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Legal foundation for public decency, lewdness, nudity

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Sex is an interaction between people and much of it is visual. When you are subjected to the sight of a nude poster, it is in a way a sexual act between whomever it depicts and you.

So it's rape? That's what you're saying, in effect. Putting up a poster of a nude person in a store window is raping passers-by. It occurs to me that all of that initiation of force stuff was really unnecessary. All we have to do is equate whatever we don't like with "psychological harm" (whatever in blazes that is supposed to mean) or "trashing my values" (hello, censorship of political messages) and voila, we can ban it. What great news for the majority!

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See this thread: Bill Clinton's Impeachment--The legal aspects of abnormal behavior. It's quite a long one and full of pointless bickering, but there is about 10% or so of the posts where you will fin

I disagree with this in part; positive emotions (or any emotions, for that matter) are not the standard of value, but they are values.

A woman who drops her clothes and has her photograph taken for a poster while looking lustfully into the camera is in a way initiating intimacy with whomever is going to happen to see the poster. It is not very different from standing on the sidewalk and dropping your clothes while ogling a random stranger. Which, in turn, is not essentially different from walking up to a random stranger and reaching for his crotch. If the latter requires the man's consent and there is no essential difference, why wouldn't the former require his consent?

Although I think I agree that the display on the described poster would be an "initiation of intimacy", it still seems different from that same woman physically reaching for a sexual organ. The latter case threaten's one's right to his body, so it should be objectively considered more serious.

Nevertheless, I suspect that we might be able to objectively define an "initiation of intimacy" and then subsequently argue that any initiation of intimacy requires the (implicit) consent on all involved parties. I need to reflect on the consequences of this a little more first.

*************************************************************************************************

A more general question to the issues at hand. Should sex depicted in art that is knowingly displayed in public view be treated (legally speaking) any differently from two humans actually having sex in public view?

I am asking this question because some reasonable individuals might be willing to give their consent to viewing sex depicted in art, but not in viewing two people actually having sex. I imagine that when one issues a proper display warning those in public view, it should indicate whether the sex act is portrayed in the form of art or is available for display for other purposes.

Although if this argument is sound, then it seems as if we can apply it recursively to require the warning to distinguish between various forms of art, as many individuals might consent to some forms of art (e.g. erotica) but not to others (e.g. pornography).

Edited by DarkWaters
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Both of your examples involve an individual stumbling upon two people having intercourse. This is certainly different from two people engaging in intercourse knowing that there are potential witnesses in the vicinity. Perhaps this is the line that you are searching for?

But those situations aren't that different. Having sex in your room and forgetting to completely close the curtains has a much smaller potential for being noticed by others as having sex on the roof does. Having sex in your backyard has a much larger potential to be noticed by others than either of those. I guess the question becomes how much probability of being noticed you can accept with the act remaining essentially private (and good, I guess, by extension). Not paying attention to whether or not the curtains are closed is a form of not caring about whether you have taken all possible precautions to prevent others from seeing you. Depending on the circumstances, there might very well be more important things on your mind in such a situation. I don't think that putting a lesser importance on being cautious about this immediately makes the act animalistic and debased.

She must have regarded at least some of those reasons as legitimate enough to conclude that everyone ought to be free to treat sex in their life as they want - which does mean having control over the sexual content one is exposed to (thus came the restrictions about public exposure without consent).

But why does that mean that the person who doesn't like seeing it gets his way, and the other person who doesn't mind seeing it has to adapt? You could just as easily claim that it should be the reverse; that people who are offended by these views should go out of their way not to be offended by it. Why are the most sensitive people the decisive factor in this case, and why should we adapt public standards to suit their purposes? You could only do that if you could prove that there is in fact an objective case to be made as for why that very sensitive view towards public displays of sex is the right one. I mean, I couldn't claim that because I don't want to see any cars in public, other people should respect my views and only use their cars in private.

That doesn't make any sense, unless as I said before, you can link seeing public displays in sex to it being an initiation of force. That would be the only proper reason for the government to interfere, and I don't see how seeing people have sex is an initiation of force.

