Feinberg vs. MacKinnon

As Feinberg and MacKinnon duke it out over whether or not the government can regulate pornography, Feinberg takes cheap shots and ends up looking like a schoolboy. And the feminist(MacKinnon) wins again. Here's the paper I wrote on Olson front porch this weekend. Mmm. Life is just better on porches.

"Pornography" (Feinberg) vs. "The Real Harm of Pornography" (MacKinnon)
Feinberg begins by pointing to a casual link that many make between rape and pornographic materials. He agrees that rape prevention is a legitimate use of criminal law and restriction of freedom. However, he is unconvinced that there is a strong enough causal connection between said act and said cause to warrant use of governmental restriction of liberty. He points to Kent Greenwalt who claims that “criminal law cannot concern itself with every communication that my fortuitously lead to the commission of a crime.” He elaborates on this by making distinctions between communication for its own sake and communication that advocates or encourages acts that violate previously established criminal law. By using this standard to deem only a very few things worthy of restriction, he concludes that “the relation between pornographers and rapists is nowhere near that direct and manipulative” and therefore not one that necessitate the abridgment of violent pornography which he calls “valuable free expression analogous to scholarly feminist articles.”
The editors of this book decided that they wouldn't put any violent porn directly after Feinberg's essay, but they did, ironically, place a “scholarly feminist article,” which, to me, seems like a much wiser decision. Whereas Feinberg works from within his system to prove the legitimacy of pornography, the subsequent essay, “The Real Harm of Pornography,” by Catherine A MacKinnon, attempts to point out the limitations of dealing with an issue that has pervaded the system so much that it cannot be separated from it. She compares pornography to segregation and lynching in that all three institutionalize the inferiority of one group to another; it is the “essence of a sexist social order, its quintessential social act.” These social acts create a social order in which the harm, inherent in the acts, becomes invisible.
MacKinnon begins to critique first amendment theory by pointing its tendency to be interpreted with a black and white distinction between public and private spheres. The problem with this, she says, is that “not only the public but also the private is a 'sphere of social power' of sexism. On paper and in life, pornography is thrust upon unwilling women in their homes.” The harm in this lies in the fact that liberal political philosophy is hesitant to make pornography illegal because of the desire to make speech as free as possible, this idea fails to recognize that this free speech for some, silences the voices, and thus, the speech of those who pornography targets—women. She bemoans the fact that this is not a harm that is easily demonstrated because it is not the kind that first amendment logic comprehends. “The idea is that words or pictures can only be harmful only if they produce harm in a form that is considered an action. Words work in the province of attitudes, actions in the realm of behavior.” Our country has decided that when words are equivalent to acts, they should be treated as acts, if the consequences matter enough. However, she quotes Heisenberg, saying that “the law of causality...can only be defined for isolated systems.” Unfortunately, social systems cannot be so easily isolated from the system in which they exist, but this does not mean that harm does not exist. It does mean that the harm cannot be perceived as distinct from society's organization itself, and therefore, is invisible—“its effects are not cognizable as harm.” It is not a one-on-one sort of harm, linear in its causality, but rather it is a system of harm that affects a group—women—and members of that group specifically. Therefore, if we attempt to deal with pornography in this system of linear causality then we are refusing to deal with “the true nature of this specific kind of harm.”
Though I have no desire to align myself with most feminist positions, this one is much different. I appreciate MacKinnon's analysis of the democratic system. Whereas Feinberg works entirely within his system and comes to logical conclusions within it, MacKinnon attacks the logic and assumptions of the entire system. Good move. A meta analysis is often needed. I guess we usually just work from within our own systems, failing to see their faults, and thus come to valid but unsound conclusions.
I also thought that MacKinnon's approach was an even handed one. Not only did she not take cheap shots at people like Feinberg, but she also attempted to utilize aspects of his system. It has been my previous experience that many feminist articles wish to elevate “interconnectedness” and “relationships” above rights, however, she speaks to people like Feinberg in their own “language,” using the idea of “rights”—but redefining it, broadening it to include rights that are ignored because of the way our system has been inundated with isms—sexism, racism, classism—whose harm is invisible because they cannot be wholly isolated from the system itself. Her approach seems, to me, to be the very antithesis of Feinberg's. Whereas she is working to make his system better, he is working to defame her approach altogether. He grants that there is not “sufficient grounds for criminalizing materials” such as pornography and feminist articles. How kind of him—how asinine of him—to make any kind of comparison between animalistic materials that grossly suppress free speech of women and scholarly materials that are the direct expressions of women. It almost seems that he not only wants women to be subjected to the harmful effects of pornography on life, relationships, and the psyche, but also to be subjected to not being allowed to talk unless instructing children, teaching cooking classes, or calling to get the vacuum repaired. But, really, I'm not a feminist. MacKinnon just opened my eyes a little bit to see serious issues in this way of thinking (the feingbergesque) that exists in men and women alike.


