Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sex and the First Amendment

Sheesh! I have the night free before the next final. If people don't know how law school works, you get one grade per class: the final exam. So if you screw that up, you're done for. That's why it's necessary to just disappear and study. Anyway, because it's on my mind, and because I have a couple minutes to say some things, I want to quote something from Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the not-that-but-sort-of-famous violent video games case. In determining whether the sale of violent video games can be proscribed, the Court says:
Our cases have been clear that the obscenity exception to the First Amendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of “sexual conduct."
If it isn't clear, there are a few exceptions to First Amendment protection: obscenity, fighting words, defamation (sometimes), advocacy of illegal conduct, and child pornography (though digital child pornography can be possessed). That is, these types of "speech" are considered unprotected by the First Amendment.

Now, I'm actually not an enormous fan of the First Amendment. I think its application is spotty, and the principles around it inconsistent, but it's obviously one of the most interesting parts of the Constitution. My paper, the one I was upset didn't win, was actually about free exercise. What I want to talk about, though, is why this obscenity exception exists.

What needs to be clear is that obscenity, according to the Court, is only depictions of a sexual nature. That is, material that appeals to the "prurient" interests. No matter how disgustingly violent or vile material may be, it is likely still protected. But sexual material is not. (If you're wondering why there's so much porn, it's because in a separate case, the Court determined that you have a free speech right to possess pornography in your own home. I still can't figure out how they got to this, to be honest.) In fact, a case just recently came before the Court about "crush" videos: videos that show animals being brutally tortured and crushed beneath someone's foot. (Genuinely disturbing stuff.) The Court said that because violent depictions of animal torture was not historically considered an exception, it could not be proscribed. The Court is not keen on making new exceptions either. However you feel about this "originalist"-y approach, there it is.

And when I say why, I don't mean historically. I mean deeper than that. I mean why would there even be a history. There's always this narrative that unreasonable Victorians (or Puritans or whatever boogey man) had a ridiculously unhealthy view of sex in such a way that it ruined it for everyone that came later. That if they knew what we know now back then, we'd be FREE. Quotes like the one above are no doubt rallying cries for people who believe in free love and everything else. "WHY IS VIOLENCE OKAY BUT SEX ISN'T! AMERICANS ARE OBSESSED WITH SEX!" etc. There's jokes about it all the time. Of course, even if one accepts the premise that such a person is right, that depictions of violence are really very bad and worse than depictions of sex, it wouldn't follow that depictions of sex aren't bad as well. But that's a different issue.

But even taking that as true, that early religious people had a strange obsession with sex and deemed it evil so they ultimately proscribed it and refused to protect it, etc. it doesn't really answer my question. Why would they even get to the point that they would want to do this. And you can't say "religion" because that doesn't really answer the question either. That just takes the "history" answer one step further. Things don't just happen. There has to be something in people that made the history the way it is. History is not accidental.

Of course these same people who yell about unreasonable moral rules, etc. etc. when they are young are often the same people who would be willing to shield children from sex (for some reason "children" are just the ultimate argument-winner. If it affects children in any way, conversation over) and follow the status quo when they "grow up." They usually, when it all comes down to it, want traditional monogamous marriages in one way or another. They want "love" and all the rest of it. (Often, no doubt, and not to be too Freudian, they seem to push the whole "free love" thing just to justify their bad behaviors.)

I used to believe, when I subscribed to a much more mind-body split view, that a person's soul was able to discern good and bad things in an almost supernatural way. That the body (and arousal and pheromones and everything else) got in the way of seeing reality. That we always historically are uncomfortable with images of sexuality because we were able to really see (because of our souls) how important it was, and that at the end of the day, if everyone were honest, they would see that pornography was bad.

While I don't subscribe to this anymore (the mind-body thing; I still think pornography is very, very bad) and am much more likely to recognize the reality that "I" am not some thing trapped in a body, I think there's some truth to the conclusions of my previous view. I think we are naturally very uncomfortable, at least on average, with sexual images. Now, obviously we derive a great deal of pleasure from looking at sexual images, and that's not what I mean. I mean that I think we know, for whatever reason, that there is something different about them than, say, a violent image. While we may actually have a more extreme response to the violent image, we know, in whatever way, that the violent image really isn't as dangerous. We have aversion to violence. We know we're not going to fall into a world of endless violence where we're trying to fill a void. It's that we have both desire and aversion to sexual images that really gets to us. There's something in the average, healthy person that recognizes the seriousness and fragility of sex and sexuality.

I understand why obscenity was not extended protection. (Though I'm sure you could make the argument that the people of the past had never seen crush videos and would absolutely consider them unprotected, but I'm not convinced that this is what's going on.) Today, while our culture has nominally abandoned this standard (outside of like don't show porno to babies or walk around naked), I think, at a very deep level, culture still subscribes to the view that obscenity (as in sexual obscenity) really is not a good thing, not a thing worth protecting. I think this is also the reason we, rightly, keep pornography secret and shameful. Even without appeals to natural law and everything else, we have trouble just tossing these feelings of discomfort away. And people who have tossed them away have to spend their whole lives trying to do so, often failing completely. In other words, I think that the libertine is an anomaly, and that people, without being able to articulate why, know that he is a strange perversion.

27 comments:

  1. I'm one of those people who agree with the liberals about the American fear of sexuality and love of violence. In my opinion, violence corrupts the soul no less than disordered sexuality. I'm reminded of a certain passage (Confessions VI. vii (12)-VI. ix (14)) from Augustine:

    "Alypius [...] had arrived in Rome before I did to study law. There he had been seized by an incredible obsession for gladiatorial spectacles and to an unbelievable degree."

    He goes on to describe Alypius's first encounter with the circus, which Alypius had considered barbaric and valueless before.

