Would you want your daughter to become a pediatrician … or a porn star?

Posted on 12/02/11 50 Comments

A few years ago an anti-porn ministry named XXX  Church visited the LA Erotica Convention and handed out a provocative edition of NavPress’s The Message New Testament complete with “Jesus loves porn stars” emblazoned on the cover and a picture of a fellow wearing aviator shades (a porn star presumably?). (I bet he drives a Trans-Am with the screaming chicken decal.) The “porn star” edition was popular and the ministry handed out over 3300 Bibles in the first day. You can debate the appropriateness of the cover, the gimmicky nature of the promotion, or whether it is in good taste, but hopefully you can’t doubt the message. Jesus really does love porn stars, and we should too.

But what does it mean to love a porn star? In the comment thread of my last article “The nutcracker that thought he’d stoke the fire and other bad ideas” I made the following observation:

“If a person opts to be a serial killer or a porno star, my judgment of their choice of meaning is not merely my subjective opinion. Serial murder and sex for money are objectively ignoble ways to find meaning in life and any metaphysic of the human person which cannot ground this fact should thus be rejected.”

Much to my surprise Jag Levak responded to this comment by calling me a “prude” who improperly “passes judgment” on others. Here’s what Jag wrote:

As for the supposed “objective” ignobility of appearing in porn, I just don’t see it. I certainly don’t think it’s inherently as bad as being, say, a professional participant in violent sports, or an environmental despoiler, or a mercenary soldier, or a K street lobbyist, or part of the domestic spying apparatus, or any of the myriad professions which involve some element of injury, or exploitation, or violation, or oppression of others. No doubt there are other prudes who will join you in passing judgment on consenting adults who opt to have sex in front of cameras, but that doesn’t make your opinion objective, any more than it is objectively morally offensive for women to bare their legs, just because a given group of people happens to think it is.

The most interesting part of Jag’s comments is that he condemns my moral judgment from his own equally moralistic position. He begins by talking about things being inherently bad. But he doesn’t explain what it would even mean on his view for something to be inherently bad. Next, he chastises me for mentioning “porn star” as an immoral profession because there are many professions that are even worse including … violent sports. We could certainly debate whether or not playing for the All Blacks (New Zealand’s national rugby team) is more obviously immoral than being a porn star (though I suspect Jag would be in the minority on that one). But let’s not miss the important point: Jag is engaging in robust moral reasoning. He doesn’t believe morality is merely a matter of opinion. So what is his basis for judging participation in violent sports to be more immoral than participation in sex for money? (Incidentally, if Jag is appealing to violence as the issue, there are few professions that perpetuate violence as widely as the porn industry.)

Let’s say that Jag says playing for the All Blacks is inherently wrong. To say it is inherently wrong is to say that a life lived participating in that behavior is immoral no matter how much money you make playing for the All Blacks, how many people revere you as a result, or anything else. If it is inherently wrong then it is wrong even if Jag and everyone else in the world comes to believe it is right. If Jag believes that is true then in virtue of what does he believe it is true? And does Jag’s worldview have the ability to ground that fact?

I admit to being surprised that Jag criticized me as being prudish. Consider again what he writes:

“No doubt there are other prudes who will join you in passing judgment on consenting adults who opt to have sex in front of cameras, but that doesn’t make your opinion objective, any more than it is objectively morally offensive for women to bare their legs….”

Look at how Jag juxtaposes a woman who bares her legs (in public presumably) with a woman who has sex with multiple parties in front of a camera for money. Can he really not tell the difference between the two?

Let’s consider some other behaviors: pederasty, bestiality, necrophilia. There are people who seriously advocate all of these behaviors too. Let’s say that Jag finds each of these evil. In virtue of that moral judgment someone will consider Jag to be a “prude” for his “Victorian” morality as regards sex with children, animals, or the dead. They might even have the gall to compare their behavior to the revealing of legs in public. Should Jag be concerned about the charge? Should he take it seriously?

Jag, it seems to me, is morally conflicted. He has some strong moral opinions. But I don’t know what his basis for holding them is. I hope he shares them with us. I have a well articulated moral tradition informed by a conception of the natural law informed additionally by Christian resources of ethical reflection. Where does Jag derive his own moral framework from?

Let me round these admittedly disjointed thoughts out by considering a final point. Our worldviews need to be able to handle the facts as we encounter them. If we take a materialistic view of the world that denies the existence of consciousness, we have to be able to explain the fact that conscious states which are irreducible to the physical seem to exist. And if we take a view of the world that denies that the life of a human being lacks any overarching design or meaning that can guide what it is to live a good life, we have to explain the fact that it seems like some vocations are inherently evil.

Let’s put it like this. Your daugher Sandi comes home after career day at high school and tells you that she is trying to decide between two career paths: pediatrician and porn star. Which would you advise her to pursue and why? Would your advice be rooted in considerations about the intrinsic worth of the respective career choices?

Now imagine you knew if Sandi were to become a pediatrician she would end up joining Doctors without Borders and moving to a war torn region of the world where she’d spend her days operating on children who were victims of the war until she was murdered at the age of 44 by a roving militia. However, if Sandi were to become a porn star she would rise to the top of her profession, make tens of millions of dollars, and eventually launch her own product lines of erotica from which she’d make millions more, eventually selling the brand for one hundred million dollars and retiring to her own Carribean island.

Knowing all that how would you advise Sandi? Would you advise her to become a pediatrician or a porn star? And why would you advise her accordingly?

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  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    The condition where you know everything in your penultimate paragraph is horribly unrealistic. Especially given that we’re talking as if she only has two career choices, whereas if you knew for a fact one career choice would lead to her being murdered in her 40s, you’d be encouraging her to consider third options.

    But if she seemed genuinely comfortable with the pornstar option? If you knew for a fact it would lead to a long and successful career, which presumably rules out scenarios like “she has a psychological breakdown followed by dying of a drug overdose in her late 20s”? Yeah, I’d tell her to go for it.

    I would hand her a copy of Peter Singer’s “Living High and Letting Die” in hopes that she would end up donating a large portion of that money to saving lives in the third world, though.

    I’m pretty sure we’re going to end up being so far apart on this issue to prevent us from having much of a discussion. But one thing I wonder is if, in constructing the “pediatrician” scenario, part of the (perhaps unconscious) appeal is the thought that it’s great to die doing the right thing. That seems to be a popular thought, but isn’t it absurd on a moment’s reflection? It’s admirable to be willing to die for others’ sake, if the benefit to them is really great enough, but if you can help people just as much without dying, that’s preferable.

    Cf. “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.”

    More generally, if you want to help people, help them by the most efficient means possible, not the most feel-good means possible. If you have a high paying job, don’t volunteer for charity, work longer hours and donate the money.

    I have to stress that all of the above is supposed to be for the thought experiment where you know doing porn won’t be a horribly unpleasant/traumatic experience. Real life is potentially more complicated. If I actually had a daughter considering going into sex work, I wouldn’t tell her “don’t do it, period,” but I would tell her to read things written by former sex workers so she’d know what she was getting into.

    • randal

      Chris, you’re a bright fellow. You know that the point of thought experiments is not to be “realistic”. It is to offer a hypothetical (possible if not probable) scenario to clarify our thinking on a given issue.

      You write: “one thing I wonder is if, in constructing the “pediatrician” scenario, part of the (perhaps unconscious) appeal is the thought that it’s great to die doing the right thing.”

      I don’t think so. At least that’s not my focus when I reflect on the case. Rather, my focus is that doing the right thing trumps a long life of comparative (but relatively trivial and self-indulgent) happiness.

      “I have to stress that all of the above is supposed to be for the thought experiment where you know doing porn won’t be a horribly unpleasant/traumatic experience.”

      I suspect that for the properly functioning individual who is in accord with the moral law it is always a horribly unpleasant experience and thus one to which they would never consent.

