My essay based on The Fix is the Spectator’s cover story this week:
When future generations look back at the early 21st century, they may well decide that its political turmoil — the collapse of the euro, the spread of Islam, the rise of China — pales into insignificance next to a far more important development: a fundamental change in the relationship between human beings and their social environment.
This was the moment in history, they may conclude, when our species mastered the art of manipulating its brain chemistry to produce intense bursts of short-term pleasure. As a result, billions of people began to have more fun than their minds and bodies could handle — and developed insidious, life-sapping addictions.
Already, the distinction between ‘addicts’ and ordinary people is far less clear than it was even 20 years ago. The line between consumption, habit and addiction is becoming dangerously blurred.
It’s not difficult to find evidence that appetites are spinning out of control. At Victoria Station, young commuters pant like elderly spaniels after rushing to catch their train. Many of them are clutching over-filled baguettes; they have to lick the mayonnaise off their fingers before fishing for their tickets.
Other travellers are hovering over a gigantic free-standing food counter loaded with thousands of pieces of loose candy: jelly beans, toffee, bonbons, liquorice sticks, fudge and lollipops, all glistening with artificial colouring. These sugar addicts look furtive as they scoop the sweets into the paper bags. Anyone would think they were buying pornography, from the way their shoulders hunch and their eyes dart sideways.
Not that many of today’s porn connoisseurs have to go through the ordeal of scanning the top shelf in the newsagents. That embarrassment has been made redundant by technology. More than 150 million people visit porn sites every year, and the figure will soon rise into the hundreds of millions as the developing world hooks up to the internet.
The numbers tell only part of the story, however. It’s not just that digital technology creates unprecedented desire for pornography; the images themselves are shockingly explicit compared with most pre-digital porn. Never before have so many nice people discovered that they have depraved sexual tastes. Husbands who would once have retreated to their dens to pore over car magazines now download videos of ‘teen sluts’ being violently penetrated and gasping for more.
The difference between old-fashioned porn and internet porn is a bit like the difference between wine and spirits. After hundreds of years as a mild intoxicant, erotica has undergone a sudden distillation. Digital porn is the equivalent of cheap gin in Georgian England: a reliable if unhygienic hit that relieves misery and boredom. And, unlike the old ‘dirty mags’, it is available in limitless quantities.
You can read the rest free of charge on the Speccie’s website here.
Posted in: Disease, Eating, Porn, The Fix
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