13. The Family and the Permissive Society
The permissive society turns violent
Lots of us have the impression that the modern world is succumbing to violence. In the face of so many acts of sheer brutality and terrorism, no doubt we often ask ourselves: how can some people be so irresponsible, unprincipled, and violent?
The answer, I suggest, lies partly in ourselves. We are all in some way to blame for the growing violence of the world we live in, because we tolerate - or perhaps even seek and approve - a permissive society. The logic is simple. A permissive society means a society which professes no fixed moral principles: anything goes. In theory, there is one restraining principle: conduct should not be anti-social. But, saving this, nothing else is really wrong, anything can be right; it all depends on one's individual outlook. And when young people grow up in a society where they have been taught that there are no absolute and objective moral values, but everything is relative and subjective, they are not likely to put 'collective interests' above their personal desires or whims. When the mass of young people are taught that nothing is sacred, nothing merits absolute respect, it is only logical that many of them end up in fact respecting nothing at all - nothing personal, nothing social: not property, nor law, nor liberty, nor life. Little more is needed to make them criminals or terrorists. And if some go that way, it is the very society they despise, rob and terrorize that has helped turn them into terrorists .
A permissive society creates a climate that fosters violence ... But is this a thesis that can be proved? I think so. After all, permissiveness centres mainly on the question of sex. And it should be obvious to anyone with a minimum of commonsense that sex is an area of human conduct filled with potential for violence. To deny this would leave one unable to account for the phenomenon of rape and other whole chapters of criminal history.
Contrary to what is suggested by much modern propaganda, sex and love are not the same. Subordinated to love and to its evident procreative function, sex is a noble and God-given reality that finds its proper expression in married love. But sex is man's most unruly and explosive instinct. It does not easily let itself be subordinated to anything. Once the sexual impulse is aroused, it wants immediate satisfaction, and it wants it on its own terms, as an end in itself.
The paradoxes of man are many. And they are specially intense in the sphere of sex. Sex which can, with an effort, be integrated into man's most noble power of love, can also - if no effort is made - be one of the most brutal and violent expressions of his selfishness . Uncontrolled sex tends to run wild. It is destructive. The first thing it destroys, in its self-seeking, is love, for love and selfishness are mutual enemies. And it can destroy many other things besides.
Abortionism leads to terrorism
Our permissive societies not only tell people that there is little or no need to control the violence of their sexual impulses, but tend to surround them with constant sexual stimulation. The inevitable result is growing violence.
The philosophers of permissiveness do not like this talk of there being a violent element in sex, though they are scarcely so naive as to deny it. If pushed they would probably say that, though not against violence in sex, they are against sex that does violence to others, that is, against their will. A permissive society therefore regards rape, for instance, as wrong. But its philosophers would maintain that all other forms of sexual conduct should be considered morally, socially, and legally acceptable; not only whatever an individual chooses to do sexually, in the sphere of his own private thoughts and actions, but also what two or more people - married or single, of the same or opposite sex - consent to do together.
But a good look at permissiveness will tell us that, however much consent there may be, violence is always done to someone by permissive sex. In the long list of permissive "achievements" in the field of sex or sex-related conduct, it is very arguably true that quite a lot of moral violence is frequently done in the case of extra-marital affairs (violence done to one spouse's right to expect loyalty from the other), and much more so in that of divorce (violence very often done to one of the spouses; and certainly to the children). Do the children normally consent to the divorce? Is tremendous violence not done to their desire that their mother and father should live together and learn to get on? And it is unanswerably true that the most extreme physical violence - the killing of an innocent child - is the essence of abortion. To legalize abortion is to legalize violence. A society that does not fight against abortionists has therefore very soon to fight against terrorists. But it will be a losing battle. For terrorism cannot really be combated with police force. It can only be combated by educating people in moral principles, above all in the fundamental social principle of respect for life.
Violence and pornography
In any case, leaving aside these questions of the violence to others that a permissive society condones, it is also clear that the person who gives free rein, in any circumstance, to his every sexual desire, does violence to himself, permits violence within himself. And this is the essential reason why a permissive society leads to all sorts of violence. Once people are led to believe - as permissiveness teaches them - that it is perfectly alright to stimulate within oneself, and seek to satisfy, the violent impulses of sex, then it becomes progressively harder, and eventually impossible, to teach or convince them that it is wrong for them to follow other violent impulses: hatred, the desire to rob or kill or seek revenge ... It is useless to tell a person to respect society or to respect others, if at the same time you are telling him that he need not restrain or respect himself.