      Finally, to come back to something you said earlier: “Yeah, I’d tell her to go for it [the porn star option].”

      Based on what?

      • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

        >I suspect that for the properly functioning individual who is in accord with the moral law it is always a horribly unpleasant experience and thus one to which they would never consent.

        Of course I don’t see that.

        >Based on what?

        Both the money and the presumably not dying in her 40′s.

        Money is underrated. See above for one of several reasons why.

        • randal

          “Both the money and the presumably not dying in her 40?s.”

          So can I state your reasoning like this? There is nothing inherently wrong with having sexual relations with multiple partners for money. Therefore, if by doing so one lives a longer and more affluent life than one would otherwise do, one should do so.

          Even if I were to grant that (which I don’t!) does the great aid she gave to countless children in the war torn region not factor in at all to your calculation?

          • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

            >So can I state your reasoning like this? There is nothing inherently wrong with having sexual relations with multiple partners for money. Therefore, if by doing so one lives a longer and more affluent life than one would otherwise do, one should do so.

            Not exactly, but something like that. Maybe “ceteris paribus, yes”?

            >Even if I were to grant that (which I don’t!) does the great aid she gave to countless children in the war torn region not factor in at all to your calculation?

            Well, I’m figuring that if Sandi did (or could be persuaded to) risk her life for other people, she’d also be willing to donate a good portion of her income to charity.

            In “The Life You Can Save,” Peter Singer figure the most efficient charities are saving lives at $3000 a pop.

            The world would not be a better place if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet had spent their lives as physicians working for Doctors Without Borders.

      • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

        Also on thought experiments: our knee-jerk reactions in decision making tend–and ought–to be calibrated to real world conditions. I understand the logical rationale for using thought experiments, but I also think it’s a very serious mistake to allow them to influence our thinking too much (see: the “Ticking Time Bomb” thought experiment regarding torture).

        Put another way, while thought experiments may be intended to clarify our thinking, they carry a huge risk of confusing it, if our thinking about one scenario contaminates our thinking about what is really a very, very different scenario.

        • randal

          “Also on thought experiments: our knee-jerk reactions in decision making tend–and ought–to be calibrated to real world conditions.”

          This is a real world condition Chris. All you have to do is drop the strict foreknowledge and recalibrate it as anticipated statistically likely outcomes. Thus, Sandi could have two concrete offers on the table, one from Doctors without Borders and the other from a porn production company. Granted you may not know with certain the outcomes but you may know that it is statistically much more probable that she’d die relatively young working in the war torn region and that she’d make large sums of money and live longer being a porn star.

          For me the decision would be simple. It doesn’t matter how much money Sandi might make and how long she’d live. Being a porn star is evil. Conversely, healing children in a war torn region of the world is an inherently noble thing, even if it brings you great psychological distress and an early grave. And I think it is unspeakably sad that some people would thus advise their daughter to take the path of the porn star.

          I will grant you this: it is highly implausible that any person who was selfless enough to consider a life spent in self-denial aiding the poor and oppressed would ever consider an offer to be a porn star. But that implausibility supports my point. Any person who was significantly formed morally to consider the selfless life of the pediatrician in the war torn region would never consider an inherently immoral career like porn star.

          • http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com Thrasymachus

            I think this is pretty good evidence why “Natural Law informed by Christianity” sucks.

            Suppose Sandi goes into porn and makes, say, 10 million dollars. Let’s say she gives 50% of her income away, saving 5 mill for her mansion. Let’s suppose she does a bit of research and gives her money away effectively.

            Best estimates of saving one child death under five in the developing world is $500/life. So Sandi’s donation will stop 10000 children dying before the age of 5. This is 2-4 orders of magnitude better than a paediatrician can do over their career, even one working for DWB in a warzone.

            So our charitable pornstar Sandi does far better than paediatrician Sandi.* Even if porn really is psychologically damaging or morally compromising (which you’ve at best asserted on insofar as I can tell unreflective intuitions), I’d suspect it would be worth 10000 children’s lives.

            *Of course in the real world porn stars can’t guarantee that sort of earning power, and so I wouldn’t advise my daughter to go into porn to make a ton of money to give away. But I guess your thought experiment was to show that porn is obviously awful regardless of its renumeration.

            • Brad Haggard

              Not buying this, Thrasymachus. I think this is the problem with purely utilitarian ethics, you just can’t predict everything.

              Sandi is not making her money in a vacuum. You have to pay producers first, who get the biggest cut, plus advertising and all of the production costs. Where do you think that money comes from? From consumers who could have been giving the entire amount to charity. So we’re already at a zero-sum, but when you factor in the other costs, such as addictions, broken marriages, and the abuses that come along with creating a market for sex-trafficking, then you’ve really got a net negative effect.

              Plus, Sandi’s probably going to live more like a slave performing multiple sex acts a day and contracting STD’s than by working for a medical mission. So even individually I don’t think this cashes out.

            • randal

              Not surprisingly I’m with Brad on this one. For one thing, your position is a particular kind of utilitariainsm, an act utilitarianism. But there are many rule utilitarians who would argue that certain actions can never lead to an overall greater good for society, and arguably porn is one of them. It is the same kind of reasoning that leads many utilitarians to reject casinos categorically as a way to raise funds for public institutions.

              Your kind of reasoning is at the top of a very slipperly slope. By the same reasoning you could defend the state’s sale of a prisoner’s organs on the open market. As a virtue theorist I don’t even need to consider the utilitarian calculations of headons over-against dolors for that suggestion. Nor do I need to do so for your porn philanthropist.

              • http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com Thrasymachus

                In order:

                Brad:

                Sure, if porn doesn’t add value, and people were going to give all their money anyway, then Sandi is just doing rent-seeking. However, as the average joe gives <1% of his income to charity, even if porn was completely rent-seeking, Sandi would be channeling lots of money to starving children who wouldn't get money otherwise.

                Obviously porn can be unpleasant and exploitative and not too far removed from sex trafficking etc. But I don't think it is *necessarily* so. So perhaps Sandi could make her millions in a nicer bit of porn (perhaps her market is lesbian women, who – as far as I know – don't ruin marriages and do sex trafficking), and have a fairly relaxed working schedule. Given Randal was after a 'best case scenario', I don't see why I can't add these stipulations on.

                But even if I can't, I don't buy your calculation. Even if Sandi's life is pretty rubbish, it probably isn't as bad as death before five of preventable disease (the fact those in the porn industry don't all top themselves provides further confirmation), and Sandi will be doing much better than most in porn, as she will get 5million. So it's plausibly a positive deal for her, and its definitely a positive deal for humankind – I don't think Sandis contribution to porn (especially given marginal issues and if she weren't doing it someone else probably would) will outweigh 10000 lives saved.

                Randal:

                You don't need to be an act utilitarian (or even an aggregate util) to accept my argument. You can cash the same sentiments out in prioritarianism, and indeed various sorts of rule utilitarianism – just any of them without an anti-porn rule.

                And I don't see how this position entails selling prisoner organs – you've just said it does, in much the same way you've just said porn is inherently objectively immoral etc. You've *talked* about virtue ethics, but you haven't offered any persuasive virtue considerations. If we don't accept your moral revulsion wrt. porn, we aren't going to buy your assertions about properly functioning moral agents being revolted by it either.

                Anyway, this ignorance to consequences strikes me as pretty morally pathological. Again, in the example given you want to advocate the course of action which will mean 10000 people die. If Sandi was an innocent victim we were selling into sex slavery for these 10000 lives, your case would be more persuasive. But she's voluntarily entering a profession and ensuring herself a pretty lucrative life. So (pace the as yet unmotivated virtue-theoretic stuff), everyone wins if Sandi is a porn philanthropist, and about 10000 people lose really badly if she's a paediatrician. No brainer.

                • Brad Haggard

                  Thrasymachus,

                  Obviously porn can be unpleasant and exploitative and not too far removed from sex trafficking etc. But I don’t think it is *necessarily* so.

