Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An Underlying Reason Why Porn is Wrong

Since Steve's recent post on porn addiction has generated so many responses, I thought it might be useful to print the following excerpt from a novel I'm currently polishing up entitled The 13th Prime. Needless to say, since I'm still editing it, it's subject to much change and all that. However, the point of the passage should be clear without my having to enlighten anyone as to the plot or any of that :-)

--------

“Let’s take an example. Pornography. Porn is something that even a lot of people in the church struggle with. I’ve heard statistics that say as many as two thirds of pastors surf internet porn at their home. That’s a lot of people, and you have to wonder why they do it.”

Rick shrugged, hoping his perceived indifference wouldn’t give away his discomfort at how close this topic was to his recent infidelity. “I don’t know. I guess there’s something about the sex appeal.”

“Certainly that’s the hook,” Killen agreed. “But that’s not really the point of pornography. You see, porn has nothing to do with nudity or even sex when you boil it all down.”

Rick burst out laughing. “How can you possibly say that?”

“Because these are married men who look at porn. They download pictures of naked women when they have a wife whom they have seen naked too. They watch videos of anonymous strangers having intercourse, and yet they have a wife whom they’ve slept with too. If it was just the nudity and just the sex they wouldn’t need the porn. There’s something else there.”

“I’ve never thought of that,” Rick said and he sat back. “But what would it be if there’s something else? Just a drive for variety?”

“Perhaps,” Killen said. “But I think it’s more than that. I think that the reason pornography is so addictive is because it is something that men know on an instinctual level is wrong.”

“But how—”

William raised his hand. “Just hear me out for a minute. People who are addicted to porn generally start with softcore porn. They look at beautiful women in skimpy clothes and then graduate to revealing more and more skin. Soon, though, that doesn’t satisfy them. They need something more, because it doesn’t…it doesn’t shock them anymore. And so they look at hardcore pornography, and for a while that gives them the thrill they need. But soon, that wears off and they begin to look for something else to fill that need, that desire inside.

“And so they turn to something else that will shock them more. They look at bondage pictures. They look at sadomasochistic videos. They watch bestiality. And soon that becomes common place too, and so they move on to more and more. They start to watch simulated rape videos. They start to download crime scene photos that show people hacked to pieces. They start to get copies of executions. They watch all these things and soon simply watching isn’t enough. They have to get into the action themselves.

“So they follow a woman home one night and they rape and beat her. But that’s not enough of a thrill so they molest her daughter too. And then they force her to call her husband from a payphone and explain in all the gory details what happened to them while he stands there by the car with a gun pressed to her head. And while they still talk on the phone, he kills your four-year-old daughter and then your wife.”

Rick’s face had gone ashen. “You’re talking about something that really happened.”

Killen stood still for a moment just staring at his wedding band. It was a story he had almost told Rachel Fitzsimmons when she asked why he still wore it, but he couldn’t. Now he knew he had no choice.

“I moved here to get away from all that and I’ve only found it again in another place. When that man murdered Caroline, he killed a part of me that could never come back. And what he did, that seed of evil is within every single one of us. And for the most part, we nurture it. We hide it in the secrets of our life and we try not to let the beast get too out of hand. We fear the consequences of it, you know.

“But when surveys find that most men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it, you have to wonder about how well contained that beast is. You have to wonder how long God’s going to hold you from falling into the pit of hell.”

Killen ran his hand over his eye. “You see,” he said, fighting back emotion. “There was no reason for that man to rape and kill my wife. He was married. He had three children of his own. And yet he did it anyway. He did it because he wanted to do something evil. He wanted to let the beast out of its cage, and he did it.

“My daughter was four years old, Rick. Four. No child has sex appeal. The only reason that man raped her was because he knew it would inflict pain. The only reason he forced Caroline to call me and tell me what he had done to her is because he knew it would inflict pain. He wasn’t looking for a sexual release, he was looking to commit evil, pure evil.”

Rick could say nothing so Killen continued. “I know that’s a shocking example. It happened twelve years, five months, and six days ago. My daughter, if she were alive today, would be your son’s age. But she never made it past her fourth birthday because a man committed an act for the sole sake of doing something wrong.

“But you know what, Rick? That man wasn’t so different from you or me. I’ve had a lot of years to reflect on it. For a time, I hated God and I wanted to do everything I could to destroy Him. I wanted to make Him hurt for what He allowed—no, for what He did to me. And I did things too. I did things because I knew God didn’t want me to do them.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?” Rick asked.

