Saturday, March 14, 2009

Should Singapore legalise pornography?

Yesterday evening, I attended the grand finals of "Policy Studies 2009" which is, though one would not be able to discern this from the event title, a debate competition organised by the NUS Students' Political Association.

I must confess that I was partly motivated to attend the event due to the rather interesting topic the teams were debating about. The debate topic was, as some of you all may have already guessed from the title of this post, "Should Singapore legalise pornography?".

Good points were brought up and discussed by both the proposition team (from Raffles JC) and the opposition team (from Pioneer JC). However, in light of the fact that giving a blow-by-blow account of the debate would be rather tedious (for me) and an uninteresting read (for you all), I would instead just highlight and summarise the noteworthy arguments of both teams. I would then have a section about which team won the debate and some personal remarks about both the debate itself and the debate topic.

The Proposition's Arguments

The proposition started off by stating that by advocating for the legalisation of porn in Singapore, they are not advocating for a free-for-all situation. Instead, they stated that certain limiting conditions would still have to be in place for regulatory purposes.

These conditions would include: one, there should be no overt advertising of porn (this would imply that, as the proposition argued, only those wishing to acquire porn would come into contact with it); two, a minimum age limit should be imposed; three, the porn material should only involve consenting adults; four, no harm should be done to those involved and five, the porn material should not be of a nature such that there is overwhelming moral opposition against it e.g. child pornography.

Moving on, the proposition argued that despite the non-legality of porn in Singapore, it is nevertheless already widely available in Singapore through mediums such as the internet. And it would seem that Singaporeans are not exactly abstaining from the consumption of it. In fact, citing a survey done by Readers' Digest, about 76% of Singaporeans find non-violent porn acceptable.

In light of the above, it was argued by the proposition that since the current ban on porn (interestingly enough, it was pointed out that Singapore does not ban the viewing of porn but only the possession and distribution of it) in Singapore is not effective, it would perhaps be better for Singapore to legalise it so that it can be better regulated. A complete ban on porn would not only not curb the supply of it (since there is significant demand for it) but also perhaps create a "forbidden fruit" effect and cause people to have an even greater demand for it. Also, the criminalisation of porn is, in effect, make otherwise law-abiding and morally upright Singaporeans who consume porn "criminals"; a most ludicrous situation this is.

[Personal note: listening to the proposition's arguments above, I was reminded of the arguments/criticism made against the Prohibition]

And as for arguments that the legalisation of porn would lead to an increase in the occurrences of social ills e.g. sexual crimes, the proposition replied that as of now, there is yet to be any study that conclusively prove that there is a causal link between (the legalisation of) porn and the occurrence of sexual crimes. In fact, as the proposition stated, a study conducted in Japan discovered that sexual crimes rates did not increase after the legalisation of porn in Japan; this interesting discovery could perhaps be due to people having, with the legalisation of porn, a "legitimate" outlet for their sexual desires.

With regards to the argument that porn is immoral, the proposition argued that they do not believe in morality being an absolute. Although they did not make it explicit, the proposition seems to be arguing that "morality" is neither static nor universal and thus Singapore's policy towards porn should be shaped by the unique circumstances present in Singapore. On that note, since there is the demand for it and since a majority of Singaporeans find non-violent porn acceptable, there should be a legalising of porn in Singapore. Also, the state, as argued by the proposition, should not act as a moral agency which decides what is moral and what is not for its citizens through its legislation and policies.

In response to the argument that porn should not be legalised because women are objectified as being sexual objects, the proposition drew an analogy between modelling and porn. If modelling, in which models use their bodies to earn a living, is permitted in Singapore, why should porn, which the proposition argues as being essentially also the usage of one's body to earn a living, be illegal?

In addition, in response to the argument that, by legalising porn in Singapore, a "slippery slope" would be created for other undesirable acts, e.g. bestiality, pedophilia and drug usage, to become legalised, the proposition put forth the argument that in contrast with porn, there remains overwhelming non-acceptance of those abovementioned undesirable acts and thus, the "slippery slope" effect is irrelevant in this case.

