The moral sense, we are learning, is as vulnerable to illusions as the other senses. It is apt to confuse morality per se with purity, status and conformity. It tends to reframe practical problems as moral crusades and thus see their solution in punitive aggression. It imposes taboos that make certain ideas indiscussible. And it has the nasty habit of always putting the self on the side of the angels.The above quotes are from Stephen Pinker's article, The Moral Instinct, published in the New York Times. Those who can't overcome their ADD long enough to read it may consider listening to an NPR radio discussion of the same thing.
People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors' repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.
Hey, didja see the fuss a couple posts ago? It never fails. Defending someone's right to produce and distribute something some folks might find offensive is, in some eyes, equivalent to defending or even endorsing the offensive thing itself.
Nevermind that the point of the original post wasn't to defend Chugworth Academy or its creator Dave Cheung but to point out an instance of "I'm-not-against-sexy-unless-I-don't-like-it" doublespeak; no, the fact that I took a stand in opposition to Lilith Ester, through some non-Euclidean geometry, became me defending a pervert, which brainfarted its way into "They might think you're a pervert too, better watch out!"
Whoooo I'm skeerdy!
Well, if nothing else, it puts me in the same company as the ACLU, or at least the ACLU as I remember it many years ago. They'd defend the rights of NAMBLA, or neo-nazis to speak their hateful stuff, and then get castigated by both the Left ("why defend Nazis when other more righteous people need help??") and the Right ("Don't criticize us for trying to censor stuff! YOU DEFEND NAZIS!").
Speaking of many years ago, I wonder if anyone else remembers Pat Robertson and his 700 Club cronies getting all worked up about a "Censored Art" show. The show featured a big range of controversial stuff from the time, such as the photos of Mapplethorpe and Serrano. This was during one of the Republican pushes to disembowel funding for the arts, particularly anything mainstream middle-class folks might get a shock over.
At the entrance to the exhibit was a quote from Adolph Hitler, pontificating about how all traces of eroticism and other badness should be removed from the arts. (I've repeated that quote and others elsewhere in my blog.) But, it never fails: On his TV show, Pat Robertson focused right on the tagline "ADOLPH HITLER" (not bothering to read or repeat the quote, either) to say, "LOOK! A QUOTE FROM HITLER! THESE FILTHY ART GUYS LIKE HITLER!"
So congratulations! Discourse has not moved all that far away from Pat Robertson's myopic crusades of a decade or more ago. The sad part is that the irony of supposed liberal-leaning folks (like feminists, for example) adopting the same kind of moral-outrage tactics commonly associated with conservatives and Christian fundamentalists seems to be lost on all but a few. You may even be reading this right this very second, thinking "how ridiculous! I'm not a right-winger!"
And you may not be, but fundamentalism isn't just for Christians anymore.
"Abortion is just wrong!"
"Homosexuality is just wrong!"
"You wimmen should get back to makin' babies and cookin' dinner like God intended!"
"I wouldn't mind Cheung's right to publish his shit (he can draw it all he wants, publishing is another thing) being taken away."
Ideology may differ, but the underlying principle is the same: "Something makes me feel upset, so I think abridging someone else's rights is justified just because my moral sense gets tweaked." You would have to be blind or intentionally self-deluding to completely miss how these things are alike, despite where they may rest on the political spectrum. Anyone who's ever spoken out for any cause they believe in, and had someone from the opposite side of the debate whip out a Bible or bring up "family values" as a reason why you should be punished for believing in your little heresies, loses just about every bit of my respect when they engage in the same sort of "I just think it's WRONG" kind of reasoning. If you don't accept someone else's moral imperative, what makes your moral imperative any more compelling? Just because it's more right? Everyone thinks that, big deal.
To quote the Times article again:
The other external support for morality is a feature of rationality itself: that it cannot depend on the egocentric vantage point of the reasoner. If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me -- to get off my foot, or tell me the time or not run me over with your car -- then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours (say, retaining my right to run you over with my car) if I want you to take me seriously. Unless I am Galactic Overlord, I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
Working from this premise, a call to remove sexist imagery from comics, or to get Dave Cheung to stop drawing jailbait*, falls flat on its face. What sort of reciprocal deal is that? "I want you to not publish anything I find offensive! In return, I pledge to also not publish stuff I find offensive."
Yeah, that'll work.
The very first comment in my previous post about Ms. Ester says this:
Do you need porn** to have sexy? Why do you need porn poses in MAINSTREAM comics? Why not get an erotic comic, if you want that? If you never saw Jean Grey's nipple again, would she suddenly cease to be sexy? Was she not sexy in the days when such representations were less common?But that misses the entire point of both my original post and the larger idea I've been espousing. (Plus: Jean Grey's nipple? What? Where'd that come from?) Does anyone need this or that in comics, or even "mainstream" comics? Immaterial. First off, nobody "needs" comics, period. You may want them badly, you won't die without them. Comics are entertainment, be it sloppy dumb entertainment or cleverly crafted, literate, thoughtful entertainment.
To demand that depictions you find objectionable be removed is basically calling for someone else to give up something in return for nothing but your head-nod of approval. A cheesecake-filled exploitation comic may have no value to you, but if it had no value to anybody, it wouldn't be produced, sold, bought, read.
"But, but, but," you may be saying, "the things I hate are wrong!" Just as someone else may be convinced homosexuality is wrong?
Because I am not gay, I don't really enjoy the idea of gay sex. Two guys making out does not arouse me, in fact, I get a bit of a "ew" reflex when I happen across some example of gay eroticism.
But I tolerate it. I tolerate it because I hold the belief that I don't want anyone else telling me what I can and can not find sexy, therefore I don't have a right to tell anyone else what they can or can't find sexy.
I don't like the Nazi philosophy, but I defend their right to say what they want, because I know full well that many stances I hold are objectionable to some other people, and I don't think they should have the right to suppress what I say, so what could justify me taking a stance to suppress someone else's speech, no matter how vile?
But as evidenced by the comments I got, some people still hold the idea that their likes and dislikes trump those of everyone else.
I don't want what I find sexy (whatever that is) to be taken away from me, so I don't advocate taking what others find sexy (whatever that is) away from them, and I even don't want what Dave Cheung finds sexy (whatever that is) taken away from him, not because I support what he likes, but because it's fair, it's a reciprocal arrangement.
To think otherwise, to demand that others give up what they like while you keep what you like, that's unfair.
You could even call it immoral.
* By the way: I looked it up, and the UK age of consent is 16. So assuming the Chugworth characters are that age or older, by the standards of his country of residence, any sexual activity depicted is legal, or at least as legal as anything happening with fictional imaginary drawn characters can be. "But that's not how it is elsewhere in the world!" you might whine. But isn't that pretty damn politically incorrect, the pretense that the USA or any other country should force its standards upon others?
** Really, if you seriously call what's going on in mainstream comics today "porn", you are a precious sheltered child who isn't grown-up enough to discuss comics with the adults. Oh, was that a bit condescending? Perhaps, but no more so than this "you couldn't possibly need this much sexy in comics! Why won't you let me take it away from you for your own good?" routine.