Pornography and Idiocy (from 2004)
Writing about pornography is kinda like making pornography: what are you going to say (do) that hasn’t been said (done) before? The director of a pornographic movie tries to think of something that hasn’t been done before (“Three guys with a girl suspended with harnesses? That’s soooo Lasse Braun”). The critic of pornography tries to think of something that hasn’t been said before.
It leads to further vices, it leads to abuse and infidelity, it’s degrading, it’s sexist, it’s immoral. Yup, yup, yup; it’s all been said and, to the extent possible, proven. So is there anything new to say about it?
How about this: It’s stupid.
If a person is stupid, he lacks a grip on reality, whether it’s the Downs Syndrome child who prefers to spend his day with his nose six inches from the TV screen or the ignorant man who spends his day in the redneck heaven of wrong presuppositions. In a very real sense, every stupid person—whether of the unintelligent or simply ignorant sort—spends his days in a dream world.
The way to bring a person out of a dream world, of course, is to wake him up. Cure the mongoloid’s defect (impossible, I know) or show the redneck why his presuppositions are wrong (also impossible), and he begins to see things as they are. Any act of waking a person up, however, must be harsh, like the alarm clock in the morning or an exasperated parent’s favorite act of flicking on the bedroom light.
I woke up from the dream of pornography about fifteen years ago. It was my conversion to Catholicism that did it.
Now, I had never been much of a fan of porn. Stag nights with the guys, flipping through the stray one-handed magazine on a friend’s table. I think I bought one Playboy magazine my entire life, never had any centerfold pin-ups. I went to strip clubs in Canada a few times, but always as an accommodation to friends or business associates.
But still: I used to indulge the erotic occasionally.
Then I became Catholic. I learned for the first time about grave sin and the potential for mortal sin. I learned that viewing pornography could be a mortal sin. It, semi-literally, scared the Hell out of me. I stayed away from porn like I’d stay away from a homosexual night club. I had no coherent reasons to stay away from it but I was at least stumbling in the right direction, kind of like the person who stumbles out of bed after the alarm clock rings isn’t coherent but still moving in the right direction.
Almost fifteen years later, I’ve developed something of a hatred for pornography. There are studies about its destructiveness, yes. I’ve found those fairly persuasive. But my distaste is not so much moral, as it is mental.
The stuff is stupid.
All human activity has a purpose or a reason behind it. We eat to nourish. We sleep to refresh. We read to learn. We exercise to keep healthy. We work to earn money. We even relax for a purpose, to replenish ourselves emotionally, and invite leisure because it is the vineyard of creativity, good will, dispassion, and other splendid traits.
We watch pornography to, what?
I honestly don’t know. It’s not any of the three healths: physical, emotional, spiritual. It doesn’t bring us money, knowledge, or friends. It doesn’t better our families.
The porn consumer, I’m guessing, would fall back on enjoyment: “I watch porn because it’s fun.”
That is, of course, the rationale of every worthless bum and debauchee since before Herod.
What’s different today, of course, is that the porn consumer somehow thinks he’s engaged in a higher purpose, a legitimate activity, clothed as it is with an awkward-fitting armor from the First Amendment, a clause that never purported to reduce all forms of expression to the same level but that has been interpreted as such by a few J.S. Mill-ian nuts on the Supreme Court.
But a moment’s reflection reveals that he isn’t engaged in any such higher purpose. He’s just gawking at naked and degraded women like the Downs Syndrome child gawking close-up at a TV screen, and displaying about as much intellectual aptitude.
I find the porn consumer’s activities especially disturbing because we live in an age when everyone places a premium on their time. Randomly ask four men aged 20-45 to volunteer at a worthy charitable event. Three will respond, “I’m too busy,” or something to that effect. In the land of plenty, time has become scarce.
But if statistics hold, at least two of those “busy” men have time for a substantial amount of pornography.
They place a premium on their time, but they spend it on a fruitless activity like pornography. Put aside its destructive attributes. I’m focusing solely on its rationale, and it doesn’t exist.
Socrates pointed out that we eat to live, not live to eat. If a person does the opposite, he’s abusing food. I suspect here we tread close to the source of the pornography viewer’s stupidity.
Pornography is a deviant form of sexuality, just as gluttony is a deviant form of eating. The person who stuffs himself with food to the point of making himself ill displays the same disease that afflicts the porn consumer: flip-flopped goals. The glutton doesn’t eat to live and the porn consumer doesn’t engage in sex to procreate. The eating and the sex have taken on highest purposes of their own.
They don’t need to be justified by reference to something else, like every other human activity, because they’ve become justifications in themselves. And the justifications, being wholly irrational, result in skewed attitudes, thought-processes, ideas toward food and sex.
Therein, I suspect, rests the source of their stupidity.