Everyone else seems to be talking about sex this week, so I’ll devote a dedicated post to a topic raised by Luton Ian on the last thread.
I’m going to try to avoid sniggering here about New Zealand and the proclivities with which its citizens are frequently associated—pace Farmerbraun—but there is a serious side here, which directly impacts on the principles of Liberty, not to mention the stability of society.
OK, so if you haven’t yet read Ian’s link, a New Zealand court last week sentenced one Ronald Clark to three months’ imprisonment for downloading Japanese hentai drawings of pixies, elves and other human-like creatures engaging in various sexual acts. Clark’s actions apparently violated New Zealand’s law on possessing “objectionable material”, even though the images were clearly drawings and not of human beings. From the article,
They weren’t even depictions of people – Clark’s lawyer Roger Bowden described them as “pixies and trolls” that “you knew at a glance weren’t human”.
Bowden said the conviction for possessing objectionable material was “the law gone mad”.
However, while the cartoon characters were elves and pixies, they were also clearly young elves and pixies, which led to concerns the images were linked to child sexual abuse.
Anti-child pornography group ECPAT Child Alert director Alan Bell said the images were illegal because they encouraged people “to migrate from there to the real thing”.
“The distribution of it is damaging. You have to ask what impact does it have even if it’s not harming [an individual child].”
Bell said it had to be conceded that no child was harmed in the images’ production but “it’s all part of that spectrum”. Cartoon images of child abuse were a “huge” problem in Japan and the practice had started finding its way into computer games, he said
Lincoln University philosophy lecturer Grant Tavinor, who writes on the aesthetics of video games, said the case raised two key questions: Did producing the pictures harm anyone, and could their viewing and distribution be injurious to the public good?
“The worry is that viewing or distributing such images could support the sexual exploitation of children even if the production of the images did not actually involve the exploitation of any children,” Tavinor said. It’s not enough that no one was harmed in the making of the videos, the law takes a protective role and says there are some things we just don’t want circulating in society, he said.
Two competing issues here. Firstly, what business is it of the state if one adult produces a drawing and sells it to another adult—a voluntary transaction involving, and therefore potentially harming, no third parties? If we’re going to pass laws against that, then why not also for any stories that canvass the same subject matter? It’s all part of a spectrum, we’ve just been assured. One thing leads to the other. Trust us.
Where is the evidence for this? Where are the studies that demonstrate a causative link (as opposed to merely a correlation) between viewing smutty drawings and perpetration of child abuse? Of course paedophiles will be drawn to such things. But will an average person who chances upon it on the internet be drawn into paedophilia as well?
If, on the other hand, you don’t have laws against such things, several consequences impend. Technology has advanced to the point where there is a continuum between artwork which is clearly hand-drawn and fantasy, as in this case, to extremely life-like animation (à la Shrek, Toy Story and other recent Hollywood productions), all the way to digitally-created images that are indistinguishable from real-life photography.
If you don’t have a law against sexualized images depicting children in such formats, then you are, to all intents and purposes, green-lighting child pornography, as you would then be putting the state in the position of having to prove in each case that the creation of the image (usually in some foreign country) involved an actual child—an impossible task. Strict Libertarians are in the invidious position here of appearing as though they are supporting child porn, and need to explain themselves very carefully indeed if they are proposing an open-slather approach to this issue.
If your aim is to stop feeding the lusts of the perverted, then you are on a hopeless mission and may as well give up now, for who the hell knows what turns who on? And in most cases, who cares? In Victorian times, they shrouded piano legs (or so I’ve always been told; a brief search around the web shows a consensus that it’s an urban myth). Don’t show any images of feet either, or clothed individuals, or rubber hoses, or rabbits, or…
See what I mean? Unless we revert to a stultifying puritanism, and basically dismantle the internet, you aren’t going to do it. On the other hand, if you stand on ceremony as a Libertarian, not only do you have to consider the law of unintended consequences, but you’re putting yourself in some pretty nasty company, many of whom hide behind the Libertarian banner while carelessly destroying the lives of unknown numbers of children.
There’s no pat answer to this one. Over to you.