Sunday, July 6, 2008

Lowest Common Denominator Legislation of Morality

I recommend that anyone interested in the Bill Henson controversy watch the SBS Insight show “The Naked Eye”.

It included some interesting points about the availability of images on the internet and the extent to which they can be misused by paedophiles or “freaks” (whatever that term is supposed to mean).

Access on the Internet

The suggestion is that, because an image can be widely accessed on the internet, any freedom that we might allow the image in an artistic context (e.g., if shown in an art gallery) should not extend beyond the gallery to the internet.

In other words, where the image is displayed should affect the extent of the freedom to display it.

Classification of Materials

There is an element of this argument in the system that classifies materials for publication or exhibition.

The rating of the material is designed to prevent the exposure of inappropriate material to children and offence to people who might not wish to be exposed to the material against their will.

The Lowest Common Denominator

However, it is another argument to say that nobody should be able to access the material, because somebody considered to be inappropriate (e.g., a “freak”) might be able to access it on the internet.

I don't think it is fair to ban something because of how a paedophile or "freak" will use (or misuse) it.

This limits freedom in society to the level appropriate to a freak.

It reduces everybody to the level of the lowest common denominator.

The risk that a freak might get their hands on something should not be a relevant consideration in framing a Law with respect to an activity that can be engaged by anyone in the community (freak or not) otherwise within the Law.

A work of art can be appreciated without breaking the Law.

The fact that a paedophile might use it for some criminal purpose does not change the intrinsic nature of the work of art.

The Hammer Analogy

It is like saying that, because a thief can use a hammer to break and enter a home, hammers should be banned.

The point is that there is nothing intrinsically illegal about a hammer.

It is the use of the hammer (not the production or possession of the hammer) which should be the focus of any law designed to minimise theft.

Criminals use mobile phones to arrange criminal activity.

That doesn’t mean that phones should be banned.

Just because a freak eats a breakfast cereal, doesn’t mean that we should be prohibited from eating it.

The Gun Analogy

I can imagine this sort of argument for prohibition being a reason to ban guns.

A work of art has many possible uses. However, a gun is a weapon. It has limited intrinsic uses.

You can't actually use a gun except to kill, injure or shoot somebody or something.

This is the only purpose of a gun.

There is a much more direct causal connection between a gun and a crime.

Yet we don't totally prohibit guns. We only regulate them, arguably in an ineffective way that still allows guns to be used to kill or injure innocent people.

Access to Pornography

There is nothing intrinsically pornographic about nudity.

Pornography is defined in terms of the purpose of production of the material or the consumption of it.

A work of art is not treated as pornographic, unless it is designed to be pornographic.

The fact that some freaks might use the art or images for pornographic purposes shouldn't restrict the freedom of the rest of society to appreciate the work aesthetically.

How anyone accesses the material is irrelevant, if it is not intrinsically pornographic or illegal.

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