What fascinates more: hate and the expulsion of the sexual deviant, or pedophilic genius

There is a process unfolding in England and America which demonstrates how willing we are to do things to each other that are both dark and crushing, at the same time choosing not to see what is actually happening.  It is that reaction of hate and crushing condemnation of those attracted to the young is what this post reflects on.

Public sex offender databases have been set up in both countries. In America, for example, there is what has become known as the Megan’s Law legislation, which was created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka.  The legislation requires law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders.  There are stories where young ‘perpetrators’ are punished repeatedly; unsurprisingly there are voices that cry out “stop this harm, now!”  England has its own version which it calls Sarah’s Law, which enables a member of the public to ask the police whether an individual (e.g. a neighbour or family friend) is a convicted sex offender.

Jones on Megan's law resized

Megan’s Law is Going After the Youth’s of America! (Anthony Young)

It is important to recognise that a shift has begun to happen – a move away from punishing  offenders who are young.  Anthony Jones, a maker of documentaries and films who has moved into the field of forensic research, writes on the issue of Sex Offender Registries in America. His LinkedIn profile offers glimpses of his work. His latest post, “Megan’s Law is going after the youths of America”. Jones joins the voices of others:  “US: Raised on the Sex Offender Registry”.  The central message is the call to stop being inhuman to the young, and it is a call that may well move American society to change.

Will this call to be humane lead to the same call regarding the adult? I for one hope it does. It may well be a case of one step at a time.

Labels can have power. Stanley Cohen, in “Folk Devils and Moral Panics”, which first hit the bookshops in the 1970s wrote about biker groups and young males who were seen as socially disruptive and dangerous.  Today the label pedophile is out there on its own, it can’t be trumped as far as what it can do to the person who has this label put on them.  I ask myself why, and read widely to gain a handle on this question.

sex panic resized

Image sourced from Amazon.com.

Roger N. Lancaster wrote Sex Panic and the Punitive State in 2011 and it was reviewed by Judith Levine – “First, They Came for the Sex Offenders”.  She views Lancaster’s text as “a riveting history and virtuosic analysis of the way America’s thirty-year panic about child sexual abuse has fuelled an ever-increasing appetite to ‘protect, punish, and pre-empt’ crime and has served as the model for the creation of ‘something resembling a police state in the United States.”

This week – May 15, 2015 – Stephen Kershnar is publishing his latest book, “Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis“.  He makes the comment our views of adult-child sex should be based on the “outcome of the empirical investigation of its degree of harmfulness”.  I read Kershnar’s words and put them with what is offered by Judith Levine in her book, “Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex”.  The negative impact on children – the harm done – where we see this happening may well speak most to what is done by those who seem so deep in the grip of a will to punish and exclude, rather than in the actions of the adult who is labelled sex abuser and pedophile.

We find ourselves, three years after Levine’s review, four years after Lancaster’s book, thirteen years after Levine’s own book, and thirty three years after Cohen’s, and things seem to be even worse.

Usually when I write my style resists being overly direct or harsh.  My background as a Family Therapist, my efforts to look at texts offered by sociologists, and my philosophical preferences, all influence how I put words on the page.  At this point allow me to move into another style.

The most convincing explanation for the hate and malice is remarkably simple – the label pedophile is the ‘pissing-pot’ of the 21st century.  It carries all the shit, hate, and malice, modern society feels about itself.  Gone are the days when one can talk in derisory ways about a person of colour.  You can’t talk about marginalised groups as freely as one might have in the past. The United Nations and other international bodies are letting you know: do that and we will take you down.  In this modern life of political correctness the label pedophile remains the one label you can use to destroy a person utterly, and odds on you won’t be attacked when you use it.

jesus 2

Image sourced from Amazon.com

This comment seems harsh, but an overview may well put what is argued inside a context that gives it credibility.  The path into this situation where one is blocked from attacking and dehumanising individuals and groups has a long history. Western culture has been shaped by many factors and one of them is religion.  Both the Ancient East and Christianity have played a role in how Western cultures deal with sin. Walter Kasper in his 1976 text on Christology,  Jesus The Christ, explains how this idea of atonement worked in the East.

