Chapter 50 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974
Censorship -- a Conservative Viewpoint
By J. H. COURT
The strength of the controversy which has surrounded censorship in recent years is such that any conservative comment about it is in danger of being pre-judged as obscurantist, reactionary or misguided. The currency of the word itself has been debased by those who advocate freedom from restraint as the sine qua non of contemporary society. The context of debate has shifted markedly in the last ten years so that new issues have become crucial and old arguments are largely irrelevant: yet the objections to censorship continue as if nothing had changed.
The debate easily deteriorates into disagreement about terms so that the more burning practical issues become obscured. What appears superficially to be a question of where to draw the line, or who shall draw it, fails to reveal that the real pressure is to remove all lines, all decisions and all standards. As a result, some of the more active campaigners who in the past fought against restrictions have found it necessary to move into the other camp.
A. P. Herbert for many years fought for greater literary freedom, and now says that what has been achieved is quite different from what he sought. Similarly, Benjamin Spock (1970) has written:
"For decades I was an uncomprising civil libertarian and scorned the hypocrisy involved in the enforcement of obscenity laws. But recent trends in movies, literature and art toward what I think of as shock obscenity, and the courts' acceptance of it, have made me change my position, . . . particularly in view of other brutalising trends."
Any rational discussion of the present issues must seek to avoid the word censorship itself and seek an alternative, more precise term. Not only has the practice of censorship been widely abused so that its defence becomes clouded by emotional reactions; but also the term means different things to different people. While some apply the term rigorously to refer to pre-publication control, others think of some later intervention by a responsible body. While some see censorship as a political weapon associated either with the extreme left or the extreme right (only to be endorsed as legitimate by whichever extreme one might identify with) others see it as a means of suppressing sexual themes and indicative of emotional hang-ups. Many see censorship as the means whereby the offensive or unacceptable may be removed from public circulation; others are equally concerned by the censorship which arbitrarily excludes or distorts material which should be given free circulation. Whereas the opponents of censorship see it as a repressive force, its advocates claim that it can in practice be a liberating influence.
Clearly when the issues have become so polarised, and the terms of reference so uncertain, there can be no communication among protagonists unless a number of the underlying assumptions involved are made explicit.
A conflict of interests
Before getting away from the word censorship, it is necessary to accept the term while presenting some of the issues which have contributed to conflicting views. Undoubtedly the thinking which has been most influential against censorship has been that inspired by Mill's essay On Liberty (1859). The arguments of many secular humanists, the Civil Liberties movement, and many in the legal profession draw heavily on Mill's rejection of paternalism as a basis for intervention in the affairs of others. Instead of control by the State he emphasised individual freedom of choice to the point of absolute sovereignty of the individual over himself. He saw this personal autonomy not only as highly desirable but even central to the very idea of being truly a person. Any intrusion from without on this personal freedom is therefore in conflict with the philosophical view of man that Mill proposes.
This is not the place to present his case, but to raise some of the objections which arise from it, and from those interpretations which later writers have placed upon it.
While Mill's defence of personal freedom was historically of great significance in setting a balance against unwarranted restraints by the law, it does not follow that the same arguments have equal force today. In Australia in the seventies, we are certainly hemmed in by much oppressive legislation which deprives a man of personal choice, and much of this is in the truly paternalistic tradition. Yet in the area of censorship this can no longer be maintained. No responsible citizen would seriously maintain that an oppressive restriction on what we may see, read or hear exists. It is a political as well as a philosophical paradox that many of those who have been most anti-censorship have been at the same time most active in creating increasingly restrictive legislation in other areas (e.g., consumer protection).
The first point would be irrelevant if Mill maintained his principle of personal autonomy as an absolute. Many of his followers appear to do so and press towards the logical extreme of total abolition of any legal constraints in the censorship area. Yet Mill, even though he appears to have suffered an over-reaction against the constraints of his time, did acknowledge some limits to his principle.
The most important reservation in this context is the concept of harm to others. This, in his day, was largely taken to mean physical harm and this remains valid. Since that time, however, the recognition of psychological harm has been more adequately developed, so that this has been a key issue in the censorship debate. This conflict of interests between the freedom of one person and the well-being of others leads to heated discussion of the evidence regarding harm and the likely outcome of legal intervention.
At a purely personal level the issue might be crystallised as 'your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins' or, more formally:
"In all cases of paternalistic legislation there must be a heavy and clear burden of proof on the authorities to demonstrate the exact nature of the harmful effects (or beneficial consequences) to be avoided (or achieved) and the probability of their occurrence". (Dworkin, 1971)
Mill's position also depended on the idea of self-regarding acts, those acts which an individual may carry out which do not influence others. Such acts, he maintained, should be beyond the scope of the law. The principle is a sound one, but more recent developments in psychology and sociology lead one to doubt whether any acts of any consequence are truly self-regarding. The distinction made by Mill no longer has clarity. When it comes to what a man reads or sees in private one can no longer seriously maintain that this will have no effect on subsequent behaviour and attitudes. Therefore the freedom to read in private must be tempered by the possibility that there will be consequent harm to others. Whether evidence for this possibility exists will be discussed below.
