PM5107: On Pornography

Pornography is deceptive - it promises to the soul a certain sort of intimacy, and provides the illusion of it, yet ultimately denies it. The nakedness of the flesh, participation in acts of bodily union - these are physical acts which signify, symbolise and seal a union which is social, mental, emotional, spiritual; as such, seeing such bodily deeds, our minds are drawn (however unconsciously) to the idea that those other needs, not exclusively bodily, which the bodily deeds signify, will also be fulfilled. To understand this criticism of Pornography, we must understand what exactly we mean here by "pornography". Literally, it refers to images, etc., of naked persons, and especially persons engaged in explicit sexual acts. But this criticism is not levied against mere images, but particular contexts in which those images are produced, distributed and consumed. If you were to privately produce, alone or with a lover, such images; if you were to share them, with a lover or a dear friend; sharing them with a few, on a non-commercial basis; this criticism could not apply. So what we are attacking here, is the commercial mass distribution of pornography, rather than pornography itself. However, when most people think of "pornography", they think of the commercial mass-produced stuff, not anything else which might properly be called by that name.

If you have images or video of another person naked, or engaging in sexual activity, etc., you should not share that with anyone else without the consent of the persons depicted. Their consent may be particularised to individuals (yes you can show that to so and so), or more generalised (yes you can show that to such and such a person.) Those who violate this requirement will be subject to restriction.

Pornography refers primarily to images or video - but also sometimes to written text - depicting humans in a state of nudity or engaging in sexual acts. It is generally restricted to images intended to produce sexual arousal - images of nudity in a context to encourage arousal will be called pornography, yet similar images in a different context (e.g. an anatomy or sex education book) won't be.

Sometimes the term erotica is used to refer to works seen as having some artistic value - the problem with this notion is that people disagree on what art is, and just about anything will be considered art by somebody. Marcel Duchamp presented a urinal as art; if one follows that approach, there is absolutely nothing which is not art. But even if agree that not everything is art, deciding just what is art and what is not art is very hard. Some say the purpose of art is to be beautiful - well, some might consider a urinal beautiful; and if it is not, it is rather arguable that at least some very explicit sexual images may be beautiful. So really, this distinction does not get us very far.

There are two main positions toward pornography. One sees pornography as irredeemably bad. There are two versions of this position - a religious conservative position which sees pornography as against God's law, as destroying the family and healthy sexual relationships, creating addiction, encouraging sexual perversion and sin, etc; and a feminist position which sees pornography as exploiting, objectifying and oppressing women. The other position sees pornography as something on the whole positive - even though it is willing to criticise some specific examples - as enabling people to explore their own sexuality, pleasure themselves, educate themselves, express themselves.

It would be mistaken to see the debate between anti-pornography and pro-pornography forces as one purely between conservatives and liberals. There are a number of positions, which on the whole are closer to liberalism than conservatism, yet which oppose pornography. For example, anti-pornography radical feminists like Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, etc. One will also find left-wing opposition to pornography along the lines of "pornography is capitalist, capitalism is bad, hence pornography is bad"; again, more of a liberal than conservative perspective on the whole. So opposition to pornography is not purely conservative.

Maratreanism can not really be said to agree with either position. There is nothing inherently wrong with images or video or other depictions of nudity or sexual acts, including when these depictions are sexually arousing to the viewer. At the same time, we need to pay attention to the context and messages of these works, and their means of production and distribution. Commercial pornography is open to ethical criticism on the grounds of the messages it often conveys (about people in general, and women in particular), and its capitalist means of production and distribution.

Maratreanism is opposed to capitalism; however, the area of human sexuality is so central to the essence of being that the anti-capitalist position must be especially central in the area.