Besides, it is not only a matter of commonsense that pornography leads to violence. It is also, by now (sadly enough), a well-documented fact. One would do well to read Chapter Three of the Longford Report on Pornography (1978). Titled "Violence and Pornography," that chapter points out how pornography tends more and more to present the violent - sadistic or masochistic - aspect of sex itself; how it has been consciously used as a means to foster political violence (as in Hitler's Germany) or social instability (marxist tactics in Western countries); and how "hard-core" pornography fosters hatred, aggression and alienation and is clearly a main cause of the growing criminality and violence of our Western societies.
Return to censorship?
The situation is surely crying out for some form of control. In fact - though this obliges me to use one of the dirtiest words in our language - I would say that it is crying out for some form of censorship! ....
Censorship?, I can hear some reader cry out incredulously. "But is it possible that anyone nowadays can defend the idea of censorship seriously?" Very seriously. But the censorship I am mainly thinking of is probably not the type the incredulous reader has in mind. It is essentially the self-censorship we referred to in chapter eleven. The following considerations may be helpful.
Yes, I know that modern man says that he prizes freedom as one of his highest goods; that he regards censorship as one of the greatest traditional enemies of freedom. I know too that it is commonly believed - or at least affirmed - that the progressive abolition of censorship has enabled millions to enjoy a new freedom of which they were formerly deprived.
Let me then assure the incredulous reader that I, for one, have no desire to deprive the mass of people of their freedom; just the contrary. But I do suggest that, though what we want today is more freedom, it is not what we are getting. What we are getting is sexual anarchy, and what we are being submitted to is sexual exploitation and slavery. Nothing could be farther removed from freedom.
Freedom and exploitation
'Freedom for all' sounds a noble maxim. But history has shown that freedom for all generally means more and more freedom for the strong, the rich, the clever, or the unscrupulous, and less and less freedom for the rest of mankind. It means freedom for the few and some form of serfdom for the many.
Absolute freedom in the commercial or industrial spheres was vehemently preached early in the nineteenth century. But practically no one defends it nowadays. The history of nineteenth century liberalism in these fields shows that a few men, if unrestrained by some form of government controls, tend to exploit the masses.
Why then should we be surprised to find something similar happening when the liberal principle of unrestricted freedom is applied to the sexual sphere? Surely only the very naive could deny that one of the first results of the abolition of censorship has been to turn pornography into big business, and to make multi-millionaires out of the pornographic tycoons? Nor is it hard to see why pornography, as business, is specially big and specially profitable, and why, therefore, immensely rich interests are involved in maintaining the anti-censorship prejudice among the public, and sustaining the fiction of freedom that enables the marketing of pornographic material to prosper.
If one can stimulate and then exploit an artificial appetite like the taste for tobacco, it should obviously be much easier to exploit - through stimulation - a natural and very strong appetite like the sex appetite.
The anti-tobacco campaign, on the grounds that smoking is harmful to one's health, has been extraordinarily successful over the past forty years. Perhaps this success was facilitated by the fact that young people have always had a potential sales resistance in regard to cigarettes, in that they generally did not enjoy their first experience of smoking. Therefore, the tobacco manufacturers needed to create and propagate other motives. In their hey-day it wasn't that difficult. By means of constant and direct advertising, a social atmosphere was created in which to smoke gave a he-man image, was considered "mod", or "with it".
Times have changed. Cigarette-smoking is out - as a result of a civic-minded concern for its harmful effects; pornography is in ; and, whatever about its being civic-minded, it is certainly not politically correct to raise the question of its possible harmful or exploitative effects.
One thing is certain - that the porn industry is a much bigger money spinner than the tobacco industry. Sales resistance tends to be low, and so the pornographer has a potentially easier public - in the sense that pornography is attractive to people's animal instincts. At the same time, however, it is repellent not only to their religious instinct, but to their conscience and, especially in the case of girls and women, to their sense of modesty. These residual forces which make for sales resistance have therefore to be overcome. And this is done by creating a social climate where sexual license is called freedom, and sexual restraint is condemned as old-fashioned, Victorian, unnatural, inhibiting, and so on. The advertising here is indirect. But it is a veritable barrage. And the pornographers' "advertisers" - perhaps unwitting, perhaps unpaid - abound among artists, script-writers, philosophers, psychologists, politicians ...
The slave market
Another point is that the seller's ideal, in any business, is the regular customer, the habituated consumer. The tobacco market was so sure and so profitable, because it was made for captive buyers. The same could be applied to drink. When the market is drugs or sex, one can even speak of enslaved buyers. The exploitation of slaves - especially when people pay to be slaves - is an infallible way to make an unscrupulous fortune. And all in the name of liberty! The exploitation is all the more obvious when one recalls that commercialized sex is for buyers who are "dupes". It is a fraud. It fascinates; it promises much, it gives little - a satisfaction that leaves the consumer dissatisfied, and yet wanting more.
