A Middle Way Between the Puritans and the Libertines


At Talk Back Northampton, Peter Brooks said he believes that the founders of NoPornNorthampton are “victims of the hysteria and fear that history shows can grip a community that is regarded as relatively educated.”

We reply that if you want to see hysteria and fear, take a look at how porn films and magazines view women. So many films are about giving women the “punishment” they deserve. How dare women try to be more than pieces of meat? The porn explosion may be partly a backlash against feminism’s gains in the 1960s and 70s.

We get the impression that Mr. Brooks is mainly concerned about keeping this a free and tolerant society, not about defending porn itself. We share that concern. But what we see right now is a culture that’s increasingly “intolerant” of innocence, destructive of intimacy and tenderness, and unsafe for children.

Peter is right that big cultural shifts can happen unexpectedly. Just 30 years ago it would probably have been unthinkable that porn stars would be lecturing at high school career days. A backlash may well be in the works. Perhaps it would be wiser for hardcore free-speech folks to compromise now by allowing some modest regulation of the worst excesses of the porn culture, to reduce the chances that outraged conservatives will overshoot the mark.

Cultures yo-yo between puritanism and libertinism all the time throughout history (compare the 18th and 19th centuries). Our society has already gone about as far as you can go in the latter direction, short of people bonking on Main Street. Let’s try to dampen the pendulum swing instead of insisting that it stay stuck in one direction forever. It’s not going to happen.

16 thoughts on “A Middle Way Between the Puritans and the Libertines

  1. So you expect us to settle and let this clear indication of censorship (you can’t buy porn here!) go unchallenged, and give conservatisim an inch?

    Heh, the way I see it the rest of the country needs to become more liberal, and massachusetts needs to continue.

    Forgive my slippery slope, but if we blindly allow conservatives influence business then what is next?

    There is a open building, there are already pornography shops in the city, I really don’t see what the whole big deal is.

    This site seems to want to “reduce the amount of pornography consumption”, well lady that is not your decision to make.

    What people do is their own business, if you don’t like what people around you are doing? then move near other people of like mind, heck that is why the usa exists in the first place.

  2. You say, “it would be wiser for hardcore free-speech folks to compromise now by allowing some modest regulation of the worst excesses of the porn culture.” There is nothing in the proposed ordinance that talks about regulating the “worst excesses of the porn culture,” by which I presume you mean videos that depict poor treatment of women. In order to regulate this, the ordinance targets all adult material. In other words, you’re willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, even to the extent that you would endanger current businesses in town who sell adult materials. And you want other people to compromise?

  3. I can appreciate that the degradation of women is a serious concern, and certainly one of the many reasons I personally find porn offensive. I however, don’t think that regulation of porn shops is a way to solve the problem. Those who want porn can drive less than 30 minutes and get all the porn they like. They don’t even have to drive anywhere – they can go online or turn on the TV. Having porn in proximity doesn’t mean children will wander in or suddenly just become corrupt. I mean come on, we have a hunting store with big guns in the window and a smoke shop on main street. These are equally, if not more hazardous locals for children to hang out. Let them build the shop, but spend the tax they generate to educate people and increase awareness of violence against women. Run classes to help parents raise their children, and over time, put the porn shop out of business. Morality and respect can’t be regulated into existence. These things are taught, and a porn shop here or there isn’t going to change anything.

  4. In Northampton I see no strong conservative element that could cause a severe reversal of liberal policies. How can you even call yourselves liberals if you ultimately believe that progressive and egalitarian efforts will eventually be nullified by conservative backlash? Haven’t you already stated that you reject such defeatist attitudes? I support a gradual approach to liberalizing society (a slowed pendulum swing if you will) but to simply say that we’ve gone as far as we can and should just start censoring material for the sake of stopping backlash is beyond counter-productive. In fact it seems to be an admission of conservatism by this organization.

  5. Part of porn culture appears to be a belief that in the area of speech, a business can do whatever it wants no matter what the physical harm to the surrounding area. We say that’s wrong, unfair and excessive. The strongest adult-use ordinance currently under discussion won’t affect businesses with less than 1,000 square feet of adult material on display. That will preserve the baby of Oh My and Pride and Joy.

    There are stricter adult-use ordinances in effect elsewhere in Massachusetts, but we support the mayor’s efforts to find a true “Northampton-style” compromise here.

  6. If some people refuse to exercise good judgment and do harm, at some point other people are going to want to regulate them by law. This is an age-old pattern.

    Judgment is different from censorship. Saying something shocking for money, for example, is not the same as saying it to achieve a valuable social goal. The law can have a hard time getting that distinction right, but people on their own can make the right call.

    We’re liberal in that we want people to be humane to each other, that everyone is worthy of respect. We’re conservative in that we want to conserve what’s good about Northampton.

  7. Thanks for acknowledging the harm of porn to women. Your assertions about the harmlessness of porn shops, however, are not supported by the evidence. Here are posts on our blog that give particular attention to the “secondary effects” of sexually oriented businesses. These effects include an increased risk of crime, disease, failure of surrounding businesses, reduced property values, hazardous trash and harassment of passersby.