“The individual is deeply involved in the community by reason of a common origin and a common destiny.  His evil deed is always a burden on the whole people.  A sinner was regarded as a common danger in a very direct and realistic sense.  Therefore the worshiping community had to dissociate itself from him solemnly and demonstratively and break off solidarity with the wrongdoer. That was done by excommunication and cursing.  Only by that kind of atonement could the people be reconciled with God. Atonement however was also possible through vicarious actions.  The best known atonement ritual was the transmissions of the sins of the people by imposing hands on a goat and driving it into the desert thus burdened with the sins of all (Lev. 16.20ff).” (Kasper, p.215)

For Christians Jesus was considered to be part of an atonement process that was exhaustive – he stood in for others.  That one action – a life and its death – made any further acts of solidarity with the sinner superfluous.  No one else need die on a cross.  Jesus was more than a person, he was a life-process.  All people’s wrongdoing was taken upon him – a laying on of hands linked to a wrongful execution – in this case one did not have a goat but a person – in this way Christians argued things were put right, and it happens only once.  No other individual need ever do this again.  It is not an alibi – it requires the person walk the Christian path, but it is not magic, and nor does the individual make it happen. This is seen as God doing what humanity on its own could not.  A second image was the idea the person was walking into the tomb of Jesus (Paul in his Letter to the Romans).  The individual is still required to commit to this new self but the atonement aspect is achieved via what can be called ‘the Jesus narrative”.

It is useful to unpack this Christian view not to argue a Christian account is superior to other religious narratives; it is rather that people need, just as we do now, to deal with this issue of keeping communities connected while at the same time addressing wrongdoing and harm done by one to another.  The point here is that we can and do find a way – many ways, different ways – to manage what seems irresolvable.  There are secular versions of just this issue in literature if we go looking.

The pedophile is considered a sinner if he has done wrong – sexual abuse of a child. There is a second view, even more punitive, where the person’s sexual orientation is viewed as ‘inclined towards evil’.  Take note, the official Catholic commentary on the homosexual man uses just such language.  In both cases the pedophile benefits from this theological repositioning.  The individual as a sinner is reconnected to the community via this atonement relationship.

Sadly that theological view all too often did not inform what happened for homosexual man in Western culture.  Between the close of the Second World War, moving through Stonewall, and all the way to the decriminalising of their consensual sexual relationships, many gay men – perhaps most – did not receive that message of connection to the worshiping community.  Catholicism has a‘message of ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’.  It was not a convincing message and many homosexual men realised most Christians did not live as if they understood Walter Kasper’s emancipatory message of atonement for everyone.

I do not see Christianity boldly saying how the pedophile has real solidarity with the worshiping community today either.  I dare say the minor attracted person sees Christian communities as no different from wider society with its talk of exclusion and punishment – ‘pissing on him in public’ with no fear of criticism.  In media items Catholicism finds itself accused of having pedophiles in its ranks – inside its very highest levels.  The Catholic movement keeps saying this cannot and must not be.  Like everyone else down through the ages Catholic priests have committed sins.  Graham Green’s novels about priests who love but remain heroes of his books are something I would want to promote.  Modern accounts of ‘pedophile priests’ are seriously at odds with what Green offers.  Unlike any other accusation the label pedophile is certain to lead to the revoking of his status as an ordained Christian leader. It seems unlikely these men could slip quietly into the pew beside other members of the congregations they once led.

