The Conspiracy of Pornography Exposed

Herbert Streicher is dead. Passing from this life last March, his is numbered among the notable deaths of 2013. Herbert Streicher—a.k.a. Harry Reems—is fondly remembered as a champion of First Amendment rights. In 1974, Mr. Streicher was arrested and indicted by the FBI on federal charges for his appearance in a film and a conspiracy to distribute said film over state lines. The conviction was overturned in 1977, and thus is Mr. Streicher’s memory cherished by a corrupt culture as the pioneer who cleared a path into the mainstream media for pornography.

And the industry has not stood idly by.

Today, everyone has encountered pornography. This is a simple, unavoidable fact because pornography is simply unavoidable. What is worse, very few have been prepared to face it. Part of this preparation is to realize the truth about pornography, and lay bare a fundamental quality that permeates beyond Playboy. The poison that makes pornography deadly is everywhere. The attitude and addiction associated with pornography is endemic in our society. The blights of passive vanity and sterile pleasures thrive in many different forms; forms which many deem harmless but are, in fact, wolves in sheep’s clothing. (If there is to be any stripping, let it be reserved for such as these.)

Inherent shame and silence on the subject are among pornography’s greatest strengths. Few feel comfortable talking about porn, so porn goes unspoken; which is how it goes unhindered. Pornography is, at its core, a lie; and a surefire way to combat falsehood is plain, honest truth. Conversation about pornography that is blunt and levelheaded can remedy and repel this plague more effectively than any parental filter. Given that everyone has been exposed to pornography in one way or another, Catholics have a grave duty to expose the conspiracy of pornography; to take it on as the enemy it is by talking about it matter-of-factly.

The consideration of pornography and its effects, however, should not stop at sexual depiction. Eroticism is just one mode of a versatile evil. Pornography, when considered by its function, has many faces and many facets. The essential nature of its evil is to provide artificial access to what is not morally accessible for the sake of some immediate stimulus, some visceral gratification. In other words, the pornographic is a sensationally skewed experience of the sacred; and sex is not the only sacred thing vulnerable to abuse. The underlying principle at work, which is central to the pornographic experience, is refusal to engage in the real and revelry in the unreal.

This modus operandi may be applied to things other than sexually explicit material. There is, in fact, a rampant epidemic in our so-called connected world of disconnection with the world. Ours is a civilization of personal segregation. For every individual, for every “I,” there is a “pod,” an enclosed casing. Without this synthetic protection, there is too much risk of commitment, the ultimate horror for a people who live life as though it were a chat session. Real interaction, real contact, is curtailed as fast as technology can leap and bound. Meetings are reduced to calls, calls to emails, emails to texts, texts to tweets, in a rapid departure from anything that can be called interpersonal or real. Is convenience worth losing touch with our surroundings and growing, as Wordsworth says, “out of tune?” Moreover, does the cold control and distant privacy it provides recall anything else to mind? True, smart phones and social media are not what would immediately be labeled as “pornographic,” but the motivating factors and their effects are strikingly similar. There is, for instance, a sacred element in the act of communication. Language—the Word—is sacred. Do modern usages and devices give the art of interaction its due? Words, like women, participate in a sacred nature and should never be taken lightly, much less violated. To do so may be considered a species of pornography, for pornography can be understood as an attitude in action.

The isolation which networking ironically breeds is a harbinger of a new narcissism. Self-centeredness seeks seclusion and the license to exercise control, as do those absorbed with online-selves, surfing a virtual world of avatars. These pursuits are addictive and buried in ego-stroking falsehoods designed to affect a stimulating pleasure—a pleasure isolated from reality. The eventuality is a hunger that gorges on what can never satisfy. There can be no fulfillment, no consummation. It is perverse. It is pornographic. In other words, pornography is not necessarily restricted to “adult” films, “men’s” magazines, and forty percent of the worldwide web. The principle and the practice of pornography are present in those things that put a prophylactic on reality. X-ratings or Xboxes; communication or contraception; sadism or stimulants—it may be considered “pornographic” if it crosses a line that was not meant for man to cross, allowing the senses to soar on Icarian wings for the sake of self-gratification.

This line is no less than the boundary between the physical and the metaphysical. There are mysteries that must be revered and left alone. To reduce such mysteries to objects of indulgence is to do an act of tremendous spiritual violence—violence that causes damage. When men attempt to exercise mastery over mystery, they are themselves forced into a type of enslavement—slaves to the very thing they sought control over. Pornography, in all its forms, robs people of their innocence through the elimination of mystery, crippling the ability to wonder and take authentic pleasure in beauty. Cynicism quickly develops as a defensive posture, and the rest is downhill. Whether this damage is caused by filth or by Facebook the cause and effect are the same: the fantasy—or blasphemy—of reality results in a loss of appetite for reality.

