My last post on this blog was dated August 2014. It is now the first week of December, so why the long gap? There have been a number of drafts on various topics, none of which made it to the Internet. Was it just that life got busy? Two things shaped my activities: first an effort to read material that takes time to process, and second the current sociopolitical climate − characterised by hegemonic ideology − affords little opportunity for contributions from writers on issues relating to the minor attracted person.
A mood can develop that tells the author this process is blocked − social, cultural and political spaces become increasingly rigid and a single view of things dominates. In such a climate the writing process is gradually stifled. An earlier post dealt with the topic of hegemony; here, the concept informs this idea of closed spaces.
The question, Why write? can be answered a number of ways; here are two possible responses. One can write for oneself, quietly putting the assembled text away in one’s desk drawer with no intention to share it − ‘private writing’, a form of art for art’s sake. Another answer to the question − another style of writing, and it is this one that shapes this blog − is a belief in the value of ongoing public exchange. There is no attempt here to argue any way of writing is more important; what is rejected is any suggestion of a hierarchy inside writing. George Orwell’s Winston Smith, hiding in the corner of his room, writing in his notebook, is every bit as powerful as the ubiquitous Stephen Fry.
We can use terms like author, reader, content, narrative about all kinds of writing. We can even talk of multiple authors and multiple readers − Roland Barthes’ essay on the death of the author vigorously argues that texts are more than mere record-keeping.
So what is Take a Risk NZ seeking to achieve?
When working as a family therapist a method that was both intelligent and helpful was known as the Milan School approach. Its strength is a commitment to what would be labelled today as a postmodern understanding of how things are. The kind of question you ended up asking a client might be, Did you say that because you should, because you must, or because you could? The dialogue this blog engages in links with all three possible responses to that question. There should be, must be, and can be an exchange of ideas and views in order for the world we live inside of, and create, to have the chance of getting better and, in fact, being better. This view is bold and it does have risks.
The perspective this blog site promotes is being stifled right now. This site is a voice that wants to say a minor attracted person is genuinely an equal member inside his or her society, that sexual orientation for this individual, indeed for the social group such a social profile establishes, requires they be part of how a life is made.
Considering this experience of low oxygen levels there have been some reflections. First there is this idea of what defines one’s understanding of the notion, ‘future’. Inside public discussions about minor attracted persons this idea often involves a discussion of safety, desire that must be resisted, and is framed as dangerous – at the core of child sexual abuse. It might involve the accusing voice of the probation officer when an inmate is negotiating life after release from prison. Here, ‘future’ is about tomorrow, what may happen; threat and blame are in the air; the focus is on the programmed, the scheduled, the foreseeable.
In an earlier post that discussed a seminar on inmates who are re-entering the community two kinds of approaches surfaced. One management style was to put all the emphasis on warning the individual that they must keep the rules, any mistakes will be met with punishment, and a return to the prison was an ever-present threat. Another style was to stress human connection, support from others, a need to build bonds between the inmate − now outside the prison − and the wider community. It was this second view that gained my support and now, again, a non-punitive and less violent approach is favoured.
Jacques Derrida offers a view of future that is ‘l’avenir (to come)’, the arrival of a person or an event which is totally unexpected, unforeseen. For Derrida that is the real future. So it is the unpredictable which needs to be our focus; when that thing or that person you did not foresee comes into your life, the issue becomes our response. This is a process guided by openness and tolerance, not fear and danger. In my previous post the topic was resilience. Traditions like those of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and critical theory may have more to offer the minor attracted person than the voices coming out of such fields as behavioural psychology and criminology.
A different issue surfaced inside my abandoned attempt to respond to a media piece by Jan Hofffman, a New York Times blog writer. Her piece titled “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” positioned the young who find themselves befriending those who are older than themselves as pseudomature. Hofffman took work done by a group of psychologists and repositioned their message to suit her target audiences. First she wanted to encourage those who remember admiring that cool youth with dark sunglasses and gelled hair to drop any feelings of admiration and see this youth as flawed. Second, she wanted to congratulate the parents who observed how their kids were a bit dull and stayed home watching DVDs on doing a great job and tell them they shouldn’t worry. I read Hoffman’s piece as further evidence of just how conservative our society and culture was becoming.
