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.
June 16, 2007
Why isn't Matt Sinclair a pornographer?