The catharsis theory used to defend pornography.

There is a fairly common argument for pornography that I haven’t addressed before, simply because it didn’t cross my mind. But it is something that I used to agree with, politically. The catharsis theory is basically the belief that when people are exposed to a representation of violence or sex, they will have a lower desire to perform violent or sexual actions.

There is scientific evidence behind this theory (here is an example of discussion of that evidence). I don’t have any qualms against these studies (except about the founding study of catharsis theory, based on post-WW2 Denmark, which was proven wrong). However, the problem is that pornography advocates draw ridiculously overinflated conclusions from those studies. For instance, the article I linked to is entitled “How the Web Prevents Rape.” And yes, they are talking about Internet pornography here.

And we know factually that this grandiose conclusion is not true. We know that pornography usage is linked to objectification of women, support for rape, and a greater likelihood of rape and pedophilia. The difference is that the studies that pornography advocates use to make their point are about the immediate consequences of pornography-watching, while the other studies are mostly about the medium and long-term.

I find that their arguments rely on a certain, bizarre model of indoctrination. For lack of a better term, I will call this the no-subconscious model, because its primary feature is the complete absence of the subconscious. According to this model, every message we receive is immediately analyzed by our rational, conscious mind. First, it goes through a filter, which only lets in messages which appeal to the identities that the recipient identifies with. So for example, a man would not internalize the misogyny in a beer ad if he does not identify as a beer drinker. Then, those messages which have not been filtered out are analyzed rationally by the recipient, who decides to accept or reject the message. Finally, action is taken immediately on the basis of that message: either rational acceptance (accepting a message and immediately acting on it), or reject the message altogether.

This model explains the two major areas where liberal feminists reject indoctrination: pornography and transgenderism. They argue that pornography cannot possibly create more rape if studies show that men who watch pornography do not immediately go out and rape. They argue that men do not internalize the messages of pornography because those messages are not rational. They argue that toddlers and young children do not internalize messages addressed to a gender they don’t identify with. These views are completely nonsensical from any even remotely realistic point of view, but they hold a powerful attraction to the people who believe them: I think this is because of their bizarre folk model of indoctrination. But that model was probably adopted in order to fit their beliefs, and not the reverse. By pointing out how ridiculous the model is, we’re really only showing how ridiculous the beliefs in pornography and transgenderism are, because they depend on this model in order to make any sense.

The reality is that internalization of media messages is not mediated by rationality or filtered by identification. Everyone is affected by those messages, no matter who they are or how they identify. One thing that does have some impact on their effect is the recipient’s level of media literacy: a person who has high media literacy is less likely to change their behavior, as long as they maintain an active questioning of the messages they’re being given. But we all internalize the messages we’re given. The transgender activist’s belief in immunity to messages due to identity, or the pornography advocate’s belief that the pornography user can rationally refuse to integrate a desire for violent sex, are fictions, especially since both categories of people have zero interest in advocating for actual media literacy. Neither of them want you to think very deeply about their messages, just to accept them passively.

Internalization is also not an instantaneous event, but a medium and long-term event. The false corollary given to us (as a result of the no-unconscious model) is that if a man watches pornography videos and does not immediately go out there and rape a woman, that means he did not integrate the message. But internalization comes from repetition and reinforcement from the wider society, and that takes some time. It takes time to integrate a belief within our mental framework, as long as it takes to chip a belief out of it.

Pornsick men are pornsick because they have become addicted to pornography for their arousal. And this is the result of watching pornography again and again and again, escalating the violence and objectification of the videos until they have no more connection to actual sex. This process changes a person’s framework about women, about sex, about relationships, and about rape. And yes, it does mean that they are more likely to rape and get off on rape, whether it’s the rape of prostituted women, pornographic rape, or the rape of “good women.”

Transgender children become transgender, not because of some pseudo-scientific “innate gender,” but because of two repetitions. The first is the repetition of gender dogma, which constantly hammers home the fact that their behavior is “wrong” and “unnatural”; the second is the repetition of talking to other children on social media who have assimilated trans dogma, which gives them a simplistic and comforting explanation for their struggles with gender. These are two mutually reinforcing systems of thought which partake of the same logic: the enforcement of gender roles leads gender non-conforming children to feel alienated, which leads them to the company of like-minded children, who tell them that gender must be enforced through surgery and social approval, which leads them to look to gender roles as the blueprint of how they should be. They are both based on the notion that gender is ingrained and must be followed at all costs, including at the cost of your own life. This gives a particular urgency to the victims of the transgender cause.

Finally, internalization mostly takes place at the level of the subconscious. The subconscious makes people uncomfortable because it’s harder to measure (although psychologists use techniques like priming to try to get to it). Liberal feminists are unlikely to take the subconscious seriously because it goes against their fundamental premise of “agency”; other belief systems, like Objectivism, which are based around Reason Triumphant, also reject the subconscious’ importance because of its irrationality. Either way, if the very basis of your worldview is that your life is entirely in your hands and that you can be blamed for every single bad decision you make, then the last thing you’d want to do is believe there is a part of your mind that is outside of your conscious control (although cults like Scientology can use that excuse to punish you whenever they want). The concept of “empowerment” is completely at odds with the reality of internalization.

14 thoughts on “The catharsis theory used to defend pornography.

  1. John Doe August 5, 2016 at 14:41

    People have been using the catharsis theory to defend free speech for centuries.

