Dec 092013
 

Discussions surrounding the criminalization of rape porn make frequent use of ‘slippery slope’ reasoning.

The slippery slope goes like this: If they criminalize rape porn, what will they criminalize next? Bondage porn? Consensual bondage? And then what after that? Rope? Handcuffs? Blindfolds? Hard fucking?

The above is a hypothetical (though somewhat representative) example of slippery slope argumentation. I wrote it in order to illustrate what I mean by ‘slippery slope.’

But, arguably more illustrative than my own hypothetical example is a real one. This isn’t something I planned for, but in response to my previous post, a thoughtful, intelligent reader (one I like very much!) crafted a comment, part of which is a perfect example of a slippery slope argument:

What’s next on their agenda? Ban BDSM in all forms? Send us all back into the closet? Or will the move on and argue, no more horror films, gangster films or films about espionage, war or terror?” ~ PhareDuFour, in response to “part 1: criminalizing fantasy”

In short, PhareDuFour suggests that perhaps, if ‘they’ [1] are successful in their efforts to ban rape porn, ‘they’ might next ban BDSM altogether, and then maybe ban horror films and any number of other film topics and genres. [2]

Slippery slope arguments are fallacious, suggesting one event might lead to other events without offering reasons to explain why those ‘other events’ are also likely to happen. Slippery slope arguments shift focus away from the issue at hand to tangential and often more extreme hypotheticals.

With that said, hypothetical questions — ones that articulate future possible abstractions — aren’t altogether impertinent to the discussion. In “Do Not Consent,” Molly [3] asks a great question:

“Who defines what is rape pornography? [. . .] Does a picture of a woman tied up [equal] rape porn[?] If so then this legislation will be criminalising the viewing of all acts of bondage. Where will we draw the line? Are gags OK? What about a blindfold and handcuffs?”

Asking where we draw the line is a good question, but it’s not a good argument for three reasons:

  1. If you’re heading down a slippery slope, at some point, your hypothetical “if/thens” are going to get ridiculous:
    If they ban rape porn, will they also ban BDSM porn? And then BDSM? And then all forms of sex entirely? Sexual intercourse will be banned!
    If they ban rape porn, will they also ban dramatic depictions of rape in non-pornographic films? And then maybe all violence in cinema? And what next… all assertiveness in fiction? They’re going to ban all fiction!
  2. The slippery slope of “what else will they criminalize?” is more of a hill — it has two sides, and it’s just as easy to slip down one side as the other. Someone could easily argue that if we don’t criminalize simulated rape pornography, then what else will we allow? Simulated child pornography? [4] Simulated bestiality? Simulated cannibalism? Simulated snuff? (any of these can be computer generated [5])
  3. Asking “where do we draw the line?” as a means to argue against drawing the line at any one particular issue isn’t effective because we draw lines all the time. We draw lines about ‘free speech,’ ‘freedom of expression,’ about what’s ‘acceptable,’ ‘moral,’ ‘ethical,’ and about what’s in the ‘greater good.’ [6] We draw lines about where our rights conflict (or might conflict) with the rights of others. While you can certainly argue about whether we should draw lines at all, you can’t argue that society doesn’t draw lines, because it does.

In essence, that’s what many people are attempting to do by engaging in the debate over rape pornography — they’re making arguments about where to draw lines. Those arguments can be healthy, productive ways of negotiating where society should (or should not) draw lines, particularly when it comes to legislating. But rather than asking “where do we draw the line?” make an argument for or against drawing the line here at this particular issue, and do so on it’s own merits rather than slipping down one slope or another.

 