    "When they arrived and had found seats where they could, the entire place seethed with the most monstrous delight in the cruelty. He kept his eyes shut and forbade his mind to think about such fearful evils. Would that he had blocked his ears as well! A man fell in combat. A great roar from the entire crowd struck him with such vehemence that he was overcome by curiosity. Supposing himself strong enough to despise whatever he saw and to conquer it, he opened his eyes. He was struck in the soul by a wound graver than the gladiator in his body, whose fall had caused the roar. The shouting entered by his ears and forced open his eyes. Thereby it was the means of wounding and striking to the ground a mind still more bold than strong, and the weaker for the reason that he presumed on himself when he ought to have relied on you. As soon as he saw the blood, he at once drank in savagery and did not turn away. His eyes were riveted. He imbibed madness. Without any awareness of what was happening to him, he found delight in the murderous contest and was inebriated by bloodthirsty pleasure. He was not now the person who had come in, but just one of the crowd which he had joined, and a true member of the group which had brought him. What should I add? He looked, he yelled, he was on fire, he took the madness home with him so that it urged him to return not only with those by whom he had originally been drawn there, but even more than them, taking others with him."

    This kind of bloodlust is something that many, many Americans suffer from. Our films, television (1,000 Ways to Die, especially), video games and Internet shock sites (like WorldstarHipHop) feed a lurid, all-consuming desire to watch violence and death. We're very much late Romans, in this regard. It does indeed "fill a void", as you put it, although American culture is so violent that half the time we don't even notice. Still, bloodlust corrupts Americans no less thoroughly than their porn addictions, in my opinion. I can tell you from experience that being inundated with violence numbs and poisons the soul.

    The American fear of nudity and sex really is, I think, thanks to our Puritan roots. Even Augustine (the most sex-obsessed of the Church Fathers) did not share our single-minded fear of such things, as the above passage should indicate. I don't think there's any reason that obscene sexual content should be censored and obscene violent content allowed to stand.

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    1. Well, you misunderstand me if you think I am saying that I think "obscene violent content" should be allowed to stand while obscene sexual images shouldn't. I'd no doubt get rid of both. My point was merely that I think the two things are categorically different. I also don't think it fair to say that Americans are "afraid" of sex and nudity. I don't think that's what's going on at all. At least if I understand what you mean.

      I think while we don't fear the sex and nudity in itself, we do fear what sexual images can do to us. More so than we fear what violent images can do to us. And I think this is perfectly normal. Or at least, I think it is absolutely understandable. And I think this is why our society has historically had no problem banning the one and not the other.

      I have no fear in saying that the average member of our society will not become obsessed with violence like he will become obsessed with sexuality and pornography. The facts speak for themselves here. We, as Americans, have total access to any pornographic image we want. Similarly, we have total access to any violent image we want. These things being true, the vast majority of American men view hardcore pornography on a Regular basis. And the vast majority of men do Not view or even seek out violent images on any consistent basis at all. The violent images we do observe are normally incidental to what we are seeking out. Violence is often a nice addition to plot in a tv show. It often just enhances the intensity of drama for most people. It's also usually in a larger context. MMA fighting is "violent," but it's also a sport, a competition. The same can be said of any contact sport.

      I know of no people with violent image addictions while I know of numerous people with sexual image addictions. Very few people have an itch to get home to look up some ultraviolent images. And that's not just my personal experience. Just compare the number of violent image websites to pornographic websites. And of the violent image websites, the majority of them are probably AIMED at sexual release.

      While violent images and the like are no doubt incredibly harmful (and I never said they weren't), they are in no way as corrosive to the society as sexual images. The long-term effects of violent images may exist, but the constant, ever-present effects of sexual images are far and beyond more prevalent. And this isn't to say that sex (especially consensual sex) is worse than violence. It's just to say that such expressions have a more significant and real effect on everyday people and society as a whole.

      Similarly, sexual images turn people Into perverts. Violent images Rarely turn people into torturers and murderers. I would wager that the majority who Are that way were that way before they got their hands on the ultraviolence. The same cannot be said of the pervert, porn addict. Most people do not Want to be violent. Nearly Everyone says that's bad. The same cannot be said about being a sex hound. Anyone will defend a nice, healthy porn habit. I know of absolutely no one who would think it normal at all to seek out violence for its own sake. (Like in the form of animal torture videos.) Everyone would say that guy is a "freak." And he probably Is.

      This, of course, comes from the fact that the normal, healthy person Desires to be sexual. The normal, healthy person does Not desire to be violent though. A person is healthy when he has a strong sex drive. So sexual images merely pervert and change that drive. But a person is Not healthy when he has a strong drive toward violence. So violent images just serve to enhance that already broken thing. This is why porn addictions happen to the average guy, but violence addictions (as in looking at ultraviolence) happen to the oddities in society.

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    2. I think most people understand this going in. They don't get nervous when they see violence because it's just violence. It's not something most people want to have anyway. This is the reason I would have no fear letting my son play video games with violence and killing (always in a clear fighting or competitive context) and would absolutely Not let him have pornography. The former, depending on the circumstances, is usually morally neutral. The latter (especially if we're talking about hardcore depictions of intercourse, ejaculation, etc.) is absolutely morally reprehensible in nearly all contexts, especially if he is young.

      Similarly, I know that by letting him have games with violence he would not move on to more hardcore violence. And he'd probably never move on to the "real thing." But if I let him have pornography, I positively Know he would move on to more hardcore stuff. And it would completely change how he views himself, others, and life itself. And I Know it would change how he Lives. He would no doubt move on to a consistent masturbation habit and eventually sexual encounters outside of the context of marriage or love. And even if he stopped, it would always be a part of him.

      I've personally played hundreds of violent video games. I can't even remember them, and they never made me more violent as a person. In fact, I'm kind of a wuss. But I haven't masturbated to pornography in years, yet I am Constantly tempted, and I Constantly think about it. It became a part of who I am. The same, no doubt, goes for the majority of men walking around today.

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  2. Joe,

    I don't mean to get into an argument with you, but it seems to happen every time. I'll try to keep it as short as I can, to avoid wearing out your patience.

    I have no fear in saying that the average member of our society will not become obsessed with violence like he will become obsessed with sexuality and pornography. The facts speak for themselves here. We, as Americans, have total access to any pornographic image we want. Similarly, we have total access to any violent image we want. These things being true, the vast majority of American men view hardcore pornography on a Regular basis. And the vast majority of men do Not view or even seek out violent images on any consistent basis at all.

