Thursday, June 23, 2005

Good, Hard-Hitting Debate

FrontPageMag has a regular segment in which Jamie Glazov interviews a conservative opinion maker. Glazov has more libertarian leanings (perhaps as a result of having lived under Soviet totalitarianism), and definitely is not a "puffball" interviewer. This week he interviews Ben Shapiro, author of "Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting our Future". Quite a good interview, with both guys making strong points. A taste:

FP: Ok Mr. Shapiro, you are obviously quite upset about what you see as the disintegration of moral values in our society, about the normalization of pornography etc. I must say that I am quite liberal on many social issues so I get a bit mystified in terms of not only some of the things you are upset about, but also what it is exactly that you propose to do about it. Do you want the government to get involved? Do you want to ban certain kinds of programming? Do you want to illegalize pornography? Rap music? What happened to free choice and the free market?

What if I like a certain show that you don’t? I grew up in Hip Hop culture for instance and I enjoy rap music. Are you planning to create a society where I will be unable to buy, listen, watch and dance to Jay Z, Fifty Cent and Snoop Dog? And what if I like watching J. Lo and Mariah Carey dancing in their videos on television and showing their beautiful bodies the way they do? Are you working for a society that will illegalize them doing that and me watching it? What if they are caught videotaping a video in a manner you deem "immoral" and what if I am caught with one of these music videos? Will I be punished?

Have you thought through the implication that something has to be done about your moral indignation? Who are going to be the self-appointed arbiters of morality in your proposed solutions? Who will make the rules about punishments?

Mr. Shapiro, I am not saying that I support moral relativism. I agree that there are many unfortunate things happening in our culture. Yes, it is tragic, for instance, that so many young people today have only one theme and value on their minds – which is usually sex. And it's not that I think that sex is necessarily the problem, but that it exists in a vacuum and is not accompanied, let us say, by the love of and yearning for knowledge, or by the aspiration towards something noble, or by the respect for history and literature, or by the indulgence in the spirit of generosity, etc. Of course there have to be some rules and laws, but they have to be established very very carefully, since there are always great costs (sometimes frightening ones) to the effort to legislate moral behavior and values.

Freedom is freedom my friend. It is up to individuals and families to make their decisions. And you can complain, but I get very skeptical (and worried) when someone starts making criticisms on these social and moral issues on the assumption that they have solutions. Sorry, that’s when frightening images of the Taliban and Ayatollah Khomeini start floating though my mind.

Shapiro: I certainly understand your concerns, and I share many of them. However, I believe the government should be involved in many of these areas, particularly the regulation of pornography. The people of each state have the right to place restrictions on obscene or indecent material - surely the founders never sought to protect such material on the federal level, and they never meant to do so on the state level (since the First Amendment did not apply to states). In fact, for the vast majority of our history, such restrictions were in place, and only activism by the Supreme Court stopped such restrictions. And the restrictions that were in place were far heavier than those I propose myself.

I do not believe there is a natural or blanket right for people to view or distribute whatever they please without consequence. The bottom line for me is that the people must be the final arbiters of morality; that is the purpose of representative democracy. Almost all legislation is to some extent shaped by moral concerns; just view statutory rape laws, or euthanasia laws. Even amoralism is state action - it took action by legislatures to wipe many of the old laws off the books, and it takes legislative willpower to keep them off the books. Everyone wants to legislate their morality; the only difference between the libertarian position and the right-wing position is that the libertarian position requires concerted inactivity by the government. I think Rick Perry was logically correct when he recently stated, "One of the great myths of our time is that you can't legislate morality . If you can't legislate morality, then you can neither lock criminals up nor let them go free. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage nor prohibit it. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither allow for prayer in school nor prevent it. It is a ridiculous notion to say you can't legislate morality. I say you can't NOT legislate morality."

I agree that regulations must be created very carefully and crafted very specifically to prevent encroachment upon types of activity and speech most of us would endorse - engagement in poetry, art, science, education, etc. But in a republic, we must trust the people to defend their own liberties and their own morality; imposition from above by the Supreme Court, for example, seems to me far more of a threat to the republic than allowing the people to shape their own society. Iran and the Taliban's Afghanistan were both oligarchic, tyrannical regimes, and it is because of their oligarchic nature that they oppressed their own people. Were they republics, it would be very difficult to argue that the people themselves were victims.

In fact, allowing people to vote on these sorts of issues is the very purpose of federalism. Certainly Massachusetts and New York will never pass statutes restricting access to pornography, and in all likelihood, Georgia and Alabama will. That is their right. I merely advocate legislative solutions which some people may support. Certainly the libertarian position on legislation and morality has just as solid a right to be heard in the public debate. And I'm glad there are people out there advocating the libertarian position, because the debate is fascinating and vital. My problem is that those who champion morality have been shut out of the debate in the name of PC "tolerance."

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