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Porn undermines women's free speech?

ronburgundy

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So, a philosophy prof in the UK has published an essayhttps://aeon.co/essays/how-pornography-works-to-undermine-womens-freedom-of-speech?fbclid=IwAR02VVuAO2fzWGfCEqRChOExr1m-MbwcOk5DR5go0pi9ABVhxDEiXHvNV84 that asserts that pornography in undermining women's free speech.

The argument starts off reasonable enough, by pointing out that just b/c we utter some words doesn't mean anyone heard and understood our intended meaning. Also that some cooperation by the listener is required for understanding to occur, and thus required for the central purpose of speech acts (to communicate an intended meaning) to be achieved.

The article is also on reasonable footing to assert that a great deal of porn depicts women as resisting or verbally objecting to sex acts as mere role play or as a precursor to then liking and desiring the acts, and that this leads some men to misinterpret the resistance and objections of actual women (it's an empirical question, but a plausible hypothesis, b/c the mind does not have separate compartments for "fiction" and reality).

Where the thesis goes off the rail is in asserting that free speech is not actually occurring unless the audience is cooperating and understanding the speakers actual intended meaning. By this foolish argument, "freedom of speech" requires that other people lack the freedom to not listen or to interpret your words as they choose. That doesn't fit with any grounded interpretation of the concept or the basic principle of individual liberty, which inherently limits liberty to acts that don't require infringing upon other's liberty. Freedom of speech is a legal principle that only protects the liberty to utter words of one's choosing (what the article calls locutionary acts), not a requirement that others cooperate with us and hear and understand what we intend by those words (what the article calls illocutionary acts).

[P]
from the article said:
According to that suggestion, my performing an illocutionary act, such as warning or telling, depends on others being willing and able to recognize what I am trying to do. It is this that enables me to perform such acts. So, if others are unable or unwilling to recognize that I am trying to tell them something or warn them of something, then I won’t be able to tell or warn. That aspect of my freedom of speech will be distinctively undercut.
[/P]

Highlighting the absurdity of this article's thesis is the fact that it would mean that the intellect of the person who you are talking to can completely determine whether or not the identical speech act counts as "freedom of speech". IOW, if the listener is too stupid to understand you, then somehow your free speech rights were violated.

Basically, this philosopher is conceiving of a speaker and listener engaging in accurate communication as though it's all an action of the speaker, and thus a failure to achieve communication is a prevention of an individual's speech act. When in fact, "illocutionary acts" are not actually "act" by any person, but a byproduct of the coordination of different separate actions by separate individuals. And thus the concept of "free speech" which a type of individual liberty doesn't apply.
 

Keith&Co.

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Um.... does the author actually define 'Free Speech?'

Because the first thing that comes to MY mind is the 1rd Amendment. And that's only limiting the Government's ability to fuck with my speeching. So this would only come into play if the Government made porn, or if the Government's policies were in some way influenced by the porn.

If the cop asked the driver, 'Do you know why i pulled you over?'
She says, 'No, officer.'
And he treats her like she's being a tease....?

But you're right, 'free speech' is about what i can say, not about whether the listener is prejudiced by certain words or attitudes. I imagine i'd get short shrift if i said 'I am an atheist,' the listener immediately started berating me for my Satanism practices, and i accused them of violating my free speech. They just understand the word differently than i do. But that's THEIR free speech right, funnily enough.
 

rousseau

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Highlighting the absurdity of this article's thesis is the fact that it would mean that the intellect of the person who you are talking to can completely determine whether or not the identical speech act counts as "freedom of speech". IOW, if the listener is too stupid to understand you, then somehow your free speech rights were violated.

If I'm understanding your response right, the article's point is a bit more subtle. If speech coming from person A misleads person B into not being able to understand person C, then person Cs freedom of speech rights are being violated, not person As. A is violating C.

A better example would be something like Fox News, which deliberately misleads a portion of the American population, which makes it harder for those not under it's spell to warn those who have been misled. Whether you actually want to call that a violation of free speech is another matter.
 
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ronburgundy

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Agreed, the fact that porn's impact has nothing to do with government is another issue that makes the author's argument invalid for the legal rights of free speech.