I keep plugging the idea that we can make a better world, that humanity can move forward. The riddle for me is not the issue of how we can make the world better; it is more about why we don’t.  I look at this label issue and ask how can we address not only the person of colour, the migrant, the marginalised groups in whichever society we live in; I also believe this process of making a better society and a better planet needs to include the minor attracted person.  Whatever the psychological and sociological ‘usefulness’ of a pissing pot, I want it gone. In this post I write about one way that might help that happen – via art, what we admire, human creativity.

Consider what happens inside the experience of a parent who gazes on their child’s crayon drawing, or the person who listens to a Tchaikovsky piece being played by their local orchestra to celebrate Christmas. We are looking at human creativity.

What is valued here is not merely the object the individual makes – the child’s drawing may end up on the fridge door; and Tchaikovsky’s music for the serious listener is more than some tune one hums in an elevator. In addition to the object itself what is valued is the person who creates the item.  A circle is closed as we move from the art object to its maker and finally we come to acknowledge what is valued include us – we who watch and listen.

Recently I wrote a piece about Alan Turing.  In the recent film about him can trigger in gay and homosexual men a deep sense of pride; his creativity and his stature are experienced by many gays as more than an affirmation of his code breaking skill; it is a valuing of the man who acted, and ultimately a valuing of all gay men.  Of course I am going to argue we all benefit, gay and non-gay alike – humanity moves up a notch.

Not all homosexuals are code breakers, not all gay men are geniuses.

A person who I have never written about but has been celebrated and discussed a great deal recently is Lewis Carroll (real name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson).  On his website, Tom O’Carroll offers a very interesting text:  “Which is to be master – that’s all”.  It looks at how Lewis Carroll is positioned today, and yes some see him as a pedophile; some do not. Lewis Carroll, Tchaikovsky, and Turing are people who can be labelled genius.

biosexual resized

John Money, in Ch. 17 of Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, Jay R Feierman, ed. discusses his term pedophilic genius.

John Money, a New Zealand sexologist, coined the term pedophilic genius. He argued some individuals who display genius do so in a way that is driven by and intimately linked to their experience of themselves as sexual beings. One man who I think shows this kind of giftedness is Michael Jackson. Recently I was offered a link to a BBC documentary that discusses another man who was unmistakably a genius and who like Jackson has been linked to a deep personal love of boys.  It is the story of Daniel Carleton Gajdusek and his work with the disease Kuru, gaining a Nobel Prize in 1976.  The media piece by the BBC is titled “Storyville The Genius And The Boys”. Gajdusek’s life began to be rewritten following a claim in 1996 by one of his adopted sons that he had had oral sex with him.

Recently I learned from more than one source that Alan Turing’s sexual interest was not as ‘orthodox’ as  “The Imitation Game” portrays, nor is he as good a fit for the modern gay man as some would wish.  Comments made by people who worked with Turning and knew him well suggest he may have been minor attracted.

My point here is not to say, look, some of our great men and women were sexual deviants, let’s trash their art and what they have done.  Nor am I inspired to drive a stake into the hearts of those who admire Michael Jackson, Lewis Carroll, Alan Turing, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, or Tchaikovsky for that matter – he to had sexual affairs with boys.  At the centre of what I offer here is the existence of these men’s work, the experience of our admiration for them as people.  Both the objects of art and the men themselves help us stay away from a descent into rage and hate when we look at the minor attracted person.  Moral outrage sometimes resembles self destructiveness more than an appreciation of what matters in life.

Note I am not arguing for a notion of privilege to operate – I am not saying let the gifted individual be abusive and harmful in their relationships with others because their talent lets them do what others must not.  Alibis are just that – distractions, deflections.  My point rests in considering what we can do that is of lasting value and affirms that every person matters. I am not talking of rape, non-consenting sexual encounters, or the simple satisfaction of one person’s desire to gain what they want for themselves.