In the liberal industrial society of the nineteenth century the common people had little power to resist the exploitation of their lives, even if they wished to. They either worked or starved. Millions today are objects of an exploitation which does not (at least normally) reduce them to living in slums and hovels, which consists not in their material oppression but in their spiritual and human degradation. It is an infinitely worse exploitation. Nevertheless, comparing today's exploitation with that of the nineteenth century, it is evident that men in today's liberal permissive society can resist being exploited, if they wish. The trouble is that many apparently do not wish ...
At the beginning of laissez-faire capitalism, government policy was one of non-intervention. Under an awakening public conscience and growing public pressure governments were gradually obliged to live up to their responsibilities to intervene and prevent the exploitation of the weak. There seems to be little public sensitivity today about sexual exploitation and sexual degradation, and there is therefore little public pressure on governments to prevent them. It is evident that, until the public wakes up, nothing effective will be done to remedy the situation.
But, it may be objected, surely the public, or a sizeable section of it, is aware of the corrupting effect of pornography? Yes, there are "concerned" people around; but so many of them seem to hold a very selective awareness in this matter and a very selective approach to it.
Concern about a pornography problem? Ok; but in what sense? Time and again, in one country after another, investigation committees and work parties come up with proposals which, if one hesitates to brand them as insincere, can only be described as incredibly superficial. The proposals, in a nut-shell, come down to this: "Censorship, for children? Of course! Censorship, for grown-ups? Absolutely not!"
On the one hand, there are pressing appeals for effective measures to permit our young people to live in an atmosphere free from the corruption caused by pornography. On the other hand, there are indignant rejections of any measure designed to cleanse from the same corruption the atmosphere in which adults move.
There is agreement, on the one hand, that pornography is a threat to the freedom of young people, and a danger to their normal psychic and emotional development. There is equal agreement on the other, that censorship is a threat to the freedom of adults, and an insult to their maturity.
Maturity and corruptibility
I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that here we are touching on a subject which is one of the fastest growing areas of lying and insincerity in our modern world. Are we adults all that different from young people? Are we seriously suggesting that what can corrupt a youth aged sixteen cannot possibly corrupt an adult aged twenty-six or fifty-six? As if the eighteen or twenty-one watershed, which gives a certain presumption of maturity, can warrant an equal presumption of incorruptibility!
It seems incredible that this double-standard posture can be seriously maintained by anyone.. To begin with, one is immediately struck by the practical impossibility of building up any useful result from such contradictory foundations. The "freedoms" which grown-ups claim for themselves must necessarily render the controls for young people ineffective. After all, young people and grown-ups do not move in two totally different worlds nor are their "atmospheres" so easily separated in practice.
But what is much harder to understand is the concept of man or society on which the proposals are presumably based. If they are based on anything, it would seem to be on one or other of two suppositions:
(1) that at a certain age or level of maturity, one is no longer in danger of being affected or corrupted by pornography; or
(2) that at a certain age, it is no one else's business if one wishes to corrupt oneself.
Let us consider each of these suppositions.
Intelligent? sincere? normal?
It seems possible to adopt the first attitude - that immunization from pornography comes with the years - only as a result of having switched off one's mind. In such cases, therefore, the only remedy likely to be effective is some form of shock therapy, to get people to think. Since one of the principles often enunciated (though not always practiced) in the permissive society is that it is presumptuous to judge others, my "therapy", in dealing with the cases we are considering, is not to judge, but to try to get each one to judge himself or herself. I should add that occasions have not been lacking to practice the therapy with young people no less than with grown-ups. This also, unfortunately, is logical enough. When adults act and speak as if their "maturity" had somehow immunized them from any degrading effects of pornography, young people (who, for good or bad, tend to imitate their elders) quickly take up the same line, and are only too anxious to affirm that they too are mature and equally immunized. But let us take a specific case and the application of the therapy.
A fifteen or seventeen year-old boy or girl comes to me and says, "I have read or seen such-and-such [some novel or movie well known to be pornographic], and really I didn't find anything so special or disturbing in it. It didn't affect me ..." My stock way of answering this pseudo-maturity is more or less as follows.
"Well, of course I can't judge you. You have to judge yourself. But what I can say is that anyone who has seen that film or read that book and says he hasn't been affected by it, cannot be three things at the same time. He can't be intelligent, sincere and normal, all at once. He can be two of these things, or possess two of these qualities, but not the three together". And I explain: "If you, who say you have been left unmoved by this work, are normal and sincere - that is, if you are a normally constituted person as far as sex goes, and at the same time you really think you are telling me the truth - then you are not intelligent, you are not deep, you don't really know yourself. For this work affects all normal people. Therefore it has affected you, without your realizing it ..."
"Of course this may not be the case. There is a second possibility: that you are normal and intelligent; in other words, you have normal sexual reactions and you know yourself. But in that case, you are not being sincere. Of course that work has affected you, and you know it. But you are not telling me the truth" ...