[1] While it’s not my point here, I would argue that pornography is different than ‘film’ in that pornography is designed to arouse.
[2] The “their” in “their agenda” PhareDuFour writes of is what she calls “evangelical feminists,” and not the government. My interpretation is that PhareDuFour is indicating her belief that the proposed legislation is being pushed forward (in part, at least) by particular feminist groups. I hope that PhareDuFour will correct me if I am mistaken.
[3] It seems like I’m picking on Molly here, and I apologize for that. I’ve seen lots of similar comments about UK censorship that make slippery slope arguments on Twitter. I’m using Molly for two reasons 1) because she was motivated, passionate, and brave enough to post a thoughtful, detailed post about it on Molly’s Daily Kiss, and 2) because Molly is deservedly well-respected amongst sex/gender/relationship bloggers (myself included) and her post is representative of many other people’s thoughts and feelings on this.
I was conflicted about these posts, in part because I take issue with some of what Molly wrote. My dissonance is that I not only respect Molly, but I like her. I sent her drafts in advance of these postings as a sort of “heads up.” Her response was gracious and encouraging — she values opinions and discussions — and that is one of the reasons I respect her as much as I do.
[4] I understand there are significant differences between simulated rape pornography and simulated/computer generated child-pornography. I’m not arguing that they are the same, or equivalent, and I’m not arguing for the legalization/criminalization of either. I’m simply using it to show how a slippery slope can work both ways.
[5] In a recent post on My Dissolute Life, “Blurred Lines,” N. Likes briefly outlined his thoughts: “The way to change attitudes is to change attitudes, behavior, culture – not to censor (or censure) taste and desire. In the UK recently, ‘rape porn’ was criminalized. We have a long history of banning child pornography (which is different, in that it simply can’t be made without a crime’s being committed against a child).” Yes, it is different, but not because it can’t be made without committing a crime against a child. It could be made as a computer simulation or animation without a child’s involvement. Ridiculous and disgusting? Absolutely. But, if people argue slippery slopes on the rape porn issue, particularly when coupled with arguments that suggest healthy exploration of ‘taboo’ fantasies might actually curb incidents of sexual violence and crime, this sort of hypothetical is germane. (disgusting, but germane).
[6] I don’t mean to suggest there are (or should be) universal standards for what’s ‘acceptable,’ ‘moral,’ ‘ethical,’ or what’s in the ‘greater good.’ (hence the scare quotes) But, as a society, collectively, we do draw lines that define and codify ‘standards’ for behaviors (that may or may not enact our own personal beliefs about morality, ethics, and acceptability) legislation and other means. Sometimes we draw those lines and/or legislate for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

 

 

  4 Responses to “part II: slippery slopes”

  1. (and she’s laughing out loud, because she got caught in a classic fallacy)
    .
    Mais, oui, Mademoiselle du Seigneur! Of course it’s a fallacy, but then is not the entire premise is based on a false argument as well?

    –> Let us ban rape pornography film, because rape pornography film causes real rape or at least the desire to commit real rape.

    There is a gaping lack of evidence to support the premise, and yet legislation is being proposed and may be enacted upon based upon the foregone conclusion: Rape pornography film causes criminal rape (or allows the accused to excuse acts of rape).

    I have not, as yet, seen how the British government intends to define “rape pornography”. If they only intend to restrict this to films depicting real rape and violence (such as the notorious rumoured ‘snuff’ fillms), then I can understand why it will be politically supported by the majority, since film depicting pleasure gained from forced, non-consentual sex is deemed unlawful.

    However if (and I know this is a slippery slope argument but it’s meant to be contingent on subsequent events) legislation deems acts of consentual bondage in film or photography constitutes “rape porn” proposed legislation will probably gain the same amount of support that stricter gun control measures find amongst the American public, despite the number of annual amok shootings. Then, slippery slope or not, the majority will not see the limitation of rape fantasy porn as a means to prevent true rape, but a form of censorship and a violation in the freedom of expression.

    Incidentally, this fallacy always wins hands down with the National Rifle Association every time politicians suggest even the most mild proposed methods to ensure firearms remain only the hands of the competent and mentally sane. The NRA loves to argue “if they take away our right to own machine guns and assault rifles, then it’s the annihilation of the 2nd Ammendment, and we’ll be nothing more than communist slaves.” Yes, it may be a common fallacy, but every politically motivated interest group helps themselves when either a) the premise is based on a false conclusion b) the counter-arguments are too ineffective to sway public opinion in their favour.

  2. One failure of the “what will they outlaw next, BDSM” argument with respect to the UK is that BDSM that causes injury is already illegal here after the Spanner case, in which judges rules that consent does not remove criminal culpability from someone who injures someone else:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Brown

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDSM_and_the_law#United_Kingdom

  3. I think this is a good post, but I dislike in general the easy categorization of slippery slope arguments as always fallacious. To do so assumes that the opposition is arguing in good faith, and it ignores the way in which political progress is often a battle between two sides over the limits of the acceptable (what’s referred to in journalism as the Overton Window). Slippery slope arguments are sometimes useful, because it is true that many of the advocates of a ban on rape porn would also like to ban all BDSM porn (some would like to just ban all porn), and that they hope through this victory to shift the terms of debate such that things which currently look acceptable end up on the fringes of acceptability, there to be debated over. Moral judgements about one issue are always made with reference to other linked topics.

    • @Georgeandtimmy: I don’t know if you’re subscribed/following this post (I can’t see who is, only numbers of subscribers). Just wanted to let you know that I intend to respond in a day or two. I need to get my head back into the debate (and I will!). Thanks for the comment — I’ll respond soon. :)

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