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Such allegations of harm were laboriously investigated by the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. After two years of study and ten volumes of research, in 1970 it reported "no substantial basis" for the belief that exposure to erotica causes sex crimes or bad moral character. Yet the commission's ten volumes hardly settled the matter. Says Herbert Abelson, president of the Response Analysis Corporation in Princeton: "You can use studies to demonstrate whatever you want." Harvard Political Scientist James Q. Wilson argues that the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence decided television violence was dangerous, with as little real proof at hand as the obscenity commission had when it decided pornography was harmless. Says Wilson: "In the cases of violence and obscenity, it is unlikely that social science can either show harmful effects or prove there are no harmful effects."
If social science has no reliable answers, neither does history. Many are convinced that there is a correlation between the advance of pornography and the decline of a society. But the historical evidence for making such a connection is thin.
Thus, for example, compared with what went on in ancient Greece, says Chairman Glen Bowersock of Harvard's classics department, "the U.S. hasn't seen anything." Classical pornography was largely created, he says, "by the most intelligent, erudite and cultured people in the society" and was a source of pleasure and lively delight. Unlike American porn, it was not "cheaply and badly done, solely to make a buck." And, argues Bowersock, contrary to popular legend, pornography did no harm whatever to the culture of ancient Greece. The most that can be said of ancient Rome, according to Jeffrey Henderson, Yale assistant professor of classics, is that pornography was clearly associated with the empire's decline, but as a consequence and not a cause.
Yet it is difficult to escape the suspicion, especially in societies with more or less Judeo-Christian moral standards, that pornography, so often not really erotic but merely dehumanizing, can be a symptom of social disorder. Sex has often been used as a political weapon for rebellion (and is therefore suspect in totalitarian societies). Open sexuality can be seen as a sign of freedom, yet it can also run riot to the point where it becomes both destructive and compulsive and thus ultimately unfree.
What is unique about the modern West and particularly the U.S. is that porn cuts against the grain of so many traditional beliefs, and the explosion is taking place in a highly literate society with the technological means and marketing talent to disseminate it. It is that collision of culture and commerce that creates concern.
That raises the second critical question beyond porn's possible harm to users: the right to privacy of nonusers. To what extent can residents protect a community by zoning porn shops into one district or forbidding sex ads, leafleting and store-window displays? The First Amendment