Internet pr0n vs. 1960s smut

Ran across this post-Christmas column Why Most Men Aren’t Man enough to Handle Web Porn,”
by the social philosopher Alain de Botton. He’s really saying men can’t handle too much freedom. We are not designed to be post-modern relativists. It’s fine for Sartre and Derrida, maybe, but not for Tom, Dick or Harry. We can’t transcend our biology, but technology can. Or, as he puts it,

A largely unwitting alliance made up of Cisco, Del, Oracle Microsoft and thousands of pornographic providers have now found a way of exploiting a design flaw in the male gender. A brain originally designed to cope with nothing more tempting than an occasional glimpse of a tribesperson across the savannah is lost with what’s now on offer on the net at the click of a button: when confronted with offers to participate continuously in scenarios outstripping any that could be dreamt up by the diseased mind of the Marquis de Sade. There is nothing robust enough in our psychological make-up to compensate for developments in our technological capacities.

Religion could help, since he calls it the only force in society that remains suspicious of sex. But secular society won’t abide adopting religious principles (an ongoing theme of de Botton, an atheist who nonetheless mourns the waning of religion). He says that “the secular world has no problems with bikinis and sexual provocations of all kinds, because among other reasons it does not believe that sexuality and beauty have the potential to exert momentous power over us.”

Has he watched a beer commercial in the last 30 years, or walked by a magazine stand? Sex is everywhere, because of its commercial power. Societal norms forced religious ideals to cede authority over economic behavior to a naive agent-less market over the course of the last 300 years, and so too with sexual mores. Cliche though it be, sex sells. It colors a good deal of economic behavior for men and women. Listen to Tom Lehrer reveling in it in his 1965 song Smut. Companies default to sexual messages in their marketing because it’s a lowest-common denominator.

This clearly is not a new problem. Lots of other things also overwhelm the brain; book authors and screenwriters use cliffhangers to keep us reading and watching; game designers want to leverage the same brain receptors as addictive drugs, to keep us playing.

Sex has plenty of competition for the minds of men. Pray for us…

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