Free Speech and Pornography Censorship

One of the most common objections to Internet filtering is the protest against censorship.  Certainly this is rich debate and we cannot get into all the details here, but I wanted to pass along some information about this issue.

As the Australian government is currently discovering, there are many difficulties in deciding how to censor the Internet in an effective way.  Internet industry commentators report that the task of doing this may be beyond the capabilities of filtering mechanisms and procedures.  These are questions of “how” to censor.

But the debate among most people are questions of “why.”  Is it right to limit a “free speech” environment through pornography censorship laws?  It seems like an open-and-shut case: censorship is opposed to a freedom-of-speech paradigm.  Then again . . . maybe not.

In a recent post I mentioned some statements from the scientific community about the physical effects of pornography on the brain.  (I want to thank Mark Brouwer and Mothers Against Pornography Addiction for bringing more information to my attention.)

In my previous post I mentioned the “Hearing on the Brain Science Behind Pornography Addiction and the Effects of Addiction on Families and Communities.”  Here is an excerpt from one of the contributors:

“Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.  I am Judith Reisman, Ph.D., President of The Institute for Media Education, Scientific Advisor to the California Protective Parents Association and the Subcommittee on Junk Science for The American Legislative Exchange Council’s April 2004 report.

“I specialize in the communication effects of images on the brain, mind and memory; fraud in the human sexuality field; and the addictive properties of sexually explicit images, commonly called pornography. . . .

“Thanks to the latest advances in neuroscience, we now know that emotionally arousing images imprint and alter the brain, triggering an instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trail. . . .

“These media erotic fantasies become deeply imbedded, commonly coarsening, confusing, motivating and addicting many of those exposed. . . .

“Pornography triggers a myriad of endogenous, internal, natural drugs that mimic the “high” from a street drug.  Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub erototoxins – mind altering drugs produced by the viewer’s own brain.”

What does all this mean?

Typically the idea of government-sponsored censorship is seen as the enemy to free speech.  What I find so interesting about Judith Reisman’s scientific opinion is that she believes the government can actually protect free speech by taking a proactive stance against pornography’s accessibility.

Why? Reisman explains:

“[The biochemical effect of pornography] applies to so-called ‘soft-core’ and ‘hard-core’ pornography, which may, arguably, subvert the First Amendment by overriding the cognitive speech process. . . . Children and others who cannot read can instantly decode and experience images, hence images are not speech.  In fact, erotic (any highly arousing) images commonly subvert left hemisphere cognition.”

In other words, the introduction of pornography to young minds affects the way our brains are wired, actually damaging the way our brains create speech.  These effects are powerful and lasting.  A case may be made some day that we need to create laws that limit pornographic images so that our “freedom of speech” is protected.

I have little to no opinion about this idea.  I am not a neurological expert, nor do I understand all the complexities of the philosophy of law.  However, because the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is estimated to be as low as 11, the issue is more than a legal one.

If you are interested read Judith Reisman’s “work in progress.”