    The problem is that this isn't true. The vast majority of American men seek out violent content more often than they do sexual content. This is obvious to us for the simple reason that a huge portion of video games, TV shows and films are extremely violent, and that most men spend more time with these than they do with porn. We do "get off" on violence, although it's often difficult to tell when this happens--since it happens so often. First-person shooters like Call of Duty generate a certain feeling that those in the business call "satisfaction", which is a visceral, animalistic burst of testosterone-fueled pleasure. Another good example is the morbid curiosity associated with torture porn films like Saw, which is a sickly desire to be "grossed out". Satisfaction and morbid curiosity were of a piece in the Circus Maximus, but, these days, our entertainment generally separates them.

    Also, violence in films, television comics has a long history of censorship. See the Comics Code Authority and the Production Code, for example. It's only been since the 1960s (and particularly the 70s) that graphic violence has been common in our entertainment. Before then, you weren't likely to see a headshot or a neck-snap or an eye-gouge or a decapitation, all of which are now fairly commonplace in popular games or in major TV shows like Game of Thrones.

    The violent images we do observe are normally incidental to what we are seeking out. Violence is often a nice addition to plot in a tv show. It often just enhances the intensity of drama for most people. It's also usually in a larger context. MMA fighting is "violent," but it's also a sport, a competition. The same can be said of any contact sport.

    MMA is a good example of the "booyah" violence that has become so popular in recent years. It's a combat venue designed for brutality--far moreso than traditional martial arts, wrestling or even boxing were. It's like professional wrestling but with actual violence.

    Now, I'm not saying that you watch TV shows expecting gratuitous violence. You've said in the past that you think more like a woman, and women are famously unmoved by stuff like Call of Duty. You just need to realize what most men are getting out of such entertainment, which is roughly identical to the feeling of "madness" that Augustine described in the quote above. I can't find the passage, but Hart makes this same observation, viz. that modern films and video games are our version of gladiator pits, public executions and the rest.

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  3. I know of no people with violent image addictions while I know of numerous people with sexual image addictions. Very few people have an itch to get home to look up some ultraviolent images.

    Addiction to violent images is so common in this country that it's almost invisible. Am I saying that most American men are going to look up "crush" videos? No. Only the worst cases would watch something like that. But WorldstarHipHop gets 1.1 million unique visitors per day; Game of Thrones season 2 got 11 million viewers; 1,000 Ways to Die averaged 1.6 million viewers per episode; God of War III sold 5.2 million copies; Django Unchained made $421 million. American men, in particular, have a limitless appetite for bloodshed and shock. I used to share these tendencies until I realized their effect: they were desensitizing me, getting me high on brutality and keeping my thoughts focused on cruelty and debasement rather than on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8). I've spent several years studiously avoiding such material, and I can tell you that it's had a large positive effect on me. My tolerance for it is almost completely gone. (Most men I've seen thought that the pencil kill in The Dark Knight was "awesome"; I thought that it was unbelievably sickening.)

    Similarly, sexual images turn people Into perverts. Violent images Rarely turn people into torturers and murderers. I would wager that the majority who Are that way were that way before they got their hands on the ultraviolence.

    I read somewhere that homicidal fantasies have been reported by between 50% and 91% of college students. And most people are even less willing to admit that they've entertained murder fantasies than that they've entertained sexual fantasies, given the legal implications. The link between homicidal fantasies and depictions of violence has not, to my knowledge, been studied. But are you really going to fantasize about snapping someone's neck if you've never seen it done? Regular porn exposure makes us perverts; regular violence exposure may very well make us psychopaths. Am I saying that it will turn us into murderers? No--not any more than porn turns us into rapists. But it corrupts us nonetheless.

    So sexual images merely pervert and change that drive. But a person is Not healthy when he has a strong drive toward violence. So violent images just serve to enhance that already broken thing.

    The sensations brought out by violent imagery are natural to men. They're written into our biology. In times past, they helped us fight to protect the weak, among other things. The aggressive "energy surge" is not inherently disordered: it's just very susceptible to being disordered.

    This is the reason I would have no fear letting my son play video games with violence and killing (always in a clear fighting or competitive context) and would absolutely Not let him have pornography. The former, depending on the circumstances, is usually morally neutral. The latter (especially if we're talking about hardcore depictions of intercourse, ejaculation, etc.) is absolutely morally reprehensible in nearly all contexts, especially if he is young.

    I personally would never let my son (if I had one) near a game like Call of Duty, where you essentially enact genocide on human characters. I don't even play games like that myself, these days. Do I think they would turn him into a murderer? No; they didn't turn me into one. But I don't think that the Circus Maximus turned many people into murderers, either. Obviously, porn is no less devastating to the mind than violence; but I would much rather my son see a nude in the Louvre than watch a MMA match.

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  4. I've personally played hundreds of violent video games. I can't even remember them, and they never made me more violent as a person. In fact, I'm kind of a wuss. But I haven't masturbated to pornography in years, yet I am Constantly tempted, and I Constantly think about it. It became a part of who I am. The same, no doubt, goes for the majority of men walking around today.

    Intrusive thoughts come in many forms. I still struggle with unwanted flashbacks to shockingly violent images I've seen in the past. I'm sure I'm not alone, but most people in America don't see this kind of thing as a problem, so it isn't talked about.

    I don't want you to take what I'm saying as an attempt to undermine the gravity of pornography. I'm just saying that your intuition that violence isn't as grave as pornography is the result of American culture and its Puritanical roots. Few other countries are as prudish us we are, and few are as open to violent content as we are. A bunch of our biggest games, for example, have to be censored before they're allowed in countries like Australia, Germany, Japan and other places. Over here, we think that the "curb stomp" in Gears of War is "awesome", but we see sexuality as something filthy--which, as our culture has become more sexual, has resulted in a celebration of filthiness-as-such. I think we're equally screwed up on both counts.

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    1. A bunch of our biggest games, for example, have to be censored before they're allowed in countries like Australia, Germany, Japan and other places.

      Sure, and a whole lot of pornography that's legal overseas (especially Japan) is illegal over here.

      I think a key problem I'm having here, and maybe Joe K is having it, is that there are some seemingly obvious personal effects of (say) the spread of porn, or overexposure to porn. But it's hard to cash out what the exposure to violent video games and TV is resulting in.

      For the record, I think most countries are prudish about sex in relevant ways. I think most people, period, are. The main 'less prudish' measure I think you'll see overseas would exist at the periphery of expression - a bit more toplessness, a bit more implied sex. Go beyond that and the shields go up.

