Kevin Williamson’s cover story in the new National Review, “The End of Sex in an Age of Pornography,” is well worth your time, if you can stomach it. Williamson attends a major trade conference of the pornography industry in Las Vegas, and helps us see the deeper social significance of what happens there. This kind of journalism is all too rare, and becoming rarer, regardless of topic; on this particular topic it is even more sorely needed, and even more scarce.
Williamson never crosses the line into being too graphic (at least not in my opinion; such matters are subjective) but he does not mince words and he lets you know what is happening. Readers who struggle with temptation in this areaokay, readers who struggle with temptation in this area more than all of us domight be well advised not to read the piece. But those who want to be active in the confrontation with pornography will benefit enormously from it. I know there are other aspects of this issue; the social science on pornography’s impact and that sort of thing. But our only real weapon against pornography, ultimately, is to help people see what pornography is in its essence. We cannot do that by speaking in decorous scientific jargon about abstractions.
To take only one example: Williamson is not the first person to point out that pornography is slowly but surely displacing actual sexlarge numbers of people seem to be more interested in fantasies of control and degradation that aren’t limited by the real world than in actual intercourse, which requires the presence and cooperation of a consenting human being and thus does not provide the illusion of being a god. But it is one thing to make this observation in general, and another to behold (through Williamson’s eyes) the spectacle of large numbers of men lining up literally across a city block in order to pay large sums of money to spend a day looking at their favorite pornographic performers, when just a short drive away they could be spending less money to have actual sex with actual women, with no line to wait in and no violation of the law.
And then, after sojourning in the bleak wasteland, Williamson has dinner with some friends who live in Las Vegas. In the midst of all the misery, this paragraph made me so happy I could have smiled for a week:
The little borough of Vegas, Baby is practically hermetically sealed. It is surrounded by the city of Las Vegas, wherein dwell hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who go about their business only vaguely aware, if they are aware at all, of the specific day-to-day operations of the industries at the core of the city’s economy. The two municipalities are formally coincidental, but they are two very different places. I have dinner with some old friends who are the very picture of a happy, healthy family, the sort of enviable people who make it look easy even though it almost certainly isn’t. He is a respected man in his field, she a full-time wife and mother, the two of them steady and cheerful hands on the tillers of the lives of their two engaging and energetic children, practically a Mozart duet of wavering encouragement and gentle discipline. They hold hands around the dinner table and say grace with no sense of self-consciousness. They live in Las Vegas but they have, as you might imagine, a complicated relationship with the borough of Vegas, Baby, plotting out routes to social activities that do not necessitate driving their little ones past 40-foot billboards advertising the annual porn convention.
“The sort of enviable people who make it look easy even though it almost certainly isn’t.” That is, in the end, our doomsday weapon against pornography.
Unfortunately, Williamson doesn’t see this. At the end of the piece, he suddenly turns fatalistic. Pornography is here to stay, nothing can counteract it. The intersection of digital technology and the unchanging facts of human biology ensure it; no laws against pornography can be effective, nor would the legion of men who lose the Darwinian competition for desirable mates permit the enactment of such laws.
So it would betechnology and biology would be our unalterable mastersif human beings were just bodies. But human beings are not just bodies, they are souls and bodies, and the life of Vegas, Baby cannot sustain a civilization. In the long runwhich is what counts to those of us who reject the Keynesian understanding of what it is to be humancivilizations are sustained by, and only by, “the sort of enviable people who make it look easy even though it almost certainly isn’t.”
I believe Williamson is familiar with Herb Stein’s Iron Law. It does not apply only to the balance of trade.