However, I'm focusing on a different issue that applies more generally to the principle of each person having liberty to speak their mind within the public sphere, and others having the right not to listen, to disagree, or choose not to associate with that person. There is a more general principle of free speech in which not only government but also citizens should not be seeking to prevent other's from speaking their views, unless it's on private property owned/controlled by the interfering person.
It's grounded in the same general principle as the First Amendment, which is not merely about excessive government control, but about the inherent positive value of individuals being able to voice their views and all citizens having the opportunity to hear and consider (if they choose) all viewpoints, especially dissenting views outside the majority. This is positive and progressive because it is outdated and intellectually indefensible ideas that benefit most from efforts to restrict speech, whether those efforts are by the government or other citizens including an oppressive majority.

Note this author doesn't say any of that, but that is the only possible notion of free speech that his argument might apply to, even though his argument is invalid even there.
 

ronburgundy

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Highlighting the absurdity of this article's thesis is the fact that it would mean that the intellect of the person who you are talking to can completely determine whether or not the identical speech act counts as "freedom of speech". IOW, if the listener is too stupid to understand you, then somehow your free speech rights were violated.

If I'm understanding your response right, the article's point is a bit more subtle. If speech coming from person A misleads person B into not being able to understand person C, then person Cs freedom of speech rights are being violated, not person As. A is violating C.

A better example would be something like Fox News, which deliberately misleads a portion of the American population, which makes it harder for those not under it's spell to warn those who have been misled. Whether you actually want to call that a violation of free speech is another matter.

His examples and your example are about someone else saying something that impedes comprehension of the speech from another speaker. However, his underlying argument is that accurate uptake of speakers message is part of the speech itself, and therefore anything that impedes accurate uptake impedes freedom to speak. So, the logical implication of his premises is that if the audience is either unwilling or incapable of accurate understanding the message, then they audience is infringing on free speech. IOW, his notion of free speech requires a lack of personal liberty by the listener.
 

ronburgundy

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Upon further reflection, I think a reasonable argument that can be made that efforts to spread misinformation that impedes accurate uptake of other information does undermine the positive benefits of having free speech, but it doesn't impede the freedom to speak itself. And this negative impact isn't limited to speech, but to the benefits of exposure to any type of information which is undermined if misinformation impedes accurate comprehension or a rational evaluation of that information.

Such behaviors that make accurate communication and information comprehension more difficult should be viewed negatively, and arguably as unethical, but b/c of the harm they do rather than b/c they actually prevent free speech in itself.

But from this standpoint, religion is doing far more harm than porn (or even Fox News) by undermining the benefits and progress served by free speech and other sources/types of information.

In addition, other methods of impeding uptake of speech, such as shouting down speakers and other methods of preventing anyone from being able to hear what people are saying are similarly unethical to misinformation, and this harm is partially independent of the content of the speech that was impeded, b/c long term harm of eroding the ethical norms of allowing speech generally outweighs any possible short term harm that the prevented speech might have done.
 

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Upon further reflection, I think a reasonable argument that can be made that efforts to spread misinformation that impedes accurate uptake of other information does undermine the positive benefits of having free speech,
That was Jefferson's problem with Free Speech. He didn't want to protect lies as well as facts.

So, ultimately, someone claiming we all come from test tubes on Alpha Centauri has as much right to speech as the guy saying that if a girl says no, you just need to keep pressing her til she gives in (Porn, and a theme of Revenge of the Nerds). So it's up to the listener to be aware that no one OWES you the truth, take everything with a grain of salt.
 

ronburgundy

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Upon further reflection, I think a reasonable argument that can be made that efforts to spread misinformation that impedes accurate uptake of other information does undermine the positive benefits of having free speech,
That was Jefferson's problem with Free Speech. He didn't want to protect lies as well as facts.

The problem is that what is a lie and what is fact is best decided by the unrestricted reasoning that depends upon free speech. So, you have to allow speech of lies or you give control of speech over to mechanisms that have no ability or interest in sorting objective fact from lies. Top-down control of "lies" gives you the Dark Ages, while protecting the speech rights including those accused of lying gives you post-Enlightenment progress. Note that limits to lying, such as with slander laws, rightly place the burden on those seeking to limit speech in having to provide objective proof that the statement was knowing falsehood (a lie), in addition to that it was about specific individuals to whom it caused some form of tangible harm and thus violation of their rights. Similarly "fire in a theater" entails a demonstrable knowing falsehood that objectively put others in immediate physical danger.