      I agree that a warped attitude towards violence, even fantasy violence, can be problematic. It just doesn't seem to register the same way that a warped attitude towards sex will. To give one off the cuff example - I think more and more sexual depravity is being out and out justified or defended or seen as not a big deal. I don't really see people becoming more accepting of violence in the US. (Hell, the exact opposite, considering the whole 'you chewed a poptart into the shape of a gun, it's punishment for you mister' thing.)

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    2. Crude,

      I wasn't trying to say that other cultures are flawless or free of depravity. They have their problems as well. And, obviously, each culture has its own standards of decency--but you'd be surprised at how huge the differences in those standards can be. (Check out the public pornography found in Pompeii, sometime.) I'm just saying that American society is not a truly Christian society, and that it hasn't been since it was founded by the Puritan heretics. Its current views on violence and on sex are both disordered.

      In any case, I already gave examples of what I thought the effects of exposure to violence might be, partly from my own experience. I don't think that such exposure turns us into murderers, necessarily. But, for what it's worth, I found the video game press's reaction to The Last of Us at E3 last year just as disturbing as our society's sexual perversion. What does it mean? What did it mean in Roman times? I have no idea. But, if Augustine of all people was that unsettled by this kind of "madness", I think that we can safely rank it as a serious danger to our society.

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    3. I wasn't trying to say that other cultures are flawless or free of depravity. They have their problems as well.

      I didn't suggest you were saying that. If anything I was taking issue with the idea that other countries make us out to be supremely prudish. I think the differences are largely marginal, with a whole lot of caveats.

      I'm just saying that American society is not a truly Christian society,

      Now, I understand the complaint here on one level. I don't think we're a Christian society. But I wonder what one would look like?

      In any case, I already gave examples of what I thought the effects of exposure to violence might be, partly from my own experience.

      I didn't catch them. Seriously, I'm not being sarcastic here. You mentioned desensitization, and I'll grant that. But does that lead to anything? I think desensitization of course is bad enough, even if it doesn't lead to something else - it is a kind of harm. But I think that's where the sexual aspect is going to prove itself different. Maybe part of the reason is because violence is ultimately public, but sex is far more often to be private.

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  5. Crude,

    I'll just quote the passages.

    I used to share these tendencies until I realized their effect: they were desensitizing me, getting me high on brutality and keeping my thoughts focused on cruelty and debasement rather than on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8).

    I read somewhere that homicidal fantasies have been reported by between 50% and 91% of college students. And most people are even less willing to admit that they've entertained murder fantasies than that they've entertained sexual fantasies, given the legal implications. The link between homicidal fantasies and depictions of violence has not, to my knowledge, been studied. But are you really going to fantasize about snapping someone's neck if you've never seen it done? Regular porn exposure makes us perverts; regular violence exposure may very well make us psychopaths.

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    1. Rank,

      The problem I have with this is that it just doesn't seem comparable in terms of gravity of effect. That doesn't mean it's benign - far from it, and I'd never argue as much. I just don't think of these problems as anything close to equal.

      Joe K,

      Off-topic, but I think you may appreciate some of this article if you've not seen it yet.

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    2. With all due respect, I really think the comparison is completely absurd. Almost to the point of prudishness as applied to violence. The connection between Game of Thrones and murdering people is non-existent. The connection between Game of Thrones and ANY serious violent behavior is basically non-existent for that matter. There aren't studies on it because there's no evidence. That said, the connection between pornography and deviant sexual behavior (masturbation, sex addition, voyeurism, internet addiction, adultery, divorce) is clear. Regular violence exposure does not make us "psychopaths." It's a completely ridiculous statement.

      But back to your original point, I can't even imagine bringing up comparison of statistics. Pornography represents an enormous percentage of internet traffic. The last stat I looked at, which was old, was something like 30% of all internet traffic. It's honestly probably more than that. People look at hardcore pornography on a daily basis. It's part of their lifestyle. This article notes that one porn site (which I won't name) has 4.4 BILLION page views and 350 million unique visits per MONTH. This is ONE site. Adding up the other top 5 porn sites, there are around 10 Billion page views a month. That's just these sites. This isn't counting anything else. Violent videos aren't even close.

      But here's the problem. We haven't limited the terms. We've been using "violent" to mean crush videos And "violent" to mean any medium with some aspect of violence. But I've only been referring to "sexual images" as hardcore pornography. You can't say "God of War III sold 5.2 million copies" to show how popular "violence" is. God of War III is incomparable to hardcore pornography. God of War III is a game. It has game objectives. That there is violence is incidental to the game and story. It just adds to the general feel of the game. Are there some people who get off to it Just Because it's violence? People who are totally disinterested in the game and story? Yeah, sure. Is that the majority? No, the majority play it to defeat the last boss and finish all the objectives. I've played the God of War series. Most of the time I am just trying to beat the game objectives and get engrossed in the story. I don't go "I GOTTA SEE SOME MORE VIOLENCE!" (even if it's "cool" when something is violent) when I'm playing God of War. I think "GAH, I GOTTA BEAT THIS STUPID BOSS!"

      So let's keep the comparison clear: hardcore pornography compared to things like crush videos. If comic books just contained graphic images of torture and death without any semblance of plot or theme, the average person Wouldn't Purchase Them. The same goes for Most movies. They Have to have some plot driving the appeal. Pornography is nothing like this. You could have a video With Just a man penetrating a naked woman, and people would flock to it. In fact, they do. It is Just about the sex. This is why you can call a violent scene "gratuitous" to an otherwise solid work of art. But you could never call penetration "gratuitous" in pornography. That's All it is.

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    3. My point is merely that hardcore pornography is absolutely more prevalent and more destructive than the violent equivalent could possibly be. This is because, as I noted, a Healthy person has a strong sex drive. We're made to make babies. Most people are healthy, so most people are drawn to sex. Pornography just perverts that otherwise good sex drive. Violence is nothing like this. Healthy people don't have strong violence drives. Most healthy people are passive, kind, social. In fact, most people Hate the idea of people getting hurt.

      As Crude pointed out, the only "harm" you've identified from MMA fights and violent movies with head shots is "intrusive thoughts." The fact that you (and most people) Don't want these thoughts perhaps even proves my point. You, like most people, aren't drawn to them. They don't take over your life. They don't cause you to commit sins.

