A young Muslim reader who blogs under the name Jones had a fascinating comment in yesterday’s thread about the porn calamity:

That’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. It’s interesting, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get an open and truthful discussion of these issues because they have to do with sex, and for all of our supposed enlightenment it’s still a taboo subject. Surprise! Maybe we should just crank up the knobs of social reeducation further? The reason it’s taboo is that it affects our interests, desires, and identities too closely, that it really is incompatible with civilization as we try to live it, even according to this fairly degenerate understanding of “civilization.” So even when “sex” comes into the public sphere, it comes in according to pre-digested notions of what is appropriate, some unholy melange of third-wave sex positivism and public health.

The problem is not just pornography; it’s also a pornogrified culture. The rest of pop culture, and girls themselves, are increasingly aware of themselves as competing with pornography for male attention.

Just an example pulled at random from the recent news: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/24/fashion/raiding-the-sex-shop-for-the-latest-fashion.html

The author writes, critically: “The big question is whether or not porn use is a “public health crisis.” In other words, the main problem with porn is not moral or spiritual but that it keeps men from fornicating with lots of women.”

I actually think that the moral/spiritual problem is the least of it. It’s so much worse than that. Expanding on his critique, he writes, of porn: “It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life.”

That’s all true, but it’s pretty old hat. I can sort of imagine a society straggling along in a state of protracted decadence. To believe that something is immoral, you don’t have to believe that it’s functionally destructive, or biologically maladaptive. You can morally condemn a perfectly stable state of affairs. But it’s so much worse than that.

I have to admit I think that Christian conservative thinking on sex and gender relations is pretty weak at this point. It’s just too far removed from reality; it’s not remotely keeping up with actual conditions. I recently looked up some of the Christian advice on the internet for men trying and struggling to remain chaste until marriage. I mean, the advice was horrendous. If I was a man, I would spit it back out immediately.

The problem seems to be the same across the board, for conservatives and liberals alike: no one has any understanding or ideal of masculinity. No one has any conception of what masculine interests are, how they connect to responsibilities, or what the appropriate give-and-take between men and society should be. “Men” hardly exist as a category–they’re basically being written out of our conceptual vocabulary. Conservatives and liberals alike are steeped in ignorance and confusion on this subject. The consequences are vast: school shootings, terrorism, the breakdown of the family, all of these things intersect with the demise of masculinity in some way. A lot of behavior that our society currently deems “irrational” and inexplicable suddenly becomes sensible when you have some functional understanding of masculinity.

A classic example is the fact that conservatives like Burk, when they lament porn, usually do so by remarking on how it leads to the objectification of women, may contribute to sexual violence, etc. The main concern, which conservatives and liberals shared, seemed to be that men would watch porn and go out to commit sex crimes, or something.

But the actual problem is more like the opposite, and is much worse. Porn actually leads to what you could call a dissociated sexuality. The problem is that it disconnects a man from the world, by misdirecting his sexual energies. This ultimately leads to a lack of interest in the real world, an inability to be motivated by it. How many young men do you know who seem disaffected, unmotivated, apathetic, aimless, irritable? Yeah, it’s porn. In every single case. This is a subtle but incredibly consequential effect, especially across an entire society.

Does it sometimes seem to you like our civilization is drifting and rudderless? Like our focus, our energy, our sense of purpose has disappeared? This is what happens when you lose your men — rather, when your men lose their manhood. Above all, porn is emasculation.

The drive for sex, above all in men, is one of the most fundamental and powerful drives present in mankind. Most of the work of civilization consists of controlling this drive and aiming it in socially productive directions (Freud). We used to have some institutions that did that: marriage, along with the concomitant prohibition on premarital sex. (One is completely pointless without the other.) This gave society some say in where a man’s most basic desires would lead him. That is all no more.

I’m not some sort of special enthusiast of masculinity. But I feel compelled to try to understand it, because no one else seems to.