Freedom from Porn: Steve Jobs Shapes Culture

Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs wants to offer "freedom from porn" to his consumers.

Steve Jobs has been making waves by saying that he wants the iPad and other Apple products to be “porn-free.”

Jobs has offered several reasons for this, but all of his statements seem to indicate a general desire to shape the culture of his company, as well as its consumers.

For a glimpse into Jobs’ views on the matter, I recommend reading his e-mail exchange with blogger Ryan Tate, which seems to be getting the most attention from the media.

Tate began the exchange by sending Jobs an e-mail that said the following:

“If [Bob] Dylan was 20 today, how would he feel about your company? Would he think the iPad had the faintest thing to do with ‘revolution’? Revolutions are about freedom.”

Surprisingly, Jobs actually responded to Tate’s e-mail, and his response included this jab:

“Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.”

There are plenty of interesting facets to this situation — particularly regarding the recent goings on between Apple and Adobe — but what I want to focus on is Jobs’ statement about “freedom from porn.” What strikes me is that it echoes a Biblical concept that plenty of Christians don’t even grasp. I doubt that Jobs is rooting his worldview in the Bible (he’s a Buddhist), but I think it’s encouraging to see such a prominent figure making these arguments.

Many “liberation” types argue that freedom means the right to do anything you want, which may be true from a purely literal perspective. But holistically speaking, the Bible depicts freedom as something a bit more complex. In the Bible, real freedom isn’t as much about making choices as it is about making the right ones.

For example, the Apostle Paul tells us that slavery to sin is bondage, but slavery to God is freedom:

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Similarly, John speaks about a lifestyle of sin being a lifestyle of lawlessness:

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

Even most libertarians would agree that lawlessness is hardly a starting point for achieving true freedom.

In short, there is a difference between the freedom to sin and freedom from sin. One is guided by nothing more than personal impulses, and the other is guided by an all-knowing God who has a much clearer idea of what is in our best interest.

But as far as maintaining a society of free choice, is Apple crossing the line? Is it wrong for Apple to try to shape and manipulate culture? When it comes to public policy, this blog often takes a position against prohibitive measures, arguing that the choice to sin should be up to the individual. But we are not talking about a law that bans a certain type of behavior. We are not talking about a government edict that forces a particular view of morality. We are talking about natural and constructive market specialization.

Jobs is well aware that he is not ridding the world of pornography, and he has made it clear that he is simply offering consumers a more distinct choice on the matter. Here is what he had to say at a press conference last April:

“You know, there’s a porn store for Android [phones using Google's software]. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go – so we’re not going to go there.”

I, for one, would be delighted with the option to buy a porn-free product. Currently, most companies expect consumers to pay for third-party censorship. Apple is simply integrating it as a service.

Dustin Steeve argues similar points over at the Evangelical Outpost, and I encourage you to read his full article on the matter. But he makes one particular point I’d like to highlight. Several commentators have been mockingly terming Apple’s censored items as the “Iranian editions,” but as Steeve notes, this comparison ignores the differences between private choice and government coercion:

“Comparisons between Apple and Iran’s theocracy are intellectually dishonest. The Iranian people do not have the choice of opting out of the Mullah’s edicts. You don’t have to shop at the iTunes store. Ever. Not once. Steve Jobs cannot stop you from porn consumption — he just won’t let porn into his marketplace.”

I’ve thrown out a lot of different points here, but I think the fundamental lesson in all of this is that it shows how we can and should shape our culture. Jobs thinks pornography is destructive, and thus he doesn’t want it in his products. He is offering society a choice — one that will either hurt or help Apple’s profit margin. If he is successful, it will serve as a mirror of our culture and he may have some kind of individual impact along the way.

If you’re against pornography, passing a government law may slow things down, but the individual will be coerced in the process. Putting the choice in the consumer’s hands (as Jobs is doing) offers much greater potential for real and lasting individual impact.

Democracy has the potential to offer this type of choice to society at large (often to ill effect), but choosing between an iPhone and an Android seems to be a much more efficient way to manage cultural shifts.

What are your thoughts?

(Note: The image of Steve Jobs is provided by acaben / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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  • Remnant Culture

    New post on morality and market specialization: "Freedom from Porn: Steve Jobs Shapes Culture." (via @DustinSteeve)