** Edited first paragraph to clarify**

Edited by Maarten
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That doesn't make any sense, unless as I said before, you can link seeing public displays in sex to it being an initiation of force. That would be the only proper reason for the government to interfere, and I don't see how seeing people have sex is an initiation of force.

I agree, but to go a level deeper, seeing people having sex does not interfere with your rationality. It doesn't force you to stop valuing. It doesn't force you to stop reasoning. You are free to think "I value sex in private, and I do not value that depiction" and move on. You may find it distressing that someone else did not share your values. But you know what? It's good for you to know that. Maybe it will teach you something to know someone else for who they truly are, not who you wished them to be. And in any event, your happiness is not their charge, but yours. Demanding that they cease being who they are to suit your values is a denial of their identity, a denial that A=A. Nothing could be more opposed to reality and Objectivism than the idea that we can properly force others to conform to our values. Yet that is precisely where the reasoning advanced so far seems to lead.

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But why does that mean that the person who doesn't like seeing it gets his way, and the other person who doesn't mind seeing it has to adapt? You could just as easily claim that it should be the reverse; that people who are offended by these views should go out of their way not to be offended by it. Why are the most sensitive people the decisive factor in this case, and why should we adapt public standards to suit their purposes?

Ther reverse would not allow every person to be free to treat sex in their life according to their chosen values and this is the right which Rand was defending.

You could only do that if you could prove that there is in fact an objective case to be made as for why that very sensitive view towards public displays of sex is the right one.

I think Rand thought that an objective case can be made for a range of sensitivity levels, thus her decision about not setting such standards. So she made no value judgement about which level is "right one" just that you have a right to hold whichever view you choose - logically it follows that the most sensitive view must be the standard for public display - otherwise one would not be free to hold the most sensitive view.

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... logically it follows that the most sensitive view must be the standard for public display - otherwise one would not be free to hold the most sensitive view.
Do you really think that should be the rule? There are some sensitive souls who think a woman's face should not be displayed to men other than her father, brothers and husband. It would follow that either women have to wear burquas, or we have to resort to some standard other than the "most sensitive view" one. Edited by softwareNerd
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But those situations aren't that different. Having sex in your room and forgetting to completely close the curtains has a much smaller potential for being noticed by others as having sex on the roof does. Having sex in your backyard has a much larger potential to be noticed by others than either of those. I guess the question becomes how much probability of being noticed you can accept with the act remaining essentially private (and good, I guess, by extension). Not paying attention to whether or not the curtains are closed is a form of not caring about whether you have taken all possible precautions to prevent others from seeing you. Depending on the circumstances, there might very well be more important things on your mind in such a situation. I don't think that putting a lesser importance on being cautious about this immediately makes the act animalistic and debased.

So engaging in sex while knowing that others are able to view is one potential compromise the value of sex. Another would be to be for the people to get so controlled by their emotions where either participant fails to think to take any necessary precautions to ensure privacy. Honest mistakes such as forgetting to close the blinds at night when you have the indoor lights on can be understandable. Nevertheless, it is still important to recognize the "animalness" in acting on one's emotions without thinking.

But why does that mean that the person who doesn't like seeing it gets his way, and the other person who doesn't mind seeing it has to adapt? You could just as easily claim that it should be the reverse; that people who are offended by these views should go out of their way not to be offended by it. Why are the most sensitive people the decisive factor in this case, and why should we adapt public standards to suit their purposes?

You cannot make the reverse argument in this case. Furthermore, the most sensitive people are not always the most decisive factors in these cases.

I think we need to keep in mind that Ayn Rand argument built upon not that people should be offended by certain acts but that most people are offended by public sexual displays and that there are objective reasons for their being offended. I imagine that if there was a society, where only a small minority of people were offended by such displays, then perhaps it would be safe for the law to assume that by being out in public, individuals are giving their consent to witnessing such acts, analogous to how Burger King gives the consent for prospective patrons to enter their property under certain conditions.

