Tuesday, June 24, 2008

moral relativism

(Official Portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, taken January 28, 1976. Courtesy of Wikipedia/Library of Congress)
"...under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard core p[0]rn[0]graphy. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964) (Stewart, J., concurring) (emphasis added).

[Ed.--As you have probably noticed, certain "o"s have been replaced with zeros {0} to avoid a negative rating and to keep this site out of unwanted search results, but the human brain will easily dor the necessary corrections]

I linked to this New York Times story on my sidebar, but it merits more examination.
In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

In the trial of a p[0]rn[0]graphic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like "[0]rgy" than for "apple pie" or "watermelon." The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.
Does something stop being obscene because lots of people look for it online? One of my favorite plays has a song which suggests that the true purpose of the Internet is to find the kind of material this operator provided. One could argue that the fact that such material is widely viewed means that lots of people secretly like to look at this stuff, not that they don't find it obscene. In fact, it is arguably because it is taboo that they want to find it.
“Time and time again you’ll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private,” said Mr. Walters, the defense lawyer. Using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed,” he added.
Like hypocrisy has ever stopped people from condemning those who are no worse than them. Maybe in the near future defense attorneys will try to use jurors', prosecutors', and witnesses' web viewing habits against them. Publicity wise, I am sure Google is none too pleased to have its search engine used in this fashion.

The defense attorneys in this case are banking on the argument that the "contemporary community standards" of decency have sufficiently evolved to become more accepting of such explicit material. So is the Internet defining decency down? Or are tools like Google Trends just revealing people's true levels of decency?

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