What I have offered resembles a discussion of ‘virtue ethics’ and ‘traditional ethics’. Post-modern discussions tend to not look like either. A postmodern discussion is more likely to look at how celebrity works. Michael Jackson had his music fans, Lewis Carroll has those who read his stories such as Alice in Wonderland, Gajdusek as a Nobel Prize winner and much respected researcher had a fan club that included both the subjects he studied – the people he studies and helped, as well as large numbers of scientific colleagues who valued what he did. Celebrity seems very central to our modern life.

I could point backwards to the last post about what is known by us but offered up as unknown. Many fans of Michael Jackson will let you know they don’t want to know. There is a lot that can be said on this point.

The experience of great art and objects brought into existence by gifted people makes us connect with a part of who we are that can help us be our best selves.  We have the capacity to be destructive in way that matches what we find in the art and genius provided to us by individuals. For me the riddle is not can gifted person be a pedophile, my mind is locked onto the deep puzzle of how people can be so destructive and so damaging when they encounter this sexual orientation.

Peter Ellis resized

Image of Peter Ellis sourced from NZ Herald.

This feature of our societies and cultures looms large in my mind. The list of cases that speak to what I refer to is long:  Sandusky, Rolf Harris, New Zealand’s Peter Ellis (who has just had yet another request for the legal case against him reopened turn down by the New Zealand Justice Minister), Michael Jackson (whose legal success is not seen by all as a convincing message “this man is not a pedophile”), Arthur C Clarke (again positioned a pedophile despite no legal outcome establishing grounds for this view). You can decide that what makes these men’s lives compelling was that they were drawn to the young; you can just as easily say what makes these lives scary was our management of those men’s lives.

I want to believe, perhaps despite what I see, that what we can do that is good and noble is going to help us turn our societies away from our dark side and motivate us to bring us back to a point where human solidarity and our best selves wins out in the end.

When one realises that more and more adults fill our prisons, live under bridges in the ‘wealthy’ spaces of America, are under the expanding threat of civil commitment and life-long social exclusion, all seems lost.  Will we really change and make the turn from our efforts to exclude and punish because a truth about ourselves becomes visible to us via narratives that have at their centre a child – the young sex offender?

DETAILS:

  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Money, J. (1990). Pedophilia: A Specific Instance of New Phylism Theory as Applied to Paraphilic Lovemaps. In J. R. Feierman (Ed.), Pedophilia: Biosexual Dimensions (pp. 446-463). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Advertisements

Viruses feel like unwelcome visitors, but sometimes they are much more.

Director of Strategy and Policy for the Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

I am a twin so you might have thought that what life is teaching me now is a lesson I should already know – two things that look the same may be quite different from each other. This week I have viewed a video clip that could be described as New Age in style and a group of talks which had as their goal the promotion of secular society in New Zealand. The common thread, the thing that made these items initially appear the same, was science. Both were proud to lay claim to scientific word-views. Both claimed scientific methodology sits at the core of what they are about. None the less, there were differences, quite significant ones, and I argue in this blog-piece that they provide a similarity that is worth taking note of.

The video clip was titled, “What the bleep do we know!?” In it the film’s main fictional character, a female photographer, faces personal life questions that allow the issues of ideas about quantum physics and human consciousness to be highlighted and explored. The film incorporates documentary styled interviews with individuals involved in the fields of quantum physics, psychology and spirituality.

The evening of talks, titled “Moving Toward a Secular Society”, had as its guest speaker Sean Faircloth of the Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. The evening was sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Humanists and Rationalists, and held at the Pipitea Campus of Victoria University, Wellington.

The first step for this blog-piece is to see how these ‘scientific’ based presentations were in fact very different from each other.

“What the bleep do we know!?” has as its thesis the view that there is a connection between quantum physics and human consciousness. The film does have a background and seeks to promote a message. Its authors are students of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. John Gorenfeld, writing in Salon – “‘Bleep’ of faith”, stresses this point because he sees this group as a cult. There are voices who express strong  caution when assessing this film. “What the bleep we know!?” according to these voices is pure junk, pseudo-science and new age psycho-babble.

