Newspaper, magazine, and online commentators have served up any number of reasons for the hatred underlying terrorist attacks. Many of them say the root of the problem is that terrorists resent American prosperity. I remember when a recent president said, “They hate us for our freedoms." I doubt it. Terrorists don’t care, one way or the other, about our Bill of Rights.
I don’t recall demonstrations against the right of Americans to assemble peaceably, to petition for redress of grievances, or to engage in free speech. Why should someone in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Afghanistan care whether you can complain to your alderman without being sent to jail?
Similarly with the prosperity argument. Decades ago, many Americans thought the superiority of our system over the Soviet Union’s was established by a count of color television sets and washing machines. That was dumb then, and it is dumb now to think that a peddler of trinkets in Kabul resents America because we live in houses with piped water and he doesn’t.
Commentators are closer to the truth when they say America is hated largely because of its perceived cultural decay—pornography, immodest dress, and abortion top the list—which it insinuates into societies around the world. Our freedoms and possessions do not impinge on the lives of those who hate us. Our culture does. If we really were serious about returning to the old verities, we would do more than hoist a flag or affix a bumper sticker. We would repent corporately and deeply.
Think how refreshing it would be to do something that would show the whole world, including ourselves, that we have undergone an authentic conversion. However successful America’s military campaign against terrorism, long-term peace will not come unless we fix things on the home front. How about taking just one of the issues that our opponents in Muslim countries cite, pornography?
A modest proposal
We have been in the midst of a “war against pornography" for several decades. Has anyone noticed any retreat by the enemy? There may have been some improvement in this town or that, but, on the whole, pornography is more widespread today that ever. Politicians wring their hands, unable to think of what to do to return us to the relatively innocuous atmosphere of, say, the 1950s.
It’s easy, folks. Pornography could be eliminated—or at least greatly reduced—in a matter of weeks, if there were the political will. I have a proposal. It doesn’t involve another commission. It doesn’t involve deciding at what age young people may appear in pornographic movies. It doesn’t involve moving adult bookstores further away from schools. It involves the radically Christian approach of simply not putting up any longer with the intolerable.
I work from the premise that pornography, being thoroughly immoral, can have no civil justification. It doesn’t have a right to exist, in any form and at any level, and no one can have a right to engage in it or to profit from it. Any profits gained are illicit profits.
I also work from the premise that there is no slippery slope. Getting rid of pornography will not endanger legitimate movies or literature. Good movies will not disappear if X-rated movies cease to exist. Good books will not vanish from the shelves if “adult" bookstores are eliminated. Lines can be drawn: on this side, legitimacy; on that side, illegitimacy. (The Supreme Court repeatedly has declared that the First Amendment does not protect obscenity, and what is more obscene than pornography?)
So here is my plan: The president issues an executive order proclaiming that not only does the Constitution not in any way protect pornography but that pornography is identifiable, aside from the ludicrous Supreme Court decisions about having to find a lack of any redeeming social value. The president instructs civil authorities to seize immediately all the assets of all producers and distributors of pornography. I mean this in two senses.
First, such operations as Playboy and Vivid Entertainment are shut down overnight. Their inventory is mulched and recycled. Their physical plants and video equipment are sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders. Every adult bookstore is closed down and its inventory similarly disposed of. Pornographic movies are confiscated and destroyed. Pornographic websites are zapped into the void, at least those based in the U.S.
Then the personal assets of those who have grown rich from pornography are taken. (No one has a right to ill-gotten gains.) Leave the Hefners and the rest with whatever the bankruptcy courts normally leave petitioners. The bulk of the pornographers’ assets can be liquidated and the funds used to underwrite, say, chastity programs.
An exercise in nostalgia
Is my proposal contrary to the First Amendment? As currently interpreted, yes. But I don’t give a hoot about current interpretations. I do give a hoot about truth and beauty and love and common sense, all of which are violated by pornography. Would the overnight diminution of pornography end the threat from Islamic terrorists? No, but it would be a good first step, and it would be worth doing even if there had been no September 11.
Is my proposal practical? Not in the least. There is as much chance of it being carried out as there is of my singing the lead in a Broadway musical. I make the proposal not in any expectation that any president or legislator would give it a second thought—or even a first thought. They wouldn’t because my fellow Americans wouldn’t stand for any such proposal because most of them like or at least tolerate pornography. Those who are addicted to it don’t want to be freed from their addiction (at least that’s true for most of them). Most of the rest see no real harm in it. Even most opponents of pornography aren’t willing to back anything that would make a dent in the problem.
So, as a practical matter, my proposal is useless, except as a talking point. I make it only to argue that if there really were a will, there’d be a way. Call it an exercise in nostalgia. I’d settle for returning to the status quo ante of my childhood. Pornography wasn’t nonexistent then, but it was hard to locate and hadn’t yet poisoned the minds and hearts of the majority of Americans. I’m not expecting Eden, but I’m weary of Gomorrah.