The other day, Paypal decided to end its partnership with Pornhub, effectively cutting off (according to Pornhub) over 100k users from their revenue stream. I’ve seen a fair few people crying from the rooftops about “censorship” and “freedom of speech.”
On a purely philosophical level, I might understand this argument. Might.
On every other level, I do not.
For one, many of these self-same people would defend a private company choosing who it does business with or what content it allows on (or through) its platform. I imagine freedom of association is a lot more restricted where one’s daily dose of boobs and hardcore sex is concerned. But really, I don’t have any particular interest in talking about the possible porn habits of people on the internet.
Rather, I’d like to talk about the word freedom. After all, who is really free here?
The people who are worried about freedom here would have you believe that all porn is good. They would have you believe it is not coercive, or abusive, or harmful to anyone. They would have you believe that hundreds of thousands of women (and men) have been empowered by becoming self-employed lewd “models” and camgirls. But how true is that really?
Are people truly free when they consume porn on a daily basis? When they tear apart their relationships with it, or never find relationships in the first place?
Are the performers truly free when their main source of income is (functionally) selling their bodies for money? Sure, it might not be having sex with a random stranger, but is showing your body or masturbating or having sex for thousands (and potentially millions) of people that much better?
What of the many, many performers who are addicted to drugs? Do free, happy people turn to coke as a matter of course? Do free people choose to become emaciated and ravaged by drug habits or die of overdose?
Are the performers truly free when they commit suicide? Well, I suppose, in a grim sense, they are.
And what of the many thousands who are given no choice? What of those who, looking for modeling jobs, instead find themselves in a sleazy studio where their bodies are used for profit? What of those who are then blackmailed, threatened with humiliation or worse if they tell anyone? Are such people free?
What of the millions of people around the world who are trafficked beneath the radar of normal people such as you and I? Are the sex slaves free?
And how precisely do you claim to know what the circumstances of the performer are? How do you know the woman before the camera is actually free? Mind you, I’m sure plenty are, but that is not the point. The point is, how do you know? Do you see the drugs on the table behind the camera? Do you hear the angry director demanding that people who are sick and tired and spent go another round? Do you see the handler just out of shot?
Do you see the woman on the inside, who maybe just wants to make enough money to keep a roof overhead, silently cursing herself for doing what she thinks she must do to live? Do you see the woman who sees herself as little more than trash because millions of strangers on the internet think the same?
Are any of these people free?
I think not.
As I said at the beginning, philosophically I understand why people ought to be free to produce porn. In practice, like so many other things in society that we have become free to do in the last half century or so, the outcome is far grimmer, far more harmful. Purporting to be free, people become slaves, and the defenders of such “freedoms” become de facto slave masters, brushing the unpleasantness under the rug. We ignore the millions of women and men trapped in lives not of their own choosing because a few dozen are famous, beautiful, and popular…because they “made it.” And a couple of decades later we’ll see a story of how they overdosed on meth, died from AIDS, or hung themselves in their closet, and we will be mystified as to how it could happen.
And, if we were a serious people, we would look back on a time like this, when we claimed that turning a woman into a thing to be exploited was a matter of freedom, and we would be ashamed.