Porn and morals: Where does the truth lie?

Topless activists of the Ukrainian feminist movement Femen protest against porn industry during Paris's eroticism fair on March 23 2013 in Le Bourget. (AFP)

Topless activists of the Ukrainian feminist movement Femen protest against porn industry during Paris's eroticism fair on March 23 2013 in Le Bourget. (AFP)

Porn and morals – who is talking sense and who is talking nonsense? Is it Cyril Ramaphosa or the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa)?

Icasa authorised TopTV to broadcast three adult entertainment channels dedicated to porn.

They dismissed the objectors to TopTV's application to host porn on the basis that they only argued on moral grounds and not on scientific grounds. Icasa stated that "there is no basis or law for the rejection of TopTV's application".

But what is Icasa looking for?

Icasa said the objectors failed to prove that there is a link between porn and gender-based violence, which includes rape. It says that "representations made were based on moral grounds; rather than a [sic] research evidence".

It is obvious that Icasa was strongly influenced by Jacques Rousseau, who defended TopTV's application. Rousseau said "none of us has the right to prescribe morality for others". Rousseau considers opposition to TopTV as based on "moral hysteria". 

What makes 'gender-based violence' wrong?
Is there research evidence to demonstrate that gender-based violence is wrong? And if so, in whose opinion? Is it relative? Surely the rapist or violator does not consider gender-based violence unreasonable, or they would not commit acts deemed by society as acts of gender-based violence. Is it reasonable to argue that gender-based violence is actually a moral issue? A moral issue based on moral grounds? Which moral grounds are based on a common understanding by the majority in South Africa that gender-based violence is wrong? The consensus is that this society considers rape as unacceptable, which has been drawn up as a law, making rape (and other 'gender-based violence') a punishable offence. 

I argue that it is deemed an offence because the majority of people in this society agree that it is an offence. This is based on the understanding that one person's rights, the rapist or gang of rapists, is unacceptably imposing on another person's rights not to be raped. This is irrespective of whether the person raped has any good knowledge that they are being raped or abused. This would apply to a mentally handicapped person, a very small child, or an ignorant but devoted wife or partner who believe they have a responsibility to give their husband or partner what he (the rapist) believes he 'needs' (presuming of course that he has forced himself onto the partner without reasonable consent).

If moral grounds are not a reasonable basis on which to take up a position or enforce a ruling or set of laws (or to continue to withhold TopTV's licence as was done with the previous application), then what is Cyril Ramaphosa going on about with his comments in terms of "gender-based violence"? Cyril Ramaphosa says that "rape is a sin and it is a crime". I presume by "sin", he means it is wrong. I also presume by rape he means "gender-based violence".

Ramaphosa said that to correct this issue of rape we need "to raise the morals, the moral consciousness of our nation". Why does Ramaphosa not rather take Icasa's position and say we should use "research evidence" to stop rape (gender-based violence) rather than appealing to morality?

The philosopher Andrew Pessin in a chapter titled "It is all Relative" from the book The 60 Second Philosopher said,"Morality isn't out there in the world in the way that scientific or mathematical facts are. These latter exist independently of human beings and are thus things we need to discover; consequently, all cultures agree about them. Morality, to the contrary, is not something discovered but something invented, by different groups at different times and places. And as with any invention, it's entirely up to the inventor to decide what goes in and what stays out."

Cosatu who does not have any religious affiliation (and therefore may well be making their objection on secular grounds) state that porn is a moral issue and that they object to it. "Cosatu is totally opposed to such channels [porn], which we believe will exploit and demean women and girls, reinforce sexist attitudes and encourage the abuse of women, which is already a massive problem. Such programmes will contribute to a lowering of moral standards in the country ...", the trade union federation said.

The representatives making their submissions to Icasa, against the application, indicated the majority of South Africa considers porn as unacceptable. 

Icasa has overstepped its interpretive rights as to what makes a society accept or reject something. The issue of dignity and abuse is not a science – it is a morality, an ethic. The overwhelming attitude to porn in South Africa is that porn is wrong. The majority of South Africa consider rape and gender-based violence as wrong. They do not require "research evidence" to make this decision; it is what philosophers describe as "self-evident". Society has raised a considerable objection and are being told that they have "no basis". I have not researched how many of our laws are based more on morality than solely on "research evidence", and perhaps this should be undertaken to test Icasa's argumentation and justification.

As a citizen in support of moral regeneration, I state that Icasa is confused about the relationship between science on the one hand and what it is to be human on the other. South Africans do not try and remedy the plight of the oppressed, the poor, and the vulnerable because of "research evidence". We do not demand "research evidence" to justify our hope and effort to provide the necessary means for all in South Africa – and Africa – to live a happy life. South Africans do this because they believe it is heart-breaking to know people suffer – it is immoral.

The orchestrators of our moral degeneration have just been given a new argument on which to remove the next barrier/s that resists their demands. 

If Icasa has got it right, then Cyril Ramaphosa and all those in government and in society calling for moral regeneration are barking up the wrong tree.

Michael Mayer lectures for the Jesuit Institute theology program (Jhb), and gives presentations to Catholic and ecclesial communities on the church of the Second Vatican Council. He has a degree of Bachelor of Theology (Cum Laude) from Saint Augustine College (South Africa’s Catholic University).

He works full-time in the marine insurance industry, and is also a qualified artisan with NTC5 (in mechanical and electrical engineering).

To keep up with the modern world he studiously reads magisterium and conciliar documents, philosophy, theology, and history; while referring to commentaries across the board on the aforementioned. No stone left unturned!

 

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