Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

Hundreds of people have written to me in the eighteen months The Spectacle has been in existence. I enjoy the correspondence greatly. Most of it, even when critical, has been supportive, and many of you have taught me things I did not know, referred me to good books or Web sites, or identified holes in my logic. Flames have been very rare. Keep those cards and letters coming! I can be reached at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace

War Crimes
Dear Mr. Wallace: I am glad that you are concerned with ALL these atrocities throughout the world. You are a very impassioned and accurate writer.

However, you STILL miss a particular fundamental problem:

what is the difference between revenge and punishment?

Suppose I go portesting an Embassy in the U.S. against some atrocity in the world. (say, the Chinese Embassy, for its policy of executing drug traffickers) Suppose the police turn on me. no one is around to defend me and I fight back and kill a cop. Well, *I* am fighting against an injustice. If my cause succeeds, so that a greater positive is done by stopping China from murdering drug traffickers than the negative I did by killing a cop, then why should *I* go to prison for the rest of my life, or be sentenced to death, if I caused a greater positive? I feel analysis of these world problems is CRUCIAL. The problem is that people do NOT want to face up to what really needs to be done in the world. Every event has positive and negative consequences to it. If you killed me, the positives would be someone taking my job, more oxygen for others to breathe, etc. People do NOT want to get down to the mentally difficult task of analyzing what is typically referred to "cost-benefit" analysis, of course, extended to MUCH broader objective functions, AND keeping track ON WHOM those costs and benefits fall. OF COURSE, AFTER THE ANALYSIS IS DONE I hope that everyone will come to the conclusion that the negative of killing me FAR outweighs the positive effects: in YOUR terminology, my killing was "unjustified", and hence, "murder". Unfortunatley, you throw that word "murder" and seem to expect people to automatically agree with you in every instance what IS or is NOT murder, that the word "murder" has lost its meaning. I believe "meat is murder" and I believe meat production should be outlawed throughout the world. The benefit to a human of eating a hamburger is insignificant compared to the horrible negative of the lifelong confinement of animals and ultimate painful killing in factory farms. But, in the realm of just human rights, one person killing another person might not always be "murder". There are two very big objective functions: "not being killed" and "freedom from lifelong confinement". Notice I did not say "freedom to do anything one wants". If I had a choice between someone killing me versus life imprisonment, I might choose the former. Anyway, in any battle, it might be justified to kill a police officer (e.g. William Wallis and his followers against the British) for the sake of freedom for millions from lifelong slavery and confinement, even if NONE of those millions will be killed. (As if the Nazis just wanted to enslave and confine all the Jews but not kill anyone of them: I think it would be justified in fighting and killing Gestapo officers.)

By the way: I am not Jewish. I was raised Methodist. I am very pro-Israeli, considering Israel is the only democracy in that part of the world. I opposed the US-Iraq war only because George Bush wanted that war for oil, not for any human rights agenda.

John Nahay

A Shaggy God Story
Dear Mr. Wallace:

You set up the following straw man: the worry that influencing people away from God will influence them away from morality.

The real problem with you atheists is that you do not understand that morality without God is meaningless.

A nihilist is an atheist who understands the grim implications of his atheism. You wasted many words saying no more than "I'm an atheist, but I like morality." I'll bet you even have a favorite food.

Morality which grows exclusively from biological, psychological, and/or social fields is meaningless. What possible satisfaction or comfort can one have from his moral views if he feels they are the product of his genes and environment? You need to find another name for what you call "morality." How about "genetic and cultural programming." That way you can accurately claim to be a "genetic and culturally programmed" person. It doesn't sound as good as being a "moral" person, but with you atheists taking over, the word "moral" no longer has meaning. You should get rid of it!

You continue to use words like "beautiful," "altruism," and "compassion." As an atheist, you must hold that these words will have radically different meanings for different individuals, depending on the individual's genetic and cultural programming. Perhaps you should refrain from using such variable and therefore meaningless words.

Scott Linden lindens@maxwell.rl.plh.af.mil

The Communications Decency Act
Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hello there! I'm doing a research paper on Censorship on the Internet and I happen to stumble across your webpage on "The Internet Censorship FAQ." The informations on your page is very very useful in my research. Here's the problem. I forgot where I got it from...I mean, the http site.

Can you please tell me where again can I find "The Internet Censorship FAQ" document?

P.S. I will be fully citing each and every idea, quote, saying, line, etc I get from my sources as required by my university. Plagiarism-watch is in full effect here.

Thank you very much!

Rex Hermogino sga13@uog9.uog.edu

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I was told to do an research essay. I thought and thought about what to right about, and as I was surfing, I came across a blue ribbon, which I had somehow dismissed before. I realized I knew nothing about the CDA and all the talk of censorship was furthest from my mind. This was going to be my subject.

