The Ethical Spectacle September 1995

Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

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Dear Mr. Blumen:

First of all, I would like to tell you how much I enjoyed your web-page. It is refreshing to find reasoned opinion anywhere on the Internet where much discussion has been reduced to "Make Money Fast" and "shut up, moron."

Perhaps, I'm knee-jerk civil libertarian, but I am disturbed by the Mackinnon position on undesirable speech for several reasons. I think the jury is still out on whether pornography actually promotes violence. It is my understanding that there are studies which may indicate the opposite. Secondly, any regulation of speech tends to fall disproprtionately upon those groups at a disadvantage in society. If the government is allowed increasing regulation of speech, it will be unlikely to regulate violent speech such as "Interview with a Vampire", but more likely to regulate speech by feminists and other with unpopular views. Certainly, any government censorship falls more heavily on those who dissent from government views. Pro-government speech will not be regulated, dissent will be curtailed under the guise of protection of the innocent. It is my belief that marginalized groups do not need protection from speech, but the means to increase their own voices in the national debate. Anything else will simply result in the suppression of unpopular opinions like those of Mackinnon's. I don't believe we need any further laws restricting speech. Finally, pornography exists partly because there are few other forums to discuss the issues raised in pornography: desire, sexual attitudes and behavior, fear, pleasure etc. In the US, discussion of many of these issues has been so marginalized that porn is one of the few places where they are discussed. It is my belief that pornography is political speech and while I certainly do no agree with much of the views presented, I beleive that it deserves protection in exactly the same way as religous and political speech does. I agree with the "slipperly slope" notion in that if porn is successfully censored, religous speech about ideas such as tantra will be suppressed, debate about sexual issues and morality will be curtailed. It is unfortunate, however, that so much talk about sexual issues is so poor and downright sleazy.

Keep up the good work,

Bill Thompson BBT Design

Thanks! I enjoy getting mail (this is one of the main rewards for writing the Spectacle) and yours is one of the more comprehensive and better reasoned letters I have recieved. I agree with your conclusions, but not with the path you take to get there.

As I say at the conclusion of my essay on Mackinnon, I would not attempt (just yet) to legislate violent or sexist speech either, though I find I am a lot less concerned about the slippery slope than I used to be. I have a knee jerk reaction against creating more speech crimes than already exist.

On the other hand, I know--on a gut level--that pornography validates and causes violence against women. I cannot prove it through sociological evidence; I just know it. Obviously, this is the most dangerous kind of evidence, and I would hesitate to base laws on it. But most porn, including the softcore stuff showing on Showtime cable, has heavily sadistic undertones, and it flies in the face of common sense to think that people are unaffected by what they watch, especially when it is so prevalent in our culture. I am certain there is a feedback loop where a taste for violence causes porn which causes a greater taste for violence, which in some people (not all) will lead to violence itself.

I agree with John Stuart Mill that we should only regulate other-regarding actions. But I think porn is other-regarding: collectively it attacks the quality of life for women. In addition to violence it causes sexual harassment in the workplace and the street, and supports double standards that make advancement hard. So why wouldn't I regulate it? Because the law is a blunt instrument, not a forceps, and inevitably, as you say, we will regulate things we didn't mean to. So I would begin more surgically, by trying to change public opinion. A large number of the people I speak to have completely bought the '60's credo that porn is liberating or, at worst, only degrades the person who uses it. Other similar erroneous assumptions about race and sex have fallen by the way side over the decades; I don't see why this one shouldn't, and save us the need for legislation. But if this failed, and regulations instead mandated that Showtime could no longer show movies in prime time about women who are molested by everyone in sight without consequences--I don't think we would suffer a very great loss of freedom, and I believe women would gain greatly.

Dear Mr. Blumen:

Thanks for the message. I guess I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you say, although I have some reservations. We don't have Showtime, but we have HBO/Cinemax and I assume that the relative quality of material shown on Showtime is similar to that of HBO, i.e. much of it total trash. For some reason, I never think of that stuff as pornography. I take pornography to be material viewed or read as a means of sexual stimulation and I don't see how anyone can be sexually stimulated by the junk I see on HBO.

