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Ross Douthat Reads Them For The Articles

Good news out of New York City earlier this week! One of the New York Times‘s columnists has solved Japan’s tremendously complicated generational replacement problem with two simple words. Our hero is Ross Douthat, a socially conservative columnist. He is a person who genuinely believes that every imaginable social ill can be easily solved through cultural repression. If only other people enjoyed their lives less, he frequently argues, things would be better. As such – when confronted with what appears to be Japan’s under-sexed younger population – Douthat’s solution is to ban pornography. Err, porn. The man is so efficient that he doesn’t have time for those last seven letters.

That, in case you were wondering, is the entirety of his proposal. In this, the year of our Lord 2017, a country should simply ban pornography. Douthat’s assumption here is that men disconnected from pornography will once again begin pursuing actual women, and from there, Japanese culture will simply re-align itself along his preferred orientation because reasons, but also definitely magic.

Should we waste time noting that the article itself – which Douthat definitely read quickly – offers all of the following as evidence that pornography is the problem?

Artist Megumi Igarashi, 45, who once made a 3D image of her own vagina, said “building a relationship is not easy”.

“A boy has to start from asking a girl on a date,” she told the BBC.

“I think a lot of men just cannot be bothered.

They can watch porn on the internet and get sexual satisfaction that way.

Douthat’s expert, Megumi Igarashi, is also known as Rokudenashiko, and she, incidentally, was found guilty of obscenity in Japan for publishing data which allowed those with 3D printers to create a replica of her vagina. She may have also made a copy herself. Hey, we all need hobbies and this isn’t about judging that, although one wonders how homemade vaginas fit within Douthat’s broader opposition to pornography; it’s easier to imagine him cheering her conviction than it is to imagine him siding with her autonomy to publish anatomical data. But whatever. Douthat curiously leaves his expert’s professional pursuits out of his own analysis, because meh, but also because focusing on Igarashi’s claim is a hell of a lot easier than focusing on this throwaway line at the end of the article.

The growing trend was attributed to less social pressure to marry as well as financial worries.

Oh! It would seem as though what was once an easily solved problem might, in fact, be far more tangled than the widespread availability of (internet) pornography. That is definitely an odd and very unexpected thing to be true of a truly complicated social problem. Predictably, social conservatives like Douthat have no interest in tackling deeply-rooted issues crammed full of nuance when they can instead implement impossible-to-achieve bans on things they do not personally approve of. Douthat is a hammer and all the world is a nail, so no matter the topic, the solution is always easy: other people need to stop being allowed to make decisions that Douthat finds appalling.

One of the many good things about Douthat’s thinking is there exists absolutely no evidence anywhere in the entirety of human history that would undermine the idea that ending access to a thing ends desire for a thing. Why, one of America’s greatest achievements was Prohibition, which ended the nation’s consumption of alcohol once and for all, and if that isn’t convincing enough, one only need look at our more modern War On Drugs, which has definitely worked perfectly, especially when you consider how nobody takes drugs anymore.

Douthat has changed on this subject incidentally. In the link to pornography above, he wrote this:

The extremes of anti-porn hysteria are unhelpful in this debate. If the turn toward an “everybody does it” approach to pornography and marriage is wrong, it’s because that approach is wrong in and of itself, not because porn is going to wreck society, destroy the institution of marriage, and turn thousands of rapists loose to prey on unsuspecting women. Smut isn’t going to bring down Western Civilization any more than Nero’s orgies actually led to the fall of Rome, and a society that expects near-universal online infidelity may run just as smoothly as a society that doesn’t.

Which is precisely why it’s so easy to say that the spread of pornography means that we’re just taking a turn, where sex and fidelity are concerned, toward realism, toward adulthood, toward sophistication. All we have to give up to get there is our sense of decency.

Douthat has even gone so far as to imagine his own occasional consumption of the stuff, but now is now and then was then, so here we are, with Douthat proposing, “Ban Porn” as a workable, realistic, reasonable fix.

Speaking of decency, one would expect though that Douthat would at least have enough of it to not engage in the sort of behavior that he excoriates other for. It surely isn’t too much to ask the man judging the sexual behavior of others to adhere to those standards himself. And yet, there is ample evidence that Douthat loves to consume media featuring loads of what would certainly appear to be the sexiest of sexy sex.

Why, just this week, he held court on Game Of Thrones, judging the show’s liberal fans:

One wonders how it is exactly that he knows about the show’s “porn-y” side exactly, but if we are meant to believe that he has simply heard this from friends, he immediately wanted to make it very clear that he actually knew considerably much about the show’s complicated storytelling:

Ah, yes, the “sex-positive Westerosi Republic,” that common fact that we all know to be true of the show. For those wondering his level of regard for GoT, let it be loudly known: Douthat apparently loves the show and watches it maniacally. Which would, in theory, be fine if not for his other career as an aggressive tut-tutter. But we all have little whoopsies, those occasional things which otherwise stand at odds with rest of our described existences. We are human beings after all. Maybe it is the case that GoT is Douthat dipping his toes into darker waters, but he goes no further, and from that he feels he maintains the moral authority to condemn that which is indecent?

Uhh no, not even a little bit.

Inexplicable given his allegedly deep convictions against pornography, Douthat sure comes across like a frequent viewer of Lena Dunham’s Girls, if perhaps not its biggest fan. He definitely saw enough of the show to compare it other shows that were themselves absolutely full of sex, including The Sopranos (which featured this). Douthat would have us believe that he watched Girls because of its inherent critique of the world mid-feminism. “Do you see how awful all of this is?” and thus presumably only endured the show’s frequent sex. Douthat implores us to understand this and perhaps we are meant to believe that he averted his eyes during these, or, if cycling through all of those is too much, how about just this?

