Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Blog / Page 3

It's been a while since I updated my Blogroll - in fact, I still haven't - but I'd like to call attention to the new blog, Slave of the Passions, by my friend Becca. The first two posts have been really interesting. In particular, this one on Page 3, provoked such a lengthy comment from me that I thought it worth posting over here as a comment in its own right:

Point 1 [the harm complained of is not any to the models, who partake voluntarily, but to other women] is pretty obvious, especially to anyone familiar with the harm principle (though apparently not to defenders of Page 3, hence the need to state it). I might add, in the spirit of Mill, that institutions such as Page 3 may be harmful to men as well as women. I don’t choose to live in a world with Page 3 either, and it distorts people’s perceptions (perhaps even mine) of women *and* men (am I not masculine if I don’t want to ogle over Page 3?).

On the other hand, I have a worry that this line of argument can be a threat to liberty. For practically anything, someone can complain ‘I don’t choose to live in a society where that kind of thing goes on, and alters people’s attitudes’. Anti-gay religious types, for instance, may claim that their marriages are harmed by homosexuals, because homosexuality changes the meaning of marriage in ways that they do not endorse. Can we find a principled reason why the dispersed harm to women in general seems like a reason for interference, while harm to religious conservatives does not?

Perhaps, however, this point is unnecessary, given your point 3 [the petition is not calling for a ban, but for the Sun Editor to voluntarily stop publishing Page 3, hence it is not illiberal censorship]. If there was a harm, then it could justify censorship. But, if this isn’t censorship, then harm isn’t necessary.

This brings me to point 3, which is really interesting, but I’m not sure it’s quite adequate as stated. A Millian liberal recognises that freedom can be restricted by both state and society. If the Sun editor is cowed into not publishing Page 3 by social pressure, then that could be considered civil society censorship, even if no law is involved. I think we need to distinguish between the campaign successfully persuading him of the error of his ways and it failing to change his attitudes but nonetheless leading him to stop publishing because of social pressure. The latter could, I think, be considered censorship. I take it that your real aim is the former, which I agree is morally unproblematic, but it’s important to distinguish the two.

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