      And what's happened as a result of excess sex is an increased number of masturbation addicts, sex addicts, broken marriages, a general misunderstanding of human sexuality, a general misunderstanding of love, a general misunderstanding of Family. None of the exposures to violence have done anything like this. People are still pretty much social, kind, and are Revolted by violence for its own sake. It's not like people now say "Oh, yeah, it's totally okay to watch videos that just show women being tortured to death." But they DO NOW SAY, "Oh, yeah, it's totally okay to watch videos of women being sodomized." And these bleed over into actual living. No one is saying, "Oh, it's fine to beat women!" because violence has "changed" them into thinking so. I'd say people actually hate actual violence against others more now than they ever have. But people absolutely say, "Oh, it's fine to masturbate, have as many sexual partners as you want, and find sexual release whenever you can!" In fact, these sorts of things are ENCOURAGED by psychologists, social scientists, and even Parents. And it's Because sex has been turned into any other bodily function. And pornography has a Lot to do with that.

      And incidentally, yes, you are going to fantasize about snapping someone's neck if you've never seen it done. Of course. Because most people murder people for reasons that have nothing to do with fantasy-fulfillment or anything else. The people who do "fulfill violent fantasies" were probably born that way or had serious, serious issues growing up (were abused themselves, were forced to abuse others, etc.). It had little, or nothing, to do with some cartoon they saw as kids.

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    4. Crude and Joe,

      You guys keep appealing to effects to measure the badness of vice. Since when were we consequentialists? Effects are relevant to morality only when they're foreseen or intended (ST IIa q73 a8).

      Joe,

      The connection between Game of Thrones and murdering people is non-existent. The connection between Game of Thrones and ANY serious violent behavior is basically non-existent for that matter. [...] Regular violence exposure does not make us "psychopaths." It's a completely ridiculous statement.

      I never said that it caused us to murder people. (Not that it causing us to murder people would be relevant, here.) Also, a psychopath is not a murderer. A psychopath is someone with reduced empathy, reduced emotions, lack of remorse and quite a few other things. (In places, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist reads like an identification sheet for the average male high school or college student: "need for stimulation", "parasitic lifestyle", "lack of realistic, long-term goals", "impulsiveness", "irresponsibility", etc.)

      But I've only been referring to "sexual images" as hardcore pornography. You can't say "God of War III sold 5.2 million copies" to show how popular "violence" is. God of War III is incomparable to hardcore pornography. God of War III is a game. It has game objectives. That there is violence is incidental to the game and story. It just adds to the general feel of the game.

      You're kidding, right? Right?

      The violence of God of War III is incidental in the same sense that the violence of the Roman circus was incidental. The point is to win--the brutality is part of the show. This doesn't stop those two links from being high-grade violence porn.

      So let's keep the comparison clear: hardcore pornography compared to things like crush videos. If comic books just contained graphic images of torture and death without any semblance of plot or theme, the average person Wouldn't Purchase Them. The same goes for Most movies. They Have to have some plot driving the appeal.

      This is a red herring. Including a plot or characters in Rambo or The Exorcist or 9 Songs doesn't magically change them from lurid shock spectacles (or porn, in the last case) into legitimate movies. People don't watch Die Hard for its great story.

      Also, what are you talking about when you say that people don't want violence for its own sake? Are you claiming that we've evolved beyond the colosseum or public executions or dog fighting? Are you claiming that people actually buy God of War III "for the story", like those guys who claim to read Playboy "for the articles"?

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    5. Violence is nothing like this. Healthy people don't have strong violence drives. Most healthy people are passive, kind, social. In fact, most people Hate the idea of people getting hurt.

      On the contrary, males by nature have incredibly powerful violence drives--even overwhelmingly powerful, in their teenage years. It's biological. Why do you think males get into so many fights, get so competitive and obsess over violent entertainment? Why do you think violent media is almost exclusively targeted at male teens and twenty-somethings? They're driven by an almost personality-erasing level of testosterone. Again, though, I've spoken to women who had absolutely no idea how most guys feel about violence and aggression. You might be the same way.

      As Crude pointed out, the only "harm" you've identified from MMA fights and violent movies with head shots is "intrusive thoughts."

      Actually, the harm is in taking pleasure in the brutality, just like the harm of sexual images is in taking pleasure in them. There are all kinds of side-effects to this (desensitization being an obvious example), but side-effects are just that: side-effects of the core sin. It's the same way with sexuality: porn doesn't cause any of those societal problems you listed; we do that, as a result of our own concupiscence. The problems are accidental to the actual grave sin of concupiscence at their core.

      Most young males today take an untold amount of pleasure in brutality, thanks to their limitless supply of it. They have, as you said about porn in your post, both a "desire and [an] aversion" when it comes to violence. It's shocking but oh I love it so much I can't look away. You don't seem to have this reaction, but rest assured that it is the norm for males today.

      And incidentally, yes, you are going to fantasize about snapping someone's neck if you've never seen it done. Of course.

      Under Thomism's externalist psychology, this isn't even possible. You can't fantasize about something that you don't know about. My point was that violent media loads up our minds with material that otherwise wouldn't have been there, which is fuel for homicidal fantasies.

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    6. Rank,

      You guys keep appealing to effects to measure the badness of vice. Since when were we consequentialists? Effects are relevant to morality only when they're foreseen or intended (ST IIa q73 a8).

      We're talking about the use of an amendment to run a country. That was the whole point of the post. We're talking about the prudential decision that a society made. Thomism does not require that people ignore the effects, to be imprudent. It is entirely reasonable to say "pornography is Worse" or "the worst sort of speech that absolutely needs to be prohibited as it ruins societies is obscene (pornographic) speech." And even taking your point, that the only effect in question is the perverted enjoyment related to violence compared to the perverted enjoyment related to sex, I would still vehemently argue that the perverted enjoyment related to sex is much, much more common and much, much worse.

      I never said that it caused us to murder people. (Not that it causing us to murder people would be relevant, here.) Also, a psychopath is not a murderer. A psychopath is someone with reduced empathy, reduced emotions, lack of remorse and quite a few other things. (In places, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist reads like an identification sheet for the average male high school or college student: "need for stimulation", "parasitic lifestyle", "lack of realistic, long-term goals", "impulsiveness", "irresponsibility", etc.)