Well, okay. Douthat is a media critic (at times) after all. He has to consume this stuff after all. His family has to eat. He would certainly abstain from watching any of this if he was not being forced at gunpoint to watch. So, GoTGirls, and The Sopranos, but that’s surely it. Surely he didn’t watch anything else that was also filled to the brim with depictions of raw sexuality? Except that he has also watched Mad Men (which featured this), True Detective (which featured this), and also Sex And The City (which featured this, plus a whole bunch of other stuff too).

And that’s before we get to his favorite movies which include, inexplicably, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Wellmaybe not that inexplicable. (Is it worth delving into the man’s predilections for incredible violence, including the aforementioned GoT and The Sopranos, but also The Passion Of The ChristApocalyptoNo Country For Old Men, Inglorious BasterdsEastern Promises, and 28 Days Later? Nah, but boy oh boy is the thirst for one and the thirst for the other on full display.)

The defense here will be, yes, of course, these shows and movies do include vivid displays of raw sexuality, but they are not pornography, in the way that pornography is pornography, because these shows are artistic in a way that pornography isn’t. Douthat is not titillated, we absolutely must understand, because art and pornography are wholly different things. There is a line.

Douthat’s call to ban porn is almost certainly all about forbidding the sort of things he has admitted to…well, seeing…but only on occasion…when he was younger..but is almost certainly not a call to ban any of the things that he appears to passionately love, even though these things are stuffed full of sex. This is the moralizer’s game, in which the things the moralizer does are different than the things everybody else is doing. Think, for example, of Bill Bennett having the stones to moralize at all while pumping millions of dollars into slot machines.

Or, yknow, don’t. Bennett’s hypocrisy was stunning on its face. Douthat’s is a slightly more refined thing. Yes, he has proudly and voluntarily surrounded himself with mountains of Playboys and Hustlers you see, but unlike you people, he only reads them the articles. Why, he hadn’t even noticed the pictures at all, but even if he had, his loins never twitched, not even once. Such a thing would be indecent after all.

 


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101 thoughts on “Ross Douthat Reads Them For The Articles

  1. So, We’ll just go ahead and put Ross Douthat in the pro-genocide column, then.
    I think I’d rather just watch Kanon, thanks.

    This is the problem with stepping into another country’s ongoing social experiments, and pretending like you have any clue what the options are.

    Yes, Ross Douthat is an ignoramus. Can we ask that he at least familiarizes himself with the alternative governmental proposals before railing against government-supported (and paid for) pornography?

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  2. I look at Japans population density, and I don’t wonder much why their population is shrinking.

    I look at the traditional role of wife in Japan and I don’t wonder much why younger women aren’t interested in it.

    I look at how much an apartment in Tokyo costs, and I see why a man might not want to try to “keep” a wife, and provide space for children, as has been traditional.

    The quotes in the story go like this:

    He: “Women are scary!”
    She: “Men don’t want to do the hard work of relationship”

    Those don’t seem contradictory to me, they seem complementary. In order to build new institutions around families and relationships, the old ones must be torn down first. We started doing that here 50 years ago.

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  3. I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but I know that it’s porny. There was a comedy news article somewhere (can’t find it now) that was a fake interview with the two head writers for Game of Thrones: A European Military Historian and a Fourteen Year Old Boy.

    They asked a question and the former gave his answer where he talked about European Military History and when they gave the same question to the latter, he talked about tits. Tits, tits, tits.

    So, for what it’s worth, the news about Game of Thrones having lots of tits in it has made it out to folks who haven’t watched it.

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    • I’d rather read a feminist perspective on rape, rather than a female take.

      To properly talk about “fear of rape” one must include a discussion of the male fear of rape, and how that has expressed itself in fear of gay men, in particular (I say this not to imply that women can’t rape men, but to say that it is less a part of American Culture, and less prevalent in general).

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      • Well, the main thing that I’m noticing is that there is this thing that can be depicted in a way that is in service to a set of good things but this exact same thing can be depicted in a way that is in service to a set of bad things.

        Even though it’s possible to just say “well, it’s this thing in either case, what’s the big deal?”

        To move to the much easier example of pornography, while everyone has made fun of Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it”, he did kind of have a point.

        There *IS* a difference between “Les Amants” and “Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3”.

        And, once upon a time, it wasn’t *THAT* nutty of a position to say that the latter was “obscene”.

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          • You better get them right

            It seems a lot easier to ruin a story by including obvious triggers than to make it better by doing so. I’d be okay with just not risking it and not including that particular thing in the first place (even if that risks the dreaded “trigger by void“).

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            • Jay,
              most triggers, like most tropes in general, are included because they are Stupidly Obvious.

              … like, not every tale needs to hit Rape. Really, it doens’t. But it’s an easy mechanic for a variety of “I want this person in Situation Horrible” gambits.

              I mean, are we really pissed off at Quantum Leap for having a rape scene? (It did).

              I actually think that aside from kids shows, nearly every show is going to have a sexual assault scene. (Aside from StarTrek. I’m pretty sure I can find one or two (possibly sublimated) ones in DoctorWho)

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    • I just read it, and I think it’s good, too.

      I don’t actually understand your remark about “making distinctions”, though. And while I’m confessing to lack of understanding, I don’t really understand what is getting at with her “feminist perspective” versus “female take”, either.

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      • Doctor Jay,
        The article seems overly concerned with how much women fear rape, and how pervasive it is.
        A more feminist article would look at the broader perspective.
        It grates when one takes something that is universal, and restricts it by gender.

        It is particularly grating when discussing prison rape, where most rapes occur by men on men.

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      • Because of stuff in the original post like this:

        Inexplicable given his allegedly deep convictions against pornography, Douthat sure comes across like a frequent viewer of Lena Dunham’s Girls, if perhaps not its biggest fan. He definitely saw enough of the show to compare it other shows that were themselves absolutely full of sex, including The Sopranos (which featured this).

