The Desensitization of America

I’ve always been interested in understanding why people do the things that they do. That’s why I have a psychology degree and have read hundreds of books on psychology, self-help, history, and human behavior.

When I was going through school, I was a fan of abnormal psychology because understanding why people go wrong can help you identify critical patterns of behavior just as surely as watching successful people.

Serial killers were of particular interest to me because their behavior was so bizarre. How in the world does a human being get to the point where they’re willing to abandon their morality and risk life in prison or the electric chair because they take so much pleasure in killing other human beings?

While there’s certainly no perfect answer to that question, you do see some recurring patterns. Serial killers are often isolated and abused when they’re young. Either because of nature or nurture, they tend to be psychopathic or narcissistic to the point where they’re basically incapable of caring about other human beings. Most importantly, no one is born a serial killer or a mass murderer. It’s learned and you can see the progression in their behavior.

It often starts with some part or all of what’s called the “Macdonald Triad,” which consists of setting fires, wetting the bed, or hurting animals. Then you find them doing things like acting extremely impulsively, breaking the law without remorse, developing a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, along with other traits found on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Interviews with these people in jail also often show that they had a rich fantasy life about these activities as well.

Having all these traits doesn’t guarantee someone will become a serial killer, but let’s just say if this describes someone in your life, you would probably be better off if you found a way to get them out of your orbit.

So, how in the world does this relate to the desensitization of America?


Our country is going through its own desensitization process and while it’s unlikely to lead to a nation full of serial killers, it is making us capable of thoughts and behaviors that would have been abhorrent to previous generations of Americans that didn’t bathe in the same sort of unhealthy level of stimuli that Americans today do every day of the week.

This is happening on a lot of levels, some of which are more obvious than others.

For example, did you know the first television series that showed a married couple in the same bed was a show called Mary Kay and Johnny which debuted in 1947? Even well beyond that, the culture was squeamish about the whole subject:

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who were married in real life and portrayed a married couple on the most popular show of television’s early years, I Love Lucy (1951-57), were depicted as sleeping in separate beds. Even more astonishingly, although Lucille Ball’s character, Lucy Ricardo, was portrayed as giving birth on an episode of the series the very same day that Lucille Ball herself bore a son, and the character of the real-life child was incorporated into the show itself, CBS was still unwilling to allow the word “pregnant” to be used on the air and did their best to avoid displaying Lucille Ball’s obvious “condition” to the viewing audience. Yes, this all took place in the “early days,” but even as late as the 1969-74 series The Brady Bunch, six children shared a single bathroom that lacked a toilet.

So how did we go from that environment to our current sex-drenched culture that embraces everything from OnlyFans to half-naked women in commercials to the standard outfit of college-age women being the sort of clothes prostitutes wear to identify themselves in most of the world?

There’s an answer to that question and it’s pornography. Granted, pornography has always been around, but streaming tube sites showing an unlimited variety of women and fetishes that the vast majority of the public can now privately view is very new. Roughly 52% of American households had the Internet in 2000. Those tube sites became a thing around 2004. Today, roughly 92% of the country has Internet access and by some accounts, the amount of money and time being spent on pornography is absolutely staggering.

How did we go from the sixties to the environment we have today? Desensitization via porn. If you’ve seen a thousand naked women copulating in every way imaginable this week, the idea of a married man and woman not being allowed to share the same bed goes all the way past quaint to laughable. There’s a lot more damage porn does beyond that (more on that in a future column), but it’s a prime example of how our society has been changed through desensitization.

Of course, we also went from having a relatively small number of mainstream (albeit mostly center-left) news sources to an almost unlimited number of alternative news sources online that cater to every niche on earth. There are a lot of advantages to this, but the huge disadvantage is that it has largely turned the media into a competition where the most outrageous, emotionally charged headlines win.

Over time, the facts have been increasingly stretched, anonymous sources that don’t pan out have become a regular thing, and incredibly trivial stories that have a strong emotional component have crowded out real news – and why wouldn’t that be the case? After all, many of the most important news stories are complicated, don’t fire people up, and can’t be turned into a story with a clear hero or villain. In other words, the news is now just another form of outrage and entertainment and much of the most important news is now too boring to capture people’s attention. That means it often gets ignored entirely by the public.

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