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Archive for November 26th, 2011

‘Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil.  –  William Shakespeare, Macbeth (II, ii)

Very young children are unable to distinguish image from reality; they perceive frightening pictures or hostile words as equivalent to concrete threats.  Rational adults understand that this is not so; things without physical power to harm, however shocking or unpleasant they may be, can be dismissed by the disciplined mind and therefore cannot be compared to tangible phenomena.  That’s why many people enjoy horror movies; they enable us to confront terrifying images or ideas in a safe environment.  No matter how awful the fictional spook, it has no actual power to harm us, so we’re free to experience fear without long-term repercussions.  The same could be said of tragedies, adventure stories and even porn; the feelings they evoke are mere specters, with no ability to reach into the physical world unless we give it to them.  Like vampires, the emotions produced by words and images can only cause harm by invitation; as Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and no one can make you feel anything else without your consent, either.

But somehow, people in Western countries have lost sight of this simple principle.  I suspect it’s due to the fact that so many of them live in a state of  complete isolation from Nature; because they are rarely (if ever) in any real danger, words and pictures (which they encounter frequently) seem to be more of a threat than actual physical menaces.  How many people in Western countries are really worried about, say, bubonic plague or lightning strike?  These dangers are far too remote to cause alarm, because everyone knows they’re rare.  The “threats” about which middle-class Westerners express the greatest concern are either those they hear of frequently or those which the media can convince them are omnipresent, which is why groups who derive income and power from some particular fear (rape, “illegal aliens”, terrorism, “human trafficking”, child sexual abuse, etc) cook up bogus statistics to make those threats seem vastly more common than they actually are.

This obsession with the insubstantial and/or inconsequential has created a bizarre inversion of priorities in many Western countries; major issues which are largely hidden from public view, or which affect a comparatively small number of people, are virtually ignored in favor of absurdly expensive, intrusive and punitive campaigns against “crimes” which actually injure nobody.  One example of this is the crusade against “child porn”; mere possession of an image is deemed a “crime” equal to using actual children to create that image, and artificial images such as sketches or written descriptions are in many cases considered equivalent to the real thing; this is tantamount to banning fictional depictions of murder.  The excuse used is that artificial images “create a demand” for porn, but this is mere sophistry; human beings are not computers to be programmed, and as any marketing expert will tell you it’s impossible to “create” a demand for something without somehow tying it to a real demand such as the desire for food, sex, status, health, wealth, etc.  In other words, one can’t “market” child porn to anyone who isn’t already sexually attracted to children, and to argue that draconian anti-porn legislation is justified on “end demand” grounds is equivalent to arguing that everyone should be sterilized at puberty because the male sex drive leads to rape and pregnancy to abortion and child abuse.  Demand for movies and music leads to copyright violation, but I don’t see anyone campaigning to ban music and movies because of it.

This obsession with the image over the fact leads to abominations like a recent case reported in Reason on November 7th:

Last week a Florida judge sentenced Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old with no criminal record, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for looking at forbidden pictures.  A jury convicted Vilca on 454 counts of possessing child pornography, one for each image found on his computer.  Under Florida law, each count is a…felony punishable by up to five years in prison.  Sentencing guidelines indicated a minimum term of 152 years…”Had Mr. Vilca actually molested a child,” The New York Times notes, “he might well have received a lighter sentence.”

…the draconian punishments prescribed by state and federal laws for mere possession of child pornography seem to be based on the premise that anyone who looks at records of heinous acts must also be committing them or at least planning to do so.  But as I  [previously] noted…that simply isn’t so:  Research indicates that child porn consumers, like fans of violent movies, do not necessarily copy what they see.  As Troy Stabenaw, a federal public defender who wrote a devastating 2009 critique of federal sentencing guidelines for child pornography, tells the Times, “we ought to punish people for what they do, not for our fear.”

…the familiar argument that “consumers of child pornography drive the market for the production of child pornography…” [is hardly] relevant…now that people typically obtain child porn online for free…[and the prosecutor’s claim that] “…when the images are shown over and over again, they’re victimized over and over again”…seems even more problematic, since any such injury would require (at the very least) that victims know when people are looking at images of them…[and] would not apply to child pornography featuring victims who are no longer alive…[Furthermore] the offense is not in the same moral ballpark as other crimes that are punished by life sentences…a life sentence is what we give first-degree murderers, and possession of child pornography is not the equivalent of first-degree murder…

The fact of the matter is that possession of child porn is vastly more common than child rape, therefore cops, prosecutors and judges see it more often, therefore they conclude it’s a more important issue and push for harsher laws on it.  In other words, the punishment is based on the personal emotional discomfort of those in power rather than physical harm to any person.

The current hysteria over “bullying” is another example; what person has never been bullied or observed another being bullied?  Such behavior is merely the human equivalent of animals posturing and snarling to establish a pecking order; it cannot be eliminated without lobotomizing the entire population at about the age of four.  If the anti-bullying people were concentrating on instances of actual, physical assault I would find their arguments much more convincing, but they’re largely talking about words.  I was bullied in grade school; I was unusually bright, read a lot, was a bit plump, hit puberty at 10, had a severe overbite, used “big words”, liked science fiction…you name it, I got picked on for it.  And you know when it stopped?  When I grew a spine and a thicker skin and stopped letting words get to me.  Bullies crave an upset or submissive reaction; when they don’t get it they move on in search of easier prey.

But now the sheeple want the nanny state to “correct” human nature, and not just among children; now we’ve got biologically-adult women whining and crying because men say mean and “sexist” things to them online.  And it isn’t just sheltered coeds and mommy-bloggers, either; this November 7th article from The Guardian features pathetic laments from professional women who have somehow managed to succeed in journalism while failing to develop the psychological barriers I had established by the age of 14.  They argue that death-threats or “I hope you get raped” type nonsense is different from “you’re ugly” or “you’re stupid” or whatever, and in a way I agree; it’s certainly symptomatic of a less-evolved individual.  But as long as he sticks to writing empty threats to strangers, he’s nothing but a barking dog; people have been making such threats since language was invented, and every statistic shows they are now much less likely to carry them out.  Still, these women argue that Nanny should censor or even punish men who hurt their feelings online, though at least one of them (Zoe Williams) seems to think that bullying is OK as long as a soi-disant “feminist” directs it against another woman.  Not that this surprises me; “feminists” are famous for dishing out hatred but being unable to take it.

As I pointed out in my column of one year ago today, people used to understand that it’s better to tolerate minor “evils” which prevent greater ones than to indulge oneself in a doomed and quixotic crusade to rid the world of  all unpleasantness.  If artificial child porn reduces the chance of child rape, and if posting ugly threats on the internet prevents real violence, these things need to be tolerated; I for one would much rather endure empty rape-threats than to know a real woman was raped.  Words and pictures are not real, and adults need not concern themselves with painted devils.

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