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            • Douthat’s distinction is nothing more than “Stuff I Like” versus “Stuff I Don’t Like” which is not something he affords to anybody who might have a similarly structured scheme, but with different stuff slotted into both distinctions. That is the problem.

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                • If he held that position, we could deal with it, but as that is a hypothetical, we must deal with his actual position, which is that the stuff that he likes passes muster, and the stuff that other people like needs to be banned, even if they’re both being used to achieve the same outcomes.

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                  • even if they’re both being used to achieve the same outcomes.

                    What’s the implication here? That the nudity shown on Girls and GoT is/was just as spankable as the nudity in “Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3” and since he spanked it to both he shouldn’t be opposed to people spanking it to “Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3”?

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                    • I’ll use my favorite example here: a couple of years ago, Amanda Palmer released naked photos of herself, but swore they weren’t pornography, because they’re artistic. Which, fine. But in the hands of a teenaged boy, what is the functional difference?

                      We needn’t pretend like human beings are something other than what they are.

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                      • Dude, when I was 14, the bra section of the Sears catalog was sufficient inspiration.

                        Saying “14 year olds can spank it to this!” isn’t really a useful metric of whether or not we’re in Potter Stewart territory.

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                                    • No, but it’s a weird thing that follows from saying that Girls is no less spankable than Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3.

                                      That means that Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3 is no more spankable than Girls.

                                      I mean, if we’re using spankability as a metric.

                                      And if we’re okay with using spankability as a metric, then when someone comes by and says “well, we should allow free speech and a free press… but, of *COURSE*, we should make exceptions for things that are truly OBSCENE” then we find ourselves unable to make distinctions between Smack It Up Flip It Rub It Down Oh No 3 and Girls.

                                      And someone who argues that we should censor both is just as not particularly hypocritical as the person who says we should allow both.

                                      It’s only the person who says “wait, these two things are different” that is a hypocrite.

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                                      • Yes, it is hugely hypocritical to say, “We need to censor pornography, except for the pornographic stuff that I like.”

                                        It is not hypocritical for somebody to say, “We need to ban anything that anybody finds sexually tempting, including the stuff that I like.”

                                        It is also not hypocritical to say, “Some people like this stuff which I don’t like, but then I like stuff that maybe they don’t like, so how about we agree to disagree, consume the things we like, and move on with our lives.”

                                        What do we disagree about again?

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                                        • Yes, it is hugely hypocritical to say, “We need to censor pornography, except for the pornographic stuff that I like.”

                                          And using the “what does a 14 year-old find spankable” metric, I suddenly find myself poised to have to ban Land-O-Lakes butterbox art because I have a problem with the availability of crush videos.

                                          Because it’s hugely hypocritical otherwise.

                                          I think that I’m going to say that it’s possible to make distinctions between two things without being a hypocrite and put you in the position of arguing that, no, these two very different things are the same because you can imagine a 14 year-old boy getting titillated by either.

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                                          • We needn’t keep using the example of a teenaged boy. We can use the example of a however-old Ross Douthat is. Are you arguing that, while consuming shows that feature both sex and nudity voraciously, he is not being titillated? That his response is one of an academic culture warrior and not a human being? That is the point. Douthat’s preferences for artistic sex and nudity is no fundamentally different than somebody else’s preferences for some other display of sex and nudity, whether it’s the Sears catalog or the movie you keep referencing. The erections are all the same.

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                                            • Are you arguing that, while consuming shows that feature both sex and nudity voraciously, he is not being titillated?

                                              I really can’t say that he isn’t, but I know that *I* have seen media that feature copious sex and nudity and I was feeling something closer to the alienation and sadness felt by the characters (have you seen “Shame” starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan?). I have seen stuff like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” where nudity is part of the setup for getting you to cringe.

                                              With that said, I don’t know about Game of Thrones but I’m under the impression that the nudity in Girls is more of the sadness/alienation/cringe kind than the titillating kind.

                                              (Anyone out there that can comment on that?)

                                              If so, and it doesn’t strike me as crazy that it would be, not getting titilated by Girls seems exceptionally possible…

                                              Which means that your example of Ross Douthat is *EVEN WORSE* than your example of the fourteen year-old.

                                              That is the point. Douthat’s preferences for artistic sex and nudity is no fundamentally different than somebody else’s preferences for some other display of sex and nudity, whether it’s the Sears catalog or the movie you keep referencing. The erections are all the same.

                                              It’s possible to make distinctions between things.

                                              It’s possible to say “this nudity is tasteless and exploitation” while still saying “that other nudity is in service to an important artistic point”.

                                              To point out that a boner is a boner is to miss the point.

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                                              • Can you imagine a person who might be turned on by something that you aren’t? Because that would go an awfully long way toward us finding a middle ground here. Because yes, the sex on Girls might not have done it for you, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t do it for anybody, and if the internet has taught us anything, it is that there an awful lot of people who like an awful lot of different stuff.

                                                As for the idea that it is possible to differentiate our nudity (and that erections are simply beside the point), we disagree. If you want to take the Douthat approach that what he likes is art and that what other people like is pornography, have at it, but that is an utterly nonsensical position given what we know about human beings and their consumptive habits.

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                                                • Oh, yeah. There are tons of things that strike me as being “not my bag” that could totally be be someone else’s.

                                                  But that’s a different distinction than the one between saying that something is tasteless and exploitative and something else is done as an important artistic point.

                                                  And it is possible to make distinctions between these two kinds of things.

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                                                  • Two things:

                                                    1. What if “tasteless and exploitative” is someone’s bag?
                                                    2. What if one person’s artistic point is another person’s “tasteless and exploitative”?

                                                    That second question might be the more important of the two, although they’re both important.

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                                                    • What if “tasteless and exploitative” is someone’s bag?

