8.4 The Importance of Education and Discussion

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
8

By focusing on protests, boycotts, and related activities, we have here emphasized conduct that is largely negative and reactive. Although we see a central place for communicative activities that are negative and reactive, we do not wish to suggest that this is all that can or should be done. In particular, we note the extent to which education is ultimately central to much that we have been discussing. In the broadest sense, not just with respect to the education that takes place in the schools, and with respect to values and awareness as well as to facts, education is the real solution to the problem of pornography.

We have identified harms that seem to be caused by certain sexually explicit material, but many of those harms are the result of how images affect attitudes, and of how images affect behavior. But the ability of an image to affect behavior is not only a function of what that image is saying or doing, but of what other images are part of the array of stimuli received by an individual. We recognize the extent to which an attraction to one sexual stimulus rather than another may significantly be caused by individual characteristics formed at a relatively early age, in many cases before exposure to any highly sexually explicit material. But we recognize as well that if images can cause certain forms of behavior, as we believe they can and as the evidence shows, then images ought as well to be able to prevent behavior, or cause different behavior.

The images that might cause different behavior can, of course, come from numerous sources. So can the messages that would lead people in even greater numbers to reject the view that sexual violence is sometimes appropriate, to reject the view that women enjoy being physically coerced into sex, to reject the view that women's primary sexual role is to satisfy the desires of men, to reject the view that sex ought to be an essentially public act, and to reject the view that sex outside of love, marriage, commitment, or affection is something to be sought. These positive messages might address all of these underlying attitudes. They might also address pornography more explicitly, discussing its dangers to individuals and to society. The messages might come from family members, or teachers, or religious leaders, or political figures, or the messages might come, perhaps especially, from the mass media.

Ultimately, a significant part of the concern with pornography is a concern about negative messages. One way to deal with negative messages is to prevent them from being sent, or to prevent them from being reinforced once they are sent. Action against harmful pornography, whether by law or by social action or by individual condemnation, is in the final analysis a negative approach. It is an attempt to eliminate a harmful message, and such attempts are frequently appropriate. But they cannot succeed by themselves. These essentially negative and reactive efforts must be accompanied by positive efforts. If there are certain attitudes that people ought not to have, then what attitudes ought people to have, and how can those attitudes best be inculcated? What will be taught in the schools? What forms of behavior will be publicly admired? What will the mass media encourage? What will we expect of each other in interpersonal behavior? The list goes on and on.

We commenced this Report by noting that we were a Commission appointed by the Attorney General of the United States, and therefore felt a special responsibility to concentrate our efforts towards law and law enforcement. It is appropriate to conclude, however, with this recognition of the limits of law and the limits of law enforcement. A wide range of behaviors, from telling the truth to our friends to eating with knives and forks rather than fingers, is channeled quite effectively without significant legal involvement. And another wide range of behaviors, from jaywalking to income tax evasion, persists even in the face of attempts by law to restrict it. To know what the law can do, we must appreciate what the law cannot do. We believe that in many respects the law can serve important controlling and symbolic purposes in restricting the proliferation of certain sexually explicit material that we believe harmful to individuals and to society. But we know as well that to rely entirely or excessively on law is simply a mistake. Law may influence belief, but it also operates in the shadow of belief. And beliefs, of course, are often a product of deeply held moral, ethical, and spiritual commitments. That foundation of values is the glue that holds a democracy, which functions according to the will of the majority, together. Government can and must protect the interests of the minority, to be sure. But law enforcement cannot entirely compensate for or regulate the consequences of bad decisions if the majority consistently chooses evil or error. If there are attitudes that need changing and behaviors that need restricting, then law has a role to play. But if we expect law to do too much, we will discover only too late that few of our problems have been solved.