                  In my past couple conversations on this topic I’ve been a little shocked, honestly, and the ways in which skeptics will defend pornography.

                  Pornography is inherently exploitative, which is the real problem. And in your calculations you don’t take into account the wider societal cost of broken marriages (even if she’s only doing a niche, it’s still consumed widely), the pathological re-wiring of brain chemistry, and the contribution to the sexualization of girls.

                  But let’s step out of the best case scenario for a moment. If you believe what I quoted you on, then why are you defending this anyway?

                  • http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com Thrasymachus

                    Hello Brad,

                    In best case scenario when Sandi makes a ton of money:

                    I’m happy to grant there are wider social costs regarding porn in terms of inappropriate sexualization, etc. etc. But I don’t think these things are as bad as 10000 child deaths, especially because Sandi’s contribution to these social costs will be small (and she’s replaceable: if she never went into porn, the marginal reduction in porn use is miniscule, although there are collective action problems here).

                    Given Randal’s original point was that it doesn’t matter how much Sandi would make, we can add a zeros on to her earnings until you are happy the number of lives saved will outweigh her contribution to porn’s social costs.

                    Back in the real world:

                    I don’t see how porn is inherently exploitative: a couple filming themselves having sex and showing it on the web isn’t exploitation, even if it is gravely misguided. I’m not particularly keen on defending porn – most of it is morally problematic for the reasons you note. But I don’t think it has to be, and there are folks who think that porn can be a good thing when ‘used properly’.

                    My motives for this equivocal defense are that Randal was gunning for “no matter how lucrative porn is, you shouldn’t want someone to get involved over a traditionally moral career like a paediatrician/aid worker”. To which my reply is “well actually, if I can save 2-4 orders of magnitude more lives because of the money I make in this scenario, I should do it!”

                    • Brad Haggard

                      Thrasymachus,

                      Porn isn’t just exploitative on the producers, but also on the consumers. It triggers chemical releases in the brain which are highly addicting. The American Society of Addiction Medicine recently changed the clinical definition of addiction to account for this, actually.

                      Would you think it would be ok for a drug trafficker to claim moral virtue because of the money he donates to charity?

                  • Jag Levak

                    “I’ve been a little shocked, honestly, and the ways in which skeptics will defend pornography.”

                    Do you think there is a correlation between unbelief and acceptance of pornography?

                    “Pornography is inherently exploitative,”

                    I don’t see why every instance of pornography must be exploitative. And isn’t exploitation (utilization of another person or group for gain, profit, or advantage) a pillar of capitalism itself?

                    “in your calculations you don’t take into account the wider societal cost of broken marriages”

                    First, I’ve known some very durable and apparently healthy marriages in which both parties were avid consumers of porn, so that isn’t a necessary effect. Second, before jumping to a causal claim, do you even have a correlation to suggest there is a statistical case to be made? For example, the marriages of unbelievers seem to be about as durable as the marriages of Christians in general, so if you think unbelievers are greater consumers of porn, then why aren’t their marriages blowing up at a greater rate? Or do you think Christians who disapprove of porn might secretly be consuming porn at rates comparable to those unbelievers who approve of porn?

                    If that’s the confound, there are other statistics you could turn to. Acceptance of porn tends to be higher among political liberals and people of higher education, but that doesn’t really help your case, because marriage durability is positively correlated with higher education, and liberal-voting states tend to have lower divorce rates than conservative voting states. Another thing you could do is track the statistics over time. With the rise of the internet, there has been a explosion in porn consumption unlike anything in human history, with the majority of people in the U.S. now having extremely cheap and easy access to countless millions of porn images and videos. So if your thesis is correct, we should be seeing a correspondingly huge decrease in marital stability rates. But I gather recent studies up through 2009 show the overall divorce rate in the U.S. is in decline.

                    “the pathological re-wiring of brain chemistry”

                    Playing video games will re-wire your brain. Learning to play a musical instrument will too. Learning in general has this effect. What is it that makes one form of rewiring pathological and another not? I’m pretty sure the sort of rewiring that takes place in sports that involve repeated blows to the head and frequent concussions would qualify as pathological. Do you have at least as much condemnation of those?

                    “and the contribution to the sexualization of girls.”

                    It appears women will tend to sexualize themselves if you let them have the power to do so. Where women have no power, they tend to be kept covered up, or otherwise invisible. It is when women gain some measure of empowerment that they start accenting their sexual attributes. I think it is much more likely that girls are being influenced by the women they see as role models, and by an understanding what with sex appeal comes power, than that they are taking their cues from what is happening in porn.

                    • Brad Haggard

                      Jag,

                      I didn’t expect skeptics to defend pornography like they have in some instances. Many of them rail against the oppression of women by the Church, and in large part I agree, so I thought there would be a lot more common ground here than I’m finding. I think a lot of it, though, has to do with an honest lack of information (I hope, at least).

                      Pornography is exploitative on both ends, both the performer and the consumer. The consumers are the most exploited, as pornography produces an addiction in the brain similar to heroin . On top of that, we know that viewing pornography increases accepting attitudes towards violence against women. I think that can be considered pathological over and above the brain learning to play the violin. Acceptance of pornography may be higher in liberals, but the main consumers of online pornography are teenage males. Their brains are being exploited to become consumers of pornography later in life, and that is when we are going to see a sort of “lost generation” when these males begin forming families. Surely you aren’t saying that exploitative capitalism is a good thing, right?

                      Now if you’re going to talk about causation and correlation, then you can’t muddy the issue with divorce statistics. There are plenty of things that need to be controlled, such as income, family background, number of children, etc, and education is just one of those factors. (By the way, if you control for regular church attendance, the divorce numbers aren’t as bad for Christians.)

                      But the real issue is I think that many Christians are secretly consuming pornography and feeding an addiction that they don’t know how to combat. To really see the effects, we’re going to have to wait until today’s teens and college age students (whose males are consuming pornography at a 90% clip) finally have to grow up.

                      And do you really think sexuality is a means to power for women? Not education? Not advocacy? Not relational strength?

                    • Jag Levak

                      “consumers are the most exploited, as pornography produces an addiction in the brain similar to heroin.”

                      Or so says the zealous Mormon anti-porn crusader. What he actually shows is that it is possible for porn consumption to become a form of natural addiction, but the same is also true for eating, fasting, sleeping, exercising, thrill-seeking, gambling, shopping, video-games, sex, texting, chat rooms, self-injury, and religion, among other things. Just because a behavior can become the focus of a natural addiction, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily addictive, or even unhealthy, in its non-addictive forms.

                      “On top of that, we know that viewing pornography increases accepting attitudes towards violence against women.”

                      Ugh, another meta-analysis of nonexperimental data. I remember seeing some studies on this going back to the days of the Meese commission, and the spread of results suggested there was heavy bias contamination, but some of the most tightly controlled studies indicated viewing violence alone increased acceptance of violence, and viewing violent porn had the same effect, but there was minimal or nonsignificant effect from viewing nonviolent porn–suggesting it is the viewing of violence which is the culprit.

                      “the main consumers of online pornography are teenage males. Their brains are being exploited to become consumers of pornography later in life, and that is when we are going to see a sort of “lost generation””

                      Really? Because we are more than a decade into the explosion in the availability of internet porn. How long is it going to take for this effect to show up? (whatever the effect is supposed to be)

                      “you can’t muddy the issue with divorce statistics. There are plenty of things that need to be controlled”

                      You’re the one who brought up “the wider societal cost of broken marriages”. What are you basing that on if not statistics?

                      “By the way, if you control for regular church attendance, the divorce numbers aren’t as bad for Christians.”

                      I think I remember a Barna study to that effect, and I suspect that’s for couples attending the same church. I’m pretty sure there was another study which showed Christians in marriages with religious differences have a divorce rate higher than the population average.

                      “To really see the effects, we’re going to have to wait until today’s teens and college age students (whose males are consuming pornography at a 90% clip) finally have to grow up.”

