I'm examining the proposed new Victorian 'anti-obscenity' laws : on-the-spot fines for offensive language. A sample:
What’s behind obscenity... is not language, but the uncivilised motive: we wish to discomfit, embarrass, disquiet. When we are angry, insulted or simply vulgar, this motive will find its phrases and imagery, as surely as the polite man will find his ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Which brings us back to the relationship between obscenity and law. Clearly, the legal system cannot hope to make swearing extinct – it is endemic in civilisation. And punishment cannot ‘send a message’ to offenders. They get the message already: that’s why they chose the words they did. Their only regret will be getting caught and punished. There can be no reform.
Punishing someone for obscenity... can only be a grand retribution – the offended revenging themselves upon the offensive. This is understandable, but it is a Pyrrhic victory: it reinforces our own victimhood, and gives the obscene more power than they deserve.