"But that, of course, is a possibility you must judge. Far be it from me to make any judgment. You know yourself. Because, after all, there is a third possibility: that you are sincere and intelligent; that you indeed know yourself and are indeed telling me the truth - in other words, that work has really not affected you ... But then, you are ... Well, I leave the conclusion up to you ..."
I've had more than one indignant reaction; "Hey, I'm not that". To which I reply: "I didn't say you were. I'm only pointing out alternatives. It's you who have to apply them".
But are these alternatives valid only for teenagers? Are adults too not capable of a pseudo-maturity? How switched off has the brain got to get before one suggests that a person can be corrupted at sixteeen and not at thirty-six? If a person is in fact corrupt at sixteeen, he will presumably grow into a corrupt adult. And then the problem will be to un-corrupt him. Or are there no corrupt - or corruptible - adults?
The alternatives - sincere, intelligent, normal - that apply at sixteen apply equally at thirty-six or at fifty. If therefore one meets whole masses of persons nowadays who claim to be so mature that pornography no longer affects them, what is one to think? Is one to assume that such a lack of ordinary sexual awareness is really so widespread? But then, one is driven to the conclusion that many "mature" people today are either dreadfully unthinking or else unthinkingly insincere. My own guess is that they are probably a mixture of both; that is why I would like to say that the lines that follow, though they may hit hard, are not meant to be negative. For they are written in an attempt to jerk unthinking people into thought, in the conviction that if people really do begin to think, they will discover the insincerity of their own position - and begin to be sincere.
Turning sin into virtue
Today's "adult world", which prides itself on being "liberated" and thanks God (or perhaps just itself) for not being like all former generations of mankind, is guilty not only of Pharisaism much more repellent than that of the Pharisee of the Gospel (see Lk 18:9), but also of hypocrisy much worse than the Victorian hypocrisy it professes particularly to despise. The Victorians - so at least we are told - did wrong and pretended they did not do it. Our modern permissivist does wrong and says it is right. The Victorian sinned and, hiding it, wished himself to be regarded as virtuous. The modern permissivist sins and, proclaiming his sin, wishes it to be regarded as virtue. The Victorian at least knew what sin was, though - perhaps - he did little to avoid it. The modern permissivist proclaims there is no such thing as sin and thus he has nothing to avoid or repent of. He presents himself as sinless. He is the self-proclaimed saint.
If there is such a generation gap today, if young people have little respect for their elders, it is largely because the younger generation sense the hypocrisy, or at least the falseness, of this all-too-common adult attitude towards the question of censorship: "Censorship for young people; of course. Censorship for us? Absurd! They are young; we must not let them be corrupted. We are mature, and incorruptible". Small wonder that young people have little more than contempt for the defenders of such a double standard of morality.
The right to corrupt oneself?
As we suggested earlier, the double standard may be based on a slightly different supposition: not that adults are incorruptible, but that, if they want to corrupt themselves, that is their personal business, and no one else - no private individual and no public authority - has a right to interfere.
This at least is not a moralizing position. Its exponents have no interest in morality. Their motto is freedom. "We want freedom. We claim freedom: freedom to do what we like. Now that we have it, let no one try to take it from us".
Two comments could be made about this position. One is about the use of the word "freedom". I do not think these people should be allowed to get away with claiming they have found a new freedom. They have not. They have found an old slavery. A sex-addict is no more free than is a drug-addict or an alcoholic. If he chooses to go the way of addiction, that is his choice. But let him not say it is the way of freedom. A man is free not when he is not ruled by external laws, but when he rules himself; when he is master of himself. And these people do not rule themselves. They are ruled by their passions. And the slavery that comes from within is worse than any slavery imposed from outside .
The second comment is to question the supposed "right" a person has to corrupt himself if he wants to. A person will certainly do it, if he wants to; just as a person will rob or murder - or commit suicide - if he wants to. But does he have a right to do these things? Most certainly not. We have the rights which God has given us, no more. We have the power to contravene his will. But we have not the right to do so .
Besides, rights cannot exist without duties. A person's right to life means that everyone else has a duty to respect his life. And he, theirs. I have the right that my neighbour respects my property and my person. But I also have the right that he respects himself. No one has a right to defile the street. No one has the right to degrade the world. No one has the right to degrade himself. We are not disconnected pieces in a disconnected world. What each of us does or is or lets himself become has an effect - for good or bad -on those around him. That is why to degrade oneself is in some way to offend the rest of humanity, just as it is, more importantly, to offend God.
Turning people into objects
Sex is a divine gift, a sacred function by which human love is, in marriage, given a unique expression of union that associates it with God's creativity. Pornography involves an essential degradation of this sacred reality of sex. For pornography tends to arouse sex for sex's sake, and not sex for the sake of open-to-life conjugal love. That is to degrade its meaning and function, reducing it to the level of animal instinct whose one purpose is to seek immediate sensual satisfaction. And when people give free rein to their animal instincts, they become in fact more and more like animals, and less and less able to respect one another as persons.