At a still more delicate level, Mill allows that there could be occasions when one would intervene in a person's private life for his own good. The justification for this intrusion would have to be strong. He concedes such an intrusion would be justified when suicide is threatened by a person who is 'a child, or delirious or in some state of excitement or absorption incompatible with the full use of the reflecting faculty'. Because he has recognised some limiting circumstances in principle, does not mean he has therefore specified these limitations correctly. The constraints he concedes reflect his own philosophy of man which optimistically sees him as rational and inclined to choose what is good. It follows that the present-day humanist will follow Mill's argument closely. On the other hand, a philosophy of man which recognises that people often fail to make wise choices either in terms of self-interest or the welfare of others, will place much greater emphasis on a need for constraint.
This point highlights the conflict of views in the humanist and Christian positions. While the censorship controversy often appears to be a matter for professionals to discuss from one or another scientific viewpoint, in reality much of the argument is coloured by these deeper presuppositions. The scientific evidence is, and always will be, insufficient to provide a basis for resolving the inherent conflicts of interest. One is driven back to making decisions in the light of a certain view of the nature of man. As a result, the focus of the censorship debate does not remain on the nature of material which might circulate, but moves to an evaluation of the people who are exposed to it.
Two more forces
It is reasonable to assume that those who follow Mill's arguments and agree on his optimistic view of man are acting rationally and responsibly when they reject censorship. Inasfar as they maintain that the harm arising from published material is less than the harm arising from restraint on personal autonomy it is consistent to take a strong stand against paternalistic influence.
On the other side, it is equally reasonable to assume that those who argue from Christian ethics do so because they believe the potential harm arising from material being unrestrained is greater than the loss of personal choice involved.
Each side adopts its own emphases: the first gives prior consideration to the individual, and little attention to possible moral harm: the second sees the individual as an integral part of society in which rights, privileges and responsibilities must be balanced and lays great store by standards of morality.
There now exists a third force which has become increasingly influential in the censorship debate. This involves those of the political New Left, and the followers of writers like Marx and Marcuse. When censorship was a question of bowdlerising Shakespeare, or refraining from reference to a piano's legs, the debate was a matter of culture, taste and art. Today, however, the issues involve drawing quite different lines, and the freedom for pornography, written or visual, is more central. It is at this point that the political implications become clear, and this third force emerges. The basis for decision-making about censorship is quite different. The humanist position would be 'no-harm, therefore no restraint' and the Christian position would be 'harm requires restraint': this third position says 'because this will cause the harm we seek, we want no restraint'.
There is, in other words, a publicly expressed wish by those who seek destruction of the present society in favour of the counterculture to use those forces which will quickly and economically undermine existing social patterns. Anything which will weaken the family, and encourage a departure from traditional moral standards must therefore be actively encouraged. This is expressed by Richard Neville (1972) who clearly disagrees with those who see no adverse consequences from pornography. A similar position is shown in the advice given to the Italian Communist Party on what its attitude should be to pornography:
"We are interested in encouraging this type of play, and are likewise prepared to praise actors of such plays as champions of artistic freedom. We want to encourage this sort of production, and must lead people on to produce others that are, sexually speaking, more daring still. As a tactical policy our aim is to defend an enterprise which is pornographic and entirely free from the restrictions of ordinary moral rules. The producers and actors are, in effect, like ants working, voluntarily and without pay for us as they eat at the very roots of bourgeois society". (Whitehouse, 1971)
In more general terms Eysenck (1972) has indicated that the present anti-censorship trends can be most effective in achieving social disruption.
"If I were asked by some Martian invader how one could best destroy the human race without overt show of arms, I would have to say that the destruction of the ethical and moral standards which alone maintain a society would be the best method, and in order to achieve this aim I would have to say that unrestrained and continued showing of violence on television and film screens throughout the country, day in and day out, was by far the easiest and cheapest way."
The socially-destructive force, and in particular its challenge to a society which has developed on Christian values, is described by Schaeffer (1968): "Terry Southern is the author of "Candy" and "The Magic Christian". Despite the dirt and destructiveness he is making serious statements ... He is smashing the Christian position."
While the above paragraphs might suggest that promotion of pornography is an ideological, manoeuvre, a balance must be preserved. Quite apart from such influences, one must also identify a fourth force in the shape of financial vested interests. The gross financial exploitation undertaken by those behind the pornography is almost as much a matter for concern as is the exploitation of those involved in the production of material. The rationale for this position would be: 'Even if it does cause harm --so what?'.
The big money involved has been discussed at some length in the Presidential Report on Obscenity and Pornography (1970). It is clear from Gummer (1971) that the Danish producers remain major contributors to the economy, with big operators squeezing out the smaller firms. Evidence of criminal infiltration into that industry is on the increase. The same has recently been reported in America, with Mafia activities on a wide scale. A group of jurors in San Antonio found it necessary to report through the press:
"We believe eleven of the thirteen adult or pornographic movie houses and all adult book stores in Bexar County are controlled by either intra-state or interstate Crime syndicates: one group of which appears to have definite Mafia connections while another group is strongly suspected of organised mob connections". (News, 1973.)