                      It seems a bit premature to be sounding the alarm regarding effects we haven’t even seen yet. Even if we do eventually see effects, there remains the question of whether the main effect is due to porn, or some contaminant not essential to porn.

                      “And do you really think sexuality is a means to power for women?”

                      For some women, definitely.

                      “Not education? Not advocacy? Not relational strength?”

                      Sexuality is not exclusive of any of those.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Look at how Jag juxtaposes a woman who bares her legs (in public presumably) with a woman who has sex with multiple parties in front of a camera for money. Can he really not tell the difference between the two?

    A smart guy once said, “Any claim for knowledge that is obvious and undeniable is a claim which begs for a defense, especially when there are people who seem, on the face of it at least, to be reasonable and who deny the claim in question.”

    You see a difference in those behaviors – at least in degree, and apparently in kind. How about elucidating exactly what you see as the difference? In other words, offering a defense of your contention?

    (I’m not saying that you can’t offer a defense. I’m just saying that actually presenting that defense would probably move the conversation along a lot faster.)

    • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

      I’m not sure I agree with the smart guy–an awful lot is loaded in to the “seem, on the face of it, to be reasonable.”

      Still, this comment is made of win.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Let’s consider some other behaviors: pederasty, bestiality, necrophilia. There are people who seriously advocate all of these behaviors too… They might even have the gall to compare their behavior to the revealing of legs in public. Should Jag be concerned about the charge? Should he take it seriously?

    See, here is where offering a defense can clarify things. Suppose that one believes that one key – or perhaps the key – determinant of what sexual activity is permissible is the consent of all parties involved. One might further believe that only adults are competent to give such consent.

    In such a case, pederasty, bestiality, and necrophilia would be ruled out, because they involve parties that cannot give meaningful consent. QED.

    Such a principle seems eminently defensible to me, and rules out such things, but would not rule out appearing in porn.

    • randal

      Here are some of the problems with this claim.

      First, what is one’s basis for believing that the permissibility of a sexual act is rooted in the consent of all parties involved? The only ground you’ve offered is a subjective one. Is that your view then? That you have a subjective intuition on this matter that others reject analogous to liking one flavor of ice cream rather than another?

      Second, your critique of the three behaviors based on that principle is unpersuasive. First pederasty. You asserted that the child cannot give consent. But that is a mere assertion. The problem here is that your objection to the practice is contingent upon whether a specific child is of a sufficient degree of cognitive and emotional development to give consent. But that doesn’t seem right. It seems that this is wrong even if a child is of a sufficient cognitive and emotional level to give consent. Further, your term “party” is ambiguous but it probably can be cashed out as “person”. In that case, since animals are not persons a stipulation against bestiality does not fall under your stricture. You’d need another principle to condemn it. Finally, necrophilia doesn’t involve a person either. It involves a corpse. And to the extent where that corpse body was a person body at an earlier period that person could presumably provide an advanced directive regarding what should be done with his/her corpse. So you’ve provided no critique of these three deviant behaviors apart from your own subjective opinion.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

        First, what is one’s basis for believing that the permissibility of a sexual act is rooted in the consent of all parties involved?

        “What if everyone did that?” is simple enough for a five-year-old to get. I don’t want people doing things to me without my consent, particularly of a sexual nature, so I’m willing to forgo the opportunity to do that to anyone else in exchange for them not doing it to me.

        Secondly, barring mental incompetence, I believe people are the best judges of what harms themselves, or at least what tradeoffs of harms versus benefits they wish. And thus, so long as they give their consent, they should presumptively be allowed to do as they wilt.

        Sex does involve powerful emotions and potentially major consequences for humans, so a mature and considered judgment is necessary. Speaking of which…

        The problem here is that your objection to the practice is contingent upon whether a specific child is of a sufficient degree of cognitive and emotional development to give consent.

        “Mature and considered judgment”. I’m in favor of minimum driving ages. Is that “contingent upon whether a specific child is of a sufficient degree of cognitive and [physical] development”? If so, are you opposed to minimum driving ages? If not, why not?

        Further, your term “party” is ambiguous but it probably can be cashed out as “person”.

        I don’t have to think that animals are persons to be opposed to cruelty to animals. Do you?

        Finally, necrophilia doesn’t involve a person either… [a] person could presumably provide an advanced directive regarding what should be done with his/her corpse

        You’ve got a limited point there. But given the fact that it’s pretty much impossible for it to be practiced in any physically healthy manner, and indicates a degree of mental incompetence, I think we can dispose of that one, too.

      • Jag Levak

        “what is one’s basis for believing that the permissibility of a sexual act is rooted in the consent of all parties involved?”

        I’m assuming you are not speculating on some alternative system of morality based on the assumption people do not have the ability to make choices and give consent, so my guess is that you are wondering why an act should be considered permissible merely because all parties involved have given consent (and by ‘involved’, I take that to mean ‘affected by the act’). My answer is pretty simple. It should be considered permissible because everyone involved has given permission. Can there be any basis for establishing what is permissible other than permission?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    To say it is inherently wrong is to say that a life lived participating in that behavior is immoral no matter how much money you make playing for the All Blacks, how many people revere you as a result, or anything else.

    Actually, in the original thread, Jag seems to be using the definition that “it’s inherently wrong if there is no way to practice it that is moral”. As a simple example, a ‘just war’ theorist would say that war per se is not inherently immoral, but that war can definitely be practiced in immoral ways.

    As an analogy, a ‘just porn’ theorist might claim that porn per se wasn’t evil, but could be (and often is) practiced in an immoral manner.

  • Walter

    How does one determine that recreational sex is inherently evil? Should sex only be engaged in for the purpose of procreation and no other? Is it evil for a married man to have sex with his spouse for fun, while taking measures to block conception?

  • Brad Haggard

    Randal, I think there is an air-tight empirical case to be made alongside your thought experiment.

    I’ve done a fair bit of research into this, and pornography does some pretty nasty things to people, such as: 1) rewires the way the consumer of pornography receives pleasure, 2) changes the consumer’s attitude towards women, 3) contributes to the sexualization of women, 4) runs afoul of California state health code for the performers, 5) in many cases runs afoul of federal trafficking laws, 6) cultivates the market for sex-trafficking, and 7) targets adolescent boys to get them addicted to their product.

    Pornography is a social nuisance, and there’s no way around it, IMO. This isn’t a prude issue, this is an issue of health for both the actors and the consumers.

  • Brad Haggard

    I’ll be happy to link to any of those points if anyone is interested.

    • randal

      My condemnation of the vocation is rooted in a virtue ethic so that I don’t need to wait for studies from psychologists and sociologists to confirm my advice to my daughter. However, if something is intrinsically unvirtuous then you will expect negative personal and social consequences which would be of interest to the utilitarian ethicist. And for that reason I am very interested in you providing those links.

      • Brad Haggard

        Randal, I linked a lot of it in a discussion on another blog a little while ago, so I hope you’ll forgive me for sending you to the comments section of that post. I’ve got everything linked out in the last post.

        http://www.theaunicornist.com/2011/10/christian-crusade-against-porn.html#comment-335207337

      • Jerry Rivard

        Randal, are you saying that even if studies overwhelmingly demonstrated that both viewers and participants experienced unquestionably positive effects with no negative ones, you would still be against it on objective moral grounds?

        • randal

          That’s like asking “Are you saying that even if studies overwhelming demonstrated that both the rapist and the one raped experienced unquestionably positive effects with no negative ones you would still be against forcible rape on objective moral grounds?”

          When you’ve identified what is wrong with the question I stated you’ll know what is wrong with the question you stated.

          • Jag Levak

            “That’s like asking “Are you saying that even if studies overwhelming demonstrated that both the rapist and the one raped experienced unquestionably positive effects with no negative ones you would still be against forcible rape on objective moral grounds?””

