Friday, March 1, 2013

The Two Faces of L'Affair Tom Flanagan

Did you hear? University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan said something abominable.

He really did.

It's been enough to sever his ties with the Conservative Party of Canada, the Wildrose Alliance Party, and the CBC. It's also been enough to put him on leave from the University of Calgary.

In a sense, it's all justifiable. But there's also more to it than those braying most loudly about it -- the left -- are saying.

First off, here's what they're unquestionably right about: what Flanagan said was truly awful. More than anything, it was truly idiotic. Looking at child pornography is not really a victimless crime. Possession of it is prohibited for an and obvious excellent reason. For most people, this goes without saying, mostly because the reasons are so utterly and perfectly self-evident.

Flanagan is entitled to his opinion, and there is even an argument for it, even if that argument is incorrect. Yet it's an argument that could, from time to time, be heard from a libertarian. The argument, as Flanagan presents it, is that the act of looking at child pornography does not itself harm anyone. So as such, it does no good to punish someone for the mere possession of child pornography.

Right? Right?


To make this argument is to overlook the fact that the consumption of child pornography is reflective of the demand for child pornography. Flanagan is certainly enough of an economist to know that demand drives supply.Ergo, the consumption of child pornography directly encourages the sexual abuse of children by creating the demand for it. Separating the harm done by the producers from the appetites of the consumers is where Flanagan's argument meets its ultimate moral failure.

So is the Canadian left -- who despise Flanagan as they despise few others -- at liberty to condemn him? Certainly, they are. Are they in any position to?

Actually, no.

As it turns out, Flanagan's argument in opposition to the punishment is not that different than the one that the left frequently applies to drug users: that the use of drugs shouldn't be punished. The use of drugs harms no one aside from the user. This is the portion of the argument that they share with libertarians. But the left takes it one step further: that the user is themselves also a victim, and so should be largely excused from any criminal sanction.

But is a drug user any more insulated from the harm associated with the production of their product than is the user of child pornography? At least in terms of hard drug users, they can't. People are often killed by the cartels that produce hard drugs. They aren't above using slave labour. Those locals who they cannot buy off with a few baubles live under a state of constant intimidation.

So if the child pornography user is not insulated from the harm their product does, nor should hard drug users. Yet we provide safe injection sites for drug addicts in the name of "harm reduction." We certainly don't provide pedophiles with access to previously-existing child pornography in the name of preventing the continuing harm of children. Nor should we.

So is the left justified in the sheer bombast of their outrage over Flanagan's remarks? I don't think so. When you look at what Tom Flanagan has to say about child pornography -- as wrong as it is -- it isn't all that different than what the left says about drugs.

Of course, they gain no rhetorical advantage whatsoever from that. So of course they'll never admit it.


  1. A poor argument. Surprisingly it started out fine until you pulled the political shell games out. Drug use is different. Its the prohibition not the consumption that caused all of the violence.

    Furthermore, harm reduction does not involve procurement. It is done mainly to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and to catch any overdose events. These actions actually save the health care system untold millions of dollars.

    Second its not a left/right. The only libertarian argument would be for the drug use not for the porn.

    Third the whole neocon edifice built by Tom Flanagan must be demolished.

    1. Many drugs -- cocaine, heroin -- are prohibited for good reason. And you might note that I don't argue that consumption directly causes the violence. However, as consumption drives demand, consumption is still very much an indirect driver of the violence. This isn't even disputable.

      Just as consumption of child porn is an indirect driver of the abuse of those children.

      A good "come in from the cold" treatment program for pedophiles -- which Flanagan advocated -- would serve the harm reduction prerogative far better than safe injection sites, including the spread of communicable diseases to abused children, as well as (hopefully) reducing the demand for child pornography. Yet we have "safe injection sites" that do not and cannot achieve both ends.

      (BTW, as soon as I hear someone utter the word "neocon" I begin to doubt they actually know what a neoconservative is.)