    • Francois Tremblay August 5, 2016 at 15:06

      Then so much for free speech.

      • John Doe August 5, 2016 at 16:23

        I thinking I should probably say something else since we are on the subject of feminism. I think you and I have both discussed this issue before, but if you ask me a REAL “social justice warrior” is someone who foolishly believes that everyone is equally culpable of wrongdoing no matter the situation. This is a problem because they have little to no understanding of the dynamics of power and privilege, it is so much more complicated than that.

        In addition, they make up terms like “political correctness” so they avoid taking responsibility for their bigotry and continue feeding the cycle of ideas.

        • Francois Tremblay August 5, 2016 at 16:24

          In general, yes… I would tend to agree.

          • John Doe August 5, 2016 at 19:02

            Another thing I want to say is that, and feel to kick me out if you want to because I don’t give a damn anymore, I an fully in favor of respecting trigger warnings and supporting safe spaces. I do this mainly to spite those who hug their free speech teddy bear so tightly.

            People have the right to be themselves and not have any sort of aggression imposed on them. I’ll go ahead and also say that nobody is allowed to a so-called opinion on who I am and how I manage my life. You do not have the right “offend” me because I am a goddamn human being.

            Hate me, go ahead.

            • Francois Tremblay August 6, 2016 at 00:14

              It doesn’t matter at all if I hate you or not. You will be judged solely on the reasoning behind the things you say.

  2. Kendall August 7, 2016 at 09:10

    I’ve heard people go so far as to say we should legalize child porn so that it’ll stop pedophiles from offending… It’s so disgusting, and it’s them pretty much saying we need a group of women and children that we let be raped to stop men from being awful instead of them just treating people like human beings!

    • Francois Tremblay August 7, 2016 at 14:47

      Stop kink-shaming! Ephebophilia is a perfectly legitimate orientation! etc etc

  3. sellmaeth August 18, 2016 at 03:03

    Well, there seems to be a decrease in rape, short-term, because men who are busy wanking to porn can’t go out and rape women. And perhaps there’s a decrease in marital rape because pornsick men hardly ever want to have sex with their wives.

    BUT – even if porn didn’t lead to more men eventually becoming rapists, there still are the women who are raped to produce the porn. People like to forget about them.

    • Francois Tremblay August 18, 2016 at 03:13

      Pornography is not real doncha know, it’s just fantasy.

    • unabashed January 30, 2019 at 19:57

      You are wrong about this.

      Statistics about reporting don’t reflect the facts. Women are far less likely to report when their rapists are acquaintances, friends, dates or partners, or when they were in some compromising position (say, drinking alcohol or using drugs at a bar or a party). What the decrease in rape reporting reflects is a decrease in stranger rape, which is the the most uncommon type of rape.

      Unlike other types of rape, stranger rape has been roundly vilified and stranger rapists almost exclusively comprise the very small number of rapists ever punished. Similarly to the large percentage of johns who say they’d give up frequenting prostitutes if even a modest fine were imposed, stranger rapists may be deterred by the prospect of punishment, which could account for the drop in rape reports as much as the rise in online pornography (correlation does not equal causation); hell, even legalized abortion in the USA since the seventies could account for the drop in stranger rape in addition to the drop in the crime rate overall.

      None of this says anything about the far more common types of rape. However, both CDC self-reporting statistics and statistics from rape crisis centers indicate other types of rape are on the rise, particularly among young people. In fact, if you Google “types of rapists” you will find a Wikipedia entry of the four basic types of rapists: power, anger, sadistic, and obsessive. This latter category is usually a partner or a date rapist who is obsessed with a certain type of sex act the other party has specifically said no to (usually oral or anal sex, but it can include very specific fetish categories), and this type of sexual assault is often repetitive and obsessive and has been linked to pornography consumption (any studies into modern Western sexual practices will immediately demonstrate a very sudden shift in normative heterosexual activities which coincides with the rise of porn; again, I’m aware that correlation does not equal causation, but it does beg the question of where a teenage boy gets the idea that he is owed anal sex or “facials,” or where a teenage girl gets the idea that she must allow a boy to penetrate her anally and then ejaculate in her mouth or else it means she doesn’t love him). Mainstream porn now IS what used to be known as “gonzo” (no doubt this shift has occurred both due to the gradual desensitization to the depiction of “vanilla” sex acts and due to male sexual resentment of women, as men make up the majority of pornography consumers and pornography caters to the male gaze). If you are a woman who is raped by her partner, especially if your rapist normalized his behavior or exhibited specific fetishes, often the first thing a therapist will ask you is how much and what type of porn did your rapist consume.

      It’s common sense to anyone with an understanding of how the brain works that masturbating to violence against women will lead to sexualization of violence against women and to acting out on those fantasies, at least for some individuals.

      What no one predicted was that sexual violence against women would become so normalized that the rise in online pornography would predate a massive cultural shift in which such violence is no longer seen as violence at all. Within such a paradigm all statistics about “rape” are rendered meaningless.

  4. […] sex is silly, because there are no representations of actual sex available to them. Furthermore, as I’ve argued before, this view is based on a bizarre model of socialization which posits that there is no such thing as […]

  5. […] For more on the bizarre no-subconscious model adopted by liberals to defend pornography (i.e. “if pornography does not make someone violent immediately, then it has no effect at all”), see this entry. […]

  6. […] As for the arguments for pornography, I have discussed them in various entries (e.g. see 1, 2, 3), so I will not repeat them […]

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