On an even broader plane than the one we have been considering, it is true that a person not in control of his appetites or instincts cannot relate to others in a truly human fashion, for his uncontrolled impulses prevent him from respecting them. He will use or abuse others as objects; he will not respect them as persons. The capitalist, dominated by greed, will exploit his workers, though he will no doubt rationalize his conduct. The terrorist, dominated by exalted nationalism, by blind hatred or by a desire for revenge, will kidnap, torture or murder innocent victims. The pornographer or, more specifically, the pornographer's client - the person dominated and obsessed by sex - will equally exploit others if he can; for other people interest him only insofar as they can serve his obsessive appetite. In others he doesn't see persons, he sees only objects - to be desired, to be used, to be abused, to be discarded. Respect for others becomes meaningless to his befogged mind and impossible to his weakened will and ever more selfish nature.
The permissive woman
The permissive society makes for selfish people, and selfish people tend not to trust one another. One of the sad - though not surprising - characteristics of our permissive societies is the growing atmosphere of mistrust, especially between the sexes. Men and women, boys and girls, tend to trust each other less and less. It is logical; degraded people do not trust one another.
The permissive man degrades himself through indulging his sensuality. The permissive woman may do likewise. More often her motive is simply vanity; or else greed. In any case it is equally selfish, and no less degrading.
Greed is assuredly the main motive of some women who let themselves be paraded as sex objects, for presumably they require to be paid - perhaps substantially - to consent to being photographed for a particular type of magazine, or to take part in certain films or shows. More curious, also because more frequent, is the case of other women - women, moreover, who probably regard themselves as "respectable" - who actually pay (and at times substantially) to parade themselves as sex objects. It is simple feminine vanity that moves them, no more. But at times feminine vanity is just as bad, just as selfish, and just as degrading, as masculine sensuality. The vanity of many women today has so enslaved them to fashion that, by the clothes they wear or their way of behaving, they seem to be inviting men - they almost seem bent on obliging them - to treat them as objects. Their vanity, just as much as the pin-up's cupidity, seeks to exact its payment from men's sensuality.
While on this subject we could well repeat what we said earlier on modesty - that apparently forgotten or despised feminine virtue of yesteryear. Modesty - in a woman's way of dressing or acting - is simply an expression of her determination to be treated as a person by men; and her refusal to be dragged down to the level of an object.
Children and their parents' loyalty
I am aware, of course, that some people today will not listen to these arguments. The reason is simple: they will not listen to their own conscience. A person's conscience - if he is prepared to listen to it - tells him clearly enough when he is degrading himself or degrading others.
Some people, therefore, are indifferent to all arguments. I am not really writing for them. I would rather now write particularly for parents, for I am sure that, whatever their formation, they are not indifferent at least to their own children. And yet there is a grave danger today that, if they do not stop to think and take a sincere look at things, some parents may be guilty of betraying the very children they love.
Parents who allow themselves permissive liberties are in fact guilty of such a betrayal. I am not referring to the obvious and extreme betrayal of the father or mother who has an affair with someone else or who gets a divorce. I am thinking of the much more frequent betrayal of the parents who practice the double morality we have referred to earlier. "You children cannot see or read this; we can".
As I have pointed out, children have a right to their parents' loyalty; in this matter they have a right to their parents' sincerity, self-restraint, and example. The father or mother who reads or attends a pornographic work, not only offends God and degrades himself or herself, but violates their children's right to have parents they can look up to.
This judgment is consistent with our earlier discussion of the need for self-censorship. The practical moral point here is that each one needs to be his own censor: to have the clarity of mind to realize what works can deform or degrade him, and the sincerity and strength of will to avoid them.
If parents see that the public authorities are doing little to combat the moral contamination of the atmosphere their children have to breathe and grow in, then it is up to them - the parents - to do more. They cannot be afraid to exercise authority with their children and to make demands of them. But these demands have little chance of being listened to (and none whatsoever of being respected) if the parents are not making at least equally strong demands on themselves. Let us be sincere. If parents really love their children, and want therefore to protect them from the pernicious effects of pornography, the only effective (and the only honest) argument is: "To see or read such a show or work would mean offending God and degrading oneself. Therefore we cannot let you see it, just as we cannot - and will not - let ourselves see or read it either".
What am I prepared to eat?
Self-censorship is simply one expression of self-control, and self-control is essential for individual and social freedom . No one would suggest that self-control is always easy. But it is made a lot easier if one switches on one's mind and exercises a bit of common sense.