            Is it like that? Who, in the porn example, is the analog of the rape victim?

            • Brad Haggard

              Jag, the performer herself many times is the rape victim (warning: very graphic testimony): http://www.covenanteyes.com/2011/10/30/raped-on-the-set-one-ex-porn-star-tells-her-story-of-abuse/

              • Jag Levak

                “Jag, the performer herself many times is the rape victim ”

                Yes. Just as there have been many rapes associated with Christianity (and killings, and torture, etc.). But is there anything about porn (or Christianity) which inherently (always and unavoidably) leads to rape?

                • Brad Haggard

                  Jag, I’m surprised I would have to spell this out.

                  Let’s see, a production company which produces exploitative sex acts on film and targets to an audience which increasingly wants more violent content, plus secretive production studios, plus vulnerable and drugged women, plus powerful male producers whose job it is to exploit these women.

                  Do you still need me to connect the dots?

                  • Jag Levak

                    “Do you still need me to connect the dots?”

                    Dots? Well, let’s look at those. Is it possible to produce porn without a production company? Yes, so that’s not a necessary ingredient. Is it possible to have sex acts which are not exploitative? Yes. Is it possible to film sex acts which are not violent? Yes. Is sex with violence even necessarily rape? No. Is it possible to produce porn without drugs? Yes. Is it possible for women to produce porn? Already happening.

                    All of your dots are adjuncts–something added, or attached, and not necessary. Do you think the tortures of the Inquisitions, the slaughters of the Crusades, the burning of heretics and witches and other such atrocities associated with Christianity were necessary and inevitable consequences of Christianity, or do you think that it should theoretically be possible to have Christianity without any of the inhumanity that has historically darkened its record? The fact that something can be done badly is not enough to establish that it can only be done badly. If you are going to make the case that porn is necessarily bad or immoral, then you need to base your case on attributes which are intrinsic to porn.

                    • Brad Haggard

                      Jag, as I stated above, porn consumption is addictive, and leads to more and more anxiety-producing consumption just as any other drug would do. This is established in the literature.

                      How much “good” porn do you think is actually distributed each year?

          • Jerry Rivard

            I believe that actions are wrong not because of the actions themselves, but because of the results they cause (and/or are intended/likely to cause). Both of our questions are pure fantasy, because rape does cause harm to the victim, and pornography (to a lesser degree) does cause harm to many of its participants. The difference between our two questions, as has been pointed out by both Ray and Jag, is that rape does not require the consent of all involved – in fact, by definition the woman does not consent. I’ll leave it to Ray and Jag to defend consent as a basis for morality, as I’ve already done so in a different thread.

            In the fantasy scenario of your hypothetical, where rape results only in good things for all involved, I fail to see why it can be considered wrong. My saying that should in no way be misconstrued to mean that I condone rape in the real world, but in the fantasy scenario where the woman is helped and not harmed, I can see no basis for labeling it wrong (other than consent, but the always positive result renders it at least debatable).

            Just as infant sodomy on the planet Xindu (skip ahead to “OK. Premise 2:”) is not only not wrong, it’s wrong to withhold it. Change the circumstances, and the moral polarity of some actions change with them.

            Perhaps my moral compass is out of whack. Or perhaps yours is stuck in one position no matter which way you’re facing. Or perhaps morality is subjective, and we just have different opinions about its basis.

            In any case, consent has been raised and defended in this blog as a basis for morality. Sam Harris has raised the well-being or suffering of sentient creatures as a basis for morality. You’ve rejected both as arbitrary, but you have yet to tell us what your morality is based on. Inquiring minds want to know.

            As I recall, your posts about morality have always simply asserted that certain acts are just objectively wrong, without ever giving any reasons why. If something is objectively true, it ought to be demonstrable. I would love to see you write a new post laying out the basis of your moral code, because to me it seems a lot more arbitrary than either of those you’ve rejected.

  • Jag Levak

    “he doesn’t explain what it would even mean on his view for something to be inherently bad.”

    Yeah, it only occurred to me later that I should have clarified that, and added the “always and unavoidably evil” remark. I should have anticipated that the first time I used the term, so, my bad on that. And if my meaning still isn’t clear, just think of the countless times you’ve heard people mention the many instances where Christianity has been done very badly indeed. I think you would have to grant that Christianity *can* be done badly, but my guess is that you would say that does not mean it *can only* be done badly. If a thing isn’t necessarily evil, then I would say it is not inherently evil.

    “what is his basis for judging participation in violent sports to be more immoral than participation in sex for money?”

    Again, I was dealing with inherent qualities. In comparing, for example, a video of a couple having sex vs. a viewing of a boxing match, I do not see what there is about sex in front of a camera which is unavoidably worse than two guys pounding each other for spectators. What is it about putting sex on display which makes it worse than putting brute violence on display? Why would it be worse to see a couple deriving pleasure from each other than seeing a couple inflicting pain and bloody punishment on each other?

    “(Incidentally, if Jag is appealing to violence as the issue, there are few professions that perpetuate violence as widely as the porn industry.)”

    Yes, you can mix porn with evil, just like you can mix Christianity with evil. Do you really want to go there?

    “Look at how Jag juxtaposes a woman who bares her legs (in public presumably) with a woman who has sex with multiple parties in front of a camera for money. Can he really not tell the difference between the two?”

    That’s funny, coming from someone whose favorite form of illustration is analogy. Yes, of course they are not identical. Analogies never are. The point is that the principle is the same.

    “Jag, it seems to me, is morally conflicted.”

    I don’t have moral certainty, if that’s what you mean. I have grey areas, ambiguities, and competing values, and sometimes it isn’t clear which way I think the scales should tip. And I doubt my moral system is the most rational one that any human has ever devised, so I expect there is ample room for improvement. But before I change my system, I need to see how a given change will actually result in an improvement.

    “He has some strong moral opinions. But I don’t know what his basis for holding them is.”

    I think the domain of morality is concerned solely with the interaction between minds and the object of morality is reasonable consideration for, and avoidance of inflicting undue harms on, other minds. My view of morality is an attempt to work out what moral obligations a person should accept if they wish to participate in a fair system of interaction with others. There is a lot more to it, of course, but that’s my basic starting point.

    “I have a well articulated moral tradition informed by a conception of the natural law informed additionally by Christian resources of ethical reflection.”

    Good for you. Does that give you moral certainty, or do you struggle with conflict and ambiguity, same as me? Do you think your tradition has a rational basis? If so, what does it matter how old it is? If not, same question.

    “Where does Jag derive his own moral framework from?”

    From my experience as a sentient being, combined with respect for other minds.

    “if we take a view of the world that denies that the life of a human being lacks any overarching design or meaning that can guide what it is to live a good life, we have to explain the fact that it seems like some vocations are inherently evil.”

    My view is that I don’t see any evidence or indication of any such overarching design (in the intentional sense). I’m not saying there is none. But I don’t see the practical difference between such a design not being accessible, and such a design not being there at all.

    “Your daughter Sandi comes home after career day at high school and tells you that she is trying to decide between two career paths: pediatrician and porn star. Which would you advise her to pursue and why?”

    First, so long as she’s underage, my position will be that she will have to wait for age of majority to make a decision regarding porn. But after that, my feeling is that the decision she makes will ultimately have to be hers. I will be happy to provide as much information as I can to assist her making a the best-informed decision she can, and if she wants to know my feelings, I’ll share those with her, but what matters to me more than her particular choice is that she becomes a fully competent, self-directing, moral person. And whatever she chooses, whether it be porn actress (they can’t all be stars), doctor, nun, or sanitation worker, if it’s what she wants and it makes her happy and shows due respect for others, I would try to be as accepting and supportive as I could be.

    • randal

      Jag, after reading your first paragraph I’m still at a loss as to what you think it is that makes something “inherently bad or evil” (or what that even means).

      “What is it about putting sex on display which makes it worse than putting brute violence on display?”

