Statement of Frederick Schauer

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

Pornography, in its most explicit and offensive forms, commands our attention in a way that few other things do. It is there, before our eyes, and in our minds thereafter, and its very thereness makes it hard to ignore it and hard to be dispassionate about it. Most importantly, the way in which the pornographic item demands our attention makes it hard to generate that level of detachment that, however personally difficult, is an essential prerequisite of open-minded and intellectually honest inquiry. The eleven of us find ourselves on this Commission for different reasons. Although I consider myself as moral as the next person, and more moral than most, I do not deceive myself into thinking that my appointment to this task was a function either of my own morality or of my ability to identify, to reflect, or to speak for the moral values of others. These are important functions, and I am gratified that they have been represented on this Commission, but I have seen my own role differently.

As a teacher in a university, as an academic, and as a scholar, I have been asked to bring to our work some degree of knowledge about constitutional law in general and the law of free speech in particular, as well as some knowledge about the law of obscenity. But to be an academic is not to know about certain things, or even to have certain talents of intelligence, analysis, or creativity. Nor is it to hold an appointment in a university, for it is more than that. It is to be willing to pursue an inquiry in the most intellectually honest way possible, to be open to new ideas and to challenges, to follow the inquiry where it leads regardless of personal views, to be free to reach conclusions without having to serve an external constituency, to be able to make the best case for the opposing view and then confront that best case rather than the worst case, and to be willing to consider today that what one believed yesterday might be wrong.

This is an ideal, and it is an ideal that none of us reach. But it is the ideal that I take to have guided my aspirations for the work of this Commission, and especially to have guided my aspirations for my own role among the Commissioners. As I look back on what we have done, I am pleased with the way that our final product measures up against this standard. We have dealt with issues that have divided us, and that divide society, yet we have been able to agree on a great deal, we have been able to talk even where we have been unable to agree, and we have been able to put together a final report that explains rather than suppresses disagreement.

In their own statements the other Commissioners have concentrated largely on the issue of pornography, and on their reactions to it. I believe these issues are important, or else I would not have agreed to serve on this Commission, but for me what is even more important is the nature of the inquiry and the nature of the product, and what it says about the style and level of public discourse. It is not a necessary truth that the world has to be divided into liberals and conservatives, good guys and bad guys, reactionaries and radicals. Nor is a necessary truth that adjectives must substitute for analysis, that all that matters is what can be summarized in a headline or a three minute news segment, and that one good quote is better than a hundred pages of careful thought. To me our process and our product is a rejection of much that is worst about the nature of public discourse. It trusts the public to understand difficult issues if the various positions can be explained. It trusts the public to read and to understand a large amount of factual information. It records agreement where it exists without exacerbating minor differences, and it records disagreement where it exists without feeling compelled to reduce every serious disagreement to who won and who lost. It is a report that is designed to be read rather than summarized, to be thought about rather than used as rallying cry or flag of battle, and to be as much the beginning of serious discussion and debate rather than the end of it.

None of us can be expected to agree with every word, every line, every fact, and every recommendation contained in these pages. Discussion has resolved many of our differences, just as it has created new ones. Yet we expect to continue thinking about this issue, just as we expect others to. We deal here with an issue that involves sex, physical harm, privacy, morals, the environment of a community, the idea of community itself, the status of women, sexual preference, and a host of other issues that divide this and other societies. Faced with these divisions, we could have yelled at each other, chosen up sides, and looked for further reasons to disagree. But the world has no shortage of people who are looking to create or to accentuate divisions. It does need people who are willing to try to heal them, not by trying to persuade other people to adopt your point of view, but instead by reaching out and trying to understand theirs. We have tried to do this, and we have succeeded more than most. This Report contains a great deal on the issue of pornography, and there seems little point in adding to that here. But in thinking about pornography, this Report also says something about thinking, and I hope that part of our mission and our product will not be neglected.

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

Copyright 2005