Monday, January 30, 2017
Seeking Diplomacy in a Culture of Exploitation
Hypothetically speaking, let's say you take a nude photo of yourself with your cell phone. You have no intention of sharing it with anyone else - you were just fooling around. Now let's say somebody picks up your cell phone, stumbles onto that photo, and posts it to an internet forum without your knowledge (or does so digitally, by hacking into your phone). Or, alternatively, suppose the one person you wanted to see the photo turns around and breaks your confidence and shows somebody else (as it is human nature to want to share something like this).
Now, this is unambiguously a violation of your privacy - and in the latter case, your trust. But - to what extent is a third party viewing that photo morally culpable for that crime, and does it depend on whether that party knows, or has a reasonable expectation of knowing, or exerts a reasonable effort to find out, that there is a not-insubstantial possibility that the picture was stolen and shared without the subject's consent? And - given that this is often difficult to determine - if the third party is to be considered in some way responsible, then how does one justify browsing the proliferation of porn on the internet, both amateur and commercial (the latter of which is itself not always free from abuse)?
Can we simply condemn the whole of internet pornography (or pornography in general), and label its consumers as well as its producers contributors to an immoral trade in humiliation and degradation? Knowing that some percentage of it is indeed shared in confidence (a fact that can be proven by the existence of my work alone), and believing in the virtues of an open forum for sexual expression (a point of view that is too easily overlooked), I cannot accept this as a fair conclusion. Whatever the proportions involved, this is a case of bad apples spoiling the bunch, and I do not believe that removing apples from our diet is any kind of a solution.
To justify this position, I feel inclined to perform a cost-benefit analysis. To me, it seems that most perverts are innocuous. They don't want to harm you. They don't want to track you down. (And, for what it's worth, this is even more true when those pictures are being circulated by complete strangers). They bear you no ill will. The worst they'll do is harass you with arguably inappropriate comments (which, incidentally, can be avoided by utilizing that middle man distributor). All they really want is to have their short moment of fantasy, and is that so bad?
It's the people who want to punish you, not thank you, for taking that picture in the first place that are going to cause you problems - I guarantee it. Yet we tend to focus on the perverts who want to look - making them out to be the bad guys - and not the bullies, the arbiters of social justice, who actively contribute to ruining people's lives (in all actuality, punishing the victim) when this happens. I mean, the only reason "revenge porn" is even a thing, and has any potency, is because we love to blame the victim, and shame people (but especially women) for any evidence of their involvement (let alone enjoyment) in an activity most of us, as human beings, engage in - sex.
None of this displaces blame from the actual thieves themselves - the ones opening the curtains on unsuspecting innocents so that the world can peek in. I'm not saying, "it's harmless, honey, just let them have their fun". But as for the extent to which your average Joe wanker is responsible for the pain and suffering incurred by anyone's unexpected porn stardom, it's a mitigating factor. You can't condemn the desire to look just because some (maybe even many) unscrupulous individuals are motivated by it to commit crimes. The best thing we could do is produce a "fair trade" market for pornography (assuming "pornography" encompasses everything including half dressed shots of people standing in their bedrooms in their underwear - a potentially dangerous precedent, considering that we see more than that on billboards and television every day), consisting only of media that has been verified to have been shared with the consent of the subject(s).
But, while I support this practice - and to that end, I hereby state that any of the nude and erotic pictures I've shared online (identified by my watermark "(c) zharth" or "zharth's photography") have been shared with my consent as the subject of those photos - I must caution that it can only ever be a half-measure at best, lest we begin to expect model consent forms to accompany the sharing of all images (as the unwieldy 2257 Regulations attempt to do), which has the very real effect of chilling speech, as well as eliminating the expansive breadth of media that already exists and cannot be identified and verified. Furthermore, considering the vast diversity of human interests, a reduction of the entire viewing gallery to only consciously produced "fair trade" images would vastly limit anyone's ability to fulfill the goal of finding what they like. Which is just what the moral conservatives - those who think you're destroying your soul by looking at porn, and that you need to be protected from yourself - want.
Now, maybe there's a culture of abuse out there to some extent. Maybe men could stand to understand a little better what it's like being a woman in this culture, and take a kinder, more sensitive approach in their never-ending hunt for sexual satisfaction. I'm not disregarding these arguments. I'm pro-reform. I just don't support wholescale prohibition as a solution, because it ignores the human value in voyeurism, and the very existence of exhibitionists (who enjoy being looked at), while glossing over a much more tenable solution to the problem of "exploitation" - focusing on the importance of voluntary labor, consensual contracts, and fair compensation. But then, this argument is never framed in terms of logistical concerns, but rather moral ones. Because, for some reason, the state has a compelling interest in what you do with your body.
I'm seeking diplomacy here - in the hopes of making a compromise (a peace treaty, if you will) between what at times appears to be two opposing factions in the war of the sexes. Men are not simply evil pigs intent on subjugating women for the sake of their sexual fantasies, and women are not entirely unaffected by the sexual attention that men inevitably direct at them. By not accepting these two premises simultaneously, we are simply creating echo chambers which result in the creation of caricatures of the angry feminist and the patriarchal overlord - two sides of the same coin - that help no one and only serve to draw the conflict out. Can't we come together at the table to discuss these issues civilly, by talking to each other, and not at each other, valuing each side's perspective and needs and concerns? I'm here. I'm willing to have this discussion. How about you?