None of this concerns you except this: I searched for many pages on the subject and came across your web page to help me. If you have the time, for one I need to know when the article was put on the web, but this is not the real reason I am bothering you. I would like to find out if you have any more resent thoughts and/or developments on this subject. I have picked you (lucky you :) because out of all the pages, yours was probably the most informative, so why not go to the expert! If you have files that you usually send to others that ask this of you, that would be great, along with any comments you may have.

I thank you for your time and your work on letting ppl know about how censorship can affect more than just pornography.

William Maize daq2@magic1.org

Dear Mr. Wallace:

You said:

The contrast to the CDA is interesting. Nobody is burning any books, or even removing them from the library shelves. Instead, the library will continue to contain every conceivable kind of information, including works on sex. Some libraries--like the Brooklyn Public library--will simply not let children with the juvenile card take these works out. Most libraries, as Croneberger testified, will let children look at anything, once their parents have decided to allow them to have a library card.

Actually, depending on the library, it's even less restrictive than that. Most libraries I've been to only require the card to take books (etc.) *out* of the building. One can take anything off the shelf, browse it, and put it back, even without a card. So, books on sex, Nazism, bomb-creation, or anything else caried by the library is available to anybody able to enter the building.

I went over to our University Library over lunch, and within seconds was able to find all sorts of things that could be considered harmful to children by the people that wrote the CDA. There was nudity, bomb making, and even a picture of a naked child ("child pornography").

Maybe we should be banning libraries too, while we're at it. They're far more dangerous than the Internet. Unless, of course, you're willing to assume that kids don't read books anymore.

David Gersic dgersic@niu.edu

A Nail Through the Genitals
Dear Mr. Wallace:

Excellent analysis -- only one minor quibble:

[After discussion of the photo] So we are left with the question: who is harmed?

I seriously doubt that anything about the nail picture will make anyone want to hammer a nail through someone else, or have a nail hammered through them. The picture is too static and clinical for that. It does not advocate or incite.

My question is that even if it did, would that make it obscene under current law? If the act (putting a nail through a genital piercing, or even performing a genital play-piercing) is consensual, and the participants adults, it is lawful at least where I am, and advocating or inciting a lawful act is not obscene or unlawful.

Michael C. Berch mcb@postmodern.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

You wrote:

In writing about the AABBS case, I had never seen the picture, only read various descriptions in the trial transcript. What I imagined was a sadomasochistic ritual captured on film, a woman being tormented for the entertainment of a sick, and sickening audience.


Years ago, when I took up scuba diving and saw my first barracuda and moray eel, I realized that I had to put aside significant preconceptions. The word "barracuda", the word "moray eel" came with significant baggage already attached, pertaining to their wild viciousness and their propensity to attack. In order to learn what these animals really were, I had to strip the words of any significance and start again. I went through a similar mental process when I saw the nail picture.


The nail picture is not patently offensive either, if it portrays a consensual party trick that hurt nobody. (It would be patently offensive, but still not necessarily prurient, if it portrayed actual scene of torture.) Looking at it, one is left with the feeling that here is another tempest in a teapot.

I took a few lines from that fine article to raise a point with you. I realize this is not the time for fights with people who are primarily allies, but I would like to address some of your comments and their application to the S&M community. I left the part about misconceptions in because I suspect your current understanding of painplayers is similar to your previous understanding of those creatures.

FWIW, I don't scuba, but I do recall a nature photographer's film (I wish I could give a cite, but I don't recall any of the relevant details) of his developing a relationship with a moray eel to the point that he could feed it by hand. Of course, it looked pretty fierce shooting out to grap the fish - but it didn't miss and grap anything else (at least, not on any film that was shown).

FWIW2. "Painplayers" instead of "sadomasochists" is a conscious choice (though not a consensus choice). Since consensuality is the bedrock ethic within this community*, some dislike even a remote association with de Sade (the injustice of that view is a matter for another discussion) because he wrote of nonconsensual activities. "Painplay" resolves that argument (though it creates another among those who feel that what they do is very serious, not play ).

[* - Hard to find a proper name; "leather" works, except for those who don't wear or like it, or find it has gay overtones that they don't like (I don't wear leather and I'm straight, but I don't mind "leather" as a descriptive term for myself and those of my kind); as indicated, s&m (or BDSM (bondage and discipline and sadism and masochism and dominance and submission) is a problem. Some of us simply refer to those who do wiitwd (what it is that we do).]

In any event, I'd like to challenge your views about sadomasochistic rituals and torture scenes. As it happens, I'm both a fairly light and a relatively inexperienced player, so I perhaps can't describe as well as others how different they are from the "sickening" events you imagine them to be, but I'll take a stab...eh, make an attempt.

