June 16, 2007

Why isn't Matt Sinclair a Pornographer? Or alternatively how to create a society of Matt Sinclairs?

Why isn't Matt Sinclair a pornographer?

You might think that's a pretty stupid question to ask- Matt Sinclair for those that don't know is a very intelligent and extremely nice Conservative blogger- its almost inconceivable that he would commit any crime wilfully save for perhaps getting a parking ticket. For the purposes of today's article Matt is going to become the archetypal law abiding member of the community. Having said that why is it so inconceivable that Matt would commit a crime?

At first glance that question seems again odd- but think again. Chris Dillow has just written a very interesting article on his blog setting out the incentives behind some people committing crime in our society- he argues that there are major reasons why people would commit crime- financial independence, the opportunity to achieve large ammounts of money in a quick space of time and last and crucially the fact that social reward comes through committing crime. His post is here. Chris leaves us in no doubt that for many people within society committing a crime is a rational response to their situation.

Hence the question in my title- why isn't Matt Sinclair a criminal or a pornographer? Well Matt himself has stepped up to the plate and attempted his own answer to the question on his own blog here. Matt met recently a school contemporary of his that dropped out at GCSE level in order to become a pornographer and having sold his website for millions now lives in a palatial home in Chelsea. Matt with his LSE masters and his job as a policy analyst at a thinktank isn't really yet in the position to be retiring to Chelsea- but he felt no envy and he felt no envy he says because he knows that most of his friends and acquaintances would look down on his pornographer contemporary whereas they would respect Matt for what he is doing- and he is right. Matt therefore suggests that the solution to the question that I ask based on Chris Dillow's work is that a society needs a strong culture with a strong set of social mores which will deter people from committing crime- this is why Matt concludes he is a conservative.

Matt will be shocked because I agree with him about most of that. The reason say that I would not become a pornographer is that I would lose every female friend I have quicker than I can say the word pornographer and most of my male friends as well- their friendships mean something important to me and their future friendship and a future girlfriend mean more to me than a house in Chelsea. Social pressures do deter us from even considering various careers- they also mean that various careers- being a teacher say- become actually more valuable than their economic status might suggest. That's true of qualifications as well- a PhD is economically valueless but people do look up to it for what it represents.

The only problem with the argument that I have is that we need to be clear about what we are saying when we use the words- social mores. I think we need to just disect that phrase a little before agreeing wholeheartedly with Matt- what do we mean by it? Well firstly here is what we don't mean- we don't mean an articulated morality- what we are talking about is an unconscious reflex that career a is less preferable to career b- not something that is neccessarily thought out. What we are talking about is a kind of snobbery- and it can become real snobbery where people think that a carpenter is worth less than a lawyer- but ultimately when good its a snobbery based on what the law tells us is good, carpenters and lawyers and bad, criminals, and even based on what the law might tell us is equivocal but we think of as exploitation, pornography. That kind of sense is actually very widespread within society- liberals and conservatives feel it and Matt is right to say that it is ultimately a real disincentive to criminal activity.

However sentiments evolve. The problem with many conservatives is that they don't want to recognise this. For instance there are conservatives who want to make marital rape a different crime from rape- to diminish its status as a crime in the eyes of the law- but want us to condemn homosexuals as criminals. The problem with conservatism is that often conservatives really want to change the direction of our prejudices- that is what I object to within conservatism. The argument that says that a homosexual is the same as a paedophile- or the argument that suggests that marital rape isn't a serious crime. That attempt to hijack my prejudice against criminals for other ends is something to be resisted and is one of the principle reasons why I am not a conservative.

Conservatism in this regard seeks to extend principles further than they can go- conservatives defend anomalies in the law that make the law an ass- often an argument between a liberal and a conservative is an argument about whether to be prejudiced against someone. So in the case of abortion, the liberal is arguing that we ought to be sympathetic to the young girl who say has been raped and is confused, upset and wants an abortion, some conservatives argue that we ought to treat her as though she were a murderer. That's an argument about the scope of prejudice and the liberal feels so strongly about changing the law because they feel strongly that the law is allowing an innocent person, a person for whom we ought to show compassion, to be treated as though she were a murderer. In a sense liberals feel just as strongly about the moral stigma of doing an illegal action- which is why they quarrel with Conservatives when conservatives seek to extend that stigma.

There is another sense in which conservatism differs from liberalism though as I understand it. Conservatives are fixated upon using this prejudice outwardly- liberalism as I understand it is more in the tradition of English puritanism that you apply your prejudices first to yourself, that you berate yourself as the worst of sinners, like Gladstone whip yourself (perhaps not literally as Gladstone did) before condemning others to the scourge. Conservatives often seem too satisfied in their status, content not to self examine and condemn examples of what they call liberal guilt- that's where my problems tempramentally become quite uncontrollable with the conservative movement. A bit more Puritanism is required- a belief in the heart and not merely in the action outwardly.

