Monday, September 21, 2009

Libertarianism and Banning

Yet another news story containing a call for a ban on something:
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said new plans to keep children safe from internet predators should specifically address the rise of so-called pro-ana and pro-mia sites - which advocate anorexia and bulimia.
Right, now, this is a bit of a tough one. Because as a Libertarian, hearing about a call to ban something activates a little red flag in my mind, and I am left very wary about what freedom could now be condemned to the dustbin of history by pressure groups and the government. Yet when I realise is pro-ana and pro-mia websites, I struggle to get too excited. I wouldn't miss them if they were gone, and I can't imagine they are dreadfully pleasant sites.

Of course, that doesn't mean I agree with the call to ban them.

Now, as Libertarian I do support some bans. For example, the ban on child pornography is one I have no issue whatsoever with supporting. So given I am happy with the ban of one type of utterly unpleasant website, why I am not so keen on a ban for another type of unpleasant website?

It comes down to the harm factor. By definition, child pornography has to involve the rape and/or abuse of children in the process of its creation. The same is not true of the pro-ana and pro-mia websites. Furthermore, I have seen no conclusive proof that they actually do a lot of harm to people. Even the Royal College of Psychiatrists stops short of making the claim that they lead to anorexia and bulimia:
Professor Ulrike Schmidt said: "Pro-ana and pro-mia websites advocate anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as a lifestyle choice, rather than as serious mental disorders. Research shows that, even for healthy young women, viewing such websites induces low mood, low self-esteem and increased body dissatisfaction."
Low mood, low self-esteem and increased body-dissatisfaction may be bad things and part of the road towards anorexia and bulimia, but feeling that way does not automatically mean that a person will become anorexic of bulimic after viewing one of these websites. And lots of other things could provoke a similar feeling in a lot of people - like a day in a comprehensive school.

Furthermore, once you ban one thing to save people from eating disorders, you set a precedent for banning other things for the same reason. The article mentions London Fashion Week as "a showcase for "underweight women."" How long until we get a call to ban that? And if we have already banned pro-ana and pro-mia websites, why wouldn't we ban London Fashion Week? And so on and so on, until we all live bland, homogenised existences free of risk but also devoid of a sense of being alive.

More often than not, a call to ban something comes from a well-meaning but naive source. And the decision to ban, more often than not, comes from a desperate attempt by a far from wise politician to be populist. And a ban itself is a clumsy, unwieldy tool that often damages and affects far more than it intended to. As a result, we need to carefully, objectively and unemotionally interrogate each and every ban, with a view to understanding whether it is actually necessary and what unintended consequences it might have.

Banning something is often very appealing, but is seldom actually the answer.

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3 Comments:

At 3:19 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what would you say if I told you the reason I started to purge was because I saw a "mia" tips and tricks page and wanted to try it? And now I have a full-fledged, diagnosable eating disorder?

 
At 3:52 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think it is perfectly okay for this to exist? You think that a group like this should NOT be banned? Let me tell you something: I have SEEN what anorexia does to people. It leads to so, so many health problems down the road. NO WEBSITE should endorse such things and YES, IT SHOULD BE BANNED! I have NO problem with the government banning shit like this because you know what, it DOES lead to problems. Don't tell me there is one benefit of letting this stay around. There are no consequences of this going away. And don't preach "that's government taking away our freedom." That is someone else looking out for us, and making sure that we don't make stupid decisions. Should we be free to make stupid decisions? Maybe. But if this leads to at least one young girl or boys' life saved, then it is FAR, FAR worth the cost of your proposed "freedom".

 
At 9:29 am , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

Ok, I'm going to treat the anonymous commenters as separate people even though I suspect they are not.

Anonymous @ 3:19AM

If you did start to purge after seeing a pro-mia website, then may I suggest you take your evidence to the Royal College of Psychiatrists so they can use it in their campaign. If there is a conclusive link between your eating disorder and this sort of website, then you can strengthen their weak case no end.

Anonymous @ 3:52AM

Don't pretend you know the first fucking thing about me. I know have seen what eating disorders do as well. I have seen what other forms of mental illness do too. Does that make me more knowledgeable than you? No? Well don't flash your fucking knowledge of eating disorders at me. And don't you fucking dare accuse me of preaching when you are preaching back at me.

Whether or not websites should endorse this sort of thing is magnificently irrelevant. The fact is there are some that do. And, if you note what I've actually written, you will see that I have no like in any way whatsoever for these websites.

That doesn't mean the government should ban them, particularly since no evidence has been presented that they do lead to eating disorders directly. Your argument that there is no consequence of them going away is another sign that you haven't read my post properly. As I point out, banning this sort of websites as a part of a knee-jerk reaction sets a precedent that you can ban other things because of a knee-jerk reaction. So, anonymous, are you going to ban London Fashion Week? That could save at least one young girl or boy's life. According to your spurious and crass logic, that is reason enough to ban. But what about other things that could save a girl or a boy's life? Kids and teenagers are killed in car accidents. So let's ban cars. This is what your logic demands, and arguably we should be banning cars before we get around to this sort of a website. After all, cars kill more than pro-ana or pro-mia websites.

Your response is typical of the hysterical, ill thought through response that comes when dealing with a controversial topic like this. And your response demonstrates why people like you are not objective enough to make the choice about what needs to be banned or not.

TNL

 

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