Since there are so many conflicting interests involved in this issue of censorship, it is remarkable that those who oppose can appear to adopt an impregnable position. Those who argue for constraint typically see that safeguards are essential to avoid abuse. This is in contrast to the abolitionists who reject all possibility of harm, preaching an absolute position which can not be logically justified. Their position has been strengthened by the very force they most deplore.
Censorship by omission
Censorship does not necessarily involve active suppression of information or ideas. The outcome of failing to report one side of a story in the news media produces a distortion of truth as pernicious as any arising from oppressive censorship. It is not uncommon for those who speak against censorship under any circumstances, to practice this omission actively. This technique has enabled their position to be strengthened because other viewpoints fail to reach public attention.
The dangers of this kind of censorship are the greater for being difficult to document and because we cannot be aware of that which is kept from our attention. We can detect that media, like television and films, carry an undue emphasis on sex and violence at the present time, far in excess of the occurrence of events in the community. It is not as easy to detect what is, in consequence, omitted. We recognise that governments in a democracy should conduct their business openly. It is only occasionally that we detect that material has been suppressed or distorted for public presentation. However, we need not doubt that the detection rate is much lower than the rate of occurrence.
The omissions are not random. If they were they would be less dangerous. That news is selected from a point of view is evident from editorial policies. A real danger in Australia today is that the policy-making is in so few hands. As a result some views are given great prominence while others remain almost unheard. That this is so in the political arena provides a real threat to a stable society. Such lop-sided and hard-to-detect censorship. by omission provides a powerful argument against constraints on publication. It is not an overwhelming argument but it must be stressed because it operates so often in the hands of those who profess to be against censorship.
This omission of significant aspects of life brings an undue emphasis on themes which, while being defended as 'reality', do in fact grossly over-represent real life experiences. Michael Boddy (1971), writing as a theatre critic, has said that in handling press cuttings about live theatre he has found 'that even in this restricted field, eight-five per cent of the cuttings are obsessed in some way with sex and shock. The stuff has become a cancer. This singlemindedness is appalling'.
Increasingly, one reads of complaints since the introduction of 'R' certificate films that their proportion in the threatres is excessive to the point that freedom for families to choose films has been very much restricted. Again therefore one sees the obsessive preoccupation of themes sufficiently far removed from normal experience to be unsuitable for the young-- and in many cases only offering appeal to quite disturbed adults.
Similarly, in the medium of television, Gerbner (1972) found that violence featured in ninety-eight per cent of plays set in the past and all of those with a future setting. The censorship of omission is seen to be matched by a preoccupation with restricted themes. It will be argued below that the themes selected tend to be those where harm of various kinds can be identified.
Censorship as a Positive Influence
Censorship may be defended on the grounds that it has a positive part to play in the formation of attitudes and in the control of society.
Far from merely preventing some from enjoying what they see or read as their legitimate right, censorship has also a protective function both for individuals and society. Judge Windeyer, in an Australian judgement in 1968, stated 'it is assumed incontrovertibly by the common law that obscene writings do degrade and corrupt morals, by causing dirty-mindedness, by creating or pandering to a taste for the obscene'.
The man who cries loudly that his personal freedom is infringed by the restrictions of censorship is of course right. But then the responsibility of governments in the administration of law is the protection of society as well as the well-being of the individual: in the event of a clash of loyalties, we must decide whether the interests of the individual outweigh those of society. If not, then constraints must be placed on personal freedom.
Mary Whitehouse, in a recent lecture, expressed the view that 'censorship, effectively but sparingly used, is a liberal concept since it protects the life-style of the great majority'.
The positive influence which the law can exert was well expressed in the Wolfenden Report of 1957:
"The function of the criminal law ... is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive and injurious and to provide sufficient safeguards against the exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable ...
At this point it may be useful to depart briefly from the convenience of the word censorship, with all its undertones, and emphasise the positive influence one seeks by referring to 'quality control'. The term is no euphemism but genuinely approaches the question of constraint from a constructive viewpoint.
Quality control is readily understood in industrial settings where production is involved. Commodities are produced which must meet a minimum standard of quality or be rejected. A good factory will set its own standards and enforce them; others may seek to flood the market with inferior products. If there is any danger to the purchaser, external standards of control may be applied to which the producer must conform or be subject to prosecution. The emphasis throughout is not on rejection of the sub-standard but on preservation and protection of the quality product. In order to achieve this, rigorous rejection of sub-standard products is necessary. Those who speak for censorship as a positive influence are, in effect, seeking quality control of books, films etc. in just this way. It is assumed that there are some prevailing community standards worth preserving. It is assumed that judgements about acceptability are possible even though difficult. Moreover, the responsibility for such discriminations is best left where possible with the producers themselves, be they authors, publishers or film producers.
At the same time it is recognised that unscrupulous producers will enter the field and market sub-standard material. Pornographic material is the obvious example. When this happens, if the producer is prepared to exploit the market, there is a case for quality control being in the hands of an agency responsible to the community.