How though ultimately do you create and promote the moral law? I personally think that the foundation of the moral law is, as Adam Smith argued hundreds of years ago, sympathy. It is in our sympathetic response to a victim of crime (say to a mugged old lady, an murdered child or even an aborted foetus) that you find the reason why we respond to criminals in the way that we do. A psychopathic personality is one that lacks empathy- a psychopathic community is one that as in ancient Rome or 19th Century America lacks empathy for a majority of its population (in those two cases the slaves). Politics is often a dispute about who to empathise with- and often a socialist for example will argue that a Tory encourages psychopathy for not empathising with the poor whereas a Tory will point to a socialist not empathising with a foetus. Creating that empathy though is something that is interesting- I suspect that a society which is educated and which has strong communities creates it better than an uneducated one (which tends to large exclusions from the bonds of empathy- see women, slaves) or one without any community at all- but that is a matter for further study.

Definitely Matt is right we should seek to promote social mores- but I think we have to be careful about extending them say to cover things which don't harm anyone like homosexuality- I think really what we need to do is extend education throughout society to encourage a universal empathy. We need to encourage community as well- quite how we do that I'm not sure- possibly encouraging relationships to stay together through the provision of counselling and other things like that. I'm not sure though that beleiving in the utility of social mores as I do pushes me into conservatism- I don't want to stigmatise homosexuals or people living together outside wedlock or even to exonnerrate marital rapists. But it does make me think hard about the way that our society functions and the way to encourage its further functioning.

This is an inconclusive post- vast issues are raised within it and I don't pretend to have many answers I'm looking forward to Matt's reply- but I think that the basic issue raised is one that everyone can agree on- why isn't Matt a pornographer? The real reason is that he looks down on pornography- the questions up for discussion though are to what does that prejudice apply, how should we encourage it and a further interesting one how should it effect our laws.


Lord Nazh said...

When you discuss the differences in how libs and cons see abortion, why didn't you use the woman that has one simply to not have a child?

Or would that not fit the definitions? (that liberals sympathize with the woman, while conservatives sympathize with the child)

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it sure likes to know things.

Vino S said...

Henry, that's a good post. You raise a number of points and am going to try and pick up on a few of them and say what i think.

With regard to why people don't commit crime there are 2 major factors: that they think it is wrong and that they think the expected pay-off is not worth it.

Matt's statement about conservatism being based on a strong standard of morality suggests that he thinks that people don't commit crime because they think it is wrong. However, there are some crimes [especially minor ones like those attaching to inconsiderate parking] that people don't consider morally wrong. Thus, it must also be - as Chris Dillow - says the fact that the pay-off [in terms of the gain vis a vis any fine/punishment] is not considered worthwhile.

These 2 factors both affect why people do not commit crime. In terms of the pornographer, assuming what he is done is legal, then we are not talking about crime but what people think is a more or less moral way to earn a living.

That is a slightly different point and one that either touches on snobbery _or_ looks into the overall effect of society of a certain role and sees it as either negative or positive. You could say that, by promoting sexual objectification, and by degrading people participating, the net social effect of pronographers is negative and the net social effect of, say, carpenters is positive. It is, to some degree, a utilitatian calculus to me.

In terms of conservatism and morality, that is really a separate issue. I see a lot of 'moral conservatives' as those who are very keen to point the finger at others as sinners. But, that is not to deny that there are also social conservatives like Gladstone [i don't see him as a 'liberal' in this sense, although he was in his economic and constitutional views] who are willing to judge themselves and find themselves at fault. It is very difficult for us human beings to do this and that is why I think many conservatives engage in finger-pointing moralism because they like to see themselves as virtuous and others as sinners.

The discussion on my blog, regarding my criticism of Frank Field's report, is - to my mind - an illustration of this. The Right, i think, get hung up about benefits to single mothers because they morally disapprove of them and thus want the state to punish them financially. They thus don't actually look at the figures to work out what they are but claim _primae facie_ that single mothers get a better deal than married couples. They want to believe [as part of their belief that the Labour government is immoral] that it is disproportionately rewarding the immoral. They do not want to actually look at the figures to see what the reality is.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Intersting ideas.
I'm going to take apparently contradictory positions here.

Firstly, abortion is murder, however you slice it, in my opinion. I'll say no more on that.