Let us suppose I go to a supermarket with the intention of buying food and something to drink. Let us suppose too that there is a series of foodstuffs and beverages on offer, which look very appetizing and smell very nice, but which I have good reason to know contain poison... What do I do? - I buy something else! Thank God there are plenty of other things to choose from that also taste quite good and are in fact wholesome.
And if the situation developed where most of the food stuffs on display were poisoned? I'd still not buy them. It would mean having to shop round a bit more, but in the end I'm sure I'd find some edible food. And if the moment were to come when practically everything seemed nice-looking but poisoned? ... Well, I guess I'd just have to grow my own food! And perhaps look around for a few other sensible citizens ready to join in a wholesome-food-producing cooperative.
What if some (or many) of my fellow citizens didn't seem to believe that the food was poisoned, and ate it? What if they didn't seem to take notice of the subsequent symptoms of food-poisoning (though the symptoms could in fact be easily seen by anyone taking a proper look)? ... I still would not eat ... And if they told me not to be old-fashioned, if they taunted me with being hidebound by Victorian prejudices, if they insisted that my reluctance to eat betrayed a lack of maturity, or a non-liberated personality? ... I still don't think I'd let myself be moved. I trust that my fear of killing myself would prove stronger than my fear of public opinion, especially of such a stupid public opinion. What if the insistence came from friendlier quarters: "Come on, old chap. Don't be such a stick-in-the-mud. Enjoy the fun. It's great stuff, and it tastes so good"? I'd probably answer: "I don't question its attraction. I don't even question its taste (though I do wonder about the after-taste). I simply say it is poison". (And I'd remember that the most dangerous poisons are those which look good and taste good).
What if a particular friend urged me to share in the goodies he had purchased and was consuming? Frankly if I saw a friend (or anyone I cared for, however slightly) drinking a poisoned Coca-cola or a Scotch-on-the-rocks laced with arsenic, and couldn't manage to persuade him it was poisoned, not only would I refuse to partake, but ... well, I'm inclined to think that, reasoned argument having failed, what I would do in all friendship is to knock the glass out of his hand and break it. And if he protested, "What the so-and-so do you think you are doing? That was my drink!", I'd reply, "I've done you a favor. You were poisoning yourself". And if I did not act so - out of respect for other people's freedom - I think I'd be a very poor friend. God preserve us from liberal friends whose principles make them stand by indifferently while they watch us commit unwitting suicide.
Pornography and poison
One scarcely needs to spell out the application of the parable. Shakespeare did not actually say that "all the world's a supermarket", though he might well be tempted to do so if he were alive today. And he would probably be capable of adding a few choice comments at seeing that whole sections of the supermarket are being filled with pornography: theater, novels, films, television, entertainment in general, advertising ...
What is one to do when offered such tempting goods of such doubtful quality? What is one to do? Think. Is thinking all that hard?
I am offered pornography. So what? Even if my supernatural sense did not tell me that to buy, read, see, or advertise it is an offence against God and destroys the divine life of grace in my soul, my common sense should tell me that it is poison to my natural life, that it threatens to murder all my human possibilities of happiness; obsessing me, depriving me of the freedom to love, making it more and more difficult for me have a respectful relation with any person of the opposite sex or, if that is my calling, to bring a noble and tender and lasting love to marriage.
Because pornography is poison, I avoid it. If this means having to avoid certain shows, programs, novels or magazines, so what? There are still plenty of other unpolluted works around which I can enjoy. And if someone were to tell me not to be a Victorian, I'd tell him or her not to be a fool. I do not consider myself a Victorian, just a normal person with an ounce of common sense. But in any case, it is better to be a live Victorian than a dead fool.
And if someone shows me a pornographic magazine, I tear it up. "What the blazes have you done? That was my magazine!" - "That was your poison. I've done you a favour. If you are bent on committing suicide, please go and do it privately and don't try to involve others". It's a peculiar rule of life; but, whether or not the number of the foolish is limitless, some people do in fact seem to believe that foolishness is made less if we can all be fools together: that poison won't prove quite so lethal if we can get everyone to take it. They seem to forget that history has seen whole cities destroyed by plague because no one woke up to the fact that it was plague until too late. More people are being destroyed by the pornographic plague of today than were ever killed by the bubonic of yesteryear.
The half-poisoned cake
To say, "No, I refuse to see it or read it", when one knows or suspects that the work in question is offensive to God and degrading to man: that is self-control, that is self-censorship. To get up and walk openly out of a show when, contrary to one's expectations, it turns out to be degrading: that is self-control and self-censorship.
Perhaps we could add a word about the work that one has reason to believe is a first-class production in other respects (plot, acting, camera work, etc.), but has its sprinkling of pornographic scenes, the quite unnecessary poisoned icing-sugar on top or filling inside. What to do?
