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.