December 2, 2013

Censorship in Britain

Great Britain is the current scene of dramatic, charged and troubling debates about sexual freedoms and freedom of speech, debates centered on pornography access and the effects of pornography on children. A recent, very large review of academic articles on pornography found that less than 1% of such articles contain empirical, scientific data. But, many children have access to pornography, and "basically, porn is everywhere," argues the report. As a result of this report, and the social concerns about porn access, serious social and technological changes are on the horizon in Great Britain. One of the main changes is that Internet Service Providers will begin filtering porn from everyone's access, unless an individual specifically requests that their ISP turn filtering off. This will require of course, that these individuals identify themselves, to their ISP and those around them, as someone who wants to look at things that others feel they shouldn't. 

he arguments for restricting this access are largely based upon protecting children. The efforts seem intended to first, restrict access to child pornography. Starting in 2014, Google and Microsoft will begin filtering their search engines in England, to prevent access to common terms used by those searching for child pornography. However, there's question as to how effective these means will be, given that most people who use or seek out child pornography do so through file-sharing or peer-to-peer systems, and search engines are rarely used in this manner. 
When they're used to detect and prevent child pornography, these methods of restricted access seem moral and justified - who would really argue against it? But, while pedophiles and those interested in child pornography are an easy target today, what is to stop a conservativegovernment from expanding their scope? According to the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, searches for "young," or "teen" pornography are one of the most popular searches, and forms of pornography, on the Internet. Are those who fantasize about sex with teens next (note, the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts suggest that finding teens sexually attractive may have a normative evolutionary basis)? And who is next after them? As Jesse Bering argues in his book Perv, at some point, almost all of us fall in some category of sexual deviance.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
 Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) 
Many nonscientific antiporn advocates argue that porn changes peoples' brains, and has an especially damaging impact on the brains of teens. This, combined with research showing that kids are seeing pornography when they shouldn't, supports the argument that kids should be protected from pornography, like arguments that kids should be limited from access to alcohol and tobacco. Unfortunately, these ideas are largely expressions of human fears of sexuality, and are concepts which reflect the manipulative power of pop psychology and moral panics. 
The idea that porn is an addictive, insidious force take root in fertile soil, seeded by centuries of fear and sexual suppression. The ideas thatmasturbation itself is unhealthy can be traced back centuries to European physicians, who argued that masturbation depleted men of crucial energy. We now understand that many of the problems blamed on masturbation and excessive sexuality, from mental health problems or blindness, were actually the result of untreated sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis or gonorrhea. Throughout history, societies go through periods of changing attitudes towards sex, from more liberal “free love” attitudes towards conservative times when sexual expression is restricted. Fear-based ideas such as sex addiction or nymphomania arise in times and societies that are attempting to suppress or control sexuality. Sadly, the medical field has often been an instrument of this control.
Historically, women suffered the most from these dangerous moral medical practices, where women diagnosed as nymphomaniacs were institutionalized, lobotomized, or had their clitorises removed, when doctors determined that these women liked sex too much (as much as men for instance). The diagnosis of nymphomania was finally abandoned and rejected as the medical field acknowledged that these diagnoses were based on culturally-determined gender stereotypes, not on medical or scientific data. 
But today, it’s men’s turn. Between 85-92% of most “sex addicts” are men. The idea of sex addiction came to the fore at the same time that American media and society made a shift in the way that gender was regarded. Beginning in the 1980’s, masculinity became a figure of ridicule. Men were increasingly portrayed as buffoons, subject to the whims of their penises. Penises themselves are most often portrayed as objects of humor, rather than sexual objects comparable to female genitalia. Men today are seen as less moral than women, and male sexual desires are seen as baser, deficient, and dangerous. Men use pornography far more than do women. The new laws and restrictions on sexual access in Great Britain will have a disproportionate impact on males, and particularly gay and bisexual men, who use pornography more than most.
The idea that sex and porn are addictive remains a powerful myth in modern society, because of its usefulness as a social tool. Media and moral groups use this idea to invoke fear, tapping into normal human sexual anxiety. The premise that porn is addictive and inherently damaging to children was used by religious groups to ban Playboy magazine from the shelves of convenience stores, and is used today to invoke fear thatchildhood exposure to Internet porn can create uncontrollable and damaging addictions.
Sex and porn can cause problems in people’s lives, just like any other human behavior or form of entertainment. Teens need sex education, and really shouldn't be getting it from pornography (because porn is entertainment, not education. It'd be like learning to shoot a gun from watching Hollywood action films). But, the current British dialogue invokes fears and feeds a moral panic.
Sex and Censorship is one of the few groups in Great Britain who are standing up to oppose the increasing social slide towards porn panic, a slide which seems destined to engulf free speech and sexual freedoms. With nonscientific rhetoric making up 99% of the articles published on pornography and its' impact on children, it is clear that this is a charged, emotionally-driven issue, which ignores significant empirical research on porn and its' effects.
This issue is also one that is not limited just to the UK. Take note - many of the prominent antiporn advocates being brought to the UK in support of these measures, are coming from the United States. Recent events, apparently involving the United States National Security Agency, have shown that even in the US, modern data surveillance methods can be used to defeat most measures of privacy on the Internet, and justified by pointing to the dangers of child pornography.

by David J. Ley, Ph.D.

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