                                                      Then it should be possible to say “huh, that bag is tasteless and exploitative” instead of “a boner is a boner is a boner”.

                                                      What if one person’s artistic point is another person’s “tasteless and exploitative”?

                                                      Such has happened! And societies change so that stuff that was tasteless and exploitative in that era is classy in this one (and vice-versa!).

                                                      Which seems to solidify the point that it’s possible to make distinctions between the two rather than to conclude that a boner is a boner is a boner.

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                                                      • You seem to be able to differentiate good erections from bad erections, or at least, you seem to be hinting that there exists a framework for doing so.

                                                        Meanwhile, can I clarify that you’re endorsing a ban on “tasteless and exploitative” as defined by…?

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                                                        • I’m not differentiating between erections.

                                                          I’m differentiating between the media in the first place.

                                                          It’s possible for even a gay person to look at heterosexual art and distinguish between one being tasteless and exploitative and the other being artistically important even though, on a boner level, it’s like looking at a building.

                                                          can I clarify that you’re endorsing a ban on “tasteless and exploitative” as defined by…?

                                                          Oh, I’m not endorsing a ban.
                                                          For one thing, on a purely pragmatic level, they don’t work and won’t work.

                                                          I’m just endorsing the ability to make distinctions.

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                                                          • If the media in the first place causes erections though, you’re willing to concede that those can then be associated by at least that commonality though, right? Or is even that not accurate?

                                                            Because we can draw distinctions for any reason we want. We can say that Game Of Thrones is Art and that your aforementioned pornographic movie is Pornography, and we can declare that those are very different things. One, after all, is a lurid juvenile fantasy, and the other is a sex movie. But if they cause, or can cause, the same outcome, why do we ignore that? (Beyond the obvious reason that Douthat wants to have his cake and eat it too.)

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                                                            • If the media in the first place causes erections though, you’re willing to concede that those can then be associated by at least that commonality though, right? Or is even that not accurate?

                                                              “Causes”

                                                              If a gay guy watches the same thing and doesn’t get turned on, can we then conclude that porn doesn’t cause erections?

                                                              No, different people can have their fires lit by different things.

                                                              Which seems completely orthogonal to the ability to look at a thing and say “this is tasteless and exploitative” versus “this is actually making a statement”.

                                                              Because we can draw distinctions for any reason we want. We can say that Game Of Thrones is Art and that your aforementioned pornographic movie is Pornography, and we can declare that those are very different things. One, after all, is a lurid juvenile fantasy, and the other is a sex movie.

                                                              Well, there’s the “drawing distinctions for any reason we want” and there’s the “drawing distinctions for reasons that are based in somewhat measurable premises that lead to somewhat straightforward conclusions”.

                                                              But if they cause, or can cause, the same outcome, why do we ignore that?

                                                              Because we don’t just leap to the conclusion that something is pornographic just because the greybeards and bluehairs at the PTA cluck in outrage about it. Even if 14 year-olds get woodies from it.

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                                                              • Your example of gay men is a good one. People see things differently. Which would seem to imply that it would be impossible to set a standard for what does and doesn’t pass muster. But then you continue to imply that this standard is somewhere. I’m trying to get at the standard you want to set, and it sure seems like what you’re proposing is one that would be more liberal than “the greybeards and bluehairs” might set, but more conservative than I might set, and the basis for this seems to be nothing more substantive than where your personal preferences are. Is that accurate?

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                                                                • Which would seem to imply that it would be impossible to set a standard for what does and doesn’t pass muster.

                                                                  Just because there is a spectrum of things between X and Y doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist the ability to distinguish between X and Y.

                                                                  It remains possible to say “yeah, that’s mostly X” or “yeah, that’s pretty much Y” even though there are some other things that people argue over whether they’re X or Y.

                                                                  In this way, it is possible to look at a film as Potter Stewart did and say “I know it when I see it and this is not that.”

                                                                  But then you continue to imply that this standard is somewhere.

                                                                  The ability to make distinctions, you mean? Between “exploitation” and “art”?

                                                                  Yes. This ability exists.

                                                                  I’m trying to get at the standard you want to set, and it sure seems like what you’re proposing is one that would be more liberal than “the greybeards and bluehairs” might set, but more conservative than I might set, and the basis for this seems to be nothing more substantive than where your personal preferences are. Is that accurate?

                                                                  I’m not trying to set a standard.

                                                                  I’m merely trying to get you to agree that, yes, it is, in fact, possible to make a distinction between something that is exploitation and something that is artistic.

                                                                  Again, this isn’t in service to a ban.

                                                                  It’s in service to the argument that it’s possible to distinguish between two things.

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                                                                  • Potter Stewart’s standard was an explicit declaration of his own preferences as being where the line is/was. This is the problem with anybody who proposes to know this sort of thing. It’s the problem with Douthat, who says, “This stuff over here that I don’t like is porn,” but then, “And this stuff over here that I do like isn’t porn.”

                                                                    As for the idea that it is possible to distinguish between two separate thing – of course it is, but what must be understood is that those distinctions are entirely subjective.

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                                                                    • It’s the problem with Douthat, who says, “This stuff over here that I don’t like is porn,” but then, “And this stuff over here that I do like isn’t porn.”

                                                                      And that’s how we know that Game of Thrones is porn, Girls is porn, and the Land-O-Lakes Butterbox is porn because drawing a line between those things and (generic porn title) is impossible?

                                                                      As for the idea that it is possible to distinguish between two separate thing – of course it is, but what must be understood is that those distinctions are entirely subjective.

                                                                      Great! We agree that it is possible!

                                                                      I’m down with haggling at this point.

                                                                      Because I’m fine with the whole issue of it being a subjective opinion on my part that (generic porn title) is porn (and exploitation at that!) but Girls, though it contains nudity, is not.

