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C . Do Depictions of Proscribed Conduct CAUSE Proscribed Conduct?

The second great debate is over whether depictions of proscribed conduct ought to be themselves proscribed. The cause of this debate is claims by some feminist groups that depictions of sexual activities which are degrading of women, and particularly violent or forced sexual activities, tend to encourage (or "cause") such activities to be performed; and also claims by some other groups that depictions of violence in general tend to encourage (or "cause") violence against others, particularly among children. This can be generalized as the question of whether or not depictions of various proscribed activities tend to cause the very same proscribed activities to occur. It can also be asserted that these depictions are more dangerous to society as a whole as the age of the viewing audience decreases, with children being particularly susceptible to acting violently after viewing violent depictions.

The groups proposing the proscriptions cite studies which tend to show, at least empirically, that proscribed activity is more likely to occur among groups of individuals who have been (recently) exposed to the depictions of the proscribed activities. The basic argument would be that depictions of violence ought to be defined as "dangerous knowledge," and access restricted according to some defined standard, which thus needs development by our society. The feminists also argue that depictions of violence against women, particularly sexual violence, ought to be banned outright.

The fundamental flaw comes from the Freedom Dogma, in that society really has no right to interfere with the depictions viewed by mature individuals.1 Of course, children are another matter, at least to the extent which the Dangerous Knowledge Dogma may be applied to restrict access to those depictions which can be classified as "dangerous knowledge." However, in any case, the studies cited by the proponents of proscriptions are too small, and their statistical methods are too questionable, to draw any conclusion other than a conclusion that further study may be required.

Depictions of violence permeate our society. An analysis of something as simple as children's nursery rhymes shows a high violence content. While some sports are more violent than others (boxing probably being the most violent), even something as simple as play among very young children can have bursts of violence in them. Most cartoons are based upon depictions of violence.2 Because few proscriptions upon depictions of violence have been in place up to now, there would be virtually nothing left of our various entertainment media if all depictions of violence were totally eliminated, even for children. How would you even allow Christians to openly display depictions of Jesus on the Cross if all depictions of violence are to be kept from children? There does not seem to be any good line which may be drawn to eliminate that which allegedly causes the proscribed activities while retaining that which most people would agree is innocuous. Accordingly, the Agnostic Church is extremely reluctant to classify depictions of violence as "dangerous knowledge," and thereby proscribe their open availability to all. Having taken that position with respect to violence in general, the Agnostic Church believes that the present proscriptions of pornographic materials are adequate for handling materials which depict violent sexual acts. Finally, in all discussions of this issue, church members are cautioned to study the Principle of Avoidance of Tyranny.


1 The proponents of proscriptions counter that the Freedom Dogma does not apply where harm to others occurs, and the fundamental intent of the proscriptions is to prevent individuals from viewing depictions which would tend to cause those individuals to harm others.

2 Which, admittedly, is one of the contentions of the proponents of proscriptions.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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