      Reduced as compared to what? I have less empathy than other people I know. I am a psychopath? Still, I have more empathy than different people. They are psychopaths and I am not? Or I am less of one? No, the implication of the word is clear: a person completely disconnected and removed from human reality that he doesn't care that intentionally hurting others, for its own sake, is wrong. Most people are Not psychopaths, while most people, because of their constant access to pornography, Are perverts. And I've certainly never argued that teenagers are good people. My point was merely that playing some violent video games and/or watching movies have little or nothing to do with them being bad people. If anything, it's that we live in a society that allows them to be lazy bums who never get into trouble because their parents are as gluttonous as they are.

      This is a red herring. Including a plot or characters in Rambo or The Exorcist or 9 Songs doesn't magically change them from lurid shock spectacles (or porn, in the last case) into legitimate movies. People don't watch Die Hard for its great story.

      I never said this. I said that the art is separate the the gratuity in the case of the examples you gave. When someone makes a war movie, it does not magically turn the movie into not art because it has a head shot. But porn is totally different. It is Always not art. It is Only about sex and getting people off. That is all it is because that is its whole end. But Saving Private Ryan, or whatever, was trying to tell a story, to make an argument about the human condition. That is was exceptionally violent in some cases is, at worst, unfortunate and gratuitous, but it's not even comparable to hardcore pornography, which has as its end the inherently perverse act of masturbation.

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    7. You're kidding, right? Right?

      If it is so bad, why would you link to it?? I can't even begin to understand this. But yes, I know what God of War is. I know what video games are. I find it truly amazing that you really think the reason people play them is bloodlust. Do you really, really think that people flock to games like Starcraft because the units explode with blood when you kill them? That this really isn't just a part of the game? You keep implying that I somehow lack an aggressive drive. It's not true in any relevant way, but assuming arguendo that it is, why on earth would I be drawn to video games? Why would I play so many? Because they're GAMES. I love gameplay, and I love a challenge. I also love ambiance, and sometimes death and destruction are required from that ambiance.

      I have never made the argument that games, or any art, can't be over the top. It can, and sometimes it's sexually gratuitous too. But again, this is Nothing like pornography. And Yes, absolutely, people like God of War because of the story. My friend, who was a classics major, loves, absolutely loves, seeing what they did with his favorite characters.

      On the contrary, males by nature have incredibly powerful violence drives--even overwhelmingly powerful, in their teenage years. It's biological. Why do you think males get into so many fights, get so competitive and obsess over violent entertainment? Why do you think violent media is almost exclusively targeted at male teens and twenty-somethings? They're driven by an almost personality-erasing level of testosterone. Again, though, I've spoken to women who had absolutely no idea how most guys feel about violence and aggression. You might be the same way.

      Compare the aggression drive to the sex drive. Compare the number of teenagers who have committed acts of violence to the number of teenagers who have committed sex acts. You'll probably get a similar split as the comparison between crush videos and pornographic videos. My point was simply that "I want to have sex" is a healthy desire, while "I want to bust some heads" is an unhealthy desire. As most people are born healthy, they possess the former and do not possess the latter. Similarly, our culture, rightly, views the former as a good (even if it misuses the good), but it never, ever views the latter as a good.

      And people don't watch Die Hard for the story? If they didn't, why would they even Have a story? As I've already pointed out, if it weren't for the plot, why wouldn't they just watch movies with constant explosion, death, decapitation, etc. Why even have the pesky, pointless plot elements? (Note that people say this all the time about porn: "get to the good stuff.")

      My point is not that people don't like violence. I thought I made this clear. My point is that people aren't drawn to violence in the same way that they are drawn to sexuality. People go months and months without seeing a truly violent image and don't even realize it. But ask the average man to go even Days without seeing sex or finding sexual release, and he'll think it impossible.

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    8. Actually, the harm is in taking pleasure in the brutality, just like the harm of sexual images is in taking pleasure in them. There are all kinds of side-effects to this (desensitization being an obvious example), but side-effects are just that: side-effects of the core sin. It's the same way with sexuality: porn doesn't cause any of those societal problems you listed; we do that, as a result of our own concupiscence. The problems are accidental to the actual grave sin of concupiscence at their core.

      Saying, "cool" and enjoying someone getting shot up, even if I were to accept that this counted as a sin, is nothing like intentionally ejaculating outside of the marital bond. It is also nothing like leaving your wife because you can't stop looking at porn (an enormously common problem). My point was never that porn Causes problems. The problems come from ourselves, obviously. My point is that porn perverts the good already in us in such a dramatic way that it is inherently dangerous (in a way violent images are not) and can likewise be forbidden. When I point out that most people aren't violent, my point is that the violent images clearly are not having the effect that porn has. Attitudes toward sex (when and how it should be used) have absolutely changed, in step with porn culture. Attitudes toward violence (the actual intentional harm of others) have not changed, despite the prevalence of violence. As I noted, they've actually gotten MORE PRUDISH. Kids "playing guns" is considered wrong. Spanking your son for disrespecting you is a crime. It's not even comparable.

      Under Thomism's externalist psychology, this isn't even possible. You can't fantasize about something that you don't know about. My point was that violent media loads up our minds with material that otherwise wouldn't have been there, which is fuel for homicidal fantasies.

      I don't need to see (or even be told about) snapping someone's neck to "fantasize" about it. I would just need to know what a neck is and what a snap is and have malicious intent. How else would the first neck snap get into human existence? I can think of loads of wickedly disgusting things, even though I haven't seen that many wickedly disgusting things. For example, I have never, ever seen a crush video (and I never want to). I can obviously imagine what one would look like and could even make one on my own if I wanted to. But I know you're not making this silly of a point.

      When our founders made the Constitution, they did not consider obscenity a thing to be protected because obscenity, in their minds, as it is in our minds, is inherently wrong. Violence is more complex. Violence is struggle and story. Violence can properly exist in a million different contexts, so it requires more wiggle room and protection. But intercourse is only for the creation of life through the marital bond and has no place being shown to anyone for any reason. This is why, as I said, it makes sense to me that they wouldn't even consider sexual obscenity a thing to be protected. There is No Context where it can ever be a good.

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    9. Also, Crude, thank you for the article. I might do a substantive post on some of the things it addresses.