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                                                                    • It’s the problem with Douthat, who says, “This stuff over here that I don’t like is porn,” but then, “And this stuff over here that I do like isn’t porn.”

                                                                      I’m probably being annoying about this, but where exactly does Douthat say that?

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                                                                      • To my knowledge, he has never proposed banning any of the things that he likes to watch. His proposals are that others should make mandatory sacrifices for the greater good, while he still he gets all of the sex (and violence) that he is comfortable with.

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                                                                        • He’s standing in very old shoes. Quite Victorian ones, in fact. The upper classes have long believed they can handle vices the lower classes can’t.

                                                                          There’s a bit of a twist on it, but the gist is the same: Ross understands the difference between good and bad X there, and he knows he’s on the right side of the line. But he worries so about others, who don’t have his keen discernment, and the poor choices they’re undoubtedly making.

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                                                            • Sam,
                                                              Because we really don’t want to deal with the fact that vore causes erections?
                                                              Or that “random girl trapped in a coat and being helped by a man” causes erections? (Oh, that one’s fun! Real research by network television to figure out what SFW stuff causes erections. I kid you not).

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                                                          • Tô my surprise, for once, is making sense to me in this pseudo Socratic dialogue.

                                                            (Perhaps because I, also, found Girls to be sad and dreary)

                                                            (And found Shame to be an excellent movie)

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        • Thanks for the clarification.

          I haven’t ever watched GoT, the Sopranos, or Girls. I can imagine, though, that they might embed sexual situations into their narratives in very different ways. And those differences might well land on people in very different ways, too, depending on their own lives and experiences.

          There are a couple of traps that humans seem to fall into repeatedly. One is to assume that what you think and feel – the meaning you give to some event – is universal. That everyone feels that way, or that everyone who belongs to your category – “men”, “women”, “trans people” or whatever – feels that way.

          The other is to get angry that someone made art you didn’t like. You are free to not like it, but I find the best course is to mostly just ignore art I don’t like and watch something better. One alternative is to make something better. Not all of us can do that, though.

          Of course, you have to leave room for protest – for “that’s an example of an attitude or a pattern that is a problem”. So what do I know?

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          • Well, here’s a fun question: “Can Art Make Us Better?”

            After we acknowledge the stuff like “define ‘art'” and “what do you mean ‘better’? Better *WHAT*?” and “Who do you mean by us?”, we can then walk to the far more interesting question of “Can Art Make Us Worse?” (and then acknowledge and wave away similar follow-up questions).

            Since the answer to both of the interesting questions strikes me as “Obviously *YES*”, one of the places we can go is to questions like “What kind?”

            Porn seems to me to be one of the kinds that probably makes us worse.

            Of course it’s also possible that the answer to the obvious questions is “Duh… of course not. There is no better and no worse.” Which, I suppose, makes it easy.

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            • Jay,
              I can cite sources on pedophiles who express themselves through artistic depictions of children, and who don’t touch children because they have active fantasy lives.

              I’d say that probably makes them better.

              You can ditto-copy this for everyone who’s ever had a rape fantasy (whether as victim or as rapist.), and then go on for all the snuff porn, and continue on to all the disturbingly real “dissection porn” (of the “oh, my god, that’s accurate” varietal).

              Honestly? I’ll make the argument that pornography probably makes people better, not worse.

              And if you don’t believe me, play School Days.

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              • There’s a similar argument to how Ashley Madison actually helped *PREVENT* affairs. People would sign up, pay their money, have a chat conversation, rub one out, then go on to not actually have sex with a person who was not their spouse.

                We can get into arguments of whether this is “cheating” and there are a lot of arguments for how it very much is cheating but it’s a kind a cheating where the risk of STI transmission is even lower than that of eating out at a restaurant.

                So, on one level, you could argue that Ashley Madison helped people stay faithful, for small values of “faithful”.

                But there’s something that feels topsy-turvy about that.

                So too when it comes to your examples.

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                • Jay,
                  Humans are fucked up beings. Literally brain damaged.
                  We shouldn’t be surprised when things work kinda croinkily.

                  Wish fulfillment fantasies are all around us, and a lot of them make people’s lives more habitable (it’s not just about sex and affairs).

                  Doctor Who is a grand example of that.

                  Is there some reason that you think that pornography is any different from other forms of wish fulfillment fantasy, or do you think that all science fiction and fantasy is harmful as well?

                  –wow, this got a bit… broad. I meant what I asked, but would like to apologize for the bluntness.

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                  • Is there some reason that you think that pornography is any different from other forms of wish fulfillment fantasy, or do you think that all science fiction and fantasy is harmful as well?

                    Well, let’s go back to my premise here:
                    Porn seems to me to be one of the kinds of art that probably makes us worse.

                    Does this mean *EVERY* kind of porn? Without exception? No, of course not.

                    Remember Captain David Ryan’s previous life as Director Tony Comstock? His movies that depicted two people madly in love with each other talking about how they met, how they fell in love, then showing them making love with each other were strangely wholesome “watch them with your partner then talk about how you guys met, fell in love, then make love with each other” kinda movies.

                    But there are also the stuff that is, shall we say, less defensible. More easily included in the seemingly overwhelming “Porn seems to me to be one of the kinds of art that probably makes us worse” category.

                    Science Fiction and Fantasy also has a lot of highs and a lot of lows.

                    I think much more of it can fit into the “not actively making us, as a society, worse” category than pornography, though.

                    And we can discuss the whole issue of “actively makes us better” vs. “doesn’t actively make us worse”, of course, but avoiding the latter is, to my mind, good enough.

                    (Note: This is not an argument in service of banning porn or censorship. I don’t think banning porn or censoring stuff will actually, you know, *WORK*. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t art that makes us worse and that it isn’t possible to notice such things.)

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                    • that doesn’t mean that there isn’t art that makes us worse and that it isn’t possible to notice such things

                      You mean like a nation of parents did in the sixties when those nasty Beatles came to America?