“Of course not,” Killen responded. “But that seed was in me. If God hadn’t…I guess the only word I can use is restrain—if God hadn’t restrained me, I would have. I’m sure of it. Because doing those things, even when you know they’re wrong—maybe especially when you know they’re wrong—they provide their own sick pleasure, the pleasure that can only come from thumbing your nose at what’s proper. Have you ever wondered why so many movies depict the cute innocent girl as a slut? It’s because we want to tear down that beautiful, innocent creation simply because it would be evil to do so. Each of us, Rick, each of us has that inside of us.”

Rick shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m not sure,” he said, but at the same time he knew it was true. Why had Alice seemed so appealing to him? Wasn’t it because she had that same look of naivety, that innocence? Wasn’t part of the thrill because he had already been married?

No, that couldn’t be the case. He couldn’t allow it to be the case. “No, I don’t buy it.”

“Rick, people can try to justify all number of things. Abuse, infidelity—”

“I said I don’t buy it!” Rick shouted. “Those things aren’t really evil! They can’t be.”

Killen sat back. “Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to rape my wife and daughter—”

“I didn’t mean them,” Rick protested. “I meant th-the, you know, the infidelity and stuff.”

“Fine. Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to have an affair with a woman, it cannot be denied that the man in most cases still thinks that it is wrong for him to engage in such behavior. Tell me, what does it say about a man who will do something that he thinks is wrong?

Rick swallowed. “I don’t know.”

“Would a good person do something he knew was wrong? It doesn’t matter whether it actually is wrong or not. If a man knows something is wrong, and he does it anyway, is that man a good man or an evil man?”

“I guess he’s an evil man.”

“And that’s why we are all evil,” Killen said. “Because we have all done things we knew were wrong. For no other reason that because they were wrong.”

12 comments:

  1. It's a good thing this is labeled fiction, because pornography is negatively correlated with rape.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are saying porn is a gateway drug, like marijuana, and so it should be banned to keep men (and I say men because women as a rule don't use porn) from moving on to snuff films.

    I realize your novel is a work of fiction, but you character William is committing the fallacy of the slippery slope. He says A leads to B, and B leads to C, and so on, until you get to Z, and so A leads to Z. That form of argumentation is valid, but each link in the chain needs to be documented to show it is valid.

    And even if you do that, I suspect that the prevelance of each new link in the chain grows less common as you approach Z, because we hear of pornography occupying half the Internet, but execution videos and rapes are relatively rare. So it results in a misallocation of law-enforcement resources. Instead of investigating and prosecuting the rare heavy stuff, all your officers will be out there seizing the "gateway" porn to attempt to tear out the root cause. It didn't work during Prohibition and it won't work with naughty pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think it's good but I don't think the majority of men would commit rape.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Michelle said:
    ---
    You are saying porn is a gateway drug, like marijuana, and so it should be banned to keep men (and I say men because women as a rule don't use porn) from moving on to snuff films.
    ---

    It's sad that I'm not even shocked any more by the lack of reading skills displayed by certain people. I suppose I now must expect that everyone is functionally illiterate.

    So, no, Michelle, that's not what I said at all. I didn't even say that porn should be banned. Nor did I say police should "waste resources" on it, or any of the like.

    I don't see how it's possible for any reader to miss the point, which goes throughout the entire passage, that evil as evil has it's own attraction for evil people. Porn was an example of this, as were the events that were the "slippery slope", and as were the events of Killen himself.

    Obviously, you must have missed where I said: "Because doing those things, even when you know they’re wrong—maybe especially when you know they’re wrong—they provide their own sick pleasure, the pleasure that can only come from thumbing your nose at what’s proper." And where I said: "But you know what, Rick? That man wasn’t so different from you or me.... And I did things too. I did things because I knew God didn’t want me to do them." Let alone: "Because we have all done things we knew were wrong. For no other reason that because they were wrong."

    That's my argument, and it used to be that people had the reading skills to perceive this.

    The slippery slope argument used is based on reality, however. The events are ficticious, but in fact much milder than real life. And I daresay that when it comes to certain aspects, pornography is directly linked with bad social behavior--the most obvious example of which is child porn.

    A former roommate of mine is now in jail because I called the police after catching him surfing child porn on my computer. By the way, I never got that computer back either. After he was arrested, I learned that he had been arrested in the past. What for? Once for child porn and once for child molestation. Since this is his third offense, he's in jail for a long time. Even so, in my opinion the only just punishment for him would be death. When he gets out of prison, he's just going to do it again.