The Opposition's Arguments

The opposition began their argument by questioning the need to legalise porn [personal note: I sortof agree with this point in that I do not see porn as being essential to living a "good" life but, of course, as my friend puts it, it's not about there being a need to legalise porn but rather why is there a need to not legalise porn].

The effectiveness of the regulatory conditions proposed by the proposition was also questioned. If currently underage youth are able to get their hands on cigarettes and alcoholic drinks despite the minimum age limits imposed on these items, would imposing a minimum age limit on porn work? And in light of the fact that the majority of porn is produced overseas, the opposition team questioned the feasibility of trying to regulate porn to fit with the conditions proposed by the proposition.

It was also argued by the opposition that porn should not be legalised in Singapore because it objectifies women as being only sexual objects and that it demeans sex. The opposition also argued that porn is harmful because it will corrupt the minds of the young and result in an increase in the occurrences of sexual crimes.

An oft-repeated argument by the opposition was that porn, being immoral, should not be legalised. The state, as the opposition argues, should act as a "moral compass" and set the proper example for the people, who do not always necessarily make the correct moral choices, by not legalising porn [later, when questioned about whether they are giving too much room for government intervention with this argument of theirs, the opposition replied that there are limits set in the Constitution with regards to the powers of the government].

Interestingly enough, while the proposition used the argument that Singapore's policy towards porn should be shaped by its own unique circumstances to bolster their case, the opposition also used the same argument to argue that Singapore should not go the way of legalising porn just because other countries have done so.

The opposition also put forth the argument that by legalising porn, Singapore's government would be going against its long-standing messages on promoting responsible sexual behaviour. And as was already mentioned above, the opposition also argued that by legalising porn, a "slippery slope" effect would be created and other undesirable acts may also become legalised.

Disagreeing with the proposition that a "forbidden fruit" effect will emerge due to a ban on porn, the opposition said that proper sex education would curb the sexual curiousity of local youth; they also added that porn cannot count as proper sex education.

Verdict and Personal Remarks

In the end, it was decided by the judges that the proposition team was the better of the two teams.

I would agree with the judges' decision as I also felt that while the opposition team gave a valiant effort, the proposition's arguments appeared to be more reasonable and convincing. And as pointed out by the judges, the proposition's style of presentation also aided them.

However, as much as I can appreciate and agree with the proposition's logic and arguments on an intellectual level, I personally would still not endorse a decision to legalise porn in Singapore. I guess this is mainly a visceral decision of mine. The only real reason I can perhaps give as to why I would most probably not endorse a decision to legalise porn would be that, as I have noted above, I do not see a real need for it to be legalised. As I see it, even with the current non-legalising of porn in Singapore, people are not exactly suffering, are they?

And while there may indeed come a day in which porn would become legalised, the time now is perhaps not yet ripe for such a situation. I mean, while it is perhaps common knowledge that porn is an "open secret" (especially for guys), I suppose most guys would still feel somewhat uneasy about confessing to people (unless they know them well enough) that they consume porn (of course, I will concede that this uneasiness with confessing one's consumption of porn could be due to the fact that it is not legalised).

To end off this post on a lighter note, allow me to share this joke regarding men and porn.

"If you ask 10 guy friends whether they watch porn, 8 will be honest and answer 'yes', 1 will lie and answer 'no' and the last guy will answer 'no' and really be honest"

1 comment:

Aloysius said...

Hi, thanks for the very interesting post. It really reminded me of my secondary school lessons.

As I see it, even with the current non-legalising of porn in Singapore, people are not exactly suffering, are they?

Yup, I agree. Furthermore, as noted by the proposition, viweing of porn is not illegal and this is sort of a loophole for Singaporeans to watch porn on the Internet, without exactly violating the law. People still have access to porn, legal or not.

But I'd like to think legalising porn would be a step by the govt to loosen up its socially conservative image.

Nice joke (:

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