This, from Iceland, on their campaign against online porn, is absolutely spot-on (the bold is mine):
Jónasson’s adviser Halla Gunnarsdóttir told the Guardian this week that the country is “not anti-sex, but anti-violence”, and that “what is under discussion is the welfare of our children and their rights to grow and develop in a non-violent environment”.
As I pointed out recently, sexual abuse is primarily the abuse of power – and any society which criminalises the former should also be prepared to criminalise the latter. Similarly, the generation of pornography – indeed, the generation of any content which involves the exploitation of people who would not otherwise participate, were their financial, or other, circumstances different – is, above all, an analogous abuse of power.
Iceland’s current move to remove such violence from its children is entirely coherent with earlier reported moves:
The draft legislation follows laws passed in 2009 and 2010 that criminalised customers rather than sex workers and closed strip clubs.
The problem of course, in this particular case, is that the tools which they wish to use involve filtering an open Internet. Tools which replicate the interventions in human rights that less salubrious regimes across the world are currently using. Tools which would give these regimes the kind of democratically-stamped approval to continue in their oppressive ways.
A difficult call for everyone who believes in freedom of information.
There’s another matter, however, which I’d like to raise in this post: we must accept we live vicarious lives. From latterday social media to traditional Hollywood films, this commonplace existing through the actions and creations of others is more or less generally accepted. No one really questions, for example, the right Daniel Craig has to earn a living from the explicit violence of putting imaginary bullets through anonymous bit-parted actors – nor even the creeping-up-behind naked actresses in movie-lit showers of sexual abandon.
Is it fair, then, to say that Daniel Craig and his cohort of stars are being exploited in order to put violence of one kind or another on silver-plattered screens for our repeated delectation and delight? And if it is fair to say so, should we strive to prevent such processes too?
I’m not really sure we shouldn’t, to be honest – if, that is, we’re really going to get serious about the abuse of power more generally. Interfering with the freedom of information flow is, undoubtedly, a very big issue. But so is what I assume to be the increasing exploitation of sex workers as a result of that insatiable content-black-hole that is the worldwide web.
A suggestion then. Not just a rant. Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content. Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?
How would this work? Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses. These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making. There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time. Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.
In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered. Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.
Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn. But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.
Technology, in part, got us to the bind we now find ourselves in. Technology, properly shared out and distributed, and through a generous and intelligence analysis of the whole process involved, could serve to get us out of it.
If only we were prepared to be coherent.