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The extremes in a debate can crowd out reasonable proposals where common ground can be found. This is true in almost any debate, this is especially true in our polarizing time when the most extreme position gets the most attention on social media.

Enter the ‘Great Conservative Porn War of 2019’ that was bravely fought on Twitter. The ‘war’ launched when four Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr. U.S. Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, and Brian Babin of Texas asked that the U.S. Department of Justice enforce federal obscenity laws on the books to reduce hardcore pornography, especially pornography with children. 

This followed a piece written by Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project, at First Things discussing how pornography could be regulated. (Disclosure: I work with APP as their online communications director.)

Immediately, Matt Walsh jumped in and said, let’s ban all pornography. Then you had a bunch of people who said, “you can’t do that, denounced the return of “right-wing puritanism, and collectively said “parents should do their job.”

The Twitter food fight began after that. People were pointing out the optics of some on the right seemingly defending porn (though that’s a simplistic take) and then others focusing totally on the call to ban porn as symbolic of the fight against pornography when that was never the intent of those of us, myself included, who called for a fight against pornography.

I listened Tuesday to the second episode of a new podcast entitled Advisory Opinions hosted David French, who recently left National Review to join The Dispatch, and Sarah Isgur, the former press secretary for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In their episode, they discussed the ‘Great Conservative Porn War’ and they too focused on the Twitter food fight and the call to ban all pornography.

To his credit, French supports “zoning” pornography. Isgur noted that most of the people involved in the ‘great conservative porn war’ were men. Perhaps, that’s because men are the ones who struggle the most with pornography addiction.

But it was frustrating as, yet again, the substantive proposals were overshadowed by the fringe positions.

Let me just say I agree that pornography won’t be banned. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be banned, I wouldn’t lament it being banned, but surveying our pluralistic culture and how the Supreme Court has already ruled on such things it’s pretty clear that is not a realistic position.

I also agree parents should be responsible for protecting their kids. No one who advocates regulation has said that parents shouldn’t be responsible and diligent to protect their kids from porn.

Also, if you don’t think pornography is a problem read this piece by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in American Greatness it is the most extensive piece I’ve read on what we are learning from science and social science about the porn epidemic. It is eye-opening and, frankly, disconcerting.

Gobry was skeptical about how harmful pornography is until he started to look into it:

A scientific consensus is emerging that today’s porn is truly a public health menace: its new incarnation combines with some evolutionarily-designed features of our brain to make it uniquely addictive, on par with any drug you might name—and uniquely destructive. The evidence is in: porn is as addictive as smoking, or more, except that what smoking does to your lungs, porn does to your brain. 

The damage is real, and it’s profound. The scientific evidence has mounted: certain evolutionarily-designed features of our neurobiology not only mean that today’s porn is profoundly addictive, but that this addiction—which, at this point, must include the majority of all males—has been rewiring our brains in ways that have had a profoundly damaging impact on our sexuality, our relationships, and our mental health. 

Furthermore, I believe that it is also having a far-reaching impact on our social fabric as a whole—while it is impossible to demonstrate any cause-and-effect relationship scientifically beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to broad social trends, I believe the evidence is still compelling or, at least, highly suggestive.

Indeed, it is so compelling that I now believe that online porn addiction is the number one public health challenge facing the West today.

Read the entire piece for yourself (it is long and cites numerous studies).

So I want to recap the suggestions on the table for government involvement (none of these replace what parents should do in their homes):

  • That the U.S. Department of Justice enforce obscenity laws. In order to do this they need to follow the Miller Test and that will require some objective national standards outlining what is obscene. It can’t be all pornography as the Supreme Court has already shot down outright bans. Revenge porn, simulated rapes, etc. are things that could be considered. Online pornographers have mined the depths of utter depravity and brought it to our computers, tablets, and phones in HD video.
  • Domain zoning – require pornography websites to have URLs such as website(dot)porn or website(dot)xxx. That way children won’t accidentally encounter those websites.
  • Offer tax incentives to internet servicer providers and wireless providers to require customers to opt-in into pornography. That way pornography is filtered at the ISP level.
  • Mandate pornographic websites to require age verification similar to what is done with online gambling sites.
  • Open pornography websites up to lawsuits under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if their users upload revenge porn or use someone’s likeness without permission. 

Can we stop focusing on the fringe arguments and discuss the real proposals on the table?

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