Among recent items to grab my attention are two television documentaries. One is about a child sex abuser treatment unit in New Zealand, and the second a documentary, ‘The Paedophile Next Door’, aired on Channel 4.
The New Zealand documentary (a repeat screening) focused on the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit, in which actor Colin Moynihan took on the task of performing a role – to live inside the psyche of a child sex offender. The viewer was offered clips of interviews with staff at the unit – trainers and administrators guided by a behavioural psychology model; various men who were clients of the unit – men with convictions for sex abuse of children; Colin’s wife, who expressed concern about what taking on such a task might do to him; and finally clips where Colin spoke about his experience of the role.
A number of years ago I spend an entire year attending each new show at Wellington’s Circa Theatre. After one particular performance a group of us were invited to interview the actors. One of my questions seems relevant to what Colin Moynihan had elected to do: Does adopting a character in a play change you; are you shaped by what the character offers such that when the play ends you are not the same? The group explained that was not how it was for them. Circa offers world class theatre; what they deliver is of a very high standard. For an actor there is nothing particularly unusual about playing a strong character. Colin, his wife, and the staff at the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit all believed Colin faced a risk which the Circa actors would not have considered real. It might be interesting to ask Colin Moynihan to sit down with other actors and discuss my question.
As one might have expected the words the ‘clients’ are made to speak are highly scripted, and a viewer could easily ask, Is what these men are saying here really how things are for them? I have worked as a Family Therapist; my assessment is this was not therapy. Issues relating to personal integrity and damage to the clients remain unanswered. The real clients here were clearly not the men who had been in prison; the clients here are the wider society. It was their problems and anxieties which were being dealt with in the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit.
The second television documentary went to air on Channel 4 and was titled “The Paedophile Next Door”. Tom O’Carroll discusses the item in his latest blog post, titled “Inadmissible Testimony”. The item’s makers interviewed O’Carroll but did not use any of the resulting material. What the group was looking for was a voice that is not Tom O’Carroll. This Channel 4 piece is more complex than the New Zealand documentary. Viewers discussing the programme – in social media spaces like Twitter and in the more select group who visit Tom O’Carroll’s blog – match that complexity with large numbers of responses. The comments on Tom’s post extend into the hundreds.
The documentary-makers’ decision not to include any material from their interview with Tom O’Carroll may be seen as a shift in how the discourse on paedophilia is moving in Britain. The preoccupation with the 1970s and 1980s persists – people like Tom O’Carroll (or, more to the point, PIE) working for social change are still referenced inside media discussion – however, the next step involves a turn where that past is the past and things have moved on. The discourse now revolves around two topics that often appear as a pair: brain architecture and the ‘virtuous paedophile’.
What is really at stake here is neither a call to virtue nor an absence of transgression – rather, it is a quest for a way the minor attracted person can minimize the risk of violence and death at the hands of others. Of course this all hinges on the person acquiescing to society’s requirement that they be open to ‘treatment’.
I am not here making any attempt to look into a crystal ball and make predictions; the issue here is the persistence of a refusal to allow the sexuality of the minor attracted person to be explored. The position being argued here is that treatment is not sexual understanding.
Hand in hand with this, the violence and hatred people are capable of directing towards others go unacknowledged as problematic in their own right. Gays may well have successfully introduced the notion of ‘homophobia’ as a way of reframing an issue of moral righteousness.
For a moment we glimpsed how we are: we tell ourselves lies, claiming all that is dark and dangerous lives within those we, the righteous, seek to punish. All too often what gives us permission to do unspeakable harm to others involves various phobias and fears. No sooner had this insight surfaced than violent behaviour and dangerous rage morphed into hatred of the paedophile, and societies (particularly in the West) found themselves back on track. We may need to augment what we have learned with a new word – ‘paedophobia’.
So two aspects of what it means to be human are going unexplored – the sexuality of the minor attracted person and the self-righteous violent rage that can be performed in public. The beheadings by Islamic extremists can’t be viewed as radically different from what the rest of us are capable of once this kind of insight is acknowledged.
