The Baltimore Sun’s article on the Bush administration’s anti-pornography efforts begins with this:
Lam Nguyen’s job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other “computer forensic specialists” like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department’s operation to rid the world of porn.
And ends with this:
Nguyen, father of a 2-year-old girl, and his co-workers spend their days scouring the Internet for the most obscene material, following leads sent in by citizens and tracking pornographers operating under different names. The job wears on them all, day after day, so much so that the obscenity division has recently set up in-house counseling for them to talk about what they’re seeing and how it is affecting them.
“This stuff isn’t the easiest to deal with,” Nguyen said recently while at his computer. “But I think we’re going after the bad guys and we’re making a difference, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
I find the idea of people whose sole job it is to watch dirty movies, looking for something to prosecute, quite amusing. It reminds me of the old blind Supreme Court Justice Harlan, sitting in a room with the other justices watching XXX rated movies to determine if they were obscene or not. Since he could not see what was going on, he would repeatedly ask his clerk to describe what they were doing on the screen and, upon being told, would exclaim, “You don’t say!”. At the same time, I am appalled by the fact that our government has nothing better to do than to protect consenting adults from watching other consenting adults do things that are entirely legal in the United States.
The Baltimore Sun was, of course, the home of H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, who would be savaging the John Ashcrofts of the world were he alive today. This is, after all, the man who defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Imagine what he would say upon reading this in his beloved Sun:
In a speech in 2002, Ashcroft made it clear that the Justice Department intends to try. He said pornography “invades our homes persistently though the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and the Internet,” and has “strewn its victims from coast to coast.”
“Invades our homes”? Against our will? Is there someone going into your house, putting a gun to your head and making you download porn from the internet or order pay-per-view movies on cable or satellite TV? Yes, I know it’s easy to come across porn on the internet, entirely too easy for kids in my view, but it’s not difficult to block it either. If I had children, I would absolutely install the parental control software to prevent them from being able to view such material. But that’s entirely the point – you have the choice. We all have the choice. And a huge percentage of adult Americans choose to view pornography in one form or another, to the tune of around $10 billion a year.
I’ve always found it ironic that conservatives preach about the free market so much, but don’t trust people to make their own purchase choices. Capitalism requires consumers making their own choices, demand leading to supply. But as soon as the demand is for something they don’t like, they want to bring down the power of the state to destroy this free market. Add to this the additional irony of hearing conservatives preach about “smaller government” while spending millions and millions of our tax dollars to fund additional FBI agents, postal inspectors, prosecutors and investigators to run sting operations and bring court cases against adults for selling products to adults depicting entirely legal acts that they watch in the privacy of their own home. But hey, why let consistency and rationality interrupt a perfectly good moral crusade?