Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 405, February 11, 2007

"When you end up having to force people to behave
as if they agreed with you, it's almost certainly
because what you're peddling is horseshit."


Some Thoughts About Censorship
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

A reader wrote anonymously last week, "looking for any scholarly libertarian ('initiation of force') arguments" to counter certain advocates of censorship. One of the statements that our reader quoted held that, somehow—the precise mechanism was left suspiciously unclear—one individual's interest in, and consumption of, sexually-oriented material adversely affects others who choose not to consume it.

". . .like the person who chooses not to run a smelter while others do, you, your family, and your neighbors will be affected by the people who do not change the channel, who do rent the pornographic videos, who do read"

The writer is former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, a guy who once denied that there's any right to privacy implied by the Bill of Rights.

There are many things I can (and will) say about his assertions about pornography. I don't know exactly how "scholarly" they'll turn out to be. The first is that equating pornography with air pollution is mildly interesting, but it is not original or persuasive. It is an analogy, and analogies can be useful, but they are not necessarily valid.

This one is not, since no one needs to see anything I keep to myself.

Also, I'm pretty certain that an argument from the Zero Aggression Principle would fall on deaf ears with this guy and his crowd. If they accepted that principle, then they'd be libertarians, and we wouldn't be hearing or reading the fallacious arguments they make favoring censorship. And we could all go ice skating in hell together after the debate.

Until Bork can demonstrate clearly how my own possession of a tattered, 40-year-old Grove Press edition of Pauline Reage's Story of O, or of brand-new hot-off-the-net .jpgs of Sally Yoshino in all her radiant glory, affect the sweet young couple next door and their baby two-year-old, I plan to go on regarding his mouthings as unsupported claptrap. Even if such a mechanism could be shown to exist, nobody has anything resembling a right to remain unaffected by the reality around him, and certainly no right that I have any obligation to recognize or enforce.

Bork—not our anonymous reader—quotes notorious film slasher Michael Medved: "To say that if you don't like the popular culture, then turn it off, is like saying if you don't like the smog, stop breathing. . . There are Amish kids in Pennsylvania who know about Madonna."


"And their parents," Bork whimpers, "can do nothing about it."

Those same Amish children know about gravity—and evolution, for that matter—and there is nothing their parents can do about that, either. Reality exists. It's noticeable. Get over it or go play in the street.


Imagine a world in which nothing can be said or done—no movie, TV program, book, magazine, or website can be created—that could be deemed unsuitable or inappropriate, say, for the five-year-old kiddies of religious Luddites and Darwin deniers. Imagine Gone With The Wind remade, starring Barny the dinosaur and Miss Piggy, or CSI: Veggie Tales.

Medved is simply foremost among those in this culture—details vary, but the syndrome stretches right across the political spectrum—who stamp their little feet and petulantly demand that government raise their children for them. However the simple truth is that you can't child-proof the world—the civilization that results would be far worse than those shown in Brave New World or 1984—you can only world-proof your child. And if you are unwilling or unable to undertake that task, you should never have had children in the first place.

There was no mechanism in today's culture or government to protect my baby daughter from the endless socialist swill that very nearly constitutes television's only product. I wouldn't really want to live in a society where there was. Nor could she learn to defend herself intellectually—to defend her life, her liberty, and her property—if we had merely avoided it. "Blow up the teevee" makes a swell song—one of my personal favorites—but it's a damn poor strategy for living.

No, it was my responsibility, and her mother's—as well as our joyous duty—to educate our daughter, who is now 17, against that slimy collectivist background, to help her understand, for example, that her parents weren't some sort of backward, ignorant, bigoted, redneck, neonazi monsters (as television incessantly characterizes individuals like us) simply because they own guns and know how to use them.

There are a couple technical terms that apply to Michael Medved. The kindest of them is "prude". The most accurate—for fans of that great movie Strange Days—is "dogwhistle". In either case, I will not have him, or anybody even remotely like him telling me or mine what we can see, read, think, write, say, or do. Quite properly, this culture resisted the Nazis and the Communists. Medved, their spiritual kin, is simply the latest in a seemingly endless line of demagogues constantly in search of reasonable-sounding excuses to control our lives.

And he knows it.

Medved's "scholarly" answer to libertarian views is to label us "losertarians", a clear admission of philosophical defeat. It's quite true that we have not been very successful at winning the popularity contests called elections. There are reasons for that and I write about them fairly often. But popularity isn't everything. It wasn't very popular to be Jewish in Nazi Germany, but did that mean it was wrong?

Or that they didn't have a right to be Jewish?

Beyond that, surely we have learned by now that any attempt at prohibition—alcohol, drugs, guns—is doomed to fail, and that, failing, will generate vastly worse problems (or at least weirder consequences) than what was being prohibited. Half the joy-girls on the Internet today—not to mention Dr. Frank N. Furter—wear Merry Widow corsets that they probably don't realize are a vestigial remnant of the last great era of attempted sexual repression, the Victorian Age.