I'm not so sure I can agree with you that soft or hard core porn promotes violence towards women. First of all, the portrayal of men in these movies is no better that women. This is no excuse, but I don't think you can view these movies without seeing that they take a pretty jaundiced view of humanity in general and not just women. Secondly, I find it totally impossible to separate the effects of one small medium on violence in a culture of total violance. As one example, The US spends approximately 40% of its total budget on the military. I don't mean to condem the military, but when you spend a lot of money on instruments of violence, glorify acts of violence (however necessary), use it as a means of getting what you want etc., it's not surprising that the public uses violence as a means of solving problems. Do we learn violence from society or is society a reflection of our violent nature. I don't really have a clue and I don't think anyone else does. Is institutionalized violence a contributing factor? Who knows, but I seriously doubt that softcore porn does more damage to our moral fibre than Power Rangers and Bruce Willis films. I don't think people learn violence from the movies they learn it at home and on the street. Do you hit your girlfriend because you saw it in a movie or because you saw your old man hit your mother? None of these issues has a simple cause and I seriously doubt that any limitation on free speech will help reduce the problem of violence towards women, children or others. I suspect that the problem will get worse because it will be more difficult to talk about it.

You said:

But if this failed, and regulations instead mandated that Showtime could no longer show movies in prime time about women who are molested by everyone in sight without consequences--I don't think we would suffer a very great loss of freedom, and I believe women would gain greatly

I think we would suffer a great loss of freedom and women would suffer the most and gain nothing positive. Women lose freedom too. I think that the assumption that women need protection from speech is harmful to women.

Sorry to ramble so much, it's just that this stuff has been on my mind a bit lately.

Cheers, Bill

I think men beat women both because they saw their fathers do it and they saw it at the movies. The fact that there are other causes of violence is not an argument against addressing a particular one; lets address them all.

I have seen relatively little pornography in my life, but my wife and I watched a few shows on Showtime that--though they had smart looking performers and good production values-- fall into what I understand to be a classic pornographic vein. A young fiancee is seduced by her husband's cousin; the elderly tutor emerges from a closet and rapes her, while they threaten to tell her future husband if she does not cooperate. A young woman is abducted and has sex with the psycho who is holding her (and also with his girlfriend and accomplice) while pretending to enjoy it. Another young woman sleeps with the wrong local on a Pacific island, after which he feels entitled to show up and rape her whenever he feels like it. These were all televised during prime time on Showtime, were softcore explicit, and (especially the first) all had in common the concept that rape is not really rape, isn't violent and is even potentially enjoyed by the victim. The women in all three movies were essentially objects at the disposal of the men around them. These are the First Amendment-protected "ideas" expressed by such films. Whether or not they can be regulated by the government is not the issue; they represent the most immoral of speech, different from hard core illegal pornography in degree but not in the ideas expressed. There is a curious double standard in our society that movies that portray blacks, for example, as objects would not be acceptable, but women can be objectified and no-one really takes notice or agrees that it exposes a social problem and has pernicious effects. When people wake up to the fact that despicable ideas are being expressed and are unconsciously shared by a large part of the population--when people reject this style of thinking, the way overt racism at least is no longer acceptable--then we may not need to think about regulation, because it won't be necessary. The threshold issue is human understanding, not laws, and, as Prohibition proved, laws cannot substitute for understanding anyway.

I just spent the last 30 minutes reading The Ethical Spectacle and I must say it is some of the most powerful writing I've been exposed to on the net, yet. Kudos to John Blumen for putting such a wonderful place to visit on the web. I will certainly write him and express my appreciation (as well as offer my link if he's interested). The Ethical Spectacle's link has found a permanent home on my page.

My home page is just a few step down from F.A.S. ( It offers my resume as well as an index to some really great law enforcement links and Audio/Video links (many broadcast powerhitters like N.A.B. - A/V is still my first love although programming is quickly moving up the ladder).

Thanks again, man its great to meet some interesting people for a change. Sincerely, Scott

Dear Jonathan:

Your epistle in which you defend the NRA's use of the term "jack booted thugs" in their reference to the BATF, graciously acknowledges that it is duplicitous to condemn an organization for their words because you don't like the organization, but you otherwise agree that the incidents cited by the NRA in the context of that reference was an abuse of police powers by the Government. You said that you consider the NRA to be a "dangerous and deceitful" organization because of the laws they support. Yes, I agree, that Constitution is a dreadful thing, especially that horrible Second Amendment. And laws that punish criminals who use a firearm in a felony rather than punish that awful (inanimate object) gun are a real threat to us all.

As a "flamer" (your term meaning flaming ass-hole I assume) it won't surprise you to know that I support and belong to the NRA. I don't own a flannel shirt or have a gun in my 'pick um up' truck, but hell, if it makes you happy, you can envision me that way if you want.

My experience as a member of NRA is that it is comprised of a lot of conservative, mostly rural, honest and law abiding citizens. Like in any organization, the occasional "wacko" will surface, but the vast majority of NRA people love the country, distrust the government, and obey the law. They like guns, but would be the last people on earth to commit a crime with one. They earn above average incomes, vote, and don't belong to some goofy paranoid malitia organization.