So, ultimately, someone claiming we all come from test tubes on Alpha Centauri has as much right to speech as the guy saying that if a girl says no, you just need to keep pressing her til she gives in (Porn, and a theme of Revenge of the Nerds). So it's up to the listener to be aware that no one OWES you the truth, take everything with a grain of salt.

Yeah, the listener should always be skeptical and recognize that speakers have the right to lie, except in particular circumstances. However, the speaker does "owe" listeners honesty in the same non-legally binding ethical sense that we owe it to people not to cause them harm, above and beyond what the law allows us to do. The social contract and any ethical system is built upon moral obligations and what we "owe" to others that transcends the actual law.
 

ruby sparks

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It is difficult to think of a case where the speech of one party could be said, of itself (ie in the absence of actual restrictions on speaking in reply) to limit the free speech of another party, in any way, let alone in the complicated way suggested in the article.

The nearest example I can think of is where there is a pronounced inequality and associated discrimination against a certain persecuted minority, which involves lies and propaganda about them being widely promulgated by the established powerful, influential majority.

To the point that even if the victims of this are not literally silenced, they are not listened to, are in some ways deprived of their views being seen as valid. One can imagine situations in which what they say is dismissed, both by their fellow citizens and by those in authority.

Imagine a hypothetical island inhabited by 100 people, but only one black (or Jewish) person, who is falsely blamed for everything. That person is allowed to speak, but no one takes heed or believes them.

It might be said that their free speech has at least been undermined in some way, by the lies.

Although I think there are probably better ways to describe such problems than to refer to free speech issues for those not initially speaking. For example, discussing it in terms of limits on ‘initial’ speech that involves lies would be better.

Although in the above scenario, would the influential majority allow them to be enforced?

I don’t think porn was the best choice of illustrative example either.
 
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ronburgundy

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It is difficult to think of a case where the speech of one party could be said, of itself (ie in the absence of actual restrictions on speaking) to limit the free speech of another party, in any way, let alone in the way suggested in the article.

The nearest example I can think of is where there is a pronounced inequality and associated discrimination against a certain persecuted minority, which involves lies and propaganda about them being widely promulgated by the established powerful, influential majority.

To the point that even if the victims of this are not literally silenced, they are not listened to or believed, are in some ways deprived of their views being seen as valid. One can imagine situations in which what they say is dismissed, both by their fellow citizens and by those in authority.

It might be said that their free speech has at least been undermined in some way.

Although I think there are probably better ways to describe such problems than to refer to free speech issues for those not initially speaking. For example, discussing it in terms of limits on speech that involves lies would be better.

Although in the above scenario, would the influential majority allow them to be enforced?

I don’t think porn was the best choice of illustrative example either.

I suspect that criticizing porn and it's impact on women was the author's starting point and goal. Since the defense of porn despite having some negative effects is "free speech" , the author made a poor attempt to create an argument that porn violates women's free speech and therefore should not be protected speech.

I think the valid argument is that porn and the type of racist majority propaganda in your example can undermine the benefits of free speech and erode people's ability to use their speech to protect themselves, advance their interests, etc..
That can be true without those people's freedom to speak actually being infringed, b/c speaking and consequences of speaking are separate, and one can alter the latter without impeding the former.

The question then becomes whether the indirect negative effects of speech (like porn and propaganda) on the consequences of another's speech is sufficient grounds to revoke the first speaker's right to voice such content, and on what principled grounds such a determination can be made that doesn't allow authorities arbitrary discretion to censor speech based on claimed indirect harms of the content.
With existing speech limits (slander, "fire" in a theater), the objective falsehood must be proven in court as must the probability of harm.
I doubt porn or general racist propaganda could meet those standards.
 