I suspect that I do not fully understand this issue though. An individual in the minority in such a society is well within his rights to walk around in public voluntarily wearing a hunter's orange sweatshirt indicating that he is not giving his consent to view public sexual displays. However, it seems unreasonable to legally require other individuals to cease their activities because he is not giving his consent. But I do not really see any problems with this given the society he is living in.

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Do you really think that should be the rule? There are some sensitive souls who think a woman's face should not be displayed to men other than her father, brothers and husband. It would follow that either women have to wear burquas, or we have to resort to some standard other than the "most sensitive view" one.

The difference is that there are objective standards of what sex actually is. That judgement is not left to be decided by anybody's whim.

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Ther reverse would not allow every person to be free to treat sex in their life according to their chosen values and this is the right which Rand was defending.

Sure they could. They could practice their sex life in any way they see fit in the privacy of their own home. Which is what someone who wants to have sex has to do, right now. The fact that the sensitive person can't seem to keep someone else's views of sex from interfering with his own view of sex, doesn't give him the right to make others go out of their way to not offend him.

What about seeing sex makes it impossible for a person to simply ignore instances of it that he doesn't agree with, and continue with his life? Is the person suddenly robbed of his volition in these situations?

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Sure they could. They could practice their sex life in any way they see fit in the privacy of their own home. Which is what someone who wants to have sex has to do, right now. The fact that the sensitive person can't seem to keep someone else's views of sex from interfering with his own view of sex, doesn't give him the right to make others go out of their way to not offend him.

What about seeing sex makes it impossible for a person to simply ignore instances of it that he doesn't agree with, and continue with his life? Is the person suddenly robbed of his volition in these situations?

This is more than just interference with views. By the word "treat" I ment more than "what one thinks of "... I also ment whatever that results in action. When one says "I think of sex as a very private matter" - it means one desires to restrict experiencing sexual atmosphere/stimulation/exposure only to people one chooses.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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This is more than just interference with views. By the word "treat" I ment more than "what one thinks of "... I also ment whatever that results in action. When one says "I think of sex as a very private matter" - it means one desires to restrict experiencing sexual atmosphere/stimulation/exposure only to people one chooses.

Also, (referring to Maarten's comment) from a legal point of view, we are talking about ostentatious public sexual displays. That is a situation where the sexual couple obviously deliberately seeks to foist their sexual display on the other person. This is to be distinguished from situations where a curtain inadvertently opens revealing a couple having sex. The neighbor in that case merely has to avert his gaze, but a repetitive public display is another matter. In that situation, the neighbor cannot help but be confronted by the couple's sexual display.

This is analogous to someone walking by your house and throwing a piece of litter. If it happens once, you will probably do nothing, and simply throw the litter into the trash. However, if someone dumps litter every day onto your yard, you have a legal right to force him to stop.

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This is more than just interference with views. By the word "treat" I ment more than "what one thinks of "... I also ment whatever that results in action. When one says "I think of sex as a very private matter" - it means one desires to restrict experiencing sexual atmosphere/stimulation/exposure only to people one chooses.

But what makes this situation different from not wanting to experience ugly people when you go about in public? If ugly people offend me, then I could also argue that I shouldn't have to see them on the streets, because they're interfering with my ability to see only pretty people.

You have to explain why sex is different than these other things before it makes any sense to make claims such as these, and base laws on these conclusions. Why is experiencing sexual images without your consent different from seeing ugly people without your consent? The issue of consent is only relevant when the situation is actually harmful to you.

You have to show that seeing sexual images or sexual situations makes it impossible for you to live your life. You are responsible for your own mind, and you choose what to do with the perceptual evidence presented to you by your senses. You can choose to let something such as this affect you, or not. If you can show how seeing your neighbor having sex makes it impossible for you to look at sex the same way, then you might have a case. But I don't at all see why the way someone else approaches sex should affect the way you see it. And as long as your concept of sex isn't affected, it really doesn't impact your life in any way that matters.