    In any case, anecdotal evidence doesn't constitute proof; but this kind of anecdotal evidence is widespread and hardly common to me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nobody was defending child porn. Child porn, rape, and murder are all wrong and illegal. None of that has the first thing to do with adult porn starring consensual adults. People don't move from porn and to snuff films and then to murder. Or from porn to child porn to child molesting. Yes, child molesters also look at child porn, and rapists look at rape porn (and non-molesters and non-rapists no doubt look at both) but to say child porn causes child molestation or rape porn causes rape is ridiculous. If anything, the evidence is for the opposite -- that porn provides a harmless outlet for desires which would be harmful if acted out.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jewish Atheist,

    Again, that wasn't my argument in the first place. But secondly, you are wrong. It doesn't lead there in all cases, but it does lead there in some. For just one example, Ted Bundy claimed porn led to his assaults on women. Now you can say that he was lying to try to avoid responsibility for his actions, but you cannot ignore the fact that pornography dehumanizes women, and men who view it begin to see women as sex objects for their pleasure rather than as human beings. I find it likely that porn fed his obsessions, even though I don't believe porn was a cause of it.

    Again, however, that was not my argument. I've never said that porn causes behavior. The people who engage in wrong behavior do so because they are evil. But they also watch porn because they are evil. And it's a self-reinforcing cycle. They push the envelope of their behavior because they see others having done the same thing. Thus, porn emboldens them, but it is not the spark that begins the fire--it is the gasoline thrown on the fire.

    Again, you haven't dealt with the fact that it's not the nudity or the sexual behavior that is the ultimate attraction of porn, because both of these can be found in a marriage. But there is a difference between seeing your wife naked and seeing another woman who's not your wife naked. There's a difference between having intercourse with your wife and intercourse with another woman (or watching others have intercoure, leading to adulterous thoughts in your own mind, etc.). The difference is that seeing your own wife naked is a morally good thing for you; seeing another man's wife naked and lusting after her is a morally evil thing. That's the only difference between the two, which means that it is an evil man's desire to do evil that is the attraction to it, such that evil men do evil deeds precisely because they are evil and not because they don't have alternative, morally good, ways of engaging in the same behavior.

    Put another way: why is watching porn wrong? Because almost all who watch porn think it's wrong and do it anyway. And, as I said, what does it say about a person's character if he does something he thinks is wrong (even if he is in error about it actually being wrong)? Would a morally good person do something he believed was wrong?

    Again, you and Michelle are both ignoring 95% of what I said to focus on the 5% that is incidental to the main point.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Would a morally good person do something he believed was wrong?

    This can be attributed to a psychological effect called the forbidden fruit syndrome. The first time it happened, God told Adam and Eve they could eat any fruit they wanted to except they must not eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What happened? That tree instantly became the most interesting thing in the garden to them.

    Suppose you were a child and your parents informed you of the existence of a book on black magic in the hallway closet, and specifically forbade you from looking at it because "it goes against the Church." Pretty soon that book becomes quite well-worn by you and your siblings.

    It seems to me that people would be a lot more bored with pornography (and marijuana or the occult or a host of other relatively harmless things) if their authority figures didn't go out of their way to say, "Now whatever you do, don't mess with these things" and spent their time instead warning their kids not to take rides with strangers or give out personal information in chat rooms or dress like Britney Spears...things which could really bite them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Michelle said:
    ---
    This can be attributed to a psychological effect called the forbidden fruit syndrome. The first time it happened, God told Adam and Eve they could eat any fruit they wanted to except they must not eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What happened? That tree instantly became the most interesting thing in the garden to them.
    ---

    Assuming you're correct (I don't, but for the sake of argument I'll pretend), then you're begging the question: WHY?

    Why would something immediately become desireable because it's forbidden? Especially if it's forbidden by a morally good agent?

    Answer: because evil is fun simply because it's evil.

    And what kind of nature would a person have if evil was fun simply because it was evil? The answer is in the question.

    BTW, this doesn't mean we should allow everything to keep people from being "interested" in it--that argument is bunk. Our culture already allows far more than we did just three generations ago, yet most people would disagree that the fewer restrictions on morality constitute an improvement in society. Aside from which, even if people allowed all sins, God's Law still wouldn't.

    Finally, I disagree on what you consider to be "relatively harmless." I think it's precisely because these things are viewed as relatively harmless that so few people in the church bother to address them.

    And if you think that pornography is condemned from the pulpit very often, you obviously haven't been to church. I think in my entire life I've heard it mentioned twice from the pulpit. The rest I learned on my own because of having to deal with people who actually struggle with the problem who find that, for some strange reason, no one in the church wants to talk about it. So your example is flawed there too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm not sure this addresses the question of if and why porn is wrong (or sometimes wrong, always wrong, or often wrong). But I disagree that porn is popular with men because it is (or they think it is) wrong and just doing wrong stuff, in and of itself, is attractive. There are lots of things that are wrong from being impolite, littering, petty shoplifting....even leaving the toilet seat up (or messy for the next person)....while sometimes we do these things because our minds are elsewhere or because we are angry at the world and are lashing out or what not but these things usually don't give us any particular thrill. No one, well most people, don't make it a point to ask for extra napkins at the drive-thru so they can enjoy tossing them out the window as they drive off....