I am going to make a move that I will call bracketing – put the issue of truth-claims on hold while I focus on other points. It is not about ignoring what is true; sometimes in order to see something we can choose to suspend doubt in order to let an idea be explored. It allows for that idea to be discussed, an idea we might otherwise never allow ourselves to consider.

What the film points to – a shift in how we understand the real – is an observation I can nod my head to. The older view that defines what is real says what sits outside of us is solid, substantial and entirely independent of us – the buildings that surround us, the chair we sit in, the cup of coffee we hold in our hands. The other world, the one we experience as internal, made of perceptions, is fleeting and insubstantial. The new view, the one the film explores, argues how we see and experience things is the really real. It is the contribution the viewer makes that is highly significant. For this perspective the world we see as outside us is linked to our being there in ways that are complex and noteworthy. The makers of “What the bleep do we know!?” argue this marks out and defines the gaze of quantum physics. I nod my head regarding the film’s claims because the older models of the real are limping – they fail to satisfy – there is evidence people are looking for other ways of seeing things.

Schrödinger's cat

Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. (Sourced from Wikipedia.)

Years ago, as a young man, I was introduced to the paradoxical thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat (devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935). I found it a stimulating riddle. Quantum mechanics has this notion of simultaneously occurring events that collapse into one outcome at the point where an observer looks or views how things are. “What the bleep do we know!?” communicates this message,  using the image of simultaneously bouncing basket balls that become one ball at the point when the ball is observed. The riddle or thought experiment’s significance rests for me in how it impacts on how one understands the real. I now see that neither Bohr’s model of the atom nor Newton’s notion of matter satisfies the question “How do things work?” Via the perspectives of quantum physics I am willing to consider as valid models of the real that are experienced by me as counter-intuitive.

“What the bleep do we know!?” does have this interesting turn, it asserts a new and important place for religion and spirituality. The film is not saying traditional science is wrong because of quantum physics – rather it argues the models for science have shifted. The film also argues this is true for religion.  The model for spirituality the film offers is seen as an update, guided by what is said in modern day discussions of quantum physics.

Religion and science are no longer at odds with each other, in a discussion of what we see as real. If a reader wants to follow their nose regarding this question of bringing the worlds of science and religion into one unified space I suggest the philosophical writings of Alfred North Whitehead. His book Process and Reality is a good start. I have read a few of his books and sat in post-graduate classes discussing his ideas. It is a rabbit hole worth going down, if the interest takes you.

The significant difference between this film – “What the bleep do we know!?” and the talk offered by the speakers at the talks “Moving Toward a Secular Society” rests with how religion is viewed. The speakers were not anti-religion; what concerned them were the dangers of indoctrination. The film promoted the message spirituality should be viewed as positive, that it is part of a new way of seeing what is real; the talks “Moving Toward a Secular Society” were a lot less buoyant about the on-going role of religion in society.

It is at this point that my bracketing may need to close, the talkers promoting the move towards a secular society saw ‘being right’ as central, they were very sure they understand sound methodology. They held the view the social and political moves of some religious groups are not just wrong, they are dangerous. They expressed concern at how talks in state schools, promoted and guided by religious groups under the heading of ‘values programs’, are being held after hours when the final bell has gone at the close of a school day. Concern was also expressed about the current New Zealand government’s proposed model for charter schools. Both these examples were presented as threats to a well-functioning secular society.

It is at this point I wish to discuss step two, that is how the film “What the bleep do we know!?” and the talks “Moving Toward a Secular Society” are the same.

The view I offer here owes its epistemological base to sociology. We live inside a post-enlightenment world. Sociology is very much a discipline or body of knowledge that exists because of this feature of modern Western societies and cultures. Capitalism and fundamentalism are both symptoms and defining features of our social fabric. I think, at least for now, we can’t imagine ourselves living inside a social and political space that is not informed by capitalism. Non-capitalist economies are seen as failures. There was a time before capitalism; now that past seems deeply foreign. In a similar way I argue that fundamentalism can’t be banished either, it has become part of who we are as post-enlightenment societies.

