45.
[37] IBID, p. 158.
[38] MacKinnon, Catharine A. “Francis Biddle’s Sister.” Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987: 180.
[39] IBID, p. 182.
[40] Abbot, Sharon A. “Motivations for Pursuing an Acting Career in Pornography.” Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry. New York: Routledge, 2000:19-27
[41]Allen, Amy. "Pornography and Power." Journal of Social Philosophy. 32.4 (2001):516.
[42] IBID, p. 516.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Advance Notice

So, with the summer quickly approaching, I'll be returning to the ol' homestead for a few months (aka-living with Mom and Dad in F-burg).

Since this means returning to a rather pitiful dial-up connection, my summer blogging will be sporadic. At least once a week. Maybe more. Not that there's any reason for you to check for updates less.

So . . . that's all. Carry on.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Light blogging for a while

This explains why.

Check back in two weeks to see if God has saved me from the homework-monster. (Actually, check back more often; I'll probably post on study breaks from time to time)