    I think men are simply given to compulsive consumption. My father-in-law has an interesting observation. If you had a book with a thousand pages of nude photos of the opposite sex, a woman might look through a few. A man will look at each one and then see if there's a sequal. We do this because sex is one our interests and this is how many men are given to exploring it. Woman not so much (granted this is a sterotype) but I wouldn't be so quick to say the manifistation of men's interest is bad and woman's good. I think the tendancy of women to focus on a single male leaves them open to bad things like breaking up marriages, giving themselves to abusive men, emotional manipulation, unrealistic expectations and other things that happen when you put all your eggs in one basket and can't see the flaws in the basket.

    I think for men porn is more or less browsing. We tend to do this with all our 'hobbies'. I remember when I was a kid and collected Star Wars toys and war figures I spent hours just looking at all the choices in the toy store. When I moved onto models, I spent as much time just looking at the choices in the stores and magazines as I did actually putting them together. Ditto for video games and later on, like many here I suspect, the opening of the supersized Borders and Barnes and Nobles bookstores gave me a second home for more hours of browsing every intellectual fancy that I had.

    Now not all men like books, models, or Star Wars toys but most like sex and when they are young they have an interest in it that will not be satisified by actual relationships (it takes a while before we are ready for mature real life relationships with women)....hence the fact that porn consumption of one degree or another is almost universal among men (and when porn doesn't exist porn substitutes are invented by us....hence the old jokes about the underwear sections of Sear's catalogue or National Geographic magazine).

    Browsing, though, is not buying......I'm an expert browser but stingy buyer. For every book (and even just coffee) I brought at B&N, they've given me dozens of hours of browsing. Ditto for most men's consumption of porn and yes I think it does taper off with age. Getting married or in a relationship with regular access to sex does lower one's consumption of porn (not to say it doesn't flare up every now and then).

    This is not to say that porn is healthy. It does say, though, that you don't really have any real evidence that it is unhealthy. OK Ted Bundy said he consumed lots of porn and that's what caused him to do what he did. Except you went to great lenghths to show that a huge portion of men, even men you would find very respectable and leading unblemished lives consume porn. Well if every man (or nearly every man at least at some points in his life) consumes porn then you don't really have any ability to make any useful statements on causation. You're a step away from noting that Ted Bundy drank soda therefore there's a relationship between soda and rape.

    "Put another way: why is watching porn wrong? Because almost all who watch porn think it's wrong and do it anyway."

    This lead me to think about the HBO Series Rome. There was an episode where Octavian's mother decided it was time for him to lose his virginity. She arranged for him to visit a brothel. In the director's commentary the director said the Roman's were indifferent to visiting a brothel BUT they considered it a weakness to visit one too often. Today I think the stance fraternities take towards beer is somewhat similiar. Yes they love to consume it, make mass consumption of it a point of personal pride but at the same time it is seen as weakness to not be able to hold it.

    I think what you're seeing here is not that most people who watch porn think it's wrong but most people who watch porn are aware that if they allow it to become a substitute for human relationships they will look foolish and be humiliated. There is a hestiation to consume porn for the same reason people are careful when drinking at a bar. It's not so much that they think it is wrong but they think it can lead to wrong things and they know it takes a measure of maturity and skill to keep it from that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The problem with your argument is that there are so many people addicted to porn who, by and large, hate the fact that they are looking at porn but cannot stop themselves from doing so.

    And it isn't like our culture would shame them into thinking porn is bad, as per your example of the Romans.

    As to your concept of men collecting things, perhaps I don't get it because I'm not a collector of much of anything. But additionally to that, I know of people who have spent hours downloading thousands of porn pictures that, when they build up the willpower, they delete before repeating the cycle. So unless you're buying up tons of books to the point where you feel guilty and then throw them all out because you know you shouldn't have them and then repeat the cycle endlessly, your analogy doesn't really apply even if we say it's linked in some manner to a "hoarding" instinct or whatever.

    By the way, I also maintain that porn isn't the only thing done by evil people for the pure sake of evil. I'm reminded of St. Augustine's admission of the time when, as a young lad, he got together with a bunch of other kids and they went and plundered a farmer's fruit tree. They didn't even like the fruit, but they did it for the sheer evil of it. There was no other motivation for it. It was simply fun to be evil.