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  6. Do you really, really think that people flock to games like Starcraft because the units explode with blood when you kill them? That this really isn't just a part of the game?

    I think a promising way to evaluate things like this may be to look at the sort of things people who actually play games tend to focus on when they discuss them.

    Now, sometimes, particularly gruesome things get a lot of focus. I recall in the latest Lara Croft, there's quite a lot of brutal death scenes for Lara - like she'll be rafting down a treacherous river, and if she strays too far off the path she'll get her head impaled on some stone spike and there she is, twitching and clawing at it before going limp. That's tremendously violent.

    But really, after that initial bit of notice, most people end up focusing on finding secret areas or strategies to defeat various puzzles or get certain achievements or, etc. What pulls them in and keeps their interest are things pretty unrelated to the violence itself. If the violence was the main draw, I'm not sure we should expect that. I definitely don't think you find anything comparable with porn, where the actual pornographic scenes/aspect become a very distant focus of interest compared to, say, the plot. Even for porn with plot, it's the porn that's acting as the far and away main hook.

    Still, I agree with rank insofar as I think this kind of thing can absolutely be over the top. And I agree with Joe K that pointing out the relative effects of the two isn't to engage in consequentialism.

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  7. Joe,

    We're talking about the use of an amendment to run a country. That was the whole point of the post. We're talking about the prudential decision that a society made. Thomism does not require that people ignore the effects, to be imprudent. It is entirely reasonable to say "pornography is Worse" or "the worst sort of speech that absolutely needs to be prohibited as it ruins societies is obscene (pornographic) speech." And even taking your point, that the only effect in question is the perverted enjoyment related to violence compared to the perverted enjoyment related to sex, I would still vehemently argue that the perverted enjoyment related to sex is much, much more common and much, much worse.

    I know that we're talking about US law. But the utilitarianism behind US law does not change the proper ordering of positive law, which is to teach virtue by proscribing the worst vices against one's neighbor (ST IIa q96 a2). Positive law does not involve utilitarian weighing of consequences: it is merely, as Isidore (quoted by Aquinas) says, a method by which "innocence might be safeguarded in the midst of wickedness" (ST IIa q95 a1). That is, positive law is a way of "withdrawing man from undue pleasures" to which he naturally tends (Ibid.), in contrast to evil customs which train people to sin--like those of the German barbarians, which allowed theft (ST IIa q94 a4). As a result, the propagation of material that leads to sin, such as "obscene" sexual content, should--because it trains vice in others--be proscribed by positive law. This has nothing to do with a consequentialist measurement of its negative effects on society over time.

    Now, this applies to violent content no less than it does to sexual content, since both train vice. You claim that concupiscence with regard to violent content is both less common and less serious than concupiscence with regard to sexual content. In the former respect, I have to agree: violence generally entertains only a male audience of a certain age range. But, since positive law is designed to limit vices from which the majority of people can abstain (ST IIa q96 a2), this helps my case more than it does yours. The relative seriousness of the two sins is more difficult to determine. Aquinas covers the subject only briefly in ST IIb q159 a2, in which he calls "savagery" that tendency by which men engage in violence for "the pleasure they derive from a man's torture". Aquinas states that savagery is opposed to piety, an element of justice that can, in certain forms, constitute a gift of the Holy Spirit (ST IIb q121).

    Aquinas doesn't make it clear how much savagery relies on one's own disposition. Unlike Augustine, he doesn't mention the ethics of deriving pleasure from watching violence inflicted by others. However, Aquinas's description of savagery fits in nicely with what Augustine says: Alypius "drank in savagery" and was overcome by "bloodthirsty pleasure". The effect of this was "a wound [in his soul] graver than the gladiator in his body"--which had ended the gladiator's life. Even if sins of lust are graver (they might be; I have no idea), it should be obvious that savagery is a dire business that leads, if Augustine is to be believed, to the death of the soul.

    No, the implication of the word is clear: a person completely disconnected and removed from human reality that he doesn't care that intentionally hurting others, for its own sake, is wrong.

    That's true in the most extreme cases. My point is that desensitization lessens empathy. Savagery corrodes our humanity. And it's interesting that the biggest demographic for violent films, games and television is also the one that displays the most psychopathic traits.

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  8. But Saving Private Ryan, or whatever, was trying to tell a story, to make an argument about the human condition. That is was exceptionally violent in some cases is, at worst, unfortunate and gratuitous, but it's not even comparable to hardcore pornography, which has as its end the inherently perverse act of masturbation.

    I agree. I would make the same remark about a painting or film with tasteful nudity. But Saving Private Ryan, to my knowledge, was not designed to get the "booyah" response of savagery from its viewers. It's completely unrelated to the case I've been making, which concerns deriving pleasure from brutality. Certainly it's possible to include violence without inciting savagery--even many video games do this.

    I find it truly amazing that you really think the reason people play them is bloodlust. Do you really, really think that people flock to games like Starcraft because the units explode with blood when you kill them?

    I suppose I should have been clearer: I myself am a video game nerd. I have nothing against video games as such. In fact, I don't even have anything against first-person shooters as such. I don't think that minor, incidental violence like StarCraft's affects anyone. My complaint is with games, films, TV shows and the like designed to incite bloodlust or an otherwise lurid desire for violence. There is a difference between the first three Halo games and Gears of War, or between The Legend of Zelda and God of War, or between Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and the new Tomb Raider. There's also a difference between The Wire and Game of Thrones.

    My point was simply that "I want to have sex" is a healthy desire, while "I want to bust some heads" is an unhealthy desire. As most people are born healthy, they possess the former and do not possess the latter. Similarly, our culture, rightly, views the former as a good (even if it misuses the good), but it never, ever views the latter as a good.

    That's not true, though. "I want to bust some heads" is a feeling that most men have to deal with in the early halves of their lives, until they've mellowed out. As I've said repeatedly, it's biological. Young men are naturally prone to flying off the handle. This is a scientific fact. Western culture has traditionally tolerated fights between young men--even duels. War and blood sports (generally between animals) have remained outlets into modern times. In past eras, appetites for savagery were also sated by public executions and the like. Modern liberalism has taken away these methods and replaced them with its own, via popular entertainment. But it's still the same deal.

