Atheists talk a great deal about compartmentalization from the standpoint of looking at religion and its absurdities. We look at a religious person and how they can, in one breath, profess belief in the most horrible, irrational moral precepts on the basis of the Bible, and in the next, proclaim their respect for other people. We observe that they seem to insulate their religious beliefs from disproof by putting them in a box and, by doing so, keeping them scrupulously separate from their other, more rational beliefs. So we call that “compartmentalization.”
Stephen Jay Gould’s framing of the relationship between science and religion as “non-overlapping magisteria” represents an attempt at intellectually justifying compartmentalization. Such attempts must necessarily fail in practice, because science and religion are necessarily overlapping: if science does not address origins and the nature of things, then it cannot operate on measurable material facts, and if religion does not address measurable material facts, then it is myth, not religion.
But there’s a lot more to compartmentalization than just putting some irrational beliefs in a box. Not only does it do that, but it also becomes an impervious springboard by which one’s non-material or non-rational beliefs can be applied to material, rational reality without fear of refutation.
It is not just that the Christian fundamentalist believes that women, homosexuals and black people are inherently inferior, and that ey puts these beliefs in a box. It is also that ey uses these beliefs to talk about the real world and to attack real people in real ways. Christianity is a political issue, a social issue, an intellectual issue, an ethical issue, because Christian fundamentalists use their bigotry as an argument and as a motivation in the world, against the world (“the world” is evil, God’s laws are good).
The same thing applies to beliefs about matters of fact. Creationists have one set of epistemic standards that apply to the question of the development of life on this planet, and another set of epistemic standards that apply to everything else, and never the twain shall meet. But they then take those Creationist standards and use them to attack education, evolutionary science, materialist answers about human nature, and so on.
The fact that these beliefs are in the box means that they are elevated to a special status amongst that person’s beliefs: beliefs which inform our actions but which are considered to be immune from refutation. So they necessarily become of prime importance.
Obviously, compartmentalization does not only apply to religion, but I have never heard of this sort of analysis done on anything other than religion. In Compartmentalizing women means you’re a sociopath, blogger Elkballet delves into the issue of compartmentalization and how it applies to porn use.
Her analysis can be applied to any area where irrational beliefs are protected from refutation. In all cases, our million dollar question is: given that our starting position is one of not wanting to harm others and of respecting fairness, how does a person grow up to become a soldier, a rapist, a fundamentalist Christian, or in this case a regular porn user?
Because if the user didn’t compartmentalize it away from rational thought, hide it in a special place in his brain where critical thinking couldn’t touch it, there’s no way he could justify his enjoyment of something clearly painful, degrading, and humiliating. He couldn’t justify enjoying something where this is a high likelihood that at least sometimes the woman is really being raped, is a trafficked woman. So because it feels good, it gets put away someplace where those thoughts can’t apply to it. It would not be possible to enjoy porn as it exists today were it not for the “ability” to place it behind special logic-proof walls.
Elkballet deduces from her examination of the psychology of compartmentalization that this process is the natural result of our enjoyment clashing with one’s natural morals.
But how does this apply to religion or statism? In those cases, we’re not talking about enjoyment but conditioning; the case of pornography merely adds a step before the conditioning. People are hooked on pornography and then receive its messages, while people generally start by receiving religious dogma (whether they come to enjoy it later is another issue). No one is forced to watch pornography by their parents or by society (although the sexist message itself is present everywhere and can hardly be avoided).
So in those cases it is the dogma that clashes with our natural morals. Every case has a different form of rationalization, different default responses, different thought-stoppers, but they all have them.
* In the case of Christian believers, we have “God is good itself and the source of all good,” “God knows better than we do,” “God works in mysterious ways,” “Christian morality is absolute and necessary anyway.”
* In the case of statists, we have “they’re just bad apples,” “the law maintains order in society,” “if you’re not evil you have nothing to fear,” and as a corollary, “if you have something to fear, you must be evil.”
* In the case of natalism, we have “well, life is not fair,” “new people can experience all that’s wonderful in this world,” and “I have the right to have children.”
* In the case of feminism, we have individualism and liberalism acting as general rationalizations (“it’s her fault for putting herself at risk,” “we’re all equal now so everything that happens to you is your own fault”), and evopsych and other forms of gender essentialism act as thought-stoppers (“men can’t help what they do, so there’s no point in arguing about it,” “that’s the way women should be”).
Elkballet also discusses how compartmentalization piggybacks on existing hierarchies in order to dissociate between “good” and “bad” people or situations.