Secondly I don't think most pornography IS exploitation in this day and age. It's a perfectly legitimate form of income for many of the girls concerned. It depends on if we see sex as degrading to women (it isn't to men). In a society where men and women were truly equal, we would not see such women in negative terms. I don't, as it happens.

I think once the final logic of feminism works its way through, there will be no need either for pornography or prostitution, but a lot of sexual taboos still need to be broken to acheive that, and one of those is the way regard female sexuality.

Tamerlane said...

A quick comment on sympathy:

To sympathize with an aborted fetus and to sympathize with an adult are quite different things I think. As far as sympathy is 'putting yourself in another's place', this obviously requires a considerable amount of imagination to do for a small cell without cognitive capabilities. A human being or an animal suffering visceral pain clearly provokes some emotional response due to our ability to feel pain. Sympathy with a fetus is only possible in so far as one grieves for the loss of potential life that that possible human being had.

In my experience, conservatives usually are opposed to abortion either based on some religious idea that we have souls, or on an idea of rights - i.e. we should protect anything in the category of 'human', and a fetus is a 'human' (otherwise where to you draw the line?). Both these approaches are quite different to morality based on sympathy, which is more likely to lead to a dominantly utilitarian moral framework.

Lord Nazh said...

Just ask all the pro-abortion people how they would feel if their parents had practiced it? :)

tamerlane: it's ok to say baby

Ruthie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruthie said...

Tried once to comment, didn't work right.

A different Smith, an M.B.E. Smith, wrote an essay on the lack of a prima facie obligation to obey the law. I wrote a piece defending it once.

The overall point was that morality exists apart from the law-- this is what I'm not seeing in many of these discussions (on your blogs and others)-- where does the moral weight of each individual act come in? It seems that we're weighing morality externally rather than internally.

If a pornographer sets up a website in a forest and nobody sees it, does it carry moral weight?

T said...

Ruthie - dangerous way to think about law. What happens when law and morality collide, where does this lead us? What judgements can we make about others attitudes to the law on this basis?

Much more sensible: law is a project of moral beings, through which we protect the right ways of living. Our obligation to the law extends to ensuring it accurately reflects what is right.

Ashok said...

Is everything you say internally consistent as a whole?

I'm not saying this to defend conservatism. You just might want to do a quick check over your argument, summarizing your post paragraph by paragraph and asking how tight the logic is.

The argument moves from economic/incentive analysis to sentiments that give/prevent goods to evolution of sentiments to "using an older prejudice that was good for the sake of condemning the new is bad" to "cast out the beam in thy own eye first" to "there's a moral law which combines economics and sentiment - sympathy" to "communities and education may promote sentiment, but this is an empirical matter (!)" to "we need universal empathy."

I'm not arguing with you. But I suspect the comments you're getting are coming from the post being muddled and people seeing what they want to see in it, and not quite being empathetic. There isn't merely a lot to prove here, like whether "moral law" being "sympathy" isn't a rhetorical trick used to throw out Christian morality and promote enlightened self-interest -- there's an even bigger question of whether this logic is internally consistent. Your argument seems to lean, given its beginning, even more heavily in the direction of never letting go of the old prejudices, since without them, the possibility of sympathy is precluded (cf. Machiavelli, "The Prince," regarding being feared and not loved, and Nietzsche - the aphorism where he says one has not watched life well if one hasn't seen people politely kill).

What you would need to remedy that gap is a clear vision of what we are evolving towards. You could argue we're moving towards sympathy based on your logic, and that freedom is the means. But to argue sympathy as prior and final is a mess: it isn't clear why conservatives would even exist on this logic, nor why there are any economic problems.

Ruthie said...

T, I think it's far more dangerous not to think of it that way.

Is There a Prima Facie Obligation to Obey the Law?
M. B. E. Smith
The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 82, No. 5

I can't do it justice, you'll just have to read it.

Gracchi said...

Interesting arguments.

Lord N- can I leave abortion- its not that I don't think Conservatives are sympathising at all in abortion I think that they are sympathising with an opposite part of the line as you say it doesn't quite fit the definitions- I shouldn't have used the example- the post is quite confused- which I'll get onto in a moment- but I think that the homosexuality example is much more interesting. Abortion is a hellish issue to get into.

Vino its precisely that difference between internal and external judgement that I was trying and failing to get at- not sure about your point about social conservatives who are political liberals but punish themselves could you flesh out a bit the distinctions there.

Crushed by Ingsoc- on abortion I understand that point of view and that's fine it depends on teh personhood of the foetus. On your second point which is an interesting one- my own feeling is that there is something about pornography and prostitution that is immoral- I wouldn't ban either but I wouldn't be happy with either eitehr. I think there is a distinction between private and public morality there- my own view is that sex is something that is quite different to other activities- and that you can't buy it but I can't really justify that perspective.