    Again, I also harken back to the popular concept in movies of treating innocent and pure girls as sluts. Think of how many "teen" movies have a Catholic school girl who will have sex with everyone on the football team, etc. For that matter, even in a movie like Grease you have the heroine give up her morals by the end of the film, even though the guy was willing to change his own behavior.

    In fact, we can extend the imagry further. I remember reading a passage in a Stephen King novel (I don't remember which one now) where a man's wife performs a sex act on him, at which point the man says, "Where did you learn that?" and she replied, "In the Girl Scouts."

    Why is that line in there? Because the Girl Scouts are seen as an innocent place where girls have innocent fun. This line takes that which is innocent and profanes it. It's a purposeful soiling of the good, and it is that soiling itself that is the "entertainment." If she had said, "From the hooker on 8th Street" it wouldn't provide nearly the same "kick" in the story.

    More examples could easily be found in pop culture. The purposeful profaning of that which is good happens far more often than you'd like to believe, and I think it provides a far more often subconscious motivation than you(or for that matter, most anyone) would be willing to admit.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As we wait for the New Year, I'll try not to be too nitpicky

    "The problem with your argument is that there are so many people addicted to porn who, by and large, hate the fact that they are looking at porn but cannot stop themselves from doing so."

    Are there 'so many people' really addicted to porn? Or are there people using porn as a partial or complete substitute for real life sexual relationships. Do they really hate their consumption of porn or do they hate what they perceive to be an inability to get beyond porn in their sexual development?

    "And it isn't like our culture would shame them into thinking porn is bad, as per your example of the Romans."

    No, the point wasn't that the Romans felt brothels were bad. They were totally indifferent to them, hence the brothel visit is arranged by Octavian's mother because she thinks it was time her son got around to 'penetrating someone' A man or even boy visiting a brothel would be like a man in a bar drinking a beer. What would be shameful is visiting a brothel all the time because that would imply the man couldn't control his sex drive....as we would find someone getting drunk all the time to be immature and shameful.

    "As to your concept of men collecting things, perhaps I don't get it because I'm not a collector of much of anything."

    I didn't use the word collect but browse. Think about magazines devoted to cars, guns, tools and other things that appeal to a male demographic....the idea behind many of them is not to collect everything in the category but to view it all....to know every car model, every tool, every member of the team....I think this browsing mentality is common in the male mentality.

    "So unless you're buying up tons of books to the point where you feel guilty and then throw them all out because you know you shouldn't have them and then repeat the cycle endlessly, your analogy doesn't really apply even if we say it's linked in some manner to a "hoarding" instinct or whatever."

    I think hoarding behavior is a seperate issue but I wonder how much of its association with pornography is simply due to the fact that aquiring porn was once tricky....hence as a teen one collected a 'stash' of porn to reuse. After all it's embrassing to buy the Penthouse in the store and who wants to go to an adult bookstore all the time? The internet has made that almost entirely pointless.

    "Why is that line in there? Because the Girl Scouts are seen as an innocent place where girls have innocent fun. This line takes that which is innocent and profanes it. It's a purposeful soiling of the good, and it is that soiling itself that is the "entertainment." If she had said, "From the hooker on 8th Street" it wouldn't provide nearly the same "kick" in the story."

    I think you're asking why is there an association of erotica with innocence. An answer you don't consider is a lot more simple. Innocence reminds people of the thrills they had when they discovered adult pleasures for the first time. I suspect this is why innocence or fake-innocence (such as the 'naughty school girl') is a common theme in erotica. You pointed out 'Catholic School Girls' is another such motiff that is common....but the association with erotica isn't there because it's fun to make nice things evil. The innocence you talk about is only from the POV of adults and parents, for many boys the first stirings of sexuality was in the form of crushes and 'thoughts' about their female peers who were girl scouts or Catholic school girls. But it is only one theme. One can find plenty of other themes along the lines of 'the hooker on 8th street' if you want.

    Notice that popular romances that are not usually considered porn is likewise consumed in large amounts by women (and men) who are a lot older. Why does Lifetime seem to have two to three movies about the romances of High School, College and young women for every movie about the romantic life of middle aged women when their audience is probably closer to the latter than former?

    ReplyDelete
  12. The problem with your argument is that there are so many people addicted to porn who, by and large, hate the fact that they are looking at porn but cannot stop themselves from doing so.

    I would bet that > 95% of men who hate the fact that they are looking at porn have been convinced by a parent or a religious figure that porn is wrong or bad.

    When religion starts repressing people's sexuality, bad things happen. See the Catholic church. See Islam. Etc.

    ReplyDelete