                      I guess I don’t understand what you’re arguing. If its “I, Jaybird, want to criticize things I don’t like” then by all means. Each of us is entitled to our opinions. If its “I, Jaybird, have discovered the truth of art and wish to enlighten the nation on art that is bad,” that’s fine too, if someone pretentious. And it isn’t particularly unfair for others to express disagreement with your claimed truth (and they’re unlikely to be swayed by your “but it’s bad” argument). But if its “I, Jaybird, have discovered the truth of art and wish to prevent the spread of art that is bad,” then we have a fundamental moral disagreement.

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                      • That’s not a fundamental moral disagreement.

                        The fundamental moral disagreement is on the question of whether it is possible for art to make us worse/better.

                        Is it possible for art to make us worse/better?

                        My answer to that is “Obviously, yes.”

                        And, from there, I can point to examples of art that I think make us better. And, from there, I can point to other examples of art that I think make us worse.

                        If your answer to that question is “No. Of course not”, *THEN* we have a fundamental moral disagreement.

                        If we agree that art can make us worse/better, then we can get into the fun part of arguing over whether pornography is in the “makes us worse” camp or not.

                        But the fundamental disagreement comes down to the question of “can art change society for the better?”

                        And, if is opposing position is that it can’t, hey. I have a fundamental disagreement with that.

                        But, knowing that that is the fundamental disagreement, it’s easy to understand how someone would disagree that porn makes society worse.

                        Because art doesn’t make it worse.

                        But if someone agrees that art can make us better/worse, then, at that point we get to find examples…

                        Which, yes, includes examples like parents in the 1960’s not liking those long-haired British jazz musicians.

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                        • I guess I don’t see how art can make society worse. I see how art can correlate with society getting worse, as art generally reflects/arises from society, but I generally don’t find “normal kid turns violent after playing Doom” type arguments persuasive.

                          Perhaps you have an example in mind, though, that I’m not thinking of.

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                            • IF society can be made better or worse, then of course art can do it. What is art, after all, other than a form of communicating.

                              But do you think you can tell before hand, with any degree of accuracy, including accounting for all the second and third order effects, as well as the effects of all the new art, or commentary, or discussion, that springs into existence as as a counter or a response to the original art, whether a type of art will be helpful or hurtful?

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                              • But do you think you can tell before hand, with any degree of accuracy, including accounting for all the second and third order effects, as well as the effects of all the new art, or commentary, or discussion, that springs into existence as as a counter or a response to the original art, whether a type of art will be helpful or hurtful?

                                With *ANY* degree of accuracy?
                                Yes.

                                With 100% accuracy?
                                No.

                                With that said, I still suspect that porn is one of the kinds that probably makes us worse.

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                                • Fair enough. I suspect that most people who reach a similar conclusion about porn being bad for society (talk about a definitions problem) arrive at that conclusion due to the ick factor of porn rather some objective and rational analysis. Which mostly amounts to people saying because porn is bad, it is bad for society.

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                                  • Well it also strikes me as one of those wacky bad things that might be good (or, at least, not bad) in a lot of individual cases but, as a whole for society, it is bad.

                                    Kind of like drugs or booze or, yes, video games.

                                    Of course, arguing that booze is bad and therefore we should institute Prohibition is one heck of a leap and *NOT* one that I’m making.

                                    I’m just noticing that, yeah, we’d be better off without it in the first place. “But don’t you support legalizing marijuana?” “Yeah. But not because I think marijuana use in general will improve society.”

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                                    • Jay,
                                      We are NOT better off if people are raping others, instead of writing about it.
                                      We are NOT better off if people are touching children, rather than reading about it.

                                      … the list goes on.

                                      People do not put themselves on the list, due to exposure to pornography. They come out of childhood fucked up, and that’s just that. (We deliberately fuck up our children. How else do you teach them not to pee the bed?)

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                                        • Jay,
                                          So, um, what’s porn doing, then?
                                          If it’s not “making people worse” by making them … I dunno, like anal sex? Like rape?

                                          I suppose there’s some argument that porn detaches people from their partners, but that’s more an issue of “We should watch porn with our partners” rather than porn being itself bad, no?

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                                          • It’s providing a hack for human sexuality. Instead of becoming a person who can interact with and learn to make trade-offs with another person, you can just masturbate.

                                            You don’t even need to get to know another human being, you don’t need to reconcile yourself to looking at a real person with a real squishy body, you can look at various cyborgs and scratch that itch without ever having to interact at all.

                                            Two people making a family with each other? No need! You won’t have to put up with their quirks or foibles or anything else that requires personal growth on your part! Just watch two physically perfect specimens have sex and don’t think about the story behind the story. You’ll never need to interact with another human at all.

                                            Just pull up the tube site. Take care of the itch. Get back to your life.

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                            • It’s probably partly terminological confusion — calling something “art” usually implies that it has some sort of higher value besides mere entertainment. Most porn isn’t “art” in that sense.

                              Though even using that term, one might challenge Nevermoor’s statement with, say, Nazi propaganda. Is Triumph of the Will art? Did it have a net negative social effect?

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                              • There are a lot of sorites paradoxes in here.

                                Was Les Amants “art”? Of course it was.

                                Okay, what if we made Les Amants and added more sexytime scenes and cut the number of spoken lines in half? Still “art”?

                                What is the ratio of lines to sexytime scenes where we get to stop calling Les Amants 2 “art”?

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                              • Perhaps. But does Triumph of the Will make society worse by enabling naziism or does the situation that enables naziism in the first place make society worse in a way that leads to that… thing… being made as a second-order effect?

                                I don’t claim to have a definitive answer on that, or any number of other analogues, but I do have a bias expressed above. Obviously others disagree.