That is not the perception that the media spins on the NRA. What I need to say to you is that I respect a lot of your ideas. I certainly support your "right" to express your opinions, and I find many of them thoughtful and sincere, but with that mix of liberal naivete which gives a "flamer" such as myself a certain smug satisfaction (superiority complex). I believe that life is far too paradoxical to maintain exclusive adhesion to far right, or far left beliefs. I believe that the typical urban liberal's perceptions of the world are not a true reflection of, but only a PART of reality. I also believe that the vast majority of our dominant media, being Eastern, Urban, and Liberal, frequently and with malice, creates huge misconceptions, and is indeed "dangerous and deceitful." Your concession that the NRA might just have accidentally been accurate, or at least has the right to postulate that the BATF abused power is indicative that you might be somewhat fair minded, or objective. . . but that you may be "challenged" by your urban (Eastern Liberal) lifestyle, thus restricting your development. I am considering a gift of membership into the NRA for you as an educational development experience. It comes in the form of a "pod" which you must place under your bed prior to retiring.

In the spirit of honest (but humorous) dialog.


Bob Wilson


I recently noticed that you have a link to What's Newt on your Ethical Spectacle "links" page. I will provide a reciprocal link. Problem is, the link you have is to an obsolete address. My stupid internet vendor went out of business a couple months ago, with no notice! I got a new provider so the page had to move. The new URL is: Thanks, Dan Schueler

Dear Jonathan:

Here are the URLs that I have for the sites I mentioned:

IFAS: The Institute for First Amendment Studies, is:

The Democratic National Committee is:

Media Watchdog is:

THOMAS (I think you already have this one listed; it's great)

and, the U.S. House of Representatives:

I hope these addresses are correct and current! I found the ACLU-related sites through WebCrawler; I'm on the Board of the ACLU of Southern California (the largest ACLU affiliate in the country), and I'm talking to them about setting up their own web site.

I'll send you more suggestions as I come across them; I'm also telling my colleagues about your site, because it's a great resource! Thanks.

Best, Alex Shapiro

Hi Jonathan, I heard about your site from another site; I went for a visit. It's an interesting and unique viewpoint, I really liked it. What I like to do is to add new sites every month, then promote them; I would like to include your site for the September issue. I have an online education forum, where I share links that people have suggested. I would like to do a short writyeup of yours and then include it in the Links, if that's okay. I will be included in the October section of Wired's NetSurf, which should increase traffic. I want to make my Links extensive so that I can share any traffic with all the other important sites. Your site really reminds me of the power of the Web; Primo Levi's thoughts inspired a new action, your site. Congratulations; I've found numerous links, some which you may or may not know about; let them know too. Peace

Mike Dunn

Check out Mike's first rate Holocaust related site at

Thanks for an interesting, thought provoking site. I like the link to MLK's speech, too. I'm looking forward to your next issue!

I may have an interesting site to offer you - The Perot Periodical. Started in 1992 and modeled after The Quayle Quarterly, The Perot Periodical now has a web site. It's URL is:

The Perot Periodical is an independent, unauthorized quarterly that tracks Ross Perot, the United We Stand America movement, and the larger phenomenon of independents in politics. Additional topics covered include: Colin Powell, Lowell Weicker, Newt Gingrich, populism, third parties, Nafta, political reform, and the media.

The Perot Periodical has been cited by the Columbia Journalism Review for its "first-rate reporting by first-rate reporters." The academic journal Lingua Franca recently said "there is simply no better source for information on United We Stand America." And the August 15, 1995 Village Voice "Press Clips" column said the newsletter "tracks UWSA more closely and comprehensively than any other publication in the country."

Dave Sifry

Dear Jonathan:

Just posted some pages, and thought you may be interested in a rather rare transcription of a Primo Levi interview. My "to scratch an angel" huge song cycle is inspired by his life and death. A major classical label will record it soon.

In the meanwhile, read and let me know how the site looks to you (wander around). The Levi material starts at level 3 of my site:

To start a bit back, go to

all my best,


Mr. Blumen:

Amazing distortions... I really thought that your type passed with the '70s... guess that I was wrong. Fortunately, elections have proven that your rhetoric and revisionist tactics have failed miserably... but I'll keep reading... and I hope that you'tt keep exercising your 1st Amendment rights... although I'm certain that these rights would be among the first to go if your ideological extreme ever seized power... I'd like to engage some of the polemics at some time (I do agree, to some degree, with "some" of your statements... very little). Later...

Gary Doby

Dear Jonathan:

I am very moved by your work and will share it with my students.

BTW - we read an excerpt from Primo Levi during our seder - before we wash hands we read his piece about the importance of "washing" in the camp to maintain human dignity.