    Impact of Porn Shops on a Community

    Des Moines: Adult Uses Cause Business Failures, Scare People Away

    Law Article: “Preventing the Secondary Effects of Adult Entertainment Establishments: Is Zoning the Solution?”

    US Court of Appeals Upholds Minneapolis Regulation of Porn Viewing Booths

    The Kittery Experience

    The Blaine Experience

  8. If you have so much faith in people to make the right call, why do we need the new regulations?

    And I suppose your sending a letter containing shocking information and asking for money at the same time is okay because you’re trying to achieve a valuable social goal? If Kenneth Guarino claims that he’s trying to achieve a valuable social goal, then will you let him open his store here?

  9. We just can’t win with you, Jeff, can we? You earlier questioned our sources of funding, then when we seek funds from local citizens, you’re critical of that, too.

    Yes, we believe our goals of a healthy community and respect for women trump Kenneth Guarino’s heedless desire to make money. Guarino has proposed no noble goals for what he does. Rather, he tells the Wall Street Journal, “It’s just a business. I like to watch the numbers.” As we mentioned before, the Supreme Court values political speech over commercial speech. We will not take any personal profits from our campaign.

    If Guarino, or you, did say noble goals required the opening of a large porn shop at 135 King Street, we would want to know in detail how the porn shop would advance those goals. So far your case has been thin, weak, and easily rebutted.

    The people of Northampton had faith that businesspeople would use sound judgment about their commercial tenants. The Goldbergs showed this faith was misplaced, even after we pled our case to them in detail, so now the people are drawing on some of the appropriate, limited regulatory tools in use elsewhere in the state.

    Our mass open letter, though unpleasant to read, shows our respect for the people in that we are publicizing our case widely for each citizen to judge on their own.

  10. How is your “unpleasant” letter any different than an adult business shwoing respect for citizens by placing graphic advertisements in its windows to publicize itself and offer each citizen the opportunity to judge on his/her own whether or not to enter the store?

    You are responsible for putting more obscene material into Northampton homes than Capital Video is. And your belief in the rightness of your motives can’t change that fact. Can’t you see how people would see your actions as hypocritical?

  11. The context of information matters. Obviously we are trying to reduce the spread of porn, not sell it or profit from it. We felt it was important to let the public know the seriousness of the problem, since many people either don’t know about Capital Video or don’t know the nature of what they sell. A vaccination hurts, too, but you do it to ward off a more harmful disease.

    Freedom of speech advocates are hypocritical when they criticize us for giving true and important information to the public.

  12. I wish your actions could be likened to a vaccination, but you know as well as I that your actions won’t prevent anyone in Northampton from getting pornography. Also, the idea that “context of information” doesn’t matter to the person who opened your letter and was offended by it. Find me the person who’s saying, “God, that’s terrible, but I’m not offended because the CONTEXT is okay.” Context and intent are in the mind of the creator of the objectionable material and all too often try to trump the person who’s on the receiving end of the information. And the U.S. Postal Codes seem to agree with this.

  13. We’ll have to disagree on this one. Context, intention and effects are important. How can we have a quality discussion about any unpleasant subject, such as pornography, war, or torture, without personally knowing at least some of the unfiltered facts?

    We didn’t create or sell the pornography in question. Wouldn’t your concerns be better directed to the source?

    Our legal counsel is satisfied that we are well within the limits of the law with respect to the content of our mailing. To political speech, when important values are at stake, the Supreme Court extends the highest protection.

  14. Intentions don’t completely mitigate consequences. Can’t you see that you’re doing exactly what you’re trying to get Capital Video not to do? Capital Video’s intentions are legal–and noble to those who believe in capitalism. They want to open a profitable store in Northampton. I know you don’t see this as a noble intention, but then again, many people don’t see your intentions as noble, either. That being said, you’re objecting to their legal rights on the grounds that the consequences of their intentions are harmful. How is that different from what NoPorn has done in claiming that no one should be offended by your mailing (and your ever-more-obscene website) because your intentions are good?

    It’s getting harder and harder to see what the difference is between you and Capital Video.

  15. Making money from suffering is never noble, whether the social order is capitalism, communism, or something in between. Legal rights aren’t the only things that hold a community together.

    Intentions are important, and effects are even more important. Adult businesses have been shown to increase the risk of crime and blight to an area, and porn has been shown to degrade viewers’ attitudes towards women and sex crimes.

    The full effects of our mailing remain to be seen, but our intent is to raise awareness so people will take action. This offer from a real estate publisher to help the Goldbergs find a better tenant is a good example. We don’t claim that no one will be offended by our mailing, and we don’t offend without good reason. We believe the long-term benefits from awareness will outweigh the short-term shock.

    Mailed returns from our mailing are running 3-to-1 in favor, by the way.

    If our website is obscene, that’s because porn is obscene. You can’t blame this messenger for the message.

    If you can’t tell the difference between us and Capital Video, your judgment is severely impaired.

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