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The difference is that there are objective standards of what sex actually is. That judgement is not left to be decided by anybody's whim.
Okay, I think I understand your point about the "most sensitive" standard. I think what you're saying is that if a sight is objectively sexual, it should come with a warning to the unconsenting. In other words, within the range of what is sexual, one does not have to make an objective judgement of what extent should be allowed. Rather, within that objectively defined range, the most sensitive should set the standard.

Other than actual depiction of sex (whether real or suggestive), and the display or depiction of sexual organs, can there be any other sight that is objectively suggestive of sex outside of the context of a particular cultural norm?

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Saying you have a right to not be offended is like saying you have a right not to be sad.

I never said that one has the right to not be offended. You need to re-read my last few posts, as it doesn't appear that you got what I was saying.

Surely you don't have a right not to see flowers in public? What you should concentrate on is proving why seeing beheadings or smelling noxious fumes or hearing animals being tortured violates your rights. I don't think that has been proven, yet. You need to be able to make a principled case for why certain perceptions should be prohibitable and others shouldn't be, otherwise you can never make Objective laws regarding these issues.

That's as may be, but I first wanted you to admit that there are in fact such things that fall into the category of being sights that you do not have the right to impose on non-consenting people who are on their own property. Before we can get to a discussion of what does and does not fall into this category, I need you to first acknowledge that it does exist.

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I may be opening yet another can of worms here, but I don't see how it follows that a sexual act is automatically debased to an animal act if it is viewed by another person.

You are, and I suggest that you close that can; especially since it has its own thread, as has been pointed out. Let us first discuss that objective violation of someone's rights can in fact occur by subjecting them to disgusting sights against their consent, on their own property.

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It's you viewing the poster.

Sex is an interaction between people and much of it is visual. When you are subjected to the sight of a nude poster, it is in a way a sexual act between whomever it depicts and you.

If it were not just a poster but, say, a woman went up to a man and patted his sexual organ, then I'm sure you agree it would be an initiation of intimacy on her part. You'll probably also agree that this requires the man's (not necessarily verbal) consent, as opposed to say tapping his shoulder, which in many contexts does not. Now, taking it one step back, suppose the woman decides to use a different strategy: she stands still and drops her clothes while looking lustfully into the man's eyes. Isn't this still an initiation of intimacy? It's a visual one rather than a tactile one, but I don't see any essential difference--do you?

...It is not very different from standing on the sidewalk and dropping your clothes while ogling a random stranger. Which, in turn, is not essentially different from walking up to a random stranger and reaching for his crotch. If the latter requires the man's consent and there is no essential difference, why wouldn't the former require his consent?

That's exactly right. I couldn't have said it better, myself.

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I don't see how dropping one's pants in a context where it is obvious that one is not posing any real physical threat is the same (in essence) as doing something physical -- like grabbing someone's crotch. If it is, then what is that essence?

I think the essence is that it's a form of psychological assault (so goes the argument, anyway). Although since no one has yet seen fit to define what that means, I don't see how anyone can draw any conclusions about its validity.

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I don't see how dropping one's pants in a context where it is obvious that one is not posing any real physical threat is the same (in essence) as doing something physical -- like grabbing someone's crotch. If it is, then what is that essence?

The essence is that it is involving someone, against their will, in a sexual act.

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But what makes this situation different from not wanting to experience ugly people when you go about in public? If ugly people offend me, then I could also argue that I shouldn't have to see them on the streets, because they're interfering with my ability to see only pretty people.

You have to explain why sex is different than these other things before it makes any sense to make claims such as these, and base laws on these conclusions. Why is experiencing sexual images without your consent different from seeing ugly people without your consent? The issue of consent is only relevant when the situation is actually harmful to you.

Do you truly not see a difference between having sex and looking at people's faces? No difference in intimacy involved? It is hard for me to take your questions seriously.

You have to show that seeing sexual images or sexual situations makes it impossible for you to live your life.

Straw man as I have not been claiming such thing.

You are responsible for your own mind, and you choose what to do with the perceptual evidence presented to you by your senses. You can choose to let something such as this affect you, or not. If you can show how seeing your neighbor having sex makes it impossible for you to look at sex the same way, then you might have a case. But I don't at all see why the way someone else approaches sex should affect the way you see it. And as long as your concept of sex isn't affected, it really doesn't impact your life in any way that matters.