To argue that the setting of standards is difficult is no reason to stop trying. It has proved possible not only in such fields as engineering: we also have complex requirements in food and drug laws which provide protection and periodically come under review. It has been possible in the past to operate standards in censorship and it remains possible even at a time when many values are changing. The contemporary problem is not to identify a standard but to retain it in the face not only of natural shifts of emphasis in society but also in the face of pressure from those who will deny any basis for standards.
The topic will be discussed below with preference for the term 'quality control' but in places the term 'censorship' will inevitably intrude where reference is made to existing work where it was censorship which was being considered.
What is the Need for Quality Control Today?
Quality control is important to the continuation of a viable civilisation. The historian, Unwin (1934), after documenting the rise and fall of eighty eight major civilisations said:
"Every civilisation is established and consolidated by observing a strict sexual moral code, is maintained while this strict code is kept and decays when sexual licence is allowed. . . Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation.
Denis de Rougemont (1963) states that 'without the sexual discipline which the so-called puritanical tendencies have imposed on us since Europe first existed, there would be nothing more in our civilisation than in those nations known as under-developed and no doubt less'.
Paradoxically, those who most militantly call for the removal of censorship restrictions in order to allow personal freedom are often those who will also be most vocal in calling for anti-pollution measures in our battle for ecological survival. There is a very fair analogy between the need to preserve a clean outer environment for physical survival, and the need to prevent psychological pollution by appropriate measures. Consistency demands controls in both contexts. The logic which seeks control over levels of lead or mercury and other physical pollutants should also require quality control over influences known to cause psychological harm.
That society is slow to act in both areas can be explained in many ways:
"It would seem that to justify a censorship law one would have to establish a danger-- the usual one put forward being moral danger. This concept, however, is not an easy one to define or establish. One might well consider the analogy of pollution. For some hundred years we have polluted the atmosphere and seas with industrial, chemical and household waste. Only recently it has become possible to measure the amount of pollution in the atmosphere, and it is even more recently that the alarms have been sufficient to move to action governments with an eye and a half on the industrial sector of the community". (Haynes, 1970.)
This comparison with the environmental pollution problem draws attention to several reasons for inadequate censorship provisions:
(a) The difficulty of being sure a danger exists.
(b) The very gradual increase in the size of the problem which lulls people into a false sense of security. Every student of elementary psychology knows that provided levels of stimulation are raised by small enough intervals, people will fail to avoid even quite dangerous levels of input.
(c) The further problem of persuading responsible bodies to act when such action risks the unpopularity of the electorate.
In addition to the simple power of the vote, which may discourage courageous legislation, financial interests are also at work. It is obvious enough in the field of physical pollution that controlling legislation relating to smoking and car exhausts, for example, will have enormous repercussions on the economy. Resistance from vested interests will clearly deter legislators. By the same token, there are large sums of money to be made by exploiters out of sexually salacious and other potentially censorable material.
Society too has has its price. It would appear that many who might consider it good to restrict the supply of undesirable material are not prepared to face the costs involved, and we live by a morality of expediency. So Herbert Packer, Professor of Law at Stanford, was quoted as saying: 'A vigorous campaign of law enforcement against pornography would involve costs in money, man-power and invasions of privacy that we as a society are unwilling to pay.' (1970.)
On an ABC Guest of Honour programme, the subject of censorship was discussed in relation to the British situation where censorship had been discontinued for a trial period of five years. In that programme, an eminent publisher explained that anyone considering publishing faced the risk of prosecution if he were to offend public taste. His criteria of self-censorship, which is advocating the internally-operated quality control mentioned above, were: 'Is it good and is it necessary?'. If such an approach were universally applied to books, plays and films, then it would be easier to support the abolition of formal censorship. That high-minded approach to publishing in Britain has not met with the success its advocates predicted. Consequently, in 1973 the Home Secretary responded to public pressure to impose tighter restrictions on the production and display of pornography. Unhappily, we too easily allow ourselves to become confused more in some areas than others. Holbrook (1972) remarks that 'there is in our culture at large an amount of hate which, if it were devoted to say racial discrimination, we should see as a problem demanding our urgent attention. Because the hate is directed at targets which we are accustomed to hate unconsciously, such as woman, representing our own vulnerability, we do not see how dangerous the situation is.'
Traditionally the law has accepted this responsibility for interpreting community standards even at the risk of infringing individual freedom. As long as the majority was prepared to accept that it was proper for the law to act in this protective way, censorship and similar constraints on freedom of action operated with little question. Today, however, personal freedom is often prized more highly than the good of society more generally, so politicians and legislators are being forced into the position of extending the boundaries of personal freedom so widely that those least able to object suffer most. The law must surely recognise a human right to protection from offence that many anti-censorship enthusiasts have forgotten. In the words of Ruth Brine (1971), 'If some have the right to pornography, others have an equal right not to have it foisted on them'. Or, as Haynes (1970), has put it: 'If individual freedom demands that person x can read document A, it also demands that person y may avoid reading it if he so desires. Thus, there must always be restrictions on the display of material.'