Tamerlane interesting point as to how you sympathise with a foetus- can I think that through for a bit- I think there is something sympathetic going on though- the emotional appeal of pictures of abortion say shouldn't be underrated- I know conservatives who do use them to fire their abortion opposition.

Ruthie- interesting questions about law and morality. I suppose in a sense morality binds other regarding actions- there is a distinction between an action that people see and an action they don't know about and doesn't effect them. I agree its a difficult area- I'll write about that one day and you have raised something well worth thinking about.

Blast you Ashok there are problems vast ones in the argument- I think I tried to cut off too much in one go to be honest- I'd see it more as throwing some ideas out there than a complete piece- thanks for your critique though there is a lot to think about there.

Cheers Ruthie for the cite.

Oh and by the way I'm convicting myself of my own crime today- using liberal and conservative so indiscriminately was an appalling lapse of judgement- for that I apologise- not all liberals are x or all conservatives are x and often times in this piece I've been erecting a straw man which I've targetted rather than taking on an argument- thank you for your comments though and apologies for the incoherence.

Lord Nazh said...

Gracchi: I was not tackling your entire premise, I couldn't really get straight what points you were for and against ;)

I just wonder'd why you would use the rape victim instead of the woman who chose sex but then chose against life (of the child).

It (abortion) seems to boil down to one point, do you think it's a child who deserves the same chances, rights and all that you have or do you think it's a fetus that deserves nothing until after birth.

Homosexual: most conservatives (that I personally know) could really care less about the way they live, they just don't condone it or want to HAVE to condone it. It becomes a big issue when gay people insist on 'group' status and 'equal' rights. What they (imo) want is special rights in most (not all) cases.

I said on another site: People cannot offend others with words; people can only BE offended with them. That's my moral stance on it :)

T said...

ruthie: I have read it thankyou. And you will also be aware of Robert Paul Wolff's In Defense of Anarchism (Harper 1970, 1976) and the dangers that presents for your way of thinking. You can say that there is something flawed about people doing right because they want to obey law, but I am free to retout that there is something also very wrong with people obeying the law because of some rationale calculus about potential gains and losses.

Ruthie said...


" I am free to retout that there is something also very wrong with people obeying the law because of some rationale calculus about potential gains and losses."

I agree.

Gracchi said...

Well there are questions about equality before the law- and also about tolerating and cheering people using perjorative words like faggott- see Anne Coulter.

Ruthie, T I'll leave that to you two.

edmund said...

A very big post wiht a lot of comments- i think i'll have to answer in several posts. IN this one I'll just pick up on individal things I have a big problem with in the post (which is quite good)

a) i would say chris Dillow makes it more understandable rather than "irratioal" it's still a stupid career move

b) As I understand it Mr Sinclar works for the Tax Payers Alliance which I would call a campaign group rather than a think tank( that's not a critim i think both types of insititona are equally worthwhile)

c) i think what you mean by "kind of snobbery" is a good point but don't youi mean "prejudice" or "social prejudice" really instead? I can see the analogy but don't think you're taliing about the same thing- snobbery is about class not all forms of reputaton.

d) I hope you'd also have ethical concn about pornogrpahy-and think you do from the comments

e) 19th centru America did not have a slaver majority , also it's worh piong out slaves did have some rights they could not killed at whim at least in theory for example - also don fore slvaery was illeag over most of 19th centry america from quite early on - after the American war of idnepnece there's a big surge of prohibion in the first few decades of the Republic

f) It'#s woth noting the rise of higher educioan has seen a massive fall in empathy for the foetus- which clearly counts as a rolling bakc of such barriers however little you may think it deserves such empathy. similary ancient greence was more enthsially pro slavery than say medieval Greece .l And of course the biggest mass murders in world histoy the holocuast, the ukraina famine ect wer the products of the educated not the uneducated

tamerlane said...

gracchi, I think when abortion opponents use photographs they are pointing out the human characteristics of the foetus, so as to show that what we are destroying is a human being. Human characteristics provoke pity in us. The process is only 'sympathetic' if we loosely define the word - that which provokes grief for a thing. Something that is perceived as having value-in-itself is destroyed. An analogy might be an environmentalist who witnesses the destruction of a beautiful piece of wilderness that is dear to them. The environmentalist doesn't necessarily quantify the loss selfishly, i.e. the loss of aesthetic pleasure to himself, and he certainly doesn't think that the wilderness can feel pain in any way. The environmentalist simply values the wilderness for what it is, as an abstract thing.