Some Feminists i DO admire.

Well, i've never been a fan of feminists, experientially. The whole stereotype, along with the various characters that fit the stereotype to a tee, averted my eyes from the movement for a while. And, while I'm still opposed to many things, and rest, happily, as a complimentarian (though I hate the label), my eyes have been opened as of late to a few things that are, i think, important words from my feminist sisters.

Celia Wolf-Devine. I love what she does in an essay called "Abortion and the Feminine Voice." Its so clever and well, logical. Since, in general, feminists favor an "ethic of care" that elevates relationships, interconnectedness, and, yes, our responsibility to care for others, adherents tend to take this to its "logical" conclusion: an unqualified right to an abortion. Celia, as a feminist, sees things a little differently (and thus was a part of the initial prying open of my eyes to anything that looked in the least bit like a woman in business slacks wrote it...all in jest, all in jest :).

"If masculine thought is naturally hierarchical and oriented towards power and control, then the interests of the fetus (who has no power) would naturally be suppressed in favor of the interests of the mother. But to the extent that feminist social thought is egalitarian, the question must be raised of why the mother's interests should prevail over the child...The woman is supposed to have the sole authority over the child, but what of her interconnectedness with the child and with others? Both she and the child already exist within a network of relationships...Quite simply, abortion is a failure to care for one living being who exists in a particularly intimate relationship to oneself...But clearly those who defend unrestricted access to abortion in terms of such things as the woman's right to privacy or her right to control her body are speaking in the language of an ethics of justice rather than an ethics of care."

I mean, rock it Celia. (nice name, by the way) It is interesting to see how the feminist movement has defined itself, and I wish to do more research on the matter. These things she points out seem blatantly inconsistent, and yet she is the minority amidst a growing population of people who wish to deny systems based on rights, while still claiming the rights they want. Contradictions? Yup.

Alright, another feminist rockstar--Catherine A MacKinnon. The topic she wishes to address? Porn. And address it she does in her essay "The Real Harm of Pornography." You could say that this piece is a bit more of what one might expect from a "typical feminist," but I also think that if i didn't defend something "typically feminist" in this blog post then I would really just be ripping on feminists by using their own kind against them, and thus, i defend...or allow her to defend for herself, which she certainly can do (and she doesn't need a man's help..gosh darnit...again, only joking.)

"The fact that pornography, in a feminist view, furthers the idea of the sexual inferiority of women, a political idea, does not make pornography a political idea. That one can express the idea a practice expresses does not make that practice an idea. Pornography is not an idea any more than segregation or lynching are ideas, although both institutionalize the idea of one group to another...Pornography is the essence of a sexist social order, its quintessential social act..."

"The law of the First Amendment comprehends that freedom of expression, in the abstract, is a system but fails to comprehend that sexism (and racism), in the concrete, are also systems. As a result, it cannot grasp that the speech of some silences the speech of others in a way that is not simply a matter of competition for airtime. That pornography chills women's expression is difficult to demonstrate empirically because silence is not eloquent (if i may interject...WHAT A BRILLIANT SENTENCE)."

"Social systems are not isolated systems...If pornography is systemic, it may not be isolable from the system in which it exists. This does not mean that no harm exists. It does mean that because the harm is so pervasive, it cannot be sufficiently isolated to be perceived as existing according to this model of causality...The dominant view is that pornography must cause harm just as car accidents cause harm, or its effects are not cognizable as harm. The trouble with this individuated, atomistic, linear conception of injury is that the way pornography targets and defines women for abuse and discrimination does not work like this. It does hurt individuals, just not as individuals in a one-at-a-time sense, but as members of the group women..To reassert atomistic linear causality...is to refuse to respond to the true nature of this specific kind of harm."

I think that perhaps I why I liked these essays so much is that it is my own tendency to seek out faults in systems, or general systemic response (call me a critic), and both of these women do an excellent job of critiquing the illogical conclusions that have, repeatedly, been drawn within different frameworks--be they feminist, or democratic. Thanks guys, i mean, ladies (please pardon my use of a word that is, quite obviously, a result of a masculine system).