And I'm not even going to mention manacles and horsewhips.

People's avid interest in sex and in the portrayal of sexuality in various media goes back far beyond that, historically, back beyond the lascivious frescoes and mosaics discovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Archaeology abounds with examples of pornographic pottery. (I always leaned toward "The Babes of Crete" collection, myself.) It's long been my personal theory that articles like the Venus of Willendorf are not "fertility symbols" or "objects of religious veneration"—a conclusion academics always leap to with absolutely no justification whatever—but were, instead, the stone-age equivalent of Playboy or Penthouse, fashioned by cavemen, to be passed around and chortled over around the campfire after the cavewomen and cavekids had gone to bed.

"Can there be any doubt," Bork asks in his historical ignorance, "that as pornography and violence become increasingly popular and accessible. . . attitudes about marriage, fidelity, divorce, obligations to children, the use of force, and permissible public behavior and language will change, and with the change of attitudes will come changes in conduct, both public and private? The contrary view must assume that people are unaffected by what they see and hear."

What rot. The contrary view assumes that they'll be interested or inclined to ignore what they see, just as they have since before the beginning of recorded history. "Some like it hot, some like it cold, etc."

"'Don't buy it'" Bork maunders onward, demonstrating that he's fully as ignorant of economics as he is of history," and 'Change the channel' are simply advice to accept a degenerating culture and its consequences."

Wrong again. If they didn't buy it, or changed the channel, it would go away. The problem, of course, is that people do buy it and they don't change the channel—because they like it. He hates that—for reasons that should remain his own problem—but can't talk them out of it, so he wants to employ bayonets to impose his will by force.

This is exactly the situation we're seeing lately with another false orthodoxy, that of Global Warming. Its advocates are having more and more difficulty getting people to accept it, so now they want to "decertify" meteorologists who are, in their words, "Global Warming deniers".

It's also the same dynamic that fuelled the Inquisition.

When you end up having to force people to behave as if they agreed with you, it's almost certainly because what you're peddling is horseshit.

What if I were to demand a law forcing people like Bork and Medved to purchase and use pornographic materials? Their screaming would be heard all the way to Alpha Centauri. But it would be just as valid—meaning, not valid at all—as their demand that the law forbid me my rights.

Perhaps more importantly, since when are people's attitudes a fit subject for legislation or other government activity? In Hitler's Germany, perhaps, or Stalin's Russia, or Mao's China. But not here, not now. Since when are public or private conduct the business of the state, as long as they remain peaceful and non-aggressive? In Bork's or Medved's fevered wet-dreams, maybe, but not here, not now, not any more.

Among right wingers today it's fashionable to assert that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, or that it never really meant to mandate the separation of Church and State. A little study quickly proves those assertions to be self-serving garbage, exactly like the common claim that this was meant to be a Christian country.

Several of America's key founders were "deists", which is what an 18th century atheist called himself to avoid getting burned at the stake. Jefferson used "god" as a metaphor, and nothing more, and the formal separation of Church and State were his idea. Kindly old Ben Franklin was a member of the notorious Hellfire Club, a group of fun folk dedicated to breaking as many of the Ten Commandments as humanly possible.

No, I am not kidding.

Bork keeps on asserting nonsense—he thinks that pornography is somehow contagious, and we can only make guesses about why that's so important to him—as if asserting it were the same thing as proving it.

Of course it is not.

What Bork does prove, however is that so-called conservatives are nothing more than right-wing socialists—as Bob LeFevre taught me and I have often said—willing, no, make it eager to sacrifice the life, liberty, and property of the individual to the glorious (right wing) people's collective at the drop of the lamest, most threadbare excuse.

The question, unasked and unanswered, is, "By what right?"

The answer is empty silence.

Censors—like critics—are pathological personalities, bullies in search of someone to push around. The trouble with libertarians, and the reason both Bork and Medved rabidly denounce them, is that they won't go away, they won't lie down, and they are inclined to push back.

Poor, pathetic creatures like Bork and Medved are all about fear. But their irrational fear—exactly like the irrational fear of gun control advocates—does not constitute a valid claim on my existence or any part of it. An individual can't avoid wondering, however, what they're so damned afraid of? The only thing libertarians have ever advocated is that people have freedom. You end up, sort of like Elvis Costello with regard to "peace, love, and understanding", asking what's so frightening about people owning and operating their own lives?

I wish I had more ammunition for our anonymous reader, but arguing with these creeps probably won't work, no matter what line you take. You can't reason someone out of something they were never reasoned into.

You can only make them look to others as ridiculous as they are.

And that's a fact.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at

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