Both the TV documentaries – the New Zealand piece on Kia Marama and Channel 4’s presentation on paedophilia in England – show a heavily scripted and tightly controlled public voice. The social construction of ‘the paedophile/sex offender’ has found a place in modern discourse … and it appears the virtuous paedophile has been invited to the table. The talk grows in volume month by month. But there are other voices – some of them feeling stifled – who, rejecting those limited options, are determined to create their own speech and not merely mouth the scripts handed to them.
That paedophile profile offered to us in the media, those probation reports drafted by behavioural psychologists setting the conditions for ongoing supervision of released prison inmates, and the criminological discourse treating incarcerated sex offenders as if they represent all who are attracted to the young … none of these dominant and highly influential voices really resemble the varied and genuinely diverse voices of minor attracted people who live within our societies and cultures.
In the current environment, this blog has two interests: first, a concern about what is generated and what circulates inside our societies and cultures that links with the experience of the minor attracted person; second, an attentiveness to those voices that are original and that disrupt the socially constructed discourse. In recent times, all the talk is about sex abuse and the dangerous person. The emergent profile offered to us in media discussions – labelled paedophile or sex offender, and often a man – is sad, remorseful, guilt-ridden and contrite (even if he hasn’t done anything), pathetic and pitiable, but needing treatment. This virtuous paedophile may well mark a new moment in the discourse but this is not really a marker of significant change – it does not ask, and nor will it be, a step towards an emergent sexuality for the minor attracted person in the way things happened for homosexual men in the 1960s and the 1970s.
So, with this post, has the block to dialogue been cleared? The reader can decide that question. But Jacques Derrida is right: we can best understand the term ‘future’ as pointing to the thing or person whose arrival is unexpected – in a real sense experienced as ‘other’. Such a future is well worth valuing, and inside that unplanned-for and unexpected set of events, perhaps we will from time to time catch another glimpse of ourselves as we really are.
- Barthes, R. (1967). Death of the Author [First English Languge Publication] [Electronic version]. Aspen, No. 5-6.
- Canalul utilizatorului hiperf289. (2007). Jacques Derrida And ‘l’avenir’ – The ‘Unpredictable Future.’ Youtube.com (1:19).
- Circa Theatre [Theatre’s homepage]. (2014). Retrieved 5 December 2014, from Circa: http://www.circa.co.nz/
- Hoffman, J. (2014, June 23). Cool at 13, Adrift at 23 [Blog piece for well.blog.nytimes.com]. New York TImes (New York), Online Newspaper ed., sec. Health. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/23/cool-at-13-adrift-at-23/?rref=health&module=Ribbon&version=context®ion=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Health&pgtype=Blogs; EndNote database
- Humphries, S. (2014). The Paedophile Next Door. Channel 4 (47:01).
- O’Carroll, T. (2014, 21/11). Inadmissable Testimony [Blogsite]Heretic TOC: Not the dominant narrative. Retrieved 5 December 2014, from https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/inadmissible-testimony/.
- Orwell, G. (1974). Nineteen eighty-four. Geneva: Edito-Service S.A
- Peeters, B. (2013). Derrida: A Biography (A. Brown, Trans.). United Kingdom: Polity Press (Original work published 2010).
- Postmodern Therapies – Milan Family Therapy. Retrieved 5 December 2014, from Wikispaces.com: http://postmoderntherapies.wikispaces.com/Milan+Family+Therapy
- Plunkett, J., & Mason, R. (2014, 26/02). Harriet Harman rejects claims from paedophile campaigner Tom O’Carroll (News/Politics/Harriet Harman). Online Newspaper.
- Real Crime: The Worst Offenders – Can They Change? [Blog piece]. (2010, 23/03). TV One Blog. Retrieved 5 December 2014, from http://www.throng.co.nz/2010/03/real-crime-the-worst-offenders-can-they-change/
- The Old Friary. Retrieved from http://www.stephenfry.com/
- Virginia Wright (producer). (2014). The Worst Offenders – Can They Change. [online access to this media piece is offered by TVInternational]