Porn: The New Narcotic

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Over at Public Discourse, Morgan Bennett has an important two-part article dealing with the social and legal issues surrounding internet pornography.

In part one, Bennett argues that pornography–especially internet porn–is addictive in the way that chemical substances are.  According to the science he cites, it actually causes changes in the brain–and not for the better.

Think of the brain as a forest where trails are worn down by hikers who walk along the same path over and over again, day after day. The exposure to pornographic images creates similar neural pathways that, over time, become more and more “well-paved” as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. Those neurological pathways eventually become the trail in the brain’s forest by which sexual interactions are routed. Thus, a pornography user has “unknowingly created a neurological circuit” that makes his or her default perspective toward sexual matters ruled by the norms and expectations of pornography.

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By consuming pornography, people are doing things to themselves just as bad or worse than what others are doing by taking heroin or cocaine.  But what can you do?  Taking narcotics is an action, but pornography is speech, and therefore protected by the First Amendment, right?  Wrong–wrong, at least, if you are guided by the original understanding of the First Amendment.  In part two Bennett argues (quite correctly, in my view) that those who framed and ratified the First Amendment would never have understood it to protect trafficking in obscenity.

It was uncontested in the Founders’ era and far beyond that speech or conduct tending to injure the public morals was subject to government control. Profanity, obscenity, indecency, and pornography were treated the same as public nudity or public intoxication. Consider the following quotation from an 1824 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case: “Licentiousness endangering the public peace, when tending to corrupt society, is considered as a breach of the peace, and punishable by indictment. Every immoral act is not indictable, but when it is destructive of morality generally, it is, because it weakens the bonds by which society is held together.”

Both parts are well worth reading, and can be found here and here.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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