Let us go back to the supermarket, because our food shopping can once more help us solve the case. There before me on the counter is an absolutely fabulously looking cake; and perhaps the management is even inviting me to try it, to see how good it tastes. But it is the same story: I am morally certain it is poisoned, at least in parts. Ergo? I do not eat! No; not even if it were gratis! I don't see any compensation in being poisoned free of charge ... (though I do see that what is utterly absurd is to pay to be poisoned, however much this may in fact be what so many people do today).
Now things could be different if the poisoned portions were quite localized and if someone (someone I could trust) assured me that they had all been cut out of the cake, and that what was left was in fact perfectly good eating, absolutely uncontaminated, a gourmets delight ... In such a case, presented with a thoroughly expurgated cake, I would probably have no hesitation in eating it. The only question is: who is going to do the expurgating for me? I myself? Frankly, I'm not sure that I trust myself. After all, one would have to detect in some way the exact location of the poisoned sections. This obviously requires a palate sensitive to poison (to nice-tasting poison). It especially requires an ability to spot when one is passing from harmless eating to poisoned eating, and this, I suppose, must inevitably involve chewing some slight distance into the poisoned sections. That's the moment when I think I'm capable of fooling myself, and with a "Oh, it can't be that bad, and it does taste good ...", carrying on and swallowing the whole piece; and so having to pay the whole price afterwards.
Nothing to lose?
The fact is, I repeat, that I'm not sure how far I can trust myself. Cleaning up a poisoned cake really requires a very sensitive palate in order to know where to stop, coupled with a very strong will in order to be able to do so; or else - perhaps - it simply requires a total immunity to poison. I certainly don't have this latter immunity. And though I think I have the required sensitivity of palate, I cannot guarantee the strength of my will. So, all told, if there has to be cake-expurgation, I'd prefer to have the expurgating done by someone else. (Though I will add, as a general and rather annoyed reflection, that I cannot help feeling life would be a lot simpler if the cake producers would be more careful about the extraordinary amount of poison that seems of late to be creeping into their cake-mixtures).
This is the way I feel about those best-selling films or novels, with their pornographic plums and sugar-icing, those unnecessary scenes thrown in, from the producer's pure bounty, as "free" extras. If I can't find someone else to do (or, really, to undo) the dirty work for me (Oh shades of that old and elephant-hided benefactor, the public censor!), then I'm afraid I'll just eat elsewhere.
I'm sorry, friends. But if mistrusting oneself or being afraid of unnecessary danger is a sign of immaturity and unliberatedness, well, put me down as decidedly immature and hopelessly unliberated. My only consolation will have to be that here at least I am, still alive.
James Baldwin, the American writer, speaks somewhere of the danger to society of the presence in it of people who "have nothing to lose". I feel I have everything to lose; or, with God's help, everything to gain. But in order not to lose one's freedom, or one's soul, it is essential to realize that one can lose it, and to be able to recognize and avoid those things capable of depriving one of it. In 1965, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain, someone asked Ginger Lacy, the RAF's No. 1 Ace of the dog-fights in 1940, how had he survived and what qualities a fighter pilot needs to survive. His answer was crisp and clear: "I survived because I was just bloody lucky. Luck is the main quality a fighter pilot has to have. You must also be able to get good and healthily scared, otherwise you just get yourself killed. I knew some fellows who weren't frightened, and they have been dead for twenty five years".
Self-censorship is just part of self-control. And self-control and self-vigilance are essential if one wants to survive. If there are many people today who don't exercise self-control, is it because they think there are no dangers? Is it because they don't want to survive? Is it because they think they have nothing to lose? - or nothing to gain? There is a last question that suggests itself about those who never scan the skies, who never dream of danger, who disbelieve in the poison they have been taking for years: Are they alive? Or are they dead? But that is a question that only God (and, perhaps, they themselves) can answer. Whom did the inspired writer have in mind when he wrote: "I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead ... Remember then what you have received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you" (Rev 3:1-3).
Not to be scared about one's own survival, how crazy! Not to be scared about one's children survival; how thoughtless, or how criminal and inhuman! And that brings us back to the terrible spectacle of so many parents nowadays who seem to contemplate, in all indifference, the exploitation and destruction of their children's lives, and who at times even contribute to their destruction by their own self-deception, by their practice of "double-standard" morality, by their selfishness and weakness in not denying themselves what they should not want their children to read or see.
Has the love of such parents for their children completely died? I do not think so. I think it has simply gone (or been put) to sleep. It can therefore be awakened. But when will that awakening come?
In this context, there often comes to my mind a phrase in which St Luke describes the future mission of John the Baptist as Precursor of Christ. He says he will "turn the hearts of parents towards their children" (Lk 1:17). Could it not be that this is the problem today: that parents do not love their children enough; that their hearts are not sufficiently turned toward them? A conversion of their parents' hearts is what the world's young people need.
