Another triumph for the market mentality: Many readers wrote to offer sympathy over the flood of abuse they thought I’d get for criticizing a Toronto police campaign against child-porn users. I thought they’d like to know that, of hundreds of responses, two were nasty. More striking was that, among many critical letters, just a few argued that child porn leads to actual abuse of kids, though that was the main thrust of the cops’ argument. Almost no one seemed to buy it. There was a true flood of letters, though, using what you might call an Economics 101 argument: that paying for child porn provides a profit incentive for pornographers to produce more of it, thus harming kids used in the production, so consumers are directly culpable, too.

The police didn’t mention this argument, assuming, as I had, that most child abuse happens in society, not porn studios. Nor has anyone clarified how much porn involves real kids, versus drawings, text, etc. The law makes no distinction between fiction and “reality” forms. So it’s odd how many people focused on this narrow area: Cut off demand so supply will wither. Forcing a consumer boycott, really, and a pretty indirect means to the end. Abuse of kids is illegal; why not go after the criminals instead of relying on the effects of market economics. It’s not like boycotting fur, which is legal. In fact, under this approach, pornographers suffer only economic consequences, while buyers, many of them troubled souls, get criminal treatment.

Is this actually another triumph of consumerism, a combination of Ralph Naderism run amok (consumer power) with Thatcher-Reaganism run amok (markets can solve every social problem)? Or does Ec 101 serve darker purposes, like keeping the topic alive in an antiseptic, pseudo-scientific way. (Some readers mentioned the social obsession with child sexuality.) Or is it a covert way to deplore what goes on in other people’s heads, though such puritanism itself is socially maladroit. Matthew Parris paraphrased that in The Times of London: “It’s bad, it’s disgusting, nobody should get pleasure from looking at such things, and even if we can’t prove how or whom it hurts, we should stop them at once.”

And the winning entry is disobedience: The search for a motive for America’s war-in-waiting on Iraq continues. Having dismissed the official candidates — terror, evil, weapons of mass destruction, tyranny — in previous columns, I’m ready to announce a winner. It is . . . disobeying the U.S., which Saddam Hussein has done alone in his region, much as Fidel Castro has done in his.

And what a pathetic little act of defiance. Recall Saddam’s 1990 meeting with U.S. ambassador April Glaspie, when he thought she’d given him a green light to invade Kuwait. Note that he called the meeting and effectively asked permission. Till then, he was as much a butcher, likely more, than he has been since, but an obedient butcher. Then he invaded and, worse, when the “misunderstanding” surfaced, wouldn’t back off. He put his — which he sees as his country’s — interest first. It was, in other words, about nationalism, in the tawdriest form. Having knocked off the area’s respectable nationalists in previous decades, the U.S. was left with the category’s dregs.

In a sense, it still is about nationalism. Maybe they thought they could reintegrate him as a vassal, but he was stubborn or stupid or didn’t care. A nationalist, in a bullheaded sense. Maybe they just wanted to make his country suffer for a decade as an example for those similarly inclined.

It wasn’t about invasion then, any more than it’s about terror et al. today. Everybody invades everyone else in the region. Do you really need to see the list? It was about not taking orders.

Iffy: How do politicians such as Jean Chrétien and Bill Graham get away with declining to say what Canada will do if the U.S. invades Iraq on its own, by saying they don’t answer hypothetical questions? Politics isn’t criminal court, where what you did counts, not what you might do. Exactly what you want from politicians is hypotheses. Draft legislation is hypothetical law. Election platforms are hypothetical policies if you get elected.

Rogers/Fame: Geist magazine has a petition to put Stan Rogers in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in time for this year’s Junos. You mean he isn’t already there? You mean there can be a Canadian Music Hall of Fame without Stan Rogers in it? You can sign here.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.