A Picture Says a Thousand Words: Tom Flanagan, Libertarianism, and Child Pornography

Tom Flanagan has finally put his foot far up enough his mouth to choke the life out of his career. Turns out it wasn’t suggesting assassinating Julian Assange or claiming European colonialism was justifiable that sunk the godfather of the current Canadian conservatism; it was child pornography.

At a university lecture, Flanagan basically said people shouldn’t be punished for looking at child porn. Here’s the video:

For those of you who don’t know, Tom Flanagan was a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. More importantly, he was an architect of the Calgary School, a conservative political ideology that gave us Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wild Rose party, Ezra Levant, professional douchebag, and, most famously, Stephen Harper.

Flanagan was an adviser to Harper and, until this week, part organizer of Wild Rose. He was also a regular on CBC’s Power and Politics. In many respects, he was the voice of a particular brand of Reformist conservatism in Canada. I would consider him a big-L Libertarian.

Accordingly, his views on law and society stress the value of personal liberty. The libertarian position on child pornography, in particular, stresses prosecution of the producer, not the user. Which is to say, in terms of law enforcement, society ought to pursue and prosecute those who are victimizing children, not the individuals who are looking at the material.

Of course, this is a very difficult line to tread. One does not consume pornography in a vacuum. By consuming child porn, you are supporting the industry, thus contributing directly to the abuse of children.

However, one must ask, whether jailing the people who are looking at the pictures the best use of resources. Arguably, these people are suffering from a sexual pathology and ought to be treated, not penalized. Our resources would be better served by prosecuting those who actually take the pictures instead of those who look at them.

I don’t think this position is without merit, and it deserves serious consideration. The problem is that child pornography is an extraordinarily hot button issue. People, quite reasonably, have a knee jerk reaction in condemning it.

Flanagan, quite naively, left out all the nuance in the aforementioned libertarian position, and espoused a shocking laissez-faire attitude. To suggest consuming child pornography doesn’t hurt anyone is absurd. It’s like saying buying drugs doesn’t contribute to the drug trade.

harper-flanagan(Flanagan and Harper. Harper has distanced himself from Flanagan.)

The comparison to the drug trade raises interesting questions. People who argue in favor of legalizing drugs say using drugs doesn’t hurt anyone, so drugs ought to be legalized, all but eliminating the black market, thus removing the ethical problem of consuming drugs.

Child pornography, on the other hand, has no such possibility. Even if you legalized child porn, sexualizing children, whether on the black market or legitimately, is still wrong.  This is problematic because I believe pedophiles have a sexual pathology and need a healthy way to express their desire lest it manifest into sociopathic behavior.

My question is this: can pedophiles sublimate their urges in an ethical way?

There has been a fair amount of work done regarding simulated child pornography. Wikipedia has a number of different forms simulated child porn can take. What interests me the most are virtual representations.

Oxford defines “virtual” as “that is so in essence or effect, although not formally or actually; admitting of being called by the name so far as the effect or result is concerned.” I consider a “virtual representation” to encompass a wide arrange of media: animation, CGI, plastic arts, literary, etc.

To most people, just the idea of child pornography is inherently reprehensive. Indeed, Canadian law considers child pornography whether it be real or virtual. In R. v. Sharpe, the Crown states: “Child pornography is harmful whether it involves real children in its production or whether it is a product of the imagination.” Basically, unless it has artistic merit (Lolita, for example) it counts as child porn even if it’s pencil on paper.

I would argue this position ought to be reconsidered. A virtual representation does not affect real people, thus allowing pedophiles to engage in their sexual pathology in a way that does not victimize anybody. It could provide the catharsis needed for pedophiles to carry on regular lives. We ought not to push these people out into the margins.

I can appreciate the argument that simulated child porn is a gateway to the real thing. Nonetheless, I would argue that we could divert more resources towards protecting real children by decriminalizing the virtual. Moreover, if the simulated porn does indeed provide the necessary catharsis then it stands to reason there would be less of a threat for real children.

Of course, this is speculation. The point of this post was to stimulate conversation on a position that I think ought to be considered. I have a little sister, niece, and nephew, all around the ages of 5-8. I would entertain any idea that would improve their safety.

I’m for pragmatic solutions, not punishment for the sake of punishment.



~ by braddunne on March 3, 2013.

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