Is Arthur C. Clarke’s Babylon our destiny?

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story, published in 1960, about how a Communist dropped by his home in Ceylon to thank him for us idea of television broadcasting from earth satellites positioned over fixed points of the earth’s surface.

He said the Chinese planned to use this idea to saturate the United States with pornography and turn Americans into a nation of brainwashed pornography addicts.

They would start with broadcasts of images of erotic art on Hindu temples, but then produced specialized programming aimed at every sexual taste identified in the Kinsey Report.  They would also have a sideline of sadistic violence, starting with bullfights and working up to every torture and atrocity documented in the Nazi archives.

All this was fiction, of course.

My old friend Steve, who called my attention to this story, said that we Americans are now doing to ourselves what Clarke envisioned our enemies doing to us.  As conservative Christian journalist Rod Dreher writes:

We are conducting a radical experiment that has never before in history been tried, because it has never been possible. What happens to individuals and societies when images — moving images — of the most bizarre and violent sex acts imaginable can be instantly accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time? What does that do to our brains, our minds, and our hearts? What does it to do us as a people?

Source: The American Conservative

The American Psychological Association is undecided whether to call excessive porn watching an addiction, a compulsion or just a bad habit, but, in layman’s terms and for all practical purposes, it is an addiction.

Of course, some people enjoy pornography with no obvious ill effects.  I have a friend who has read every issue of Playboy since it began its publication in 1953, and he scoffs at my concern.

But compared to what’s out there today, looking at Playboy’s centerfolds is more like looking at the lingerie ads in the old Sears Roebuck catalogs than it is like looking at the porn of today.

And he started at age 18, not age 13.  The effect of pornography on young children is different.

What can be done?  Parents need to be aware of what their children are exposed to.  Parental discretion is always advised.  But parents should not have to do battle with the surrounding culture.  And in these days of single parents and two-income families, children aren’t always under parental supervision.

I don’t like censorship.  Historically censorship of morals has been an excuse for censorship of political ideas.

Even if censorship were carried on in good faith, it would likely mean suppression of great erotic works of art and literature.  As the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart might have said, I know the difference between erotica and pornography, but I can’t define it.

I don’t have a good answer to this.

Maybe there could be some form of sex education that is honest about the biological and psychological facts of life, and also makes young people aware of how they can be manipulated by pornography, the mass media or sexual predators.


Neuroscience Reveals How the Brain Changes As It Watches Porn by Peter Hess for Inverse.

Is pornography addictive? by Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association.

Porn Star James Deen’s Crisis of Conscience by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

Pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition by Allison Pierson for The Telegraph.

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One Response to “Is Arthur C. Clarke’s Babylon our destiny?”

  1. Fred Says:

    I’m not terribly worried. When a culture becomes too hedonistic, there is always a correction. There has always been a hedonic drive in humans. But since there are other things in life that must go on, excessive hedonism will cause a society to crash and burn. Or at least become uncompetitive.

    Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” can only exist as long as there is no competition, external or internal. That isn’t happening any time soon.

    Even without external competition, it can only last until an environmental variable disrupts the flow. Say, global warming or cooling or just bad solar storms. People on Soma make terrible soldiers and won’t respond well in emergencies. Those who have been kicked out or voluntarily excluded have a huge survival advantage.

    Have you ever watched the movie “Zardoz”? THAT is what happens to excessively hedonistic cultures.

    I like the idea of having “sex education” integrated across the curriculum. It should be part of Health/PE, Biology, Psychology, Sociology and could even leak over to literature and fine arts. I am not a person who holds that knowledge of sexuality is somehow sacred. Or that knowing what human anatomy looks like and does encourages sexual activity.

    I’d like to say that I cannot see how this is so offensive to some people but it would be a lie. I can. I grew up in a world where “innocence” was defined as sexual ignorance and the kulturekamf against that “atheistic and communistic sex ed” still rages today.

    Religious based morality has to compete with the more “freethinking” elements of society. Yup, I said *compete* in the free and open market of ideas. Empirically based notions of reality have to compete with subjectively based notions (flat-earthers, etc.) even though it is that empirically based reality that created a safe place for the subjectively based folks to play. To do otherwise is to take on the role of deity for yourself.

    Technology increases the level of hedonism that is “safe” but cultures that overdo it will always be replaced by those that don’t.


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