Compartmentalization.. causes the user to feel entitled to label women as human or not, real people or things to fuck, etc… Only a person in a position of entitlement could experience this type of god complex, deciding who is and isn’t human, who does and doesn’t deserve abuse based on whether she turns him on… This means some people actually begin to feel some woman (all of whom are thinking, breathing, feeling, human beings) deserve to be raped, deserve to be beaten, tortured, murdered, etc… Because this user has learned to compartmentalize. When something revolting happens to a woman, she can be compartmentalized away as a “disgusting pig” or a deserving “slut” because porn has taught him that some women deserve this treatment. Some women are born for this, to be fucked brutally, to be raped.
In parallel with this, the porn user also feels that he is one of the “good” guys, that he is sublimating his (inescapable and biological, according to the rhetoric) desire to hurt women through something “unreal” (because otherwise he would be painting himself as someone who derives enjoyment from someone else’s suffering), and that it’s okay because everyone’s doing it or everyone should be doing it.
All compartmentalization partakes of these same processes. Again let me review:
* Christian believers divide people in saved and unsaved; the unsaved (unlike actual humans) deserve eternal torment, and they deserve to be persecuted in life. The unsaved are not worthy of being treated like human beings because they can’t be moral anyway.
* Statists divide people in criminals and non-criminals, citizens and foreigners, “legal” humans and “illegal” humans, productive and unproductive people (in a capitalist context), and so on. Criminals deserve punishment by virtue of not obeying the law, foreigners deserve to die because they aren’t protected by the law, “illegal” humans deserve to be separated from their families, unproductive people deserve to be poor. Generally the rationalization here is that people who don’t obey the law are innately evil (and usually that most or all people are evil and deserve to be punished) and that morality can only be maintained by government fiat.
* Most natalists hold to categories of “lives that are worth starting” and “lives that are not worth starting” (although some extremists do believe that all lives, no matter how diseased or handicapped, are worth starting), and use this to “prove” that most acts of procreation are justified. This is not hierarchical in nature, but the hierarchy between parents and children is used to justify the “right to reproduce” and props up other natalist arguments (“I don’t care what the consequences are to my child because I decide what’s good for them”).
* Anti-feminists obviously support the gender hierarchy, and they support their belief in the gender hierarchy through various forms of essentialism, that women deserve to be inferior because of some biological or psychological defect. The flipside of that is the fact that women deserve to be raped, mutilated and killed because men’s equally unwavering attributes (“men can’t control themselves,” “men are biologically made to rape”).
She also talks about this concept of “good porn.” Porn users regularly trot out the bizarre concept of “feminist porn” (which has been sighted about as often as Bigfoot, another mythical creature) as some kind of proof that pornography is not woman-hating. They argue that if only all porn was replaced by “feminist porn,” pornography would be all right.
But feminists know that this is nonsense. Pornography is inherently objectifying and violent whether it’s “feminist” or not. An evil system is not improved by giving it even more credibility while addressing no issue whatsoever. Putting women in charge of pornography and changing the actresses so that some of them are fat or black doesn’t address anything that’s wrong about pornography, but calling it “feminist” does give it credibility it does not deserve.
Likewise, radicals in all other areas are very well aware that gradualism or moderation is ultimately futile. Trying to encourage a government to moderate its military spending has never actually lowered military spending. Telling Christians to moderate their beliefs does not get them to do so. Telling people to make less children rarely has a positive effect.
What does work is changing the incentives of society itself. Religion becomes more moderate because it is dragged along by social consensus. Governments only channel more resources towards welfare programs, and stop attacking the rights of the poor, when people stand up for their rights and take to the streets. As for not having children, people having a livelihood that doesn’t depend on using children as virtual slave workers thanks to industrialization seems to be helping quite a bit, and so does working against domestic violence.
Another example of moderation, as regards to neo-liberalism this time, is the belief in “responsible consumption”; the theory being that by moderating our consumption, by consuming the right things, and by recycling our consumed products, we can help the environment and stop exploiting people in the third world. But we know that would change absolutely nothing. Most of the pollution is generated by industries, not by landfills. Moderating consumption will not slow down the economic growth in China and India, which will dwarf any slowing down of consumption in the Western world.
The gender hierarchy provides porn users with the tools to objectify and categorize women, because the belief in the inferiority of women comes with its own rationalizations and categories (such as “sluts,” “bitches,” “dykes,” etc). These categories are filled with beliefs which further the aim of the porn user (“sluts can’t be raped,” “unlike most women they really love doing this,” “sluts deserve to be roughed up”). Compartmentalization leads to objectification leads to a culture of violence and depravity.