Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In the moderation que

Another case of a blogger being too thin-skinned to brook disagreement with their opinions. In this case I called out Rachel Cervantes claim that Neil Malmuth's 2000 meta-analysis paper on porn and violence studies constituted any kind of overall "proof" that porn caused men to be violent toward women. In fact, I see it as evidence for the very opposite.

After a go-around about this, my response was dropped. I believe it deserves to see the light of day:

Well, I am familiar with the paper you quoted, along with several other metastudies on the topic, and I absolutely can't believe that you see it as compelling evidence for a link between porn use and violence against women. Did you even bother to read the authors' conclusions, starting here?

Particularly this part:

"The current findings do suggest that for the majority of American men, pornography exposure (even at the highest levels assessed here) is not associated with high levels of sexual aggression (although aggressive tendencies may be expressed in other behavioral manifestations than in actual aggressive behavior when there is not the full confluence of factors that elicits actual aggression [e.g., Malamuth & Thornhill, 1994])."

Malmuth's claim is that the most violent subset of pornography may have triggering effects on the most sexually violent subset of men, and even this is disputed in meta-analysis carried out by other authors (see, for example, Fisher and Grenier 1994, cited in the bibliography of the above paper). And even Malmuth, as stated above, has said that there's no clear evidence that porn has any negative effect on psychologically normal individuals.

That to me does not seem to be overwhelming evidence of the harmful effects of porn viewing, and certainly nothing that remotely rises to the level of evidence that would be required to start the presumption of free speech protection from porn. (Or even makes a good case for shaming porn viewers, which you posit as an alternative to censorship.)

Ms Cervantes claims my lack of "civility" was cause for her dropping the post, and, yep, I agree that online communication in general doesn't exactly promote it. Perhaps – my tone in this post is rather short, though I'll add that I've been on the receiving end of far worse (including by several individuals on her blog roll), including direct insults, nasty statements about what they imagine my sexuality to be like, rounds of questioning that read more like a police interrogation, and at least one threat of a lawsuit. In comparison to this, I think the phrase "did you even bother" is pretty mild stuff, but the feminist bloggers is notoriously thin-skinned in this regard, and have an unfortunate tendency to dish it out in spades without being able to take it in the least.

Ultimately, I'm stating that she's got her "facts" wrong and her interpretation is sloppy, and I'm not really sure how much that can be sugar-coated. However, I also think this is a case where somebody really did not like being called wrong by somebody who had the facts to back it up, and was simply using incivility as an excuse to bury that challenge.

And more to the point of the original post, I see this as, once again, feminists misusing and misinterpreting media effects studies as a way of legitimizing censorship. This is fundamentally wrong and absolutely should be called out.

Added 12/19:

From the comments section:

RC: "Finally, supposing the Malamuth conclusion could be regarded that simplistically: porn only increases violence against women in that population predisposed to it. What is an “acceptable” level of rape? How many rapes? How many murders?"

IACB: "Well, I don’t care if this sees the light of day or not, but the counter to this is obvious. Do you also support alcohol prohibition? Because there is a small subset of alcohol users who are prone toward addiction, violent behavior, drunk driving, etc.

Similarly, there are people who are motivated by religious belief to commit all manner of violence, from setting women on fire, to flying planes into buildings, to “spare the rod and spoil the child”? And I’ll note that religiously-motivated violence is far more common than crimes supposedly triggered by porn. By the reasoning you’ve given above, the Bible and Quran really should be banned.

I think the answer is obvious – you don’t impose censorship or micromanage everybody’s behavior based on the behavior of society’s most messed-up individuals."

RC: "The religion argument is a straw man. Religion has not been mentioned. However, you are desperately searching for a stereotype to levy.

Alcohol is also a straw man. We are talking about pornography and violence against women. The bottom line is that you don’t give a flying fuck about violence against women? Hey, let women be beaten, raped, murdered…as long has you have your jerk off mags, huh?

Ren Ev made reasonable points. You? You’ve just embarrassed yourself."

OK, so lets see what we have here - 1) basic inability to understand a simple analogy (hint: religion wasn't mentioned to paint RC as a religious conservative); 2) ritualistic invocation of the phrase "straw man" (without even beginning to demonstrate that the argument in question actually is a straw man argument) actually constitutes a counter-argument; and 3) use of stock insults like "let women be beaten, raped, murdered…as long has you have your jerk off mags" (that's almost as original as "you must be a man"). All of which adds up to a knee-jerk argument trifecta.

Many feminists go on about how they are marginalized and negatively stereotyped, and how feminism is not taken seriously. Which may be true, but with reactive, piss-and-vinegar types like the above representing feminism, is it any wonder?