Thursday, June 11, 2009

When the irresistable force meets the immoveable object ...

ResearchBlogging.orgSo this conversation that has been going on over at The Intersection, and which I blogged on yesterday about this abhorrent Japanese game, got me thinking (imagine that). One of the commenters on the original thread, and which I reposted in the comment section of my own entry said:
The other issue with a game like this is that it appears that every rapist goes through an escalation process, mimicked in the game by the forced fondling prior to the rape. It seems to me fairly obvious that this game would serve as that escalation process. No “normal” man wants to rape. Therefore, anyone who buys this game already has rape fantasies that could escalate.
Which got me to thinking about the whole virtual child pornography issue because it seems that the two cover similar ground. I couldn't remember what the legal rulings were on it, so I googled and it turns out SCOTUS considered it protected "free speech". However, I came across an article (PDF, 6 pages) that discussed the issue and it seems that it is equally (if not more so) applicable in the issue we're discussing today.

The abstract for Neil Levy's paper reads as follows:
The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that virtual child pornography is protected free speech, partly on the grounds that virtual pornography does not harm actual children. I review the evidence for the contention that virtual pornography might harm children, and find that it is, at best, inconclusive. Saying that virtual child pornography does not harm actual children is not to say that it is completely harmless, however. Child pornography, actual or virtual, necessarily eroticizes inequality; in a sexist society it therefore contributes to the subordination of women.
Bold emphasis mine. If you change the words "child pornography" with "rape" it reads: Rape, actual or virtual, necessarily eroticizes inequality; in a sexist society it therefore contributes to the subordination of women. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but could one reasonable argue then that protection of "free speech" in the cases of these software may come at the price of harming the equality of women? What would happen in such a case? Would free speech win out?

Onto some of the points made by the paper:
Though it is obvious that no child is harmed by the manufacture of virtual child pornography, supporters of the act typically maintain that it remains harmful to children, and ought to be prohibited for this reason. They advance several arguments, designed to show
that real children are harmed by virtual pornography:
(1) Child pornography causes child abuse;

(2) Virtual child pornography will be used to seduce actual children;

(3) Allowing virtual child pornography makes laws banning real child pornography unenforceable;

(4) Child pornography, actual or virtual, on the Internet allows isolated pedophiles and potential pedophiles to contact each other and reinforce each other’s desires. It thus increases the probability of offenses.
He then goes on to address each point. I think #4 is pertinent since these software games often include "inviting friends" to engage in the acts to win you further points in the game. To this effect Neil Levy states:
(4) I turn lastly to the argument that permitting child pornography on the Internet allows isolated pedophiles and potential pedophiles to contact one another, and thereby mutually reinforce each others’ pedophilic tendencies. This is a variant on the first argument, that child pornography causes child abuse, but it is worth treating separately, on the grounds that it gives the argument a new, Internet-focused, twist. Perhaps merely viewing pictures or films of (apparent) children engaged in sexual activity does not cause child abuse, but talking to other people who are engaged in, or who are considering, child abuse, can make this deviant activity seem quite normal. As Roger Darlington, chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation, notes,
On the net you gain access to a community that legitimises your views. If you are operating in the real world, then meeting other paedophiles will require some organisation and will be difficult, but online you’ll find hundreds of thousands of people who share your views worldwide.
This is but one aspect of a wider problem: the radicalization of people who meet and talk only to the likeminded, through the medium of the Internet. Carl Sunstein, whose book is largely devoted to it and related problems, calls this the phenomenon of group polarization. Dicussion only with the likeminded encourages extremism and contempt for the opinions of others. Because the Internet enables and encourages such discussion, even for those with minority tastes who would otherwise be isolated from one another, it becomes a breeding ground for hate groups, political radicals – and pedophiles.
This of course leads to an interesting turn of the discussion in the paper:
If group polarization is a serious problem, it is a problem which arises largely out of speech; out of the discussions among the likeminded, and not significantly out of the viewing of images. If group polarization is a significant risk among those who have pedophilic desires, this gives us a reason to limit what they may say to each other, even to prevent them seeking one another out. This makes the problem more, not less, troubling, since it brings the right to freedom of speech into direct conflict with the right we all have to forestall clear and present dangers.
Which essentially is the point of this post. Which one would win? Would the burden be too much to prove that rape software presents a clear and present danger? Neil Levy essentially closes with the following:
Now, we have seen that the evidence that virtual child [pornography] harms actual children is weak. But we have good reason to believe that the eroticization of inequality harms women. Obtaining equal status for all women requires, inter alia, a new sexuality: a sexuality in which inequality is not a condition of sexual pleasure for men or women. It requires that sexual relations be conducted between equals. But since child pornography is necessarily an eroticization of inequality, allowing it undermines efforts to forge this new sexuality. Perhaps, then, it is because of harm to actual women, and not children, that virtual child pornography is objectionable.
One could reasonably, I presume, argue that virtual rape software likewise eroticizes inequality, and as such, actually harms women. Neil Levy does not discuss whether this harm is sufficient for banning virtual child pornography (or in this case, virtual rape software), but I think it warrants serious consideration.

Neil Levy (2002). Virtual child pornography: The eroticization of inequality Ethics and Information Technology, 4, 319-323


illusory tenant said...

How disgusting.

Levy's arguments are reminiscent of those of the feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon, who several years ago attempted to have passed anti-pornography legislation in Indiana.

Ronald Dworkin's (no relation) book Freedom's Law contains a couple of essays where he compares the arguments pro and con and are well worth reading.

The main problem with anti-pornography laws is that they tend to sweep within their ambit serious literature and even scientific studies.

Anyway, check out Dworkin's essays, as they clearly lay out both competing arguments premise by premise.

He makes a fair free speech case against anti-pornography laws generally but you might find his arguments less successful when applied to this appalling "game."

Thomas Joseph said...

Thanks IT. I'll check it out.