Friday, May 09, 2003
Chickens and Eggs
I was reading this piece by Howard Rosenberg of the L.A. Times. It's about the media's role in feeding the nation's obsession with crap like the Laci Peterson disappearance/murder. His contention is that the reason we care is because it's on t.v. rather than the reverse.
People like to think they have control over their own thoughts and feelings. And perhaps in some (many?) situations they do. But, they don't always. This article has reminded me of some other similar issues in our lives. On the mundane side, the fact that I have a blog compels me to write in it. I may have started it with the intention of writing longer, well-written pieces, but there's something about the immediacy of the medium and the satisfaction of seeing something new up there that compels me to post more often and with less well thought out arguments. (Present entry included.) I had envisioned writing something thoughtful and posting to the site when it was ready, but instead you get my thoughts as I think them and type them. Only later do I come back and clean up an omitted word or stray misspelling. The same works for people reading blogs, too. You have your favorite blog sites, and you go looking to them for more content all the time. And when they don't produce enough, you find other blogs or references within those blogs to get some new information. Ditto for when people started web surfing. The medium and your interaction with it conditions the brain by feeding a psychological reward system that encourages impulsivity and obsession.
On the darker side, I think this is what happens with the priests in the Catholic Church. People like to blame it on the fact that the Church admits homosexuals to the priesthood, or that somehow homosexuals seek out the priesthood to have the opportunity to be around young boys. However, I would argue that the reverse effect holds: I would say that it is proximity to young boys (and the absence of sexual outlets) that creates the impulse to gratify themselvessexually with young boys. Context begets opportunity. Opportunity begets imagination. Imagination begets action.
Ah, now you think I'm awful or disgusting, but tell me this. How many times have you been working with someone that you don't find attractive and then become attracted to them during the time that you work with them? (Or have class with them or whatever.) We like to think we have standards of who we're interested in sexually or romantically, but over time, through repeated interactions with people, we come to make tradeoffs in our putative standards or come to find new reasons to like somebody. We ascribe meaning or happiness or joy to something that ordinarily, rationally, wouldn't motivate us in the slightest.
Asexual? O.k., how many times have you found yourself in a stupid job yet come to find yourself caring about the consequences of a decision there. The context, and your participation in it, gives you an investment and a reason to care. The brain justifies the impulse and uses the justification as evidence for a conclusion that our impulses have already triggered. You mean it's illegal to have sex with kids? You mean it's against company policy to date co-workers? You mean it's against the law to launder money and misstate corporate earnings? As much as you know those rules, you may still not act according to those rules.
How hard is it to believe that deprivation of a something (e.g., alcohol, attention, sex) may cause somebody to overconsume them upon first exposure, whereas somebody given chronic exposure might not respond so wildly. This is not to say that everybody who's exposed to children or that everybody who works at a corporation would do those things. However, I would argue that were the person not in the situation, the idea would never occur to them, and so the crime would not be committed. Perhaps somebody smarter than me who's a better writer will tackle this.
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