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Yes. And of the two I’d say the case against porn is far thinner, specifically regarding erosion of free speech by others I mean. For starters, and unlike political propaganda and lies, it’s basically fiction, and readily seen as such. Hence the frequent references to ‘porn stars’ and ‘actors’ etc. There might be other issues of course.

Not only that, but I’ve watched my fair share of porn and I can’t say that actors supposedly not consenting at first and then ‘giving in’ (because they really wanted it after all) is something I’m sure I’ve even seen, although it is apparently a common sexual fantasy. So it seems unrepresentative of porn generally in any case.

Actors pretending to enjoy stuff they may not actually be enjoying is another matter. I can see how that sort of thing can negatively affect people, perhaps especially women, in real life. Guys, for example, thinking that it’s normal for a woman to enjoy a man ejaculating in their mouth, or rough sex (eg being slapped) or anal sex, to the point of the man assuming it’s ok and/or the woman feeling pressured to do it.

So, could we say that if a woman declined such things, her free speech is undermined if the man does not accept that, for whatever reason, including that he has trouble distinguishing porn scenarios from real life ones?

It’s an issue, obviously, but it still seems a bit odd to look at it as a free speech issue.
 
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ronburgundy

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Yes. And of the two I’d say the case against porn is far thinner, specifically regarding erosion of free speech by others I mean. For starters, and unlike political propaganda and lies, it’s basically fiction, and readily seen as such. Hence the frequent references to ‘porn stars’ and ‘actors’ etc. There might be other issues of course.

Not only that, but I’ve watched my fair share of porn and I can’t say that actors supposedly not consenting at first and then ‘giving in’ (because they really wanted it after all) is something I’m sure I’ve even seen, although it is apparently a common sexual fantasy. So it seems unrepresentative of porn generally in any case.

Actors pretending to enjoy stuff they may not actually be enjoying is another matter. I can see how that sort of thing can negatively affect people, perhaps especially women, in real life. Guys, for example, thinking that it’s normal for a woman to enjoy a man ejaculating in their mouth, or rough sex (eg being slapped) or anal sex, to the point of the man assuming it’s ok and/or the woman feeling pressured to do it.

So, could we say that if a woman declined such things, her free speech is undermined if the man does not accept that?

It’s an issue, obviously, but it still seems a bit odd to look at it as a free speech issue.

Agreed. I'd say that women's bodily rights, not her speech rights, were violated if the man doesn't accept her objections. That said, the porn makers may have some ethical culpability if they created porn likely to make more men ignore women's objections and/or attempt unwanted acts without asking.
 

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Yes. And of the two I’d say the case against porn is far thinner, specifically regarding erosion of free speech by others I mean. For starters, and unlike political propaganda and lies, it’s basically fiction, and readily seen as such. Hence the frequent references to ‘porn stars’ and ‘actors’ etc. There might be other issues of course.

Not only that, but I’ve watched my fair share of porn and I can’t say that actors supposedly not consenting at first and then ‘giving in’ (because they really wanted it after all) is something I’m sure I’ve even seen, although it is apparently a common sexual fantasy. So it seems unrepresentative of porn generally in any case.

Actors pretending to enjoy stuff they may not actually be enjoying is another matter. I can see how that sort of thing can negatively affect people, perhaps especially women, in real life. Guys, for example, thinking that it’s normal for a woman to enjoy a man ejaculating in their mouth, or rough sex (eg being slapped) or anal sex, to the point of the man assuming it’s ok and/or the woman feeling pressured to do it.

So, could we say that if a woman declined such things, her free speech is undermined if the man does not accept that?

It’s an issue, obviously, but it still seems a bit odd to look at it as a free speech issue.

Agreed. I'd say that women's bodily rights, not her speech rights, were violated if the man doesn't accept her objections. That said, the porn makers may have some ethical culpability if they created porn likely to make more men ignore women's objections and/or attempt unwanted acts without asking.

Things get weird when sex is involved. Over the past 60 years, I am sure I have seen video depictions of robberies and other crimes where the victims were not asked for permission and strenuously objected to being assaulted.

The comparison is fair. On most days, I take money from another person. So far, this other person may have been reluctant, but always willingly handed over the cash. To an objective observer, there maybe no apparent difference between this transaction and robbery.
 
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