It would help if I really understood it myself, And even then I can only speak to some of it; the motivations and rewards are many and various and different people experience similar things in very different ways. For myself, there is something extremely compelling - I wish I could come up with a better description, but none quite applies - in being brought up to my limits. When the flogging is continued to the limits of what you can stand (or think you can stand), and your focus has become how to take just one more, and then just one more, and... (you get the idea) without asking for it to be stopped (asking if you're a submissive, instructing if you're a masochist; another topic for another time)..., well, I don't know exactly how to describe it. It's not, for me, fun. It isn't anything I could say was pleasurable, and it isn't erotic (at that time, though it can be in recollection). It's just... compelling. And it's something you want to do again as soon as you can (and when it's done, and you're cuddling in your top's lap, or perhaps having your sore back rubbed with soft fur, that's something else you want to do again soon).

This isn't, BTW, an endorphin reaction. However, the endorphin rush, *is* one real good reason for doing painplay. It probably doesn't seem much like serious s&m to have the "catcher" (bottom, submissive, masochist, whatever) laughing, but when your system is saturated with endorphins and everything your top does - for that matter, just about everything you see, hear, or think of - seems enormously funny, that's a quite good reason for being chained and clamped and waxed.

Those are things I can speak of. There's others for whom painplay is deeply spiritual, many who use it to achieve states of altered consciousness (sometimes trance states, but generally the "catcher" is conscious and aware (in a way; there's much one isn't aware of, for example the passage a time - even in my experience, what seems like 30 minutes can really have been two hours) but in a different, and a delicious, state of consciousness). Some find that pain focusses their whirling minds, some find the challenge, and yes, the risk, necessary to deal with mundane existence (there are among painplayers a lot of people who have ADD and many others who like other kinds of high risk play (lot's of rock and mountain climbers, for example; even some scuba divers).

Some find that the events bond them in ways little else can, that the offering of one's body for pain and/or alteration is the most intimate and meaningful of gifts, and one accepted with due appreciation of the magnitude of that gift. In those cases where body modification is done, it's common for dominants to stay with their submissives through their piercings or brandings so that they may share the experience and/or receive *all* of the gift that's being given them.

As it happens, I've never heard of a nail through the labia (though I've heard of pins in the penis and scrotum; I wonder if it's more acceptable when done to men, since unlike the poor brainwashed women that McKinnon must save from themselves, the man who agrees to allow his "pitcher" (might be a master or mistress or a top or a dominant and it's pretty likely to be a someone who likes painplay) to do a "butterfly board" scene (which involves a lot of pins through his penis) is making a choice to do so). But it would, after all, be just an extreme (very extreme, and there are considerations of health and safety that argue against it - but life is full of risk and people have the right to make informed choices to do that which is "extreme" and "dangerous" and even "extremely dangerous") form of piercing. If this is something a couple choose to share, and even if it is something that they choose to share with an audience, why is that wrong ?

FWIW, I assumed that the "audience" you were referring to was that for the videotape, not a live audience observing the "ritual", but I wouldn't exclude the latter idea from consideration. I do agree (?) that a live audience of friends and fellow painplayers is more tasteful than a videotape audience which will inevitably include a lot of "normal" people "checking out the freaks", but taste is also a personal matter.

Steven S. Davis sd@magenta.com

Homepage, vanilla: http://magenta.com/~sd
Homepage, pistachio: http://magenta.com/lmnop/users/sd.html

Dear Jonathan Wallace:

By way of a quick introduction, my name is Jack Sinnott and I'm director of the John Deutsch University Centre (the college union) at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. This spring, as one of the requirements of the MPA program in the School of Policy Studies at Queen's, I'm participating in a policy seminar, "The Implications of the Information Superhighway for Public Policy." We're presently doing a "module" on censorship. Yesterday, our instructor posted your article, "A Nail through the Genitals: The Outer Limits of Speech," on the course listserve. Having spent the better part of the morning in class browsing through images from various alt.sex and alt.binary newsgroups, I was ripe to be provoked, and reading your piece immediately elicited the following response from me:

You know, I literally just don't get it. Six f****n' pages of Jonathan Wallace defending the right to post a picture of someone _pounding_ a nail through a woman's labia. (Hey, it's OK, 'cause she obviously wasn't "experiencing any pain.") Come on!! We could engage, I suppose, in hours of discussion dissecting/supporting/refuting Wallace's points, employing arcane, philosophical arguments and witty, hip rejoinders. But, for me, it all boils down to a question of simple human decency, respect, kindness, compassion, dare I say love? As current or aspiring "public servants" -- for lack of a better phrase, but using the most general term to embrace whoever and whatever we are as students, teachers, activists, administrators, policy analysts, health care workers, lawyers, journalists, etc. -- isn't what we're doing supposed to have something to do with affirming and celebrating life? Is this a generational thing? Am I getting too old, reactionary, set in my ways, living, as my daughter says, in a time warp? Or am I from another planet? Someone tell me, please...