      Maybe they’re both inherently evil. That’s not the issue actually. Rather the issue is whether there are objective facts about evil and good irrespective of particular human opinions about these matters. If so then you need to provide an ontological ground for them. If you say not then you are biting a rather large bullet because it follows that no life lived is any worse than any other objectively.

      • Jag Levak

        “I’m still at a loss as to what you think it is that makes something “inherently bad or evil””

        When I say I think X is inherently bad, what I mean is that there is some essential component or property of X, or some necessary implication, effect, or result of X which 1) is inseparable from X, and 2) is incompatible with my values. (“evil” would run counter to my moral values)

        I think what may be confusing you is that by your way of thinking, perhaps you suppose that X can only be inherently bad if it is some platonic brute fact that “X is bad”, whereas by my view, saying I think something is inherently bad means I think there is no way to have X that is not contrary to my values.

        “the issue is whether there are objective facts about evil and good irrespective of particular human opinions about these matters.”

        To some degree, there are going to be some universals because that’s what happens when you assign words uniform meanings. But I think good and evil can only be evaluated relative to a set of values, and while there are some values which appear to be pretty much the same across humanity, there are others which differ from one culture to the next, and even from one individual to the next.

        If you mean “objective” in the sense of “apparent”, then I think there are some things that most of humanity will view as wrong on the basis of shared human values–as well as other things on which there will be much disagreement. But if you mean “objective” in the sense of “true metaphysical claim” utterly independent of human opinion, then, I don’t know. But if it is truly independent of human opinion, then I don’t see why it should matter to us.

        “If so then you need to provide an ontological ground for them.”

        I think they are concepts, and as such, exist only where there is a mind to sustain them. I have no notion of any ontological ground beyond mind.

        “If you say not then you are biting a rather large bullet because it follows that no life lived is any worse than any other objectively.”

        I can have opinions regarding good and evil, and others can have similar opinions. If you mean “objective” in the sense of “apparent” then a collective could share the opinions that Jane lived her life as a good person, and Jake was a bad person. That is not quite the same as something apparent, but it functions like something that is apparent. But if you mean “objective” in the sense of “true metaphysical claim” independent of human opinion, then there is another issue to be dealt with. How do we determine what these objective truths about good and evil are?

  • Brad Haggard

    Jag, I wanted to get the conversation out of that thread.

    I’m going to throw a lot of links at you in this one, so I apologize for not having a lot of eloquent response.

    OK, you don’t accept the Mormon’s point of view (marginalization, anyone?), so would you accept ASAM’s new definition of addiction. Which was modified to make room for sexual addiction like this.

    If you don’t like meta-studies, here are some recent experimental studies on attitudes toward rape being affected by pornography. Among college males, and in the wider society.

    Even though we haven’t quantified the effects of pornography yet, I’m not the only one who has been sounding the alarm bells.

    OK, porn and marriage. Here we go: Vicki Larson, wives in distress, sexual satisfaction, Playboy’s effect, distress in disclosing addiction, and finally survey evidence that it does contribute to divorce.

    You can get it all packaged up neatly from another conservative hot-head with a PhD here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF09B12.pdf

    And I’ll make sure people notice my daughters for their character first, IMHO.

    • Jag Levak

      “OK, you don’t accept the Mormon’s point of view (marginalization, anyone?)”

      Mormons believe all kinds of nutty things. They are hardly dispassionate and objective, and agenda studies in general are the worst about bias contamination.

      “would you accept ASAM’s new definition of addiction”

      First, that is a definition which depends heavily on attitudes. An avid video gamer or religious zealot could be viewed as an addict by those who view those activities negatively, even if the alleged addicts have no feeling of being an addict. Second, yes, there are many things which can become natural addictions. That doesn’t mean any of them are inherently harmful, or addictive.

      “here are some recent experimental studies on attitudes toward rape being affected by pornography. Among college males,”

      Again, that is looking at sadomasochistic and rape pornography, which is porn combined with brutality. Which means you have a confound.

      “I’m not the only one who has been sounding the alarm bells.”

      Quoting from the abstract: “next to nothing is known about the consequences of the steadily increasing amount of such exposure”
      That is not an alarm. That is being concerned (alert to the possibility of a problem). That’s fine, but it is only a call for watchfulness.

      “Here we go: Vicki Larson”

      A report about conflicting opinions, with even the most ardent critics using vague terms like porn being “a factor” in some percentage of divorces, with no distinction between major or small factor, and could include attitudes about porn rather than porn itself. Money is probably a factor in some percentage of divorces too, but that’s no argument against money.

      “wives in distress”

      All that establishes is that some women have a negative attitude towards porn, and that attitude causes them distress. It doesn’t establish that there is any sound or necessary basis for those attitudes.

      “Playboy’s effect”

      Utterly laughable. A porn study done by an economics professor at a business school? (Why is he doing this study? Being an alum from BYU, I think I can guess.) Did you even look at that piece of dreck? They are claiming that Playboy caused between 10 and 25 percent of all divorces during the study period, on the basis of Playboy sales rising until ’72 and then falling off, and aggregate divorce rates rising until ’80 and then falling off. First off, the time effect they think they see is completely swamped out by regional noise, where there appears to be no relationship between Playboy consumption and divorce rate. Second, there are no population controls. This study does not look at only those Playboys purchased by married consumers, and it looks at the divorce rate for the aggregate population, not the divorce rate for the married population only.

      Let’s say we pick a state with both high consumption rate and high divorce rate, like Florida. His aggregate figures show a monthly purchase rate of 17 magazines per thousand people and an annual divorce rate of 6 divorces per thousand people, so there is not likely to be much overlap between the two groups, and almost all of the Playboys would have wound up going to men who did not get a divorce in the sample year.

      But most hilarious is that the authors themselves acknowledge that the falloff in Playboy sales after ’72 represented a loss of customer base as the overall porn market boomed and Playboy found it increasingly difficult to compete. In other words, for their thesis to work that the evil Playboy was blowing up marriages, we would have to assume that the rising abundance of harder, more explicit, and rougher porn (the kind of porn Playboy was having trouble competing with) was an entirely benign effect leading to a falling divorce rate.

      “and finally survey evidence that it does contribute to divorce.”

      It’s funny how porn is supposed to cause men to view women as sex objects and turn them into raging sexual predators, and it is also supposed to have the effect of decreasing the users attraction to real women and decreasing their interest in having actual sex.

      All these poorly controlled studies show is that if you want to find evidence that seems suggestive of some conclusion you want to support, you can. They also indicate many of the supposed problems of porn can be traced to stigmatization and negative attitudes about porn. And even if they had succeeded in showing that there is harm in a small proportion of cases of porn consumption, they don’t look at how those harms might weigh against potential benefits, and they don’t examine whether the putative bad effects are necessarily related to porn, or just incidentally related. If you want to make the case that porn is necessarily bad, the first place to start would be to present some theory or model showing why all forms of porn would have to be bad.

      • Brad Haggard

        Jag,

        That Playboy article was pretty bad. I’m not even going to defend it. (I kind of just wanted to see if you were reading the links)

        Onto the meat of the post,

        “Mormon’s believe nutty things” is not really a good way to address his arguments, especially when he is citing relevant literature. Even more when ASAM revised their definition of addiction to include sexual addictions. I believe this will be reflected in the new DSM, actually. The availability of pornography now is what has brought this on. This isn’t about negative attitudes toward an activity, it’s about standard, accepted criteria for addiction.

        Speaking of negative attitudes, it strikes me as patronizing that you attribute women’s anxiety over their husband’s porn consumption to their own negative views of pornography. Are you telling them to “deal with it”?

        I never suggested that porn turns men into predators (though, whenever you prosecute a predator, there is a huge stash of porn not too far away). It does objectify women and has proven to decrease men’s sex drive. There are solid bio-chemical bases for this. The oxytocin released during climax fosters relational connection in normal relationships, but with porn consumption the other party is merely digital. The dopamine release is what makes it addictive, and when you put that into teenage boys, it will literally rewire their sexual pathways.

