Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should We Thank Pornographers?

Economist Steve Horwitz kindly pointed to a great little article of his on futurism. I can't find a thing in it with which I disagree.

He writes:

But even there it took years for the vast majority of e-commerce to be profitable. For most of the first decade or so of the World Wide Web, the only profitable business was that most mundane of human activities: sex. Adult websites provided perhaps the only consistently profitable business in cyberspace; they also pioneered many of the technology-meets-commerce innovations that are now part of our everyday web experience. For example, adult sites were among the first to master streaming video and to figure how best to use credit cards securely. They launched a number of the consumer-friendly data-tracking processes that are now standard at places like Futurists saw the technology but overlooked that its biggest impact would come through its combination with commerce, and that this combination would be driven by the demand for sexual content.

Good futurists wouldn’t have overlooked the sexual aspect because almost every other advance in communications technology of the last hundred years has had sexual content at its leading edge. In our own times one need only point to the early success of the VCR, a significant demand for which came from people who wanted to watch adult films in the privacy of their own homes rather than in some dreadful theatre on the wrong side of town. Nude photographs are as old as photography itself, and the same is true of pornographic films. Even as you read this, there is a burgeoning market in 3-D adult films that will surely drive the spread and improvement of that technology. For an invention to enhance wealth and happiness, it must meet up with the market.

Readers know I spend a great deal of time examining religion and America's Founding form of government (so it's no surprise it's on the top of my mind for analogies). One motivation for arguments in that area of study is this sense, if "we" (whoever the "we" is, the religious or more secular types) gave this to you, we own it in a metaphorical sense and are somehow more justified in claiming its heritage so we can run America.

When the traditionally religious argue against atheism they oft-ask questions like "what has atheism done for the world?" and note the accomplishments of Christianity. They may condescendingly ask for "thanks" for all they have done for the world.

Leaving that aside, should we be grateful along these lines to pornographers for their help in driving technological advances and building up the Internet?

To the more traditionally religious readers who may use these things about which Dr. Horwitz writes, can you be grateful to pornographers for that aspect of their contributions while disagreeing with others. I think -- if I am not mistaken -- Richard Dawkins, or perhaps, some notable Richard Dawkins like atheists, have noted they can be grateful to Christianity for how it inspired great works of art, literature and architecture while strongly disagreeing with the whole shebang.

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