Strangely enough, it could easily happen that the minority group seeking the complete abolition of censorship for the sake of personal liberty if successful would bring about the very opposite of their intentions. Reo Christenson (1970) puts the arguments for the American scene succinctly when he says: 'Paradoxically, the existence of censorship probably assures greater freedom in America than its absence. If, somehow, the tiny minority (Gallup estimates five to six per cent) which wants no censorship were to have their way, it would be an open invitation for vigilante groups to take over. Outraged at the irresponsibles, the Middle American would employ extra-legal pressures as a substitute for law. And a sorry substitute they would be. Controlling pornography by legal means and orderly institutions gives us the best assurance that society's concern will be dealt with in a civilised manner'.
That prediction came true in 1973 when it was reported that the Klu Klux Klan had moved into the area of pornography control. Clearly the ideal of individual autonomy operating runs into problems when there are groups who are prepared to exert control for their own ends. This is why the control must rest with the legitimately established authority, yet at the same time be open to public scrutiny. It was the warning of Lewis in the Riddell Memorial Lectures (1943) that we should not 'be deceived by phrases about man taking charge of his own destiny. All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of others. They will simply be men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?'
Such a fear of the misuse of authority can of course be used as the basis for being against censorship or quality control, rather than for restraint. If one fears that the legitimately established authority cannot be trusted to operate benevolently, it will appear that no control is to be preferred. The argument here is that the real choice is not between control or no control, but between recognised authority and capricious pressures not open to public inspection or influence. Under these circumstances it is better that we appoint responsible bodies than allow the power to rest with vested interests. That the latter arrangement has so much support at the present suggests that established authority is viewed most suspiciously at the present time. A great deal of evidence in related areas would confirm this suspicion.
What do people want?
In asking 'Do we need quality control?' we may also ask 'Do people want it?'. Evidence will be most useful if it comes from a community that has experienced the effective absence of censorship. The U.S.A. had done this and the evidence there is that about 6% want abolition of censorship. The Harris Poll of 1969 reported that 76% wanted pornographic literature outlawed and in the Gallup Poll of 1969 85% favoured stricter laws on pornography.
An Australian public opinion poll on censorship was reported in the press on 3 December 1970, reflecting attitudes around the time that a liberalised policy was started under the Liberal Government. It was found that 55% favoured maintaining existing standards or tightening up, while 35% wanted the standard relaxed. Since that time a relaxation of standards has occurred to the point that the Labor policy of removal of censorship has effectively been implemented. It is therefore instructive to find that only 27% of a sample reported on 30 July 1973 considered censorship as 'wrong' or 'very wrong' while 46% saw it as 'right' or 'very right' with 26% 'neither right nor wrong'. In comparing these two reports the paper (the Age) stated that 'answers reflected an increased support for the idea with women taking a generally more conservative line than men'. Considering that abolition of censorship is a feature of Labor party policy, it is also of interest to note that in the poll 44% of Labor voters described censorship as right or harmless.
It appears that as quality has gone down, more people are recognising the need to preserve it, and this is most apparent among women, who, after all, suffer the greatest humiliation and offence from present trends in the treatment of sex and violence in the media.
A similar trend emerged in Britain following a more liberal policy. In 1972 a national petition was organised seeking signatures in support of standards of decency to be presented to the British Government. The petition was remarkable in that 1,350,000 signatures were obtained, making it the largest petition ever presented to Parliament. More significantly, however, the petitions were circulated in as wide a cross-section of the community as possible, and spot-checks indicated that, on average, 85% of those asked to sign were prepared to do so.
Taking the evidence from Britain, America and Australia together, the indications are that when censorship restrictions are tight they are also unpopular. Yet when they are removed there is an increasing wish for them to be reinstituted. Since, at the time of writing, the open availability of pornography has not reached the stage of those other countries but the policy of liberalisation is continuing, one may predict that the next few years will see mounting, support for the return of controls.
In the meantime, those in favour of quality control will need to emphasise the harm which occurs when all restraint is abandoned, since it is only on the basis of a demonstration of harm that changes are likely to be considered. In that connection it is noteworthy that, of the four attitudes described above, three recognise the harmfulness of some material, while one does not. It therefore remains to examine whether the supposition of harm is justified.
Research Evidence on Harm: Australia and Overseas
A major landmark in the research literature making recommendations on censorship was the American Commission Report on Censorship and Pornography (1970). The Commission's findings were first presented at a conference in Miami Beach where a sample of the research was reported. The chairman on that occasion made it clear that the $2 million grant was allocated to research projects which could be completed in time to allow a report within a three year period. He stressed that the work could not say anything about long term effects of pornographic material. This is a most serious criticism of the findings since the crucial question does relate to long term effects.
Secondly, those reports which were presented in public came in for very heavy fire both in relation to methodology and to the conclusions drawn from the results. Yet the findings of the Commission can of course only be guided by what the various groups reported they had found.
Thirdly, instead of the usual agreement among Commissioners when reports are prepared for Washington, in this case only twelve of the eighteen could support the main proposition of the Commission. In the published report of 700 pages over 250 constitute expressions of dissent from the majority position. Limitations in specific studies and the conclusions drawn from them have been considered elsewhere (Court, 1971, 1972a, 1973).