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                          • Nevermoor,
                            It’s PARTICULARLY not persuasive when you get to “Watching Porn Makes People Want More Brutal/Etc Shit”

                            … because I know a porn dealer, and people showed up looking for specific, weird crapola. They didn’t change their minds, and they didn’t find porn “mind opening.”

                            Most people know what they like, and often it’s hella creepy.

                            I’ve read fiction from the guy who likes his women without mouths. It’s decent stuff. Ain’t nobody else gonna get much outta his porn collection, though. Guy’s weird. That’s fine, so long as he leaves real people alone.

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                            • That’s certainly my view (in the consenting-adults sphere).

                              Hell, I remember no shortage of times as a teenager that I was pissed off at the world and just wanted to HURT something. I don’t think it was bad for society that I expressed that through Counterstrike and Max Payne, instead of in real life. Perhaps there are better solutions, but that one worked pretty darn well for me, and I don’t think it hurt society.

                              More broadly, I think there are people who need to place blame externally, so pick some societal theme. The “our good kids have been corrupted by X thing” trope is as timeless as it is silly. The Beatles didn’t ruin society. Neither did Harry Potter or 24. To go back to porn, some people might do dark things and be into porn. That doesn’t tell me they otherwise would have been solid citizens, nor does it tell me which way the causal link goes (if there is one). Other people are your friend with the bizarre mouthless-porn kink who scratch an itch in a way that hurts no one.

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  4. This gets me back to my gripe about the last 2-3 seasons of Game of Thrones. For the first 2-3 seasons, Dinklage’s description of “stabby stabby stabby, sexy sexy sexy” was spot on. Indeed, better than almost any other show or movie I can recall, Game of Thrones blended exposition with titillation, such that the decadent sex felt integral to the plot.

    But that’s years ago now — when was the last episode that happened? There was a snog or two here and there in season six, but even the nudity anymore is pretty non-sexual in nature (Jon Snow after being resurrected, Danerys walking out of the burning palace). It’s just not as sexy as it used to be, and that may be because the characters have almost all moved out of times and places where that sort of decadence is a possibility.

    Maybe Queen Cercei will have time for some indulgences, with Jaime or someone else, now that she’s got the crown. Maybe we’ll get to see some of those really attractive Dornishfolk doing it as part of the Dornish alliance with the Targaryen Restoration Force.

    We can only hope. And when I say “we,” I apparently need to exclude Ross Douthat from that group.

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    • Sexy fun times is for the indolent days of Summer.

      It’s a background theme of the books — the soft knights of Summer, known for play-fighting tournies (compared to real warfare) and hedonistic indulgences, grown of age in a long, long summer of plenty.

      Which is why the Starks are always seen as rigid, honor bound barbarians — they keep the Winter state of mind.

      Although I suspect the show-runners have moved away from the tits towards dragons because the show is moving towards climax and resolution, and the focus narrows on deeds and decisions outside the bedroom and characters are already fully formed.(A lot of the tits stuff was character defining, showing personality traits and focuses through sex. Tyrion, for instance, has moved past idling through life drinking and screwing whores and had to get serious….)

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  5. I question the veracity of the Independent Article because it seems a stretch to call what happened in Japan a study.

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    • It wasn’t a study, nor was the article even vaguely substantive. That’s the point. Douthat starts with “Ban Porn!…Oh, but not the stuff that I like!” and works the position backward into situations. So Japan is having a generation replacement crisis? And one person one time said that pornography makes it easier for men (so many assumptions in that claim alone!) to forego relationships? THUS IT MUST BE PORN’S FAULT ENTIRELY BAN IT YEE HAW!

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  6. Perhaps if we sit and suppose enough, we can dispense with data.
    If we haven’t got that far already.

    The cultural assumptions appear of initial interest.

    Looks like it has the potential to wipe out more Japs than the Fat Man.
    Interesting implications to this.

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  7. You may be hanging a bit too much on a two-word Tweet. Is there any other evidence that Douthat wants to ban porn? If not, then it’s likely this was his attempt at snark.

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    • He has written repeatedly on the subject, and while he might have been being snarky, he has expressed great discomfort with its existence (he likens it to adultery), and yet, he also freely consumes many shows awash in the same sort of sexual nudity that he is, even if only snarkily, decrying here.

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      • Sam,
        Pornography is like … adultery.
        Does it still count as that if you are consuming it with your spouse?
        *facefault*
        Japan’s perfectly capable of funding insanely complex, awesome stories that are Also pornographic. Take Fate/Stay Night, for example.

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      • OK, but if he’s written repeatedly on the subject, why is the only thing in the OP suggesting that Douthat wants to ban porn is a two-word Tweet? And why in that comment are you linking to an article from 2008 by someone else containing a three sentence blurb from an article that doesn’t seem to exist anymore? And here’s what’s said in that blurb:

        The Internet era has ratcheted the experience of pornography much closer to adultery than I suspect most porn users would like to admit.

        I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the porn=adultery point of view, but the above statement is true and should be so in a very-non controversial way. Encounters with porn in the pre-internet world tended toward the serendipitous. You find a racy movie on late night cable. Your friend’s dad has a stash of DVDs. Maybe you buy a magazine and keep it under the mattress. When you move from that to a world where just about anything or anyone imaginable can be searched and loaded up on demand, it does, in fact, make porn closer to adultery than the analog world that preceded it. Just like once AI sexbots exist, that will allow a virtual experience much closer to adultery than the present reality. Again that’s not saying that porn=adultery, only that the experience gets closer in its resemblance with each iteration. The number of men right now allowing their relationships to deteriorate, in part, because of habitual porn use is greater than 0. And at some point in the future some man will leave his wife for a sex bot. I’m the furthest thing from anti-porn, but that’s just an accurate description of the world.