Unless people awaken their hearts through naked encounters with the real, they will never know anything that can truly fulfill, either in this world or the next. Pornography is a barrier to the reality we all must know as inheritors of Adam and Eve’s stewardship and our Maker’s Image and Likeness. The first step to being a good steward, though, is to have a healthy respect for the things of the earth and the things of heaven; which respect forbids exploitation for pleasure’s sake. For those who truly love the real, pleasure—or rather, enjoyment—is derived by virtue of the reality loved. The heart teaches what is worth loving and therefore worth knowing intimately. No category of pornography can ever offer intimacy since pornography does not access the real with love—it can only trample the real underfoot without really appreciating it.

Only actual engagement will reduce of the sway of virtual disengagement. Reality cannot be uploaded; neither should it necessarily be something accessed easily—but it must remain the goal. Connected to the real, innocence and wonder can be safeguarded or rekindled. Wisdom, as Aristotle said, begins with wonder; and wonder is something men experience as they experience the mysteries of the world. Men need mysteries if they are to be wise. Perhaps the eradication of wisdom by the eradication of mystery is the agenda of the conspiracy of pornography.

Let us not stand idly by.

Sean Fitzpatrick


Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

  • tedseeber

    Exploitation for the sake of pleasure alone, condemns not just pornography, but also contraception.

  • poetcomic1 .

    Most ten years olds have seen hardcore pornography according to a recent study

    • Gilbert Jacobi

      Not mine, and parents who have let this happen are asleep at the wheel.

      • Tony

        It requires extraordinary vigilance, and not every parent is capable or in the position to exercise it. If your child has been at a friend’s house, you cannot know for certain that that friend will not have five minutes for mischief at the computer. And then, of course, there is school … and the filth that kids pick up there.

        • Theorist

          I first saw porn in my teens at school with the teacher not 10 feet away! It would be more surprising that someone has never seen it or still doesn’t look at it from time to time IMO.

        • Gilbert Jacobi

          Tony, those parents who are not “capable or in the position to exercise” the necessary vigilance don’t get much sympathy from me; their children do, but not them. My wife and I willingly live a materially meager lifestyle to keep her at home and always around to supervise the children. After school visits at friends’ houses are kept to a minimum, and I do not let them go where they will be in a group of boys – I keep it one-on-one and always with the mother present. Your warning about how easy it could be to get in some “mischief at the computer” is a timely one, though, and I thank you for the reminder. I will now be sure to check with the parent while arranging a playdate to be sure she/he is up to speed on this.

  • Carl Albert

    an excellent and timely offering, Sean. you are wise to expand the term to all selfishness which decouples humans from real interaction. pornography depicting sex especially threatens young people as they come of age physically and emotionally, with its assaulting images of sex as some sort of buffet from which we can all harmlessly indulge. as a parent of two young, elementary school-aged children, I am already aware that my wife and I will need to educate our children on how damaging such a view of human sexuality is to the spirit. lessons shared much earlier than when we learned them just 30 years ago.

  • John O’Neill

    It would be good to keep in mind that pornography is a gift to modern society from modern democratic government. The Supreme Court, an essential part of American government, gave its full weight of support to pornography under the argument of free speech. Modern American politicians have given their protection and support to the entertainment industry and its support of the pornography world by constantly blathering on and on and on about free speech; so we now have the institutionalization of porno by the government people and of course it does help that his industry is a multi billion dollar industry that takes cares of its political friends.

    • tom

      One of them (Potted Stewart?) actually knew it when he saw it. What a brain.

      • STF

        It was Justice Potter Stewart who coined the phrase, “I know it when I see it” with regard to hard-core porn in the 60’s. Porn has come a long way since then, and has blended itself into the fabric of society. We can still know it when we see it, but we may have to regain and renew our sensibilities. I strongly recommend Josef Pieper’s essay “Learning How to See Again” as a basis for this vital recovery.

  • Steven Jonathan

    Mr. Fitzgerald,

    Thank you for that excellent essay on pornography. It seems you have revealed the comprehensive truth behind its dangers and exposed its roots. Our world is awash in pornography. It brings to mind the Matrix and the fact that living in pods in some
    kind of gel hooked up to a mainframe doesn’t seem like such a far off reality.

  • Paul McGuire

    Most people I know use social media to supplement rather than to replace in person interaction and are glad for it. People are busy and we don’t always have a chance to see everyone but we can keep up with major developments in our friends’ lives through Facebook and other things. When a friend gets engaged or has a child, you can see that directly on your feed.

    I never understood why people think Facebook is full of false representations of life. Everyone I know on there uses it as an honest presentation of important things going on, whether it is the harvest of vegetables grown at home, exploring a new and exciting hiking trail, or a restaurant they found particularly enjoyable.

    Facebook also works really well for organizing a get together with a bunch of people because you can easily invite everyone and get RSVPs all through the interface.

    • Claire

      If social media, and our near-perpetual interconnectedness with everyone we’ve ever met, actually serves to enhance our “in person” experiences, then why is the scene of a gaggle of 8th grade girls walking home from school / an intimate date between two lovebirds at a classy restaurant / family night out at the local pizza parlor no longer complete without everyone present having a device that will, in one quick “saved by the bell” moment of a text alert, e-mail, or one of their 3,000 friends’ status change, remove them from their actual reality? What I find more upsetting than any self-promotion that social media encourages, is that it has created a dependence by its users, so that the most rudimentary laws of polite behavior are chucked out the window.