The Commission conclusion was a very radical rejection of censorship of material except with reference to children. Yet the studies from which the recommendations stem had so many other short-comings that this conclusion must be among the most unsubstantiated ever to appear in such a setting. If one seeks evidence against censorship it will not be found here. What is particularly disappointing is the complete absence of studies concerned with sexual violence and studies of imitative learning. This style of learning has been shown to be of importance in the acquisition of aggressive behaviour patterns and fairly certainly the same would have been found in sexual and aggressive-sexual learning.
Hard evidence of direct cause and effect relationships between harmful material and subsequent ill effects is not available and one doubts if it ever will be. The effects are more subtle than this and the consequences are to be seen in various ways.
Long term effects, (i.e. over a generation or two) may well exist but to disentangle these from many other socially significant events would be inconceivably difficult. Moreover, the ways in which effects may express themselves will not necessarily take expected forms.
Reo Christenson (1970), a political scientist, takes issue with the Civil Liberties position saying:
"Obviously the ACLU wants society to consider only short-term effects since it regards long-term effects as unknowable. The truth is that short-term effects are also unknowable ... Unhappily all the major premises on which our society rests derive from the realm of intuition-the viscera.
While this is an unduly pessimistic view of the sources from which we may derive evidence, it is true enough when considering the application of experiments in this field.
In our society, the presentation of violence and aggression on television is four times as great as that representing nurturance and care. An Australian study of a few years ago designed to look at the effect of children's comics on violence was unable to find a direct link between exposure to violence and its overt expression. What did emerge, however, was in some ways more alarming, viz. that extensive exposure to violence in this fantasy material led to a gradual acceptance or tolerance of violence when witnessed. Thus what might once have been shocking or offensive, became unremarkable, leading to what has been called 'affectlessness'.
The powerful and dangerous influences of television have now been rather extensively documented by the Surgeon General's Report (1972) and summarised in The Early Window, (Liebert, Neale and Davidson, 1972). Some may argue that censorship is an inappropriate mode of handling these dangers. Nonetheless, dangers do exist and must be managed. Quality control, with its emphasis on what is valuable and worth preserving deserves consideration. In this connection, Berkowitz (1971) whose own work on effects has been so influential, cites the American National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence report, saying:
"A constant diet of violent behavior on television has an adverse effect on human character and attitudes. Violence on television encourages violent forms of behavior and fosters moral and social values about violence in daily life which are unacceptable in a civilised society.
Berkowitz does not go on to argue for censorship as such, but does say that the action which a society takes when faced with such information will depend on the values which are rated most highly.
The same important point is made by Eysenck (1972) after reviewing the effects of pornography. He comes to the conclusion that the adverse effects of the portrayal of violence and the dissemination of pornography are now beyond doubt, both in the short and the long term. The real question then becomes focussed on 'the nature of the society in which we wish to live, and in which we wish our children to live-neither more nor less'.
Some myths and legends
A number of cliches recur in any discussion of censorship which have become so popular among intellectuals that they have achieved the status of indisputable facts. These dogmatic assertions, largely presented without evidence or at best with inadequate evidence, deserve challenge. They will be summarised only briefly here as they have been more fully treated elsewhere.
The myths and legends refer to the two types of material mentioned above which most deserve to come under quality control, viz. pornography and explicit violence without retribution. While a case might be made for control of other kinds of material on moral or even political grounds, it is these two which have been the subject of scientific study. While moral arguments are relevant to the issue, they are insufficient in themselves in a pluralistic society to justify legal control. Evidence of psychological and sociological harm is most pertinent to the issue.
(a) 'Pornography has no effect'.
This view is negated by numerous of the American Presidential Studies, and goes contrary to the review of Yaffe (1972) as well as Eysenck's (1972) chapter on the issue. The myth has arisen among those who wished to believe it by attending only to flawed, inadequate or irrelevant evidence and deserves no further attention.
(b) 'Violence material is dangerous but sexual material is not.
This view justifies a double standard to controls. It is unwarranted since responses to both types of stimuli appear to be mediated by the process of modelling; since the links between sexual and aggressive drives are very close; and because the distinction between sex and violence is no longer real. The destructive nature of much contemporary pornography, treating themes such as flagellation and rape is such that a distinction betwen sexual and violent themes is unjustified. The 'porno-violence' themes have become increasingly evident in films and books, yet Hill and Link (1970) pointed out that the American Commission failed to investigate the effects of such material.
(c) 'This stuff has always been around; censorship won't stop it, any more than prohibition stopped drinking'.
It is one thing for material to circulate illictly. It is quite another to allow free access, as in Denmark. The pervert who seeks out his material as a junkie seeks drugs may do so recognising he breaches the accepted norms of the culture. To remove all controls is to integrate that material which feeds his perversions into the culture, legitimising it for him and extending its acceptance among others. This is of course the whole point for those who see no distinction between 'normal' and 'abnormal'. Quality control, on the other hand, assumes some values are worth preserving at the expense of others; the acceptance of interpersonal aggression and sexual activities like rape and bestiality can only be socially dangerous. Berkowitz (1971) considers that there is this danger in the elimination of censorship, and especially so with children since 'experiments with children suggest that youngsters often take a watching adult's failure to condemn a certain behaviour as a sign that he might actually approve of this conduct'. This effect is even more powerful if sanctions which have existed for a long term are then removed. Adults as well as children come to believe that what was wrong has become legitimate.
