The UK Porn Filter: Limp And Unwelcome

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So, David Cameron wants to institute a UK-wide porn filter. This news has now reached the US. You are probably laughing at us. If so, that’s a good thing, because the proposal is laughable.

It means socially awkward Brits will now be forced to ‘opt out’ of the clean feed, thereby disclosing to their ISP or landlord that they watch porn. Europeans and Australians are willing to admit to porn use (in part because they often live in states or countries where prostitution is legal, and where they don’t just have sex shops, but sex department stores). Not so the British, who react to situations of social discomfort by curling up like a slug exposed to naked flame.

Humour aside, however, what makes this scheme particularly ludicrous is that it is a direct copy of an identical Australian proposal. In Australia, Labor’s Stephen Conroy first floated the idea, and was then rapidly forced to retreat when it became clear that it was incapable of enforcement. Australians are the world’s most brutal pragmatists: they will take your ideal to the woolshed and beat it to death with a cricket bat if it proves unworkable in practice:

[I]t’s really hard to get inside the heads of the proponents of one side of the question. In order to support the internet filter, or drug prohibition, or rent control, you have to not just hold a certain set of values, you have to be willing to spend public money based on those values even on measures that will be completely ineffective.

In Britain, however, there is still a broad strap of clueless idealism when it comes to the state’s use of laws to make us more sexually moral people. This is especially the case when at least part of the scheme is meant to tackle child porn — forgetting, of course, that child porn is already illegal. This is why Brits pointing out that Cameron’s scheme won’t work have not suggested that there may be something to be said in favour of porn.

And therein is a real problem. Cameron’s argument that the killers of schoolgirls April Jones and Tia Sharp had accessed legal pornography before moving on to images of child abuse tells us nothing: they did a lot of things before moving on to images of abuse (eating bread, for example), but that doesn’t even faintly demonstrate a causative link. Even worse for the anti-porn brigade, what evidence we have indicates porn is a substitute for rape and other sexual offences, not an incentive for them: rates of sexual violence tend to drop when porn is freely available. Finally, even if a tiny group proves incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy, if we restrict everyone’s freedoms based on the weakest members of society and their inclinations, then no one will be left with any liberty at all.

That means that not only does ought imply can, but that even if we could institute a workable porn filter, we shouldn’t. Can does not imply ought.