    And people don't watch Die Hard for the story? If they didn't, why would they even Have a story? As I've already pointed out, if it weren't for the plot, why wouldn't they just watch movies with constant explosion, death, decapitation, etc. Why even have the pesky, pointless plot elements? (Note that people say this all the time about porn: "get to the good stuff.")

    I've heard the "get to the good stuff" remark made about violent games and movies as well. Plus, until recently, even porn generally included some kind of plot. Even Playboy runs articles. Does that tell us anything about the purpose of porn or Playboy? Nope. And the rise of sex-only porn has coincided with a rise in violence-only material like WorldstarHipHop.

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  9. People go months and months without seeing a truly violent image and don't even realize it.

    Do they, though? I'm inclined to doubt it, given how ubiquitous violence has become in our society. I know from experience that it's extremely difficult to avoid.

    Saying, "cool" and enjoying someone getting shot up, even if I were to accept that this counted as a sin, is nothing like intentionally ejaculating outside of the marital bond. It is also nothing like leaving your wife because you can't stop looking at porn (an enormously common problem). [...] My point is that porn perverts the good already in us in such a dramatic way that it is inherently dangerous (in a way violent images are not) and can likewise be forbidden.

    Savagery is a temptation for most men, and it is, according to Augustine, a mortal wound to the soul. I would call that inherently dangerous. Whether or not it's as bad as lust is up for debate, but content that inspires it is certainly no less deserving of censorship than is obscene sexual content. That's been my point all along.

    When I point out that most people aren't violent, my point is that the violent images clearly are not having the effect that porn has. Attitudes toward sex (when and how it should be used) have absolutely changed, in step with porn culture. Attitudes toward violence (the actual intentional harm of others) have not changed, despite the prevalence of violence. As I noted, they've actually gotten MORE PRUDISH. Kids "playing guns" is considered wrong. Spanking your son for disrespecting you is a crime. It's not even comparable.

    Well, actually, libertine sexual practices have been common since ancient times. Christianity never changed them: it just scared them a little further underground. The reason that Christian writers have always spent so much time on sexual morality is that the problem never went away. (I often hear talk about how "the Pill" separated a previously-unbreakable bond between sex and procreation, as though before then people didn't know how to avoid pregnancy, procure sterility or get an abortion. They did.) There was never an idyllic time when everyone followed the sexual practices entailed by natural law.

    This, though, is beside the point. The societal effects of savagery, which I believe are numerous, have nothing to do with its seriousness as a sin. Ditto for sexual stuff. They also have nothing to do with the need to censor it as obscene--whether we're talking about Saw, God of War III or a crush video. A moral society would censor these things as contrary to the good of human nature, just as it would censor porn.

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  10. Crude,

    Now, sometimes, particularly gruesome things get a lot of focus. I recall in the latest Lara Croft, there's quite a lot of brutal death scenes for Lara - like she'll be rafting down a treacherous river, and if she strays too far off the path she'll get her head impaled on some stone spike and there she is, twitching and clawing at it before going limp. That's tremendously violent.

    But really, after that initial bit of notice, most people end up focusing on finding secret areas or strategies to defeat various puzzles or get certain achievements or, etc.


    Funny that you thought of Tomb Raider, too. I'd just looked at this video and its comment section while typing my response to Joe, and I was quite disturbed. I don't think people are quite as innocent as you believe.

    Also, the proliferation of "execution" moves in modern games is a testament to how much people do care about violence. Tomb Raider, again, is a great example: its executions are some of the most shocking I've seen.

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  11. Funny that you thought of Tomb Raider, too. I'd just looked at this video and its comment section

    On youtube, the absolute goddamn cesspool of conversation, regardless of topic. What's more, it's a specific selection of all the death scenes from Tomb Raider. And the funny thing is, it had more but not incredibly more attention than the video where the technology that was used to animate Lara's hair was showcased.

    Also, the proliferation of "execution" moves in modern games is a testament to how much people do care about violence.

    There's also a proliferation of achievements, entirely humor-based taunts, resuscitations, cooperative gameplay, and more (even of games, period). Team Fortress 2 has comedic violence and is/was a huge hit, but if you ask most people what makes it memorable, 'gibbing' is probably going to rank pretty low on the list.

    Go ahead - check out the conversations in video game mags, on gaming forums, and otherwise. Even with Lara Croft, which certainly had violent death scenes, most people end up discussing the actual gaming aspects. Really, the title even underperformed expectations.

    My contention is not that people are innocent. It's that the gross depiction of violence in games is, while initially eyecatching, ultimately pretty incidental to the enjoyment/focus of most gamers, or certainly seems to be. It's not what they end up spending most of their time discussing, or focusing on.

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  12. I'm actually somewhere in the middle on this issue, ever since I read the book "On Killing" a few months ago. "On Killing" makes 2 main points. First, that the overwhelming majority of people have a strong aversion to killing another human being. Second, that this aversion can be overcome with conditioning.

    Historically, only about 25% of soldiers were willing to fire their weapons in battle. This was true as recently as World War II. So even in a life or death situation, most people are unwilling to kill another person. After World War II, the US military pioneered new training methods (using targets that are human-shaped, snap-firing when targets pop up, training in full combat gear, etc.) that raised the percentage to about 95% by Vietnam.

    The author then points out that these military training mechanisms are similar to those we encounter in everyday life. We can become desensitized to real-life gore by repeatedly viewing simulated gore in movies or games. We can become desensitized to real-life killing by repeatedly snap-killing people in Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, etc.

    The author then makes the argument that this conditioning contributes to increased violence, especially in the lower classes who are more likely to find themselves in those situations. So while murder rates may be only 1.5x what they were in 1960 because of better medical technology (people are less likely to die from their wounds), aggravated assault rates (a good indicator of overall violence) are 5x what they were in 1960.

    So I think that you guys are all right, in a way. The average untrained person shies away from real-life violence (killing in war) but does not shy away from real-life sex (having sex with girlfriend, wife, etc.). The same principle holds when you're talking about depictions of those things. But a constant level of lower-level violence in TV and movies does have tangible negative effects.

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  13. Whoops, those crime figures are totals, not rates. They don't take into account the increase in population.

    Adjusted for population, the murder rate is actually a little bit lower today than it was in 1960, and the aggravated assault rate is 3x what it was in 1960. Same trend as before--a much bigger increase in aggravated assault than in murder.

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