“A man with an addiction,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “is a man with very little sales-resistance.” That means that porn is political.
Here’s how it works. When a generation’s sexual consciousness has been thoroughly pornified, it will start to define satisfaction and happiness in terms of fantasy. The deepest appeal of pornography is not that you get to see what you otherwise wouldn’t see. If it were, millions of men would not spend GDP-like money on digital liaisons when cheaper, and in some cases legal, prostitution is readily available. No, the draw of porn is that it turns insecure, afraid men into irresistible, all-worthy champions of sexual conquest. Every single pixel of pornography is completely enamored with its user. You deserve it, she knows it, she can’t help herself.
This fantasy isn’t just an illusion which evaporates once the session has ended. Modern research is detailing the effect of porn on the user, and the results are terrifying. Porn’s power to recalibrate the brain’s relationship between reality and (chemical) reward has implications far beyond the sexual. Indeed, we are only beginning to discover just how differently brains hooked on pornography see the world.
Here’s how Carl Trueman puts it:
Pornography is not simply changing our tastes through its representation of sex as a self-directed and recreational activity; it is literally changing the way our brains think. That makes the task of defending traditional morality in the public square much more difficult.
…[T]he principle of consent assumes at a minimum that individuals have sovereign rights over the range of purposes and uses to which their own bodies can be put. Yet the evidence of the impact of pornography on the brain indicates that the individual is not consciously in control of determining the nature of that range. Pornography alters the sexual desires and transforms the understanding of the body’s purpose not by ethical or even aesthetic persuasion. Rather it does so by altering the physiology of the brain itself, a process beyond the conscious control of the consumer of pornography, and which thus subverts the assumptions of the principle of consent.
In other words, sociopolitical concepts like consent (a concept which is the difference between lovemaking and rape in most developed countries) are corroded by pornography’s affect on psychology. Porn reengineers the brain to see “Yes” where actually is “No,” and, even more dangerously, does so at a subconscious level. Pornography attacks feelings of compassion and empathy and replaces them with hyper-inflated senses of opportunity and invitation. Love is out, power is in.
This means that porn is, quite ironically, authoritarian.
Is it then any surprise that our nation’s most famous political authoritarian at the moment is a man deeply indebted to the pornification of culture? Should we register shock that a man who trades wives and mistresses like NASDAQ stock, whose businesses build strip clubs, and who appeared on the cover of Playboy believes that the military should be willing to commit crimes against humanity if he so orders? Could there be a connection between this man’s sexual Caesarism and his open disregard for religious freedom and freedom of the press? Most importantly: Could it be that his supporters buy what he sells because they’ve breathed the same adulterous air?
If pornography kills love and worships (fantastical) power, then it’s time to start asking whether a culture drowning in its mire is being primed for the politics of ruthless authoritarianism. If the age of Tinder chases out love and chastity, marriage and faithfulness, might it also chase out things like liberty, dignity, and sacrifice?
Remember that pornography never delivers the satisfaction it promises. It only leaves the user feeling more starved and dependent than before, eager to find a more intense dose that will make finally good on its innuendo. Political authoritarians function much the same way. Emotional and spiritual vacuums, fostered by the decadence of a culture without transcendence, tend to get filled with whatever promises to make life great again. The more intense and outrageous the promise, the better it all sounds.
It very well could be that in 2016, we are staring down the politics of porn. I have to believe that in this moment, Jesus would tell us something like, “If your own political party causes you to stumble, pluck it out.”