        And all of these studies are peer-reviewed and published. Not only that, but I tried to cite only studies published in the last 2 years. I feel like you’re being unduly dismissive of what is quickly becoming an established conclusion of research.

        Now let me say this, because Christians have also been prudish in this area and high-handed morally. I don’t want to impose my morals on anybody through force, but I do know first-hand what this addiction is like and I’m convinced that it is an important societal issue. That’s why all of my arguments have been empirically based, to make it as publicly acceptable as possible. Perhaps there is a “pure” form of pornography which doesn’t carry all of these negative side effects, but that certainly isn’t the type of porn produced and consumed here.

        • Jag Levak

          “That Playboy article was pretty bad.”

          The ridiculous attempt to make it look statistically solid is what made it funny, but the other articles had similar subjectivity, opportunity for bias contamination, and lack of experimental rigor.

          “Mormon’s believe nutty things” is not really a good way to address his arguments,

          I already addressed his arguments. I agreed outright that porn–like eating, dieting, shopping, texting, gaming, exercising, religion, and other common activities–could become the focus of a natural addiction (defined by the self-identifying addict as behaviors which have become compulsive and disruptive). Anything that has a reward component can become an addiction. That’s no indictment of activities which have a reward component.

          “I believe this will be reflected in the new DSM, actually.”

          And homosexuality used to be included. The DSM is not immune to reflecting cultural biases.

          “Speaking of negative attitudes, it strikes me as patronizing that you attribute women’s anxiety over their husband’s porn consumption to their own negative views of pornography.”

          In one of the anecdotal surveys you cited, one of the respondents granted outright that the sex with her husband was incredible. So what, really, did she have to get anxious and distressed about? And some women have no problem with porn at all. I think what’s patronizing is the idea that some women have to be coddled and we have to cater to their insecurities.

          “I never suggested that porn turns men into predators”

          So all those claims that it makes men more accepting of rape were supposed to show what?

          “(though, whenever you prosecute a predator, there is a huge stash of porn not too far away).”

          You will also find a very high percentage of predators consumed potatoes. With no control baseline, that’s not even suggestive of anything.

          “It does objectify women”

          It doesn’t necessarily. (By most definitions, women’s “romance” novels would qualify as porn.) And video games and paintball also objectify people, turning them into mere targets. So what?

          “and has proven to decrease men’s sex drive.”

          In some cases. And it has had the opposite effect in other cases. But reduced sex drive is an entirely subjective harm. It is only a bad thing if someone thinks it is. In some situations, it could be viewed as a benefit.

          “I feel like you’re being unduly dismissive of what is quickly becoming an established conclusion of research.”

          I’ve seen psych fads come and go, each one claiming to be research based. And where porn is concerned, I’ve heard it blamed for a diverse range of societal ills over the years, but if there was anything to those claims, then we should have seen huge effects in response to the veritable explosion in porn consumption which the internet brought about.

          “because Christians have also been prudish in this area and high-handed morally. I don’t want to impose my morals on anybody through force,”

          That’s a tangential issue, (all I was trying to get at here was whether there is any basis for belief that porn is unavoidably bad) but I’m happy to hear it. Moralism by force has a bad habit of producing worse societal ills than the ones they were intended to address (eg. prohibition and the war on drugs).

          “but I do know first-hand what this addiction is like”

          Ba-dump-bump (rim-shot)

          “That’s why all of my arguments have been empirically based,”

          For establishing porn is necessarily bad, a theoretical basis would have been more apt.

          • Brad Haggard

            That pun shouldn’t have gotten by me like that…anyways,

            Let me ask you a question, is all consumption the same? In other words, is consuming cocaine more addictive than pumpkin pie? Is alcohol more addictive than orange juice? That’s the point I’m trying to make with pornography. It’s a mundane point that anything can be addictive, but pornography is more addictive than watching movies or playing video games. Unless you think all of that should be legalized, along with “pure” forms of child pornography.

            And it’s patronizing to “coddle” women by not viewing pornography? Maybe they should get over their outdated ideals of monogamy and relational security.

            Now you’re pretty quickly dismissing both ASAM and the APA. I don’t think that the standard organizations react too quickly to “psyche fads”, especially since the APA has been dragging their feet on this for years. All of this research is peer-reviewed, so it makes me feel like you’re kicking against the goads here.

            I’ve kind of left the theoretical basis to Randal in this thread, but I think this research can certainly complement the theoretical case (by showing how it negatively affects society’s view of women and carries serious social costs. Just ask law-enforcement how they feel about the correlation between child pornography and sexual crime).

            • Jag Levak

              “pornography is more addictive than watching movies or playing video games”

              As easily and widely available as porn is, do you actually think it is common for people to spend, say, 45 hours per week viewing porn? Because that would actually be less than the amount of time the *average* person in the US spends watching television. And there are a lot of people for whom gaming is much more of an obsession and compulsion than porn is. I found it far more addictive myself.

              “Unless you think all of that [cocaine, alcohol, pumpkin pie, orange juice] should be legalized,”

              I think alcohol and cocaine should both be legal, but with controls. I think the war on drugs has done virtually nothing good and has caused a great deal of social harm. Society does have a legitimate interest in imposing restrictions on production and distribution of harder drugs, but I think drug addiction should be treated as a medical issue, not criminalized. I had an Architecture prof in London who was a heroin addict, but he had been managing it in a government program for almost ten years by that point. He picked up his doses at the local chemist (pharmacist) and his addiction seemed to do nothing to impair his ability to run his own design firm plus teaching three university courses. Our solution would have to been to throw him in prison. I don’t see how our solution would have produced a better result for anyone.

              “along with “pure” forms of child pornography.”

              I’m related to a convicted child molester, but he’s never had kiddie porn. I’ve only personally known one other pedophile, a staunchly ethical guy who felt sex with children involved unacceptable risk of harm to them (and he would have included a 19 year old woman having sex with a 14 year old boy, even though many such boys might strongly disagree) and he was committed to never acting on his sexual orientation. He kept a stash of kiddie porn which was technically prosecutable, but it was all textual or artwork that did not involve children in its production. I think that decreased-interest-in-sex effect you talked about was an effect he depended on to help him cope with life in a world surrounded by awful temptation. In an ideal world, I would have no problem with letting him have high-quality, ethically-produced kiddie porn along with all the counseling and support he could use to help him stay on track. I’d consider that better for everyone than forcing him to go it alone and making it harder for him to keep to his goal commitment.

              “And it’s patronizing to “coddle” women by not viewing pornography?

              I’m going to say both parties should be able to have reasonable expectation that the partner won’t to do something that does harm or injury to the other. But if it’s a case of preference rather than actual harm, I think the terms should be negotiated as adult peers, as would be done for playing golf, watching sports, going off on hunting or fishing trips, and other activities that don’t involve her. Porn doesn’t automatically make her a victim just because she views it negatively, and to me it seems patronizing to treat her as a victim when she’s not, rather than engaging her as an equal.

              “Now you’re pretty quickly dismissing both ASAM and the APA.”

              I don’t consider them infallible, but I’m not dismissing them. I think natural addictions are real. But just because it is possible to become addicted to X, that doesn’t mean that X is therefore addictive. Or bad.

              “I think this research can certainly complement the theoretical case (by showing how it negatively affects society’s view of women”

              I don’t think the theoretical case was ever presented. And Christianity has a lot more to answer for when it comes to disparagement and oppression of women. Though again, just because it did have that effect, I don’t see that it had to have had that effect.

              “Just ask law-enforcement how they feel about the correlation between child pornography and sexual crime).”

              If you mean wherever you find someone making, distributing, or privately owning child porn, you will find a high proportion of sex crime, then yeah, because those are all classified as sex crimes. But going the other direction, I expect a large majority of sex crimes don’t involve child porn at all.

