The Porn Sideswipe
In Response to the sideswipe at pornography in Sam Harris & Jordan Peterson’s Vancouver 1 discussion
At the end of this discussion the topic of “God caring if you masturbate” came up as part of the overall discussion about the dangers of religion, dogmatism etc. It was one of the few areas of agreement for Sam and Jordan. Both easily accepted the dangers of pornography. Sam at least had the sensibility to phrase the danger as an “accessibility” problem rather than a pornography problem. They are both correct, but both wrong.
Sam is 100% correct in that the accessibility is the issue. Not only is the accessibility an issue for parents of underage users, but it is also a bad business plan for pornography. People who perform and produce pornography, unlike the tobacco industry (my own sideswipe/virtue signal…pretty good huh?), do not want kids using their product, because kids do not pay for porn. Before the internet, it was up to a horny teen to find his dad’s secret stash of intentionally mislabeled videos. I would go a step further and say that accessibility AND the graphic nature of the content should be regulated, but that’s another subject in another blog post.
Jordan is correct in that too much porn is bad. He does not believe most people have the ability to enjoy pornography without it spiraling out of control or consuming that person. He sees it as a Pandora’s Box, which is certainly an understandable concern. This is also how he proves Sam wrong in the larger context of the necessity for religion.
Sam’s claim that humans can find a moral compass through reason assumes a flawed optimism about the nature of humanity. It presupposes people are inclined to be deep thinkers on Sam’s level. Not everyone has the intellect of a “Sam Harris” or “Steven Pinker”. Most people NEED some guidance, which supports Jordan’s assertion that we need these archetypical stories to make sense of the world. Sam’s rebuttal to this is essentially “ok, some of the story is valuable but we can dispense with the non-sense and keep the good ideas without the need for dogmatism” which leads straight into the baby & the bathwater issue they discussed at length.
Where Jordan is wrong is by conceding you can do that with religion you HAVE TO concede you can do the exact same thing with porn. I am not saying porn is similar to religion. What I’m saying is that everything requires context and a healthy individual to navigate through the “dangers” of life properly – Jordan’s entire message. The same reason Jordan thinks porn is dangerous is similar to the reason Sam thinks religion is dangerous. Both can run out of control if not put into a proper context. Both can become consuming and lead people astray. However, in BOTH instances it is wrong to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
There are lots of things we encounter every day that if we did too much, it wouldn’t be good for us. Gluttony is bad. Gluttony & lust is especially dangerous. This much is true. It is up to responsible well-adjusted individuals to put things in context and know when to stop. This has been Jordan’s mission statement from day one. Why would this not apply to porn? Porn isn’t going anywhere. We can all agree on that. Even if the internet broke today, people would be drawing tits tomorrow. To say all pornography is bad is simply untrue. The list of ways porn can be healthy for someone (or a couple) is just as long as the list of the ways porn can be bad. Sam made reference to all the unhealthy ways religious shame has had a detrimental effect on our psyche and porn can a remedy to that. It’s how MANY people begin their journey toward openness, self-discovery, and coming to terms with the shame put on sexuality in our Western Judeo-Christian culture. It would be easy to make the argument that people learn more about sexuality from porn than the horrible health classes were all subject to thanks to state sanctioned parenting. You can debate if that’s good or bad, but you can’t debate that’s probably true or partially true.
It is not wrong to be concerned about kids having access to pornography. We are porn performers and make sure our kids have no clue how we pay for their vacations! Why? Are we ashamed? No, not at all. It’s because it’s our job as parents to only expose our children to what we know they can handle and put into context. That’s parenting. Right now our kids are simply at an age where they don’t really care about sex or sexuality. When your teenager suddenly discovers themselves sexually, it’s up to PARENTS to parent. It’s so easy to take a side swipe at porn but this is not a porn issue. If you’re going to blame porn, you have to include basically all forms of media. Porn is not alone when it comes to premature exposure to sexually charged content during adolescence. Sex sells. We all know this and there were hookers in the Bible. Sam is right…the sex shaming needs to go. Jordan is right…too much of anything can be bad, but BOTH are wrong. Porn is NOT the issue.
If we want to have a conversation about accessibility, the porn industry would be all on board. We would love for more people to pay for our product instead of getting it for free! But to blame porn and say all porn is bad or watching porn in all contexts is simply untrue for the SAME reasons it’s wrong to say all religion is bad. Discovering one’s own sexuality begins with the self. Scientists all agree sex is our primary function as a species. The conversation about pornography needs to be had, but we will never have the RIGHT conversations with a “porn is bad” mentality. It goes against Sam’s fundamental perspective on basically everything. It also goes against Jordan’s assertion that life is full of danger and character is built by navigating those dangers. For every one person that watches too much porn there are dozens if not hundreds of people that know when to “put down the fork”. That’s what we should be teaching our kids. Not shame.