What Do You Mean, You Don’t Know?

At this point in Western history, an adult who recognises they are attracted to the young is positioned inside their society negatively, especially those societies shaped by Anglophile traditions. The challenge is how to move beyond a negatively framed way of seeing oneself and the desires that are at the core of who one is.

An earlier post on this site argued minor attracted persons (MAP) can look to how others  talk about how they see themselves. Navigating life often involves learning from others – so the idea that the group you belong to needs to reinvent the wheel and solve all problems from within seems to me an unhelpful expectation.

Competing Responsibilities Sociology Conference, 2014

Competing Responsibilities Sociology Conference, 2014

The post I  refer to had a context – a talk by Prof. Nikolas Rose titled “Making us resilient: responsible citizens for uncertain times”, which was the keynote address at a sociology seminar titled Competing Responsibilities: The politics and ethics of responsibility in contemporary life.  His talk did not reference the life situation of the MAP. Rose encouraged people to look for more positive ways of framing talk of the self. A key term he used for that process was the word resilience which he used inside the title of his talk. I argue MAPs need to look at this concept as part of crafting a responsible and ethical way to live their life in 2015. I know Prof. Rose does not agree with this idea because I asked him. His message was directed at people who are not minor attracted; he wanted them to focus on developing resilience, as a positive response to modern life. The ‘resilience’ message is a valuable one for everybody – including those who are minor attracted.

Behaviourist models of human sexuality centre on risk and risk management; prison based programs for those convicted of child sexual abuse and community based versions of the same programs are often informed by behaviouristic models. I argue these programs restrict how individuals see themselves. I need to be very clear here and assure the reader my objective is to promote a process where a person