The analogy doesn't completely fit, as there are other arguments against abortion such as the potential life of the foetus, which is a separate argument to the above (whether or not it is human and thus should be valued).

Obviously I don't want to get into a debate about abortion here, I'm not claiming that one moral system is better than another, I'm just looking at different ethical motivations. I think that conservatives are more likely to categorize people and actions into good/bad: killing innocent babies is bad, killing convicted criminals good; pornographer is bad, think-tank analyst good. Whereas the liberal is more likely to take an overall, utilitarian approach which demands universal sympathy, in the sense that you put yourself in another's position, feel what they feel, understand their condition. This is why liberals are more squeamish about torture, and causing pain to animals than conservatives who are more concerned about abortion.

edmund said...

Secondly on a related point where is the evidence for the following claim

" Conservatives are fixated upon using this prejudice outwardly- liberalism as I understand it is more in the tradition of English puritanism that you apply your prejudices first to yourself, that you berate yourself as the worst of sinners, like Gladstone whip yourself (perhaps not literally as Gladstone did) before condemning others to the scourge. Conservatives often seem too satisfied in their status, content not to self examine and condemn examples of what they call liberal guilt-"

er? what is this based on? to be fair such things are such sweepign generalizaiotns they arguablly cna't be made at all. But in any case it stie me the oppstio is the case. When conservatives are moralitic ( and like liberas they are not always os) it tends to be about things that are aspects of indival behivioru eg killing, raping, stelaing ect and more conti sometimes killing the unborn, having childn outside wedlock say.

These are example of indival bheaiovur which the individial who propus them can be affected by. ie if taken sieroux they res ones' own acitons (and obious people can stray or be downright hypocratical)

libelra moralty by contrast is overhwlngly about govenr action or about thought, so it's about denying ncorr view on say race or women or abour suppong higher taxes. it simply doens limit the acions of the indivial themsleves in the same way -it's a poltila agenda wihtout the same implicaions for personal behaviour. It's about thought and poltiics- it does not provide the same

the libela may support higher taxes- particular for thers but the archytpical liberal's ideolgy don suggest he should say give mon hiosm to the poor the same way a social conseratives genraly suggest she should not have an abortion.

so if there is such a generalizi to be made it's clealry the other way.

MJW said...

Interesting post, but I think one thing you missed was that conservatives tend to feel empathy with the victim; whilst social-liberals tend to be more morally relativistic and can have almost as much empathy for the agressor leading to apologism which is both corrosive and reinforces/justifies negative behaviour.

edmund2 said...

I think the point about social opprodium being a masssive factor in behaviour is quite right. I also think the link wiht the crimaio law is interesting. Ther's an old saying " peole don't murder becasue nurders are hanged but because they think it's wrong , however it's because they hanged they think it's wrong" and indeed the rate has steadily soared since the effective abolition of the death peantly in the early 1950's. The social disapove acaused by crinal sancions are often just as impornt if not more than the risk of bing caught-and of course the more law abiding the society the more so.

Of course it's also pboa the case that if something is not inhre eth8cal ie it's a morally neutal rather than psotive action or if ti's a positve one there is a case that breaking a law agianst it (eg smokign in a bar soon even if everyone else is) is wrong. Thus by banning sutff that is ethically netural you are cuaisng more peole to behave unethicaly and so are respobe for a wrong (which may be ounlied by the advnatages of such a ban of course)

Finally I agree that it's also the case social stigma of this type works withou the law (which is what i understand you to be so) and indeed is a key part of creating a reasoly ethical society which is not ridicously restrictive. So if you think aduty is wrong but not appoate to be banned ( a common postion) you should want peole who commit it to be thought less of -because it's a huge disintive to it.

As far as I can make out the thrust of your (Gracchi's) point on homose ect is just because social pressure can be a good thing doen mean it will be- ie it can be used agianst moraly netual or praiseworh acts as well as against wrong ones and so approving of social pressure as a posy does not mean supporing every specific example

This seems to me to be true indeed a truism and almost logialy ienvita since there are opposng social pressures. To take one example people leaing the communist party for liberal democracy eg Chambers or Koesethler were doing a good thing but came under huge socia lpresur fomr their fellow communists. THat was obviously undeseriable.

Of course if one was to allow the communist party to exist- you would none the less allow this form of social pressure as central to freedom of assocaition however undesirable!

edmund4 said...

one indivial point this struk me as peculaiar and ceint the idea it's prevalent enough to be made an idea of "conservatism" as comapred to say NAMBLA what's this based on?

t is what I object to within conservatism. The argument that says that a homosexual is the same as a paedophile-