Legislating Morality: Comparing Islam and Christianity

[FYI, this is only the last couple pages of a ten page paper, in which I establish the fact that I am aware of the diversity of views within both the Muslim and Christian community, and therefore do not presume to speak for the whole of each religion]

[also FYI, I loved writing this paper, a lot. 18 hours, a lot]

Political philosopher Sayyed Qutb is one of the most famous Muslim intellectuals to emerge from his faith and is very well known for his views on the role of Islam in politics. In his book Islam and Universal Peace, he calls Islam "the religion of unity in this great universe." Coupled with this religion of unity he presents an equally "unified ideology to confront life and its problems, an ideology that will solidify our strength against our foreign and domestic enemies." Sayyed saw peace as the ultimate, unifying goal coming first to the individual conscience, then in the home, then in society, and finally resulting in world peace. One might call "peace" his faith's ultimate moral principle. The way to achieve peace, according to Sayyed, is by adhering to the legislation set forth by the Islamic state which proceeds directly from God who is the "Supreme Legislator." It is in the application of God's law that the Muslim community achieves justice, and Sayyed contends that "Islam is a complete system. One cannot enforce a part of Islamic law and neglect another for then it would not be Islam." It would seem, then, according to Sayyed Qutb, that Islam and the law cannot be separated. An example of this indivisibility can be seen in Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws which say that "whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life." Upon the adoption of secular or dual legal systems in Islamic countries, the very things, spirituality and the law, that Sayyed said should not be separated have been pulled apart.
This fusing of law and religion rings a bell in the mind of all who have opened the pages of the Bible's Old Testament. This inseparability takes its most memorable form in the daily workings of the Israelites, whose whole lives were directed by laws said to proceed directly from the mouth of God. The Israelites were God's "chosen people," and though they often forgot, they were obligated to perform certain rites and practices to honor the God who went before them. The Christian should remember that the Israelite tradition is his ancestry, with the concurrent realization that this is no longer the way God requires man to live. It is absolutely imperative in the development of a Christian's political philosophy that he discovers the nature and origin of this change from a religion united with the law to a religion seen as a separate entity from the law. The change can be seen to occur around the same time Jews began to interact with a man named Jesus. This man came to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, proclaiming that he had come to fulfill the law. In Matthew 5:17, he proclaims, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." How is it that a law can be fulfilled? He fulfilled "the law and the prophets", synonymous with the Scriptures, by bringing them the meaning and the motivation that they were waiting for. Jesus seemingly called his followers to an even higher law: the law of love. When asked by the Pharisees, "'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus replied, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." This law of love was even more difficult to practice than various acts because it implied a distinct attitude of love within one's heart coupled with the action. Whereas in the Jewish community law was a series of practices that centered mainly on the concept of justice and on doing what was right, Jesus came and revamped this sort of legalistic motivation by creating a space for the deference of justice in order that love, often seen in the form of grace, might triumph. This is seen in the culminating act of his life—his unjust death on the cross—that through his death and resurrection he might bring life to those who would come to believe in him and accept this gift of love.
And so Christians live, live in accordance with Jesus' revolutionary words, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." Christians live in response to his death and resurrection which were the ultimate example of this transformation. This transformation from law to love does not abolish law, but it most certainly does not use the law to achieve its ultimate purpose—a change in human hearts. After all, can the law legislate the motivation of love in all of one's actions? Perhaps this is why when asked about tax laws, Jesus tells the people to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." The law desires specific actions, but God desires a change in the heart of man that is then manifested in his actions.
This Christian attitude toward Caesar, or governmental power in general, lies in sharp contrast to the Muslim attitude toward “Caesar.” In the Muslim faith, "Caesar" legislates morality using the Koran as the ultimate rule of law in the same way that in the Jewish tradition the Torah, gives man a rule of law. The origin of this huge gap between Christian political philosophy and Islamic political philosophy can ultimately be seen in the person of Jesus Christ. "In Christianity, the word of God (logos) becomes Christ; in Islam it becomes the Koran." Islam and Christianity both have a wide range of views on how involved the legal system should be in this process of incorporating ethics into daily living, but when the specific doctrines of the two religions are taken at face value, the law plays a distinctly less important role in the life of a Christian. How could it ever appropriately legislate the human heart, where true transformation must occur in response to the grace it has been given. The logical next question then is, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" To which Paul responds, "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?...For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." In essence, in order for Christians to fully "legislate morality," they would need to be God, or at the very least an omniscient being, capable of knowing every thought and motivation of man. Since this is quite impossible, God remains the judge, and man is subject to His law first. In the same way, Muslims are subject to God's law first, but God's law is seen in the form of sharia law as laid out in the Koran. The "legislation of morality" matters to a greater extent in the life of a Muslim, a person much more interested in peace and unity achieved through justice which is most often, realized through governmental enactment of this sharia law.