        I’m not trying to just give you a hard time here. I am honestly just trying to figure out if I am missing something and Douthat is, in fact, making a much stronger anti-porn or pro-banning porn statement. You do quote him explicitly coming out against “ant-porn hysteria” in that bit you quote. For that matter, I don’t even see him coming across as much of a scold either. Douthat strikes me mostly as a prude wrestling with his own prudishness against the backdrop of a larger cultural fascination with the prurient. Personally, I don’t have much sympathy for that point of view, but it’s hardly worth the derision.

        Is it possible that you saw the Tweet and took it more seriously that it was intended and allowed it to color your perception of Douthat’s overall perspective?

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        • My perception of Douthat overall is a very bad one, owing to his social conservatism, and his willingness to sacrifice the happiness of others on his altar of what is and isn’t appropriate. That aside, I do not believe that I was taking his comment out of context

          Douthat is somebody who appears to genuinely believe that society and culture can be properly massaged to produce the outputs that he wants, but that this massaging should always involves others sacrificing. In this case, it is sacrificing their access to the things that he deems pornographic, and as the post references, he has always carved out an exception (as socially conservative culture warriors always do) for their own things. His are gritty productions exploring the depths of man that, oh by the way, also happen to often include nudity and sexuality in incredible doses.

          So, yes, perhaps pornography is a significant problem, and perhaps Japan’s reproduction problems can be simplistically reduced to the internet’s buffet of pornographic options, but the game Douthat is playing (even if only in a snarky, half-serious manner) still very clearly delineates himself from those other people. That is the issue. Or at least, it is my issue.

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          • That aside, I do not believe that I was taking his comment out of context.

            Well, no, but that’s only because there is no context. It was literally two words and a link. And you’ve got him in his very own words arguing against the point of view that you are trying to ascribe to him. Even in the Game of Thrones piece he is taking a position against the rigorous moralizing of the Walther piece. The thesis of your post is that Douthat is a hypocrite because (a) he wants to ban porn and force sacrifices on other people while (b) carving out exceptions for himself. And that thesis doesn’t work if (a) isn’t true. If your thesis were ‘social conservatives shouldn’t joke about banning things, because someone might take them seriously,’ then you might be on to something.

            I think of it this way. Let’s say that we were to excerpt the relevant bits of Douthat’s writing and put them on some standardized test and then ask:

            Which of the following best summarizes Ross Douthat’s views on porn:
            A. Because porn is unequivocally harmful to society, it should be banned
            B. Banning porn is not the optimal solution, but we should be more cognizant of the harm that it does
            C. Porn is harmless to society and we should take no action on the topic.

            Which one of these gets you a correct answer on that test?

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            • It is, without any shadow of any doubt, A, coupled with a caveat that we would only be banning the things that Douthat declares as pornographic. His own pleasures – including movies and television shows with incredible sexuality (and violence) – would remain.

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  8. Whenever Ross Douthat — who long ago revealed himself to be immature and lacking in honor on such matters — writes about sex, I get the urge to slap him and say, “Shut up, kid. The grownups are talking.”

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  9. Nearly a third of Japanese people are entering their 30s without any sexual experience, leaving the country facing a steep population decline

    As a Western person who is in the same position, by my own choice, and has never viewed porn (unless you count Chicago or Game of Thrones), I can pretty much guarantee that this is not the issue. There’s several things being missed in Douthat’s analysis.

    Firstly, even if people were having sex – even if they were forming couples – that’s no guarantee that they would choose to have children.

    Both singleness and couples without children are increasingly common throughout the world; you can debate how much that’s because of a) young people being self-involved; b) the decline of gender roles that created powerful economic and social pressures for women to marry; c) young men having issues figuring out what they bring to relationships where they don’t need to be a “breadwinner”; and d) the increased cost of living and childrearing (especially in a high-density city like many of those in Japan). Douthat’s supposed to be a cultural conservative – more young people having promiscuous sex with each other shouldn’t logically be his objective, but that sounds like what he’s pitching for. Even if porn could be effectively banned (a laughable idea in the age of the Internet), there is no line between “no porn” and “marriage and childbearing”.

    On another topic: honestly, I have found Game of Thrones spiritually harmful at times, not because of its nudity but because of its temptation towards nihilism and despair, or alternatively, towards complacency (“hey, the world sucks, but at least it’s not as bad as Westeros”), and its inclination to wallow in the darker side of life. Works which recognize that sorrow and hardship are not imcompatible with beauty and faith and decency are far more uplifting to me. I still watch it, but I try to keep it at more of a distance and leaven it with other kinds of media.

    On the topic of population growth: to me it’s nonsensical to focus on increasing the birthrate as a solution to population aging. There are millions of people across the world who would love to come to any developed nation and work. They require maybe a couple years’ language training, or 4-5 years’ university, in order to do skilled jobs, whereas children require society to assume the cost of 20 years’ rearing and training. The world is in no way short of people; we just have them poorly distributed. The only countries for whom low birthrates are a crisis are those which are too xenophobic to acknowledge this.

    Canada has a birthrate below replacement rate, and is still the fastest-growing country in the G8 precisely because we seek out immigrants. (Our system has plenty of other issues, but that’s a whole other post.)

    I highly doubt that there are no young people and families in the rest of Asia who would like to pursue a career in Japan.

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    • Katherine,
      I think that the concept of genocide is completely and utterly despicable, and I really, really don’t want to put you in the camp of being a proponent of it. So, um, can you please denounce Abe’s plan to import sterilized immigrants?

      … this is part of why it’s a bad idea to walk into a debate that’s already going on, when you haven’t familiarized yourself with the current Action Items of the Japanese Government.

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      • Um, what?

        I had no awareness of anything like that, and if he’s making sterilization a requirement for immigration I obviously consider that horrific.

        I was recommending, you know, a normal immigration policy, where people who want to live and work in another country move there and do so, and make their own decisions about whether or not to have kids.

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