An extension of this legitimising argument also occurs at a sociological level. One result of mass media influences in particular can be so to emphasise certain themes, unusual but newsworthy, that they become accepted as the norm. In effect, the shape of our world is influenced by what the media portray, and the recipients readjust their perceptions accordingly (Erikson, 1966). The process can go further, however, with the concept proposed by Wilkins (1964) of 'deviation amplification'. Projection of deviate behaviour through the media may bring about a polarisation of attitudes thereby increasing the amount of deviance existing in a community. Cohen (1973) has discussed ways in which information on deviance through the media may have this undesirable consequence. One conclusion may be that information without resort to evaluation can at times be counter-productive.
The passing reference to prohibition and alcohol is often introduced to imply that censorship is bound to fail. The analogy is in reality a very bad one. No-one who advocates control of media is advocating total suppression. It is discrimination between good and bad which is sought so that what is worth keeping may be retained. To invoke prohibition is no better as an argument than to discredit a position with a smear campaign.
(d) 'Remove controls and interest will decline'.
This myth arises from studies on sales of pornography in Denmark. The evidence is to the contrary, as the continuing multimillion dollar industry makes clear. For discussion of the detail of this see Gummer (1971) and Court (1971).
(e) 'Make pornography freely available and sex crimes will diminish'.
Again the evidence now available from several countries is to the contrary (Court, 1973). Not only have the problems increased, but the severity of the crimes is greater. The accelerating upward curve of offences like reported rape in Australia as in other countries is in complete contrast to the predictions of the anti-censorship liberals.
(f) 'People will quickly become bored'.
This is true only for some people and is irrelevant when a significant group of sexually-disturbed people have an opposite reaction (Davis and Braucht 1970, Hill and Link 1970, Court 1973). That studies on normal white heterosexual students produce boredom is no consolation if the potential rapist is more likely to commit an offence when stimulated by pornographic material (Goldstein et al. 1970, Walker 1970).
(g) 'Sexually explicit materials may even have beneficial effects for some, serving as a catharsis'.
This is one of the most persistent of the myths. Based on studies of imitation of violence (Feshbach 1955), the argument has been extrapolated to include sexually explicit materials. However, efforts to replicate the original findings not only failed to do so but the accumulated evidence now convincingly shows that an increased acting-out behaviour is typical (Liebert, Neale and Davidson 1972). The whole idea is no more than a plausible theory (Maddison 1971) and completely lacks evidential support.
As these various propositions which have served as the basis for the anti-censorship argument can no longer be maintained on scientific grounds, the case for quality control is progressively strengthened.
Why is Censorship being Challenged?
Why should it be that such a long-established institution as censorship is being so called into question at this time? Can it be that a11 previous generations were wrong or misguided? Some would no doubt say 'Yes!'. Could it be that people are reacting not against censorship but bad censorship? For many the answer to that is 'No'. There is a genuine questioning whether the restraints imposed by society can be tolerated by the individual. There is a clamour for personal freedom that seeks to throw off all restraints. Such a widespread and forceful clamour deserves understanding. Certain trends in psychology have a bearing on this.
The present young adult population started life in the years from 1940 onwards and hence spent formative years in the post war period. That in itself could explain why an attitude of rejection of authority of parents and governments might spring up. But more particularly, the period of the 'fifties and 'sixties saw the heyday of free expression as an approach to child rearing practices. The theories of Freud were widely accepted especially in intellectual families and the concept of repression was one seen to be particularly dangerous to healthy emotional development. The prevailing belief that repression was fundamentally bad has now found its way through to a generation which has become adult and rejects controls even more vigorously.
If Freud was right, and the generation of parents that followed his ideas was right, then the present generation is also right in resisting any attempt at repression of emotional material. It appears to follow fairly readily that censorship would have to be resisted as a kind of collective superego to be overcome. In other words, rejection of censorship seems entirely consistent with an acceptance of Freudian theory.
So we must ask, how well has the view stood up, that our neurotic problems will be resolved if we allow free expression to the Id, fight against the superego and counteract the harmful effects of repression? Since the clearest evidence regarding the effect of removing repression is seen in the results of psychoanalytic treatment, we may ask how much benefit has accumulated over the years by this period.
Wolpe (1964), once an analyst now a behaviourist writes '. . . the American Psychoanalytic Association appointed its now famous Fact-Gathering Committee to survey the results of psychoanalytic practice. The Chairman of this committee ... subsequently stated.. . that his association made no claims of therapeutic usefulness for psychoanalytic methods'.
Mowrer (1961), from the position of learning theory, goes further in his rejection of the Freudian model. He contends that neurotic reactions arise not from an oversevere superego bringing about undue repression but quite the reverse. Rather he argues 'that the superego has itself been repudiated and repressed', so that treatment aimed at weakening the superego will not simply prove ineffectual; it will actually make people worse. For ten years now he has been writing to the effect that psychoanalysis is basically antitherapeutic and there are now many to agree with him.
Thirdly, the existentialist and humanist, Rollo May (1969), writes of the disappointing effect of overcoming repression.
