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A letter to the Editor opposing censorship, published in The Australian on 17 June 1991, p.10

I was saddened by your feature 'The Psyche of Pornography ...' (The Weekend Australian, 8-9 June 1991, pp.26-7). Of your three contributors, Mr Manne seeks both censorship of pornography and fellow travellers to help him achieve it; Ms Kitson seeks both self-censorship by publishers and a public uprising to demand it; and Dr Sorensen seeks both the acceptance of American Psycho as a 'rude and vulgar challenge' to our society, and a rebuilding of society to make pornography irrelevant.

Perhaps there should have been a fourth contributor -- one prepared to point out that there is great diversity amongst people, that activities and goods which nauseate some, please others and that that only is no reason for them to be banned. If it were so, anchovy pizzas and brussels sprouts would only be available on the black market. Surely the only morally sound reason for prohibiting a particular activity is where harm results to an innocent party.

This is the crux of Mr Manne's argument which he supports by reprinting some figures which clearly demonstrate that many rapists and other criminals actually like pornography. This is not quite the same as showing that pornography turns the guy next door into a sex fiend, nor that exposing a potential rapist to some obscenity turns him into an actual rapist. Mr Manne also invokes a chain of 'common sense' conclusions, each depending upon the previous one. Let us hope that this is a better kind of common sense than that which held (until 1903 and, for some, even later) that heavier-than-air machines will not fly. The reason that criminologists and other social scientists (and, for that matter, scholars in the physical sciences) insist on statistically significant relationships is precisely because 'common sense' deductions are so often so spectacularly wrong.

Ms Kitson seems less concerned with proving that some physical damage is likely to result from American Psycho. Instead she points her finger at intangible harm: that it will 'degrade the reading public'. This book is now so well known and its contents so frequently hinted at, that it could hardly be a surprise to a purchaser. There would be three types of purchaser: those who think they will get a genuine thrill from the book's indecencies, those who want to find out what all the fuss is about, and those who, like Dr Sorensen, think that it is a valid social comment. They don't need to be protected.

I totally agree with Ms Kitson that it should be up to the readers to determine what they read. The way to do that is to not buy what they think they won't like, not to agitate to make sure that no-one else can buy it.

© 1991 - Stephen Dawson