              • Brad Haggard

                Before I go on, I wanted to say that even though I disagree with you, Jag, this conversation has been fun.

                45 hours seems like a lot of time to be watching television, as that comes to almost 6.5 hours a day. Do you have a source for that? The latest release from the Bureau of Labor reports about 2.7 hours spent daily viewing television. That’s still a lot, though. I did find an interesting study on internet addiction in general which could begin to shed light on what’s happening here. I found another study, too, on how internet pornography can be addictive. It’s becoming a problem at workplaces as well.

                I’ve felt gaming obsession as well, but games don’t typically elicit the oxytocin release found in the climax of sexual activity.

                I guess I don’t want to derail this thread too much into the War on Drugs, but you seem to be making the argument that I have to prove that it is addicting in every single case before you’ll accept that it is harmful. That’s too high a burden of proof, and that would make for terrible public policy as well. We already know that pornography increases the likelihood of repeat offenders, which is why law enforcement is taking this so seriously.

                I’m sure that the cases you describe are exceptions to this, but it doesn’t change the facts.

                • Jag Levak

                  “45 hours seems like a lot of time to be watching television, as that comes to almost 6.5 hours a day. Do you have a source for that?”

                  Apparently a bad one. Backtracking from the article I read, it looks like the author grabbed the statistic for how many hours a day the television is on in the average household (6 hours 47 minutes) and you are correct, that doesn’t mean each person in the house is watching it the whole time.

                  “The latest release from the Bureau of Labor reports about 2.7 hours spent daily viewing television.”

                  The NY Times reported back in Jan. that Nielsen is tracking viewership of broadcast television and basic cable combined at an average of 34 hours per person per week (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/business/media/03ratings.html). As I understand it, this does not include premium cable, pay per view, rentals, or downloads, and I don’t know whether it includes viewing of recorded material on Tivo and DVR’s. So altogether, I expect it is more than five hours for the daily average, but I don’t know by how much. But since that is an average, there are certain to be many people who consume at a greater rate than that, so even if the national average viewership might not be quite as high as I thought, the same question of addiction at 45+ hours per week would still apply to probably millions of people.

                  “I’ve felt gaming obsession as well, but games don’t typically elicit the oxytocin release found in the climax of sexual activity.”

                  The sort of compulsive porn consumption described in at least one of your cited articles consisted primarily of rapidly skimming through an endless supply of images. I suspect the low-level stimulation that sort of activity would provide would be closer to gaming than to sexual climax. And even if not, oxytocin release does not appear to be intrinsically harmful.

                  “I guess I don’t want to derail this thread too much into the War on Drugs, but you seem to be making the argument that I have to prove that it is addicting in every single case before you’ll accept that it is harmful.”

                  I think I have a more stringent standard than that. I want to see what distinguishes real addiction from merely being something people do because they like it, or find it rewarding, or necessary. There should be, for example, some categorical distinction between liking food and being addicted to food. And even if it is addictive in a large percentage of cases, I don’t automatically grant that addiction alone is harmful, so I will need to see the harms established independently.

                  “That’s too high a burden of proof, and that would make for terrible public policy as well.”

                  When it comes to public policy, I have an even higher burden. Even if it can be established that something is sometimes causing harm, that needs to be weighed against its potential for doing good. And if it can be shown that the harms outweigh the benefits, the surplus harms would still have to be weighed against the likely harms of the policy intended as a remedy, and I also want to see that no other viable policy is likely to have fewer harms. Granting that alcoholism is a real problem for some people, for example, it seems pretty clear that Prohibition as an instrument of public policy generated far more societal harms than the problem it was intended to address, and actually made the problem itself worse.

                  “We already know that pornography increases the likelihood of repeat offenders,”

                  Increased likelihood could be nothing more than a probability marker. Children whose parents belong to a country club tend to graduate from college at a higher rate than the population at large. But in that case, country club attendance is just a marker for wealth, which seems the more likely factor in offspring graduation rates. And if non-wealthy parent try to help their kids’ chances of graduating college by joining a country club that they can hardly afford, that might have the opposite of the desired effect. Similarly, it’s a classic example in stats that the temporal correlation between urban ice cream consumption and urban violent crime is quite high. But both are associated with hotter weather, which seems the more likely causal factor. Banning ice cream, which does at least provide temporary pleasant relief from the heat, could very well make the violent crime problem worse.

                  What that study looked at was self-report on porn use (self-report opens the door for all kinds of bias errors) on frequency and type (with particular attention to deviant porn, however they define deviant) relative to recidivism rate. To say high rate of consumption of deviant porn is a “risk factor” in recidivism could mean nothing more than that it is a forecast indicator or a predictor. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily a cause.

                  And definition of terms can be tricky. Ted Bundy claimed that porn turned him into a killer, and the anti-porn brigade was quick to jump on his self-serving claim (from someone most people would consider highly untrustworthy) as proof of the evil effects of porn. But from what police found in his place and in the trunk of his car, it appears that what Bundy used for porn were thousands of cheerleader camp brochures and magazine pictures of majorettes. So does that get scored as a porn-related case, or not?

                  “which is why law enforcement is taking this so seriously.”

                  Law enforcement should be about law enforcement. It is up to us as a society to decide whether the laws are good or bad.

                  “I’m sure that the cases you describe are exceptions to this, but it doesn’t change the facts.”

                  They don’t change the facts, but they might reflect the facts. Hard to say when we don’t know what the facts are. Yes, the cases I have experience with might not be representative, but the same applies to anecdotal reports from the other side. That’s the problem with anecdotal reports.

                  And even with statistical approaches, it is sometimes hard to know what is going on. Let’s say there is a correlation where people who commit violent sexual offenses previously consumed porn at a rate that was higher than average. Does that mean the porn generally has the effect of inciting violence? If such cases are rare among porn consumers, then probably not. In fact, it could be that people who are disposed towards sexual assaults consume porn first because it is aligned with their interests and it is a safer and easier surrogate outlet. It could also be that porn has the effect of decreasing interest in sexual violence in the same way that it supposedly decreases interest in actual sex (as some of the articles you cited claimed), in which case removing porn could make the situation worse. But if porn successfully helps a person disposed towards sexual aggression refrain from offending, that guy will simply drop out of the statistics. That creates a sampling bias which could totally skew the picture if you are only comparing aggression-prone offenders for whom porn was not a sufficient surrogate with the general population, while ignoring a relevant attribute (proclivity towards sexual aggression) on which they do not match the general population. Without sample randomization, there is no telling how many confounds are being swept up along with the factor under study.

  • Guru G.C.

    There are alot of claims of objectivity in this thread. It seems to me that those claiming they are being objective need to think what, of THEIR life experiences, have lended to their view/opinion. I think for the better part, each of them especially you Randal. The assumption that ANY of your sources of information and upbringing/education are the only or are even partially correct makes your opinions about the most closed minded on here. First of all, you would have to provide proof as to why each of your beliefs are moral as opposed to immoral or even simply questionable before your opinions could be taken seriously. There is alot of subjectivity here, mostly based around religion-based belief systems, most of which are debatable at best. Lets face it, these belief systems are usually flawed in the assumption they are correct and, in my opinion, are as morally questionable as capitalism, or forcing your beliefs on someone else, regardless wether fraudulently or in good faith. The only question here is where to draw the “moral line”. The decision to act in whatever way you see fit should always be your own, however you should always strive to make informed choices and understand the consequences of your actions. I would have to support my daughter to whatever she was going to excell in in all aspects and could make the most difference with individually, not based on my or anyone elses moral agenda. Someone might make a world of difference as a pediatrician, the next person may not, there is far too many variables to say that any one “Doctor” is more moral or a better person than someone that is a “Porn-star” or any other person for that fact. In my experience there are not many moral “Doctors”, especially those that claim to be “Christian Doctors” etc. Perhaps a moments reflection on what’s important to us and especially why it is, is needed in this situation.