I regularly read the rational optimist blog (not matt ridley's) and found an interesting article there today. Frank Robinson is a libertarian in the US who has many opinions in common with me (religion, mostly) but also is a lot different from me in that he agrees with lots of things the Republicans do, though he also disagrees with many things they do. He wrote today about how he finds it abhorrent that the government spends time searching around for readers of child pornography because only the creators of child pornography are legitimate targets of enforcement. In his view the government and law enforcement have absolutely no business looking at the private matters of citizens who aren't actively engaged in hurting anyone else.
I like a lot of libertarian ideals. I like the idea that the government should never infringe on people's privacy and that people can sort things out by themselves... but I don't think that this philosophy, taken to extremes, makes for good policy. Child porn is bad. Really, really bad. Being sexually attracted to children is not a crime of course, and it shouldn't be, but I do think that consuming child porn should be a crime. It would be great to not have weapons or soldiers at all on the basis that weapons and soldiers only hurt people but being defenceless eventually leads to catastrophic results. In the same way it is great to have maximal privacy and have our computers be utterly sacrosanct but I think the benefits of having the government try to clamp down on child porn wherever it is found are too great to be ignored. It is a bad enough thing that it is correct to punish both the creators and consumers in an effort to prevent the practice entirely.
In Canada even viewing cartoon pornography where anyone involved appears to be under 18 is criminal; this seems utterly bonkers to me. There is a gaping chasm between using children for porn (which is reprehensible) and clicking on a video you find after googling "Simpsons porn" (which is silly). Right now our laws don't make a distinction between silly and evil and that is a problem. People don't get to choose what they find attractive and repression does not eliminate desire. This, I think, is something that the government has gotten entirely wrong in this picture. The concept of 'gateway drugs' as a reason to ban marijuana never held water and I don't think 'gateway child porn' does either. It isn't in good taste and I don't like it but I don't think that being a Conservative is in good taste either and I don't get to make that illegal.
As the regular newspaper reports of child porn can attest there are lots of people out there who are inexorably attracted to this stuff. They can't help it despite the incredible risk and life destroying punishments that wait for them. We can't cure them, we can't eliminate them from the populace. All we can do is try to give them safe outlets that don't hurt anybody and lock up those that do hurt children and toss away the key.