{January, 1986, Adview Magazine}


The North Carolina Legislature has recently addressed the pornography issue by banning the dissemination of a great deal of what easily qualifies as pornography. It has also limited the accessibility of certain kinds of pornography in order to protect minors. Presumably, what is now a strong public policy against pornography has a moral basis and is not simply a response to political pressure.


As human beings we sometimes engage in activities that we enjoy but don't feel quite right about. When criticized we frequently reply, "What's wrong with it?"  We all know that the inability to give a reason why something is wrong does not make it right. But when our behavior is challenged, we instinctively want to put the challenger on the defensive. By demanding "What's wrong with it?" when our behavior involves pornography, we usually can quiet our critic because he usually cannot give us a reason.


Thus, we, as individuals and as citizens whose laws limit obscenity, need an answer to the question, "What is wrong with pornography?"


There is a distinction between treating persons as persons and treating them as things. I treat a person as a thing when I see him as something to manipulate, to use as a means to an end. I treat a person as a person when I see him as having dignity, as being inherently worthy of respect. Pornography may be defined as the commercial exploitation of our tendency to treat as things those who, if we loved them, we would treat only as persons.


From a purely rational point of view, we wish for all human beings to be treated as persons. We would never treat them as things. Alas, we are not purely rational.  Indeed, we are virtually irrational when it comes to pornography because we consumers of pornography are required to engage in a kind of double-think.


No loving father would permit a photographer to take pictures of his unclothed daughter for the purpose of selling those pictures. Nevertheless, the same loving father who would not permit that activity with his own daughter would encourage the activity by buying magazines containing similar photographs of someone else’s daughter. This kind of double-think is sometimes known as hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the hard core of pornography.


Now, I must admit the double-think just illustrated is absent when the father does not love his daughter. But to such a father I have nothing to say. Moral reasoning is not possible with a non-moral person. One can only reason with someone who shares certain basic convictions. A father who willingly exploits his own daughter is not being hypocritical when he exploits someone else's daughter. He is being perfectly consistent. But he is also demonstrating a gross insensitivity that makes him impossible to reason with.


What makes pornography wrong is that it dehumanizes us. What makes pornography possible is hypocrisy. We have now, through our legislature, attempted by legal sanctions to reinforce the moral sanctions that have apparently not been effective against our hypocrisy.


We dehumanize one another in many ways. Pornography is only one of the ways, and it is certainly not the most serious way. The new pornography laws should be enforced. Purveyors of pornography should find no aid or comfort among us. But we should not lose our sense of perspective by concentrating our efforts on eliminating this social evil.  We should instead continue to humanize our society -- to nurture a sense of dignity and respect for oneself and others -- by encouraging individual self-determination through educational and economic development.  




   -Contact Me-



We all see things in different ways. Help me to see things your way. I welcome  your questions and comments.   


    --- Jesse Shearin





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