"In an amazingly short period, we shifted from acting as though sex did not exist at all to being obsessed with it . . . partly as a result of this radical shift, many therapists today rarely see patients who exhibit repression of sex ... in fact, we find in the people who come for help just the opposite: A great deal of talk about sex, a great deal of activity, but what our patients do complain of is lack of feeling and passion . . . so much sex and so little meaning or even fun to it".
Fourthly, the late Professor of English at Oxford and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis (1955), wrote:
"They tell you sex has become a mess because it was all hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up (repression) had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess.
The final objection can be derived suprisingly enough from Freud. Although he strongly advocated the removal of repressive influences for the individual, and within the confines of therapy, he did not extend this principle into the social setting. 'Freud believed that the disciplining of eros was necessary for a culture, and that it was from the repression and sublimation of erotic impulses that the power came out of which civilisations were built'. (May, 1969.)
Quality Control implies moral values
To this point the censorship-issue has been examined in terms of evidence and lines of argument that are open to general discussion. It is apparent, however, that in the last analysis scientific evidence is inadequate to establish the criteria for quality control. The values which are to be preserved in a society rest rather on moral and ethical judgements.
Necessarily those who reject censorship are invoking value judgements about the society and the nature of man just as much as those who advocate controls. The difference is that the former group does not have to defend any one set of values, whereas those who seek controls must propose criteria and a basis for them.
In Australia, there remains a strong case for proposing Christian values as providing the necessary criteria. Even allowing that the society is pluralist it nonetheless remains true that, on census returns some ninety percent of the the adult population indicate a Christian adherence. The high figure occurs, moreover, in a setting where ample opportunity exists for registering other beliefs or none.
It does not, of course, follow that Christian codes must be imposed willy-nilly without recognition of the needs and rights of others. The Longford Report (1972) provides a balanced discussion of this sensitive issue (see also Court, 1972b).
Although the Christian would see the protection afforded by censorship as contributing to the spiritual welfare of individuals, it would be quite improper to invoke the law for such a purpose. In this connection, a useful statement was issued in the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee Report on Divorce:
"Any advice that the Church tenders to the State must rest, not upon doctrines that only Christians accept, but upon premises that enjoy wide acknowledgment in the nation as a whole. (Report, 1964.)
One further example in this context demonstrates the position that a Christian may adopt in approaching legislation in the moral area.
"It is the duty of a Christian to support the authority of the State. It may be his duty also to labour for the reformation of the laws of the State. In doing this, he has no right to put aside what he has learnt as a Christian, and in the quality of citizenship to act as a mere natural man. Such a division of personality is intolerable. But neither is he bound to insist that the laws of the State, in regard to marriage or in regard to anything else, shall conform exactly to Christian teaching. Not all the subjects of the State are Christian and the State must legislate for all. (Report, 1964.)
In rather marked contrast to so much negative legislation defining what may not be done, the Christian has very clear positive lines of guidance over the suitability of material. 'Fill your minds with those thing that are good and deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honorable' (Philippians 4.8.). This kind of advice provides a high ideal for the concept of quality control. The emphasis here as elsewhere in New Testament teaching is less on the external stimulus than on the individual's reaction to it. The laws must also make the same stand, seeking to judge not simply the artistic or literary merit but also what will be the effect on individuals. Such a position makes objective criteria for legislation almost unattainable, but nonetheless worth striving for.
Differences in approach towards what should be available to people spring from quite fundamentally different views of human nature. The humanistic position is characteristically optimistic about man's potential for good if only he is freed from restraints; the Christian view is not the opposite of this in the sense of being totally pessimistic. It does, however, adopt a realistic view of human nature in recognising man's fallibility and failure. From the viewpoint that people do not always judge wisely; that disturbed people can be a menace both to themselves and to others; that children deserve a degree of protection from some material in their formative years; it follows that total freedom for all adults to read, see and hear what they please will in reality lead to a loss of true freedom. The controls will simply move into unscrupulous hands and multiply the exploitation already inherent in material which has traditionally been censored.
POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDUM BY JOHN RAY
I might note that, as a libertarian conservative, I personally have always been opposed to ALL censorship for any reason -- except where there is advocacy of interpersonal violence. I see advocacy of violence as little different in principle from actual violence. It aims to use others for one's own violent ends. So it should be treated in much the same way as actual violence, just as attempted murder is treated in a similar way to actual murder. Other than in that case, however, I believe, as Queen Elizabeth I did, that people should be allowed to go to the Devil in their own way. I included the above chapter in my book, however, as mine is a minority view among conservatives.
As with other chapters in this book, full citation details for all references used can be found in a separate consolidated list of references here
Go to Index page for this site
Go to John Ray's "Tongue Tied" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Dissecting Leftism" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Australian Politics" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Gun Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Education Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Socialized Medicine" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Political Correctness Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Greenie Watch" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Food & Health Skeptic" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Eye on Britain" blog (Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Leftists as Elitists" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Marx & Engels in their own words" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "A scripture blog" (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's recipe blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or here)
Go to John Ray's "Some memoirs" (Occasionally updated -- Backup here)
Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of recent writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page (Backup here)
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs (Backup here)
Go to Another picture page (Best with broadband)