Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State, is neither an anti-porn zealot nor an "anything goes" libertarian. He finds adult pornography tolerable, even believing that "The positive aspects of...legal adult material should be stressed." (p. 222). But he is clearly opposed to child pornography, believing that it should remain illegal and that we should take measures to reduce its existence to a tolerable level.
I was reminded of the war against agricultural pests because what Professor Jenkins stresses is that it is impossible to get rid of child porn on the Net completely without destroying much of what is good about the Net. In trying to completely kill all the pests, we may inadvertently kill all the beneficial insects as well.
This book is ostensibly about the "kiddie porn" culture on the Web, its extent and what can be done about it. Jenkins uses quotes from child porn Bulletin Boards to demonstrate the mind set of the traffickers. He describes a war between citizen vigilante groups and the child pornographers, each employing their hacker expertise in trying to shut down the Web sites and expose the identities of their adversaries. Jenkins does not describe child pornography other than in the most general terms. He claims not to have actually seen any child pornography himself, noting that it is illegal to view such material even for research purposes, and indeed intimates that had he seen such material he would deny having seen it.
The picture that emerges is of a deviant, global community populated by persons hiding behind nicknames and proxies who view and exchange pictures of children through sites and servers from many different places in the world. Jenkins believes that because of the differing laws in the various countries, child pornography cannot be completely eliminated, that it can only be controlled. He depicts the regular deviants themselves as savvy, elusive individuals who change identities and addresses as they stay one step ahead of the law. Only the amateurs get caught.
But there is a bigger issue here emerging out of the struggle between law enforcement and the deviants, and that is the issue of privacy. How can we simultaneously monitor the Web sufficiently to trap, expose and prosecute child pornographers while at the same time protecting ourselves from Big Brother?
Jenkins begins Chapter Six, "Policing the Net," with a revealing quote from Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, a man who ought to know what he is talking about: "You already have zero privacy--get over it." My feeling is that our government and the large corporations already have enough information about us to serve a totalitarian regime (should one ever emerge). Every key stroke on Web can be monitored, recorded and stored. Right now this information is being used mostly for commercial purposes, but we can see how such information could be used to influence, intimidate and control individuals for political purposes. Consequently what this book is really about is the war between the interests of society and those of the individual, the social good verses private interest.
This war is of course as old as humanity, going back even into the tribal culture. But never before has there been such power to coerce and persuade. The tribal leader may have been all powerful within his tribe, so that if you went against him, you would meet with defeat. But you could run away to another place in the world, as humans have always done. Today, and increasingly tomorrow, there is and will be no place to run to.
One of the fears we have of one-world government, now enormously augmented with electronic and computer technology, as Jenkins notes, is that of a totalitarian state from which there is no escape. Our fear is that we will conform to the dictates of that state or we will be punished and "retrained." The Orwellian nightmare in comparison seems limited and amateurish.
So the struggle against the very real and intolerable evil of child pornography becomes in this book a precursor scenario of the struggle of the state against the individual. What Jenkins wants to see happen is some kind of control placed on the invasive nature of the state while somehow maintaining the ability to go after anti-social deviants like the child pornographers. Somehow the state must be restrained but the bad guys controlled.