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This does not establish a uniform permissiveness across the U.S. Each city, county and state can bring actions that publishers or distributors must defend individually, at sometimes prohibitive costs. But in general, what constitutes "redeeming social importance" is endlessly arguable, and even plainly unredeemed "hardcore" pornography is easier than ever to buy, particularly since the Supreme Court ruled that allegedly obscene books or movies cannot be seized by police until they have been so adjudged in the courts.
Matter of Taste
Lately, a distinct reaction against permissiveness has begun. Pressure is increasing from citizens' organizations such as the Roman Catholic National Organization for Decent Literature, the Protestant Churchmen's Committee for Decent Publications, and Citizens for Decent Literature, a nonsectarian organization that now has 300 chapters around the country. These groups are shrill, sincere, and sometimes self-defeating. When a Chicago court ruled three years ago that Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer could be sold locally, the C.D.L. flooded Chicago with excerpts of outrageous passages in the book, undoubtedly giving them wider circulation than they had ever before enjoyed in the city.
Miller, for one, considers such alarms trivial in the light of the Bomb. "We are now passing through a period of what might be called 'cosmic insensitivity,' " he says, "a period when God seems more than ever absent from the world and man is doomed to come face to face with the fate he has created for himself. At such a moment, the question of whether a man be guilty of using obscene language in printed books seems to me inconsequential. It is almost as if, while taking a walk through a green field, I espied a blade of grass with manure on it, and bending down to that obscure little blade of grass I said to it scoldingly, 'Naughty! Naughty!' "
Not everybody can be as cosmically insensitive as that, particularly when, as it sometimes appears, there is so much manure and so little grass. Actually, there is relatively less indignation from the pulpits of any denomination than one might expect. Says Harold Bosley, pastor of Manhattan's Christ Church Methodist: "The new license in the arts is one of the major problems in the church today. But none of us are interested in rigorous public censorship. We must help create an attitude of self-censorship and responsibility, otherwise we're dead ducks." And Baptist Minister Howard Moody of the Judson Memorial Church in New York's Greenwich Village feels that a new Christian definition of obscenity should not concentrate on sex or vulgar language alone, but on anything, particularly violence, whose purpose is "the debasement and depreciation of human beings."
As for psychiatrists, they are great believers in the Jimmy Walker dictum that no girl was ever ruined by a book, asserting, in effect, that no one is harmed by pornography who is not sick to begin with. The young, it is widely conceded, are more vulnerable, but no one has yet devised a practical way of keeping books from the young by law without also keeping them from adultswhich would mean a return to the Cockburn rule.
Perhaps beyond questions of law, even beyond concern for morals, the problem is one of taste.