See my previous post for the answer where I said that it is not simply about interference with how one "looks" at sex.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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That's as may be, but I first wanted you to admit that there are in fact such things that fall into the category of being sights that you do not have the right to impose on non-consenting people who are on their own property. Before we can get to a discussion of what does and does not fall into this category, I need you to first acknowledge that it does exist.

It does exist, but it cannot include anything that first needs to be processed on the conceptual level. Perceptual material in itself is not a form of force, and it is utterly impossible to force someone's mind by showing him certain images. Releasing chlorine gas on your property is a completely different matter, because you don't have a choice about whether or not you are affected by it. You DO have a choice whether or not sexual images affect you.

So yes, I am saying that you don't have a right not to be subjected to animal mutilation on your own property. The force aspect only comes into play when someone actually makes it impossible for you to look away; when he forces you to view/listen/hear that. That is the initiation of force, and that makes government intervention proper. Someone calling me names doesn't violate my rights either, unless he stops me on the street and makes it impossible for me to disregard him.

*Added second paragraph*

Edited by Maarten
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Do you truly not see a difference between having sex and looking at people's faces? No difference in intimacy involved? It is hard for me to take your questions seriously.

But it's not my responsibility when making an argument such as these to explain the difference. You are the one who is claiming there is a difference that justifies laws such as these that government what can be subjected to. So you have to show why seeing sex without giving consent falls under the same umbrella as extremely loud noises and noxious fumes that make you vomit. When you want to make laws such as these that have an enormous impact on the lives of men, you need to have a rock-solid case for it. Basically, that comes down to showing how seeing sex without giving consent for it is an initiation of force against you.

So far, it has not been necessary for me to disprove much of anything, because no one has presented a complete argument as for why you should have the right to treat sex in any way you please.

If there is such a good, objective case to be made for sex having a specific nature, and that nature necessitates laws such as these, then why don't you simply post that proof? That would solve the whole discussion.

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A poster is a means of communicating something to a wide audience. A woman who drops her clothes and has her photograph taken for a poster while looking lustfully into the camera is in a way initiating intimacy with whomever is going to happen to see the poster.

CF, i like your argument (because it's similar to the one i used in the "sex in front of children" thread).

However, with regards your intitiation of intimacy example, i'd like to know if the nudity/deed is essential.

If the same woman was just looking lustfully into the camera, and perhaps posturing her body in a "lustful" way, would she be considered to be initiating intimacy even if she is fully dressed? Would you propose prohibiting of all such posters in public? (Even a picture of a face of a woman with "sexy" lips, looking into the camera, and the words "kiss me" written on this portrait, appears to be an intitiation of intimacy. Should that be banned, too?

Hell, my mind is running wild with more examples: what about just a T-shirt with the words "have sex with me", and no picture? Is that a public initiation of intimacy?)

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It does exist, but it cannot include anything that first needs to be processed on the conceptual level.

I already addressed this with the beheading videos, but I didn't get to hear your full thoughts on the matter. The key is to go far enough out into an extreme and ask yourself if you could see how that is a violation of your property rights. How about if he set up a projector and beamed them into your living room?

You DO have a choice whether or not sexual images affect you.

What if the choice which makes it non-effective requires me to stifle my reason?

So yes, I am saying that you don't have a right not to be subjected to animal mutilation on your own property. The force aspect only comes into play when someone actually makes it impossible for you to look away; when he forces you to view/listen/hear that.

When he does it on his front lawn, how exactly can I avoid seeing it? Assume that I have a picture window in my living room, and watch television just slightly to the left of said picture window. Are you suggesting that I must close my blinds? What if I have to go outside and mow my lawn? Do I have to close my eyes whenever I turn in his direction? As property owner, don't I have some say at all on what I must be subject to? Don't his property rights end at his property line? How would your argument even stop perceptual-level disgusting things, if you see fit to require the property owner to plug up his senses on his own property?

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