JOHN ENTINGH - 31 JANUARY 2012
Can moral judgment and decision making be facilitated through censorship? To answer this question we need context. Censorship is defined as: "The change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes," (ALA | Basics). This definition includes a deprivation of intellectual freedom, or a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” Commonly when one thinks of censorship, the concept embraces some form of media that is being restricted. However, is media the only way that ideas can be restricted? Can one form the argument that many laws passed and many social norms arising from century old religious practices are actually a form of censorship crafted exclusively to shape moral judgment and decision making? Let us spend the next few minutes exploring this argument.
We shall begin with sex, the oldest and most popular human drive that has been heavily censored. Even though recent translations debate the contention that the Christian Old Testament provided temple prostitutes (Stuckey), the New Testament leaves little room for interpretation about Tamar, who committed prostitution with Judah, (Matthew 1:3-5). So why then has a society founded on this very Bible promulgated such strong laws against indencency and prostitution?
The first defense for such laws that comes to mind is that when these laws were made, medical science had yet to provide humane birth control or safe sex practices. This seems like a sound agument given the evidence that the AIDS epidemic in Africa is attributed to these very deficiencies. But these kinds of laws grew in popularity between the advent of contraceptives and protections and the outbreak of AIDS. Also, we have areas of society that have not been restricted in such a manner such as Nevada in the United States and many European countires. The areas where prostitution is legal actually have fewer instances of violent sex crimes and lower rates of sexually transmitted disease. This is because human drives can be regulated when made legal and there is oversight and medical treatment available without repurcussions. Making a basic human urge illegal will never stop it, only force it to continue underground, and under threat of all the associated dangers (Liberator). Arguably the very reason for the widespread epidemic of AIDS in Africa is due to prosititution being illegal and unregulated. There is no rational explaination for prostituion laws except that the reigning powers want to control moral judgment and decision making, even to the fate of public health.
But is this really censorship? These laws certainly seem to be a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” These laws are also used to legitimize the ban on many forms of nudity in public media, which hinders the expression of art. The very concept brings to mind a humorous argument that music icon Frank Zappa made to the U.S Congress during discussions on rating the music industry. Zappa insisted that wives of wealthy congressmen in Washington D.C. who were pressing for censorship on moral grounds could never know how to raise his children, that is the parent’s duty and responsibility (Siderussianlegsweep).
The second most unpopular form of censorship, as most college students will attest to, relate to seemingly unfair laws on the drinking age. A brief history of legal age limits may put this subject in better context. Until the disasterous attempt at prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s there were few legal age limits on drinking. After proibition the legal age in most U.S States was set at 21. Then with the draft for the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s, both voting age and drinking age limits were lowered to 18. If a young person must go to war and be placed in harms way for the sake of the country, it seems justice demands that solider’s right to vote and drink (A.M.A). The 1970s also brought in the era of an American research society. It seems these days every thing has been researched or studied in some way. It was the 70s research that correlated traffic fatalities with age and alcohol use that supported raising the drinking age once again. By the 1980s neuroscience was making headway in brain imaging and today science has conclusively evidenced that the human brain is not fully developed until approximetely 25 to 30 years of age, with female brains maturing faster than males (Sowell, et al). More specifically, the area of slowest development in the human brain is the frontal cortex which is responsible for one being able to reason abstractly and understand future consequences for today’s behavior. Thus, science seems to support the benefits of raising the drinking age, and lower teen traffic fatality statistics released by the feds back up the laws.
Does this package just seem too neat and tidy? It should, as Adrianna Tehran, writing for the Yale Economic Review points out, the research used to support the higher drinking age ignores a number of confounds. Primarily, teen traffic fatalities had been falling twenty years before the feds passed the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA) due to safety regulations imposed on the auto industry. Furthermore, the teen traffic fatalities used to pass the law included all traffic fatalities and did not separate alcohol related incidents (Tehran). Wagenaar and Toomey (2005) provide a meta-analysis on the research surrounding the drinking age issue in a very objective manner, even recognizing the argument about the lower drinking ages in Europe. This analysis compares the alcohol consumption per capita and considers the fact that Americans have more access to private vehicles than European counterparts, and acknowledge that while lower drinking ages in Europe do not support the contention that lower ages encourage more traffic fatalities, they do point out that health related issues attributed to higher alcohol consumption are indeed far higher where there are more laxed drinking laws.
This brings us to the question of whether alcohol related laws really make a difference. Reports have emerged that alcoholism rates in Italy have tripled since 1996 to the current rate of around 60,000, with just over 10 percent under 29 years of age (Povoledo). However, one must keep in mind that 60,000 instances of alcoholism in a population of 61,016,804 (Index Mundi) is still less than 1% of the total. Compare that to 43% of Americans that have been exposed to alcoholism in their families (Drugs-Rehabs.com). All reports contend that in many countries, like Italy, alcohol consumption is a culture artifact of dining. Instead of sugared tea or soda pop with meals, Italians have historically had wine.
The real issue at hand is whether a legal age for alcohol consumption can be considered censorship. Let us consider the social ramifications by dividing a society. Historically, taverns have served as gathering points where members of the community come together to share ideas, and this represents a key point in censorship, to restrict the free flow of ideas. By rasing the drinking age beyond the voting age, young voters are excluded from the free flow of ideas and debate in these casual settings.
It is a reasonable speculation that the simple prohibition of alcohol for those under 21 and the prohibition of nudity and other sexual expressions are inherently forms of censorship. At the least, they profoundly influence how the young person conceives of the world around them. Drinking and nudity become taboo. They are either negative things to avoid or they are adventurous, mysterious and unknown parts of the world that must be explored-- most often they are both, beginning as the former and ending as the latter. But even a law of prohibition prohibits the free flow of ideas by stating, implicitly, that certain actions are morally wrong. These specific cases even propose that drinking and sexuality should not be openly discussed. Even by existing as laws or social norms, these things appear to be forms of censorship.
Still though, we must approach more liberal norms regarding freedom of sexual expression and alcohol consumption with due care. Certainly the argument is persuasive that a sheltered society breeds ignorant voters. Yet in order to justify lifting the types of censorship that socially excludes young voters, society must alter the socialization of the youths beginning at an early age. Sexual expression and alcohol consumption must be learned as responsible social interactions and the abuse of such as deterimental to the development of the self. In other words, as adolescents form atonomous identities, they need to understand that some freedoms and liberties in life can impede them from becoming all they can be. Perhaps Frank Zappa had it right all along, moral judgment comes down to parenting and not through censorship. If we are to believe the statistics, the current laws intended to guide moral judgment and decision making seem to actually increase what they ban. Can we then conclude that censorship has a latent “gateway” function? I think so. Regardless, as today’s students emerge as tomorrow’s leaders, we must realize the world is ours to change.
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 Editor's Note: Prohibition of alcohol in the United States is a long history. In certain states alcohol was altogether banned in the 19th century for similar durations of time, and it was continuously debated on the national level. Most of the 19th century prohibition effort was led by women's groups and religious groups morally opposed to intoxication for anyone at any level, as opposed to the current under-21 prohibition led by MADD.