We criticize fundamentalism and those who promote it, we plan for its banishment, secular theorists view fundamentalism as a throw-back, a lingering pre-enlightenment world-view, and yet I think these theorists may suffer from a blind-spot.  At this point in time I can’t imagine being in a non-capitalist society, not because I love and support capitalism (it is for me a virus), I just can’t imagine what a society organized differently would look like. In a similar way I think fundamentalism in all sorts of areas of life is very much with us, again not because I support its style and outlook (as with capitalism, for me it is a virus), but I just don’t easily see how it can be banished.

What forms the basis for my claim? Why do I think it has begun to infect the secular movement? Being right, or absolutism, is for me the tell-tale sign one stands before fundamentalism. When we encounter it, that is when a part of who we are is looking back at us.

At the talks “Moving Toward a Secular Society” I asked the question – “I know, in the world of politics, what fundamentalist politics looks like; I know, in the world of religion, what fundamentalist religion looks like; so, if I am to see fundamentalist secularism, what would it look like? Sean Faircloth answered the question saying fundamentalist secularism is an oxymoron – it just can’t happen.

I am not firmly wedded to my current view, but Sean Faircloth’s answer, and indeed the Richard Dawkins Foundation, points to how fundamentalist secularism is not an oxymoron nor is it an impossibility. It is not about who is right; rather it is about watching, listening, paying attention to what is said and done.

Political groups and religious movements see fundamentalism as a threat. They tell themselves, inside their localized discourses, fundamentalism can be resisted and removed. I speculate they are puzzled as why this approach to life – fundamentalism, ever arrived inside our modernity anyway. Fundamentalism does seem to be new and not the continuation of an older view. This bewilderment about fundamentalism’s arrival is a clue to why it has been able to expand. Confusion and the belief this is about them and not about us has allowed this outlook to grow.  Fundamentalism is a window into us, our philosophies, our world views, and our arguments. I am not saying fundamentalism is right; I am saying to gaze into what it claims is to experience ourselves looking back at ourselves.

Fundamentalism has the feature of being confident in its core beliefs: it ‘knows it is right’. Dogma is central to the ‘style’ that is fundamentalism. The speakers at the talks on “Moving Toward a Secular Society” were very concerned about the indoctrination of the young, as well as the way religion and religious groups promote this ‘being sure we are right’. What I did not hear was the insight that such certitude inside the ranks of the secular movement should ring warning bells for those interested in the promotion of secular thought.

I choose to be very careful in what is being claimed here, I am not antisecular, far from it. I value a great deal what it offers, but recent modelling of secular debate suggests fundamentalist secularism is operating. The talks offered by Sean Faircloth and others are worth thinking about.

REFERENCES:

Arntz, W., Chasse, B., & Vicente, M. (2004). What the Bleep Do We Know!? [Marlee Matlin as Amanda; Elaine Hendrix as Jennifer; Barry Newman as Frank; Robert Bailey, Jr. as Reggie; John Ross Bowie as Elliot; Armin Shimerman as Man; Robert Blanche as Bob]. Roadside Attractions (109 minutes).

Faircloth, S., Harrison, P., & Armstrong, D. (2013, 12/04). Moving Toward a Secular Society. In Sean Faircloth Tour [Guest speaker: Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science]. Government Building Lecture Theatre, Pipitea Campus, Victoria University of Wellington: New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists.

Gorenfeld, J. (2004, 17/09). “Bleep” of faith [Film review]. In http://www.salon.com. Salon(Online Story). Retrieved 13 April, 2013, from http://www.salon.com/2004/09/16/bleep_2/

Whitehead, A. N. (1929). Process and reality: An essay in cosmology [A revision of the Gifford Lectures he gave in 1927-28.]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.