I am genuinely challenged by and struggling with your perspective on this issue, and would welcome some quick feedback from you on my "diatribe." With respect to "the nail picture," I'd really be interested in an elaboration on why you, we as a society, would be the "poorer" were the law to prevent us from seeing it.


Jack Sinnott
John Deutsch University Centre
Queen's University
Kingston, ON, Canada

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am doing a report on Auschwitz for my Honors World History class. This site is a great help. Thanks for creating such a great site.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I have always felt a need, an urge to learn what I can about what happened there in those camps. I cannot tell you how it feels to pour over accounts of survival, knowing how many did not survive, and are to this day unrealized deaths by many.

I am fifteen years old. I open my eyes to try in some way to comprehend what I am reading. I am not a gory person and yet I must be to realize, in the smallest ways possible, what went on. And "what went on" cannot be hidden forever, and I commend your way of trying to reach through this cyberspace to feed knowledge to others like me hungering for the truth as the Jews hungered for a drop of food to soothe their already dead souls.

Abby F.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Maybe you have questioned God for a long time. I have to tell you...there is a God...i am a bible believer...I believe in Yeshua.

The holocaust was a very big mistake...It shows the condition of men's heart...this is Satan's doing...it is Satan who is the murderer from the very beginning...i believe that Hitler willingly allowed & be allowed to be controled by satan.

Yeshua did say...the thief ( satan ) has come to steal, kill, & destroy...but I have come so that they might have life & have it abuduntly.

Angelina Tan Mei Mei meimei@po.pacific.net.sg

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I came across your page while surfing the net this morning and was quite pleased. You have a lot of good links. Thank you. The Dumont Institute is in the process of setting up a web page. Hopefully, you will see fit to list our page when it is ready.

Robert W. McGee
The Dumont Institute for Public Policy Research

Dear Mr. Wallace:

We are pleased to announce the second issue of IDEA - A Journal of social Issues, with articles, stories and reviews dedicated to discussion and exploration of psychosocial aspects of cults, totalism, autocracy, war, genocide and holocaust.

Our NEW address is:



Masters and Slaves: The Tragedy of Jonestown by Fanita English, M.S.W. An analysis of master and follower personalities.

Auschwitz/Birkenau photographs by Alan Jacobs.
A collection of photos taken in the years 1979-1981.
Hosted by Cybrary of the Holocaust (http://www.remember.org).

Autocratic Power by Alan Jacobs: An analysis of the nature of the autocratic personality.

Processing by Alan Jacobs An Auschwitz inspired story.

Reviews: Charlotte Delbo: Auschwitz and After

Alan Jacobs, editor
Krysia Jacobs, publisher

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I've tried to load down information about the Abu Jamal case which has - as you know - been matter of some controversy. I'm a research assistant in the Department of Psychology at the University of Osnabrueck, and at the moment I'm working on representations of the death penalty. So, I thought it might be useful to consult your "journal" - as I very much liked your coverage of the pornography debate (although I'd agree more with Catherine MacKinnon than you, apparently) - but the pages about that case didn't/don't exist anymore - what's happening?

In case you feel like spending your time on such a mundane task, I'd appreciate your opinion, in case you don't - I still like "Spectacles" (only a tiny little bit less...)

Hope to hear from you - best regards,

Frauke Bastians (Ms.) FBASTIANS@luce.psycho.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I would like to tell you that this is one of the _BEsT_ web sites I have ever seen and has greatly helped me out in some of my research projects at school. Keep up the good work...And oh yah...I agree with most of yur views..

eric.sears@hatsplace.com Dear Mr. wallace:

I just read your bio. Impressive would be an extreme understatement. It's always the "quiet ones" that do the most good and have the better ideas.

More power to you.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I very much appreciate your web site. I have begun a web project that you may find interesting, as it deals with many of the issues you engage with in your site. Although my project deals with ethics, art and the law, based on the American experience, I believe that my perspective as a Canadian adds a certain je ne sais quoi? THe URL is http://www.wpg.ramp.net/~rfisher/SCAD_Home.html.

Rick Fisher rfisher@wpg.ramp.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Please consider the Boston Review for your page, Ethical, Political and Legal Sites on the Web, or any other page you think appropriate.

The Boston Review

The Boston Review is a broadly progressive bimonthly journal of culture and politics. It features critical essays, reviews and articles on politics as well as original short fiction and poetry. Past contributors include Noam Chomsky, bell hooks, Martha Nussbaum, Christopher Hitchins, Joseph Brodsky, Robert Pinsky, Ralph Nader, and Mary Jo Bang.

The site provides free access to the full text of the past 3 volumes of the review, easy links to popular articles, and a comprehensive author index.

Please let me know if there are other sites I should investigate or if you have any questions.

Grant Emison emison@MIT.EDU