If parents really turn their hearts towards their children, they will have no trouble in seeing how they should try to be a model for them. They will see the need to be sincere and demanding with themselves, practicing self-control, refusing to let themselves see or read many things that attract them, in the conviction that this fortitude of theirs is a source of strength for their children, and that they are giving them an example of real human maturity and of Christian living - an example that they can respect and imitate.
If parents really turn their hearts towards their children, they will no longer remain blind to the criminal exploitation of which they are being made the main object. And with the awakening of parental love, there will come an arousal of public opinion, an upsurge of moral indignation and - at last - a genuine, popular, massive pressure on the public authorities to remedy the abuses of the present situation.
The abuses of censorship?
State control is not enough to stop the moral decay of our world. Only self-control can to do that. But State control is also necessary, for there will always be some people who are not prepared to exercise self-control. There will always be some unscrupulous persons who are bent on making a name or a fortune for themselves, through sexual exploitation. And these people need to be restrained.
If, as we indicated, there is a public right to clean streets and unpolluted air, and a corresponding obligation on the part of the public authorities to restrain those who cause physical contamination, there are equal rights and duties in regard to moral contamination
So, unless one wishes to be a party to the exploitation of the young (and the not-so-young) and the general corruption of society, there is no alternative but to support and demand some form of responsible public censorship. We will be more convinced and more convincing in our demands if we learn to see through the smoke-screen of anti-censorship propaganda so effectively raised today.
Censorship, it is commonly said, is subject to manipulation, political control, abuse ... No doubt. But - as we have amply suggested - so is freedom. I may agree with the person who cries "Freedom is better than censorship", provided he agrees with me that the abuses of freedom are worse than the abuses of censorship. And the abuses of freedom are rampant and visible on all sides today, and do incalculable damage (in their personalities and humanity) to millions, while the abuses of censorship are infinitely less frequent and, above all, affect or damage (primarily in their pocket-books) very few.
Besides, I just don't accept the contrast implied in the position: "Freedom - even if it involves some pornography - is better than censorship". Pornography is censorship, in as much as it means consciously and deliberately silencing and suppressing other more human, more important, and more noble aspects of sex than the merely animal and physical. A government therefore that does not face up to its responsibility to censor pornography is in fact censoring freedom, is threatening and limiting people's freedom to be masters of self, to avoid having an obsessed and inflamed imagination, to be able to respect themselves and others, to love and to be happy.
Some present day governments appear to have absolutely renounced their duty to regulate these matters. Their irresponsibility would, in certain cases, seem to be based on an ignorance of human nature, such as to render them totally unfit and incompetent to govern.
What is one to make of the situation in certain countries where the government launches a massive campaign against cigarette smoking, at the same time as it legalizes abortion and passes ever more permissive sex laws? Does it not understand that a person's moral health - the very fibre of his character - will be much more certainly undermined by pornography than the health of his body can ever be by smoking?
It is true that at times the same authorities clap a sort of super-tax on pornographic films and shows. But, one asks: is this so called "economic censure" seriously meant to be a restraining measure? Is it likely to stop the pornographic performances, or will it mean only that, to cover the surtax, the public will be required to pay more to see these shows? What sort of government concern does this reveal? It is possible that we are reaching an acme of political irony: governments, after all, have hitherto generally claimed the right to send people to prison for not paying their taxes. Could it be that they are now going to send them to prison - to moral enslavement - for paying them !
Sex, a private matter?
Western governments may be sincere in their concern about their citizen's welfare. The trouble is that they just don't seem to know what this welfare involves and demands. And surely nothing more disastrous can happen to a society than that the power to govern should be held by those who do not know what the object of government is.
The object of government is indeed to procure the public welfare or common good. But the common good is not achieved simply because the Gross National Product or the per-capita income is growing; or because people enjoy good public health or postal services. The common good is being achieved when a government creates and defends conditions where man can live as man, and this means protecting whatever is favourable to human and personal dignity, and restraining those who would degrade or exploit others (whether economically, or - more importantly - morally).
Government responsibility has become restricted to the administration of things, and no longer considers the development of persons. Politicians nowadays are practically all economic philosophers. They have an economic idea of man; they have no human idea of economics. And so they have no real humancentred idea of the societies they have to govern.
Only a government without a true philosophy of man could yield to the apparently simple thesis (pushed by ingenuous or not-so-ingenuous liberals) that sex is a private matter, which governments and laws have no right to regulate ...
The thesis is apparently simple. But it is also demonstrably false. For sex, as we have seen, is an area of human weakness - open therefore to unscrupulous exploitation - just as, when uncontrolled and especially when exploited, it is paradoxically a force making for violence and for the destruction of social peace. There are indeed private aspects to sex; but uncontrolled or exploited sex is not one of them.