      • Mark

        I agree with both Paul and Claire. What I see as the problem is the destruction of the wonder of the present moment (an encounter, an event, a special moment) with the obsession to preserve it for the future. No sooner does a special moment happen than out pops the smart phones to photograph it or tweet it, thus destroying Presence. The mystery of now is bankrupted by a pretend future where we’ll then enjoy it behind a computer screen.

    • Bob

      I have never been on Facebook, and never plan to. I have friends/colleagues that are constantly checking it on their smartphones, they must spend 2-3 hours of their waking hours on it. Is it that useful to spend so much time on it? Friends that have dropped off of it call it “the narcissist’s playground.” One friend said many a grudge is started due to postings on Facebook.

  • brigin

    At the very least the Government should stop subsidizing porn. Guess that’s asking too much.

  • Tony

    Thank you, Sean, for this splendid article. I recall the shadowy coldness of Lewis’ corrupted lovers on Sulva, in That Hideous Strength, who do not love body-to-body but phantasm-to-phantasm; Lewis got that from the cold sterile lust of Book 2 of the Faerie Queene. This is something to revisit. I’m afraid that almost every boy in this country has been corrupted by porn, just because it is everywhere, curiosity or boredom kick in, and once you see it, you can’t go without it. I think it explains the frenzy to accept perversions, because the sweet and ordinary is no longer of interest.

  • Theorist

    Ah pornography. I myself have not been left untouched by its dubious charms. As a thinker on all things, let me share my observations on why its become so popular and how it can be avoided.

    Unlike the article, I don’t think that pornography developed out of a consumerist need for mere convenience. Instead it developed as a cure for pain. Bad health is always a great incentive for sexual indulgence. Over the past few decades, chronic diseases have become more prevalent and so the desire for sex as a violent pleasure to take us away from our lives, has become greater as well. Perhaps also the lack of any real sense of community, culture, or belonging (or indeed, of conflict) has also produced a sense of boredom so oppressive, that porn is the only fantasy escape from an otherwise cruel world. In a world where there is so much to lose by standing still financially, by voicing one’s religious/cultural ideals or trying to live by them, or of attaining glory through great sacrifices (there are too many opinions on what is great for sacrifices to pay off) man really is faced with his greatest enemy: boredom. And porn is the last frontier of perverse entertainment in such a world. It is a place where, for evil or good, people at least do things with uninhibited joy instead of with the false politeness of the business-place.

    Exploitation, for pleasure’s sake also developed out of the delusion that sexuality is impossible to control and natural to indulge, so that one cannot be distinctly male or female w/o having mindless sex. Porn is the most mindless indulgence and as such, it must be considered the most “natural” and instinctive. As such we see that a modern conception of nature leads exactly to a natural law ethics where porn is okay and almost normal.

    • Theorist

      How to end pornography? Simple, we must cure disease, but we must also find pleasure in struggle and suffering. Likewise, we actually need a life of small pleasures and novelties in order to prosper morally. In this sense, consumerism is a good. Finally, the theory which equates all sexual expressions with involuntary instinct, must be destroyed.

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  • NE-Catholic

    The pervasiveness of moral corruption is staggering. Just this week, Jeanne Phillips – Dear Abbey columnist – endorsed masturbation (column published 6/5) as a normal, healthy activity. Past columns have endorsed same-sex marriage, abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc. as ‘alternative’ but healthy life styles. Her advice and judgement of what can be acceptable, even moral behavior is breathtakingly amoral and irreligious if not anti-religious. I understand she does not represent herself as a moral guide, but she exerts enormous influence as an arbiter of what is ‘acceptable’ behavior today.

  • Howard

    You had me up to a point. You apparently would consider what happened on Mount Sinai pornography — the reduction of the finger of God to words on a slab of stone. For that matter, this blog is a pornographic reduction of a more civilized argument we should be having in a pub.

    • STF

      Any reduction of reality that is unnatural, abusive, or harmful is what this article is suggesting as participating in the pornographic. The legitimate and immediate interaction with things is the opposite. There are types of reductions, however, that are not in themselves iniquitous. The written word for instance, whether on slabs of stone or an online forum, does not fall under the category of the pornographic because it is not intrinsically disordered even though it is an indirect experience of reality. (That being said, the use of online communication presents, in my opinion, more opportunity to fall into an abusive or harmful habit due to ints essential disconnection with things.)

      Your point is well made and well taken, but I believe it misses the point of this piece to an extent. I agree with you – this conversation would be better had in a pub. The more reality, the more perfect. But I would add that there is nothing intrinsically immoral in this particular mode of communication even though it is less than perfect. The finger of God is better than the tablets, but the tablets are not to be smashed on account (well, not for good and all, at least). Some reductions of the real are necessary to keep in touch with real things. The reductions of the real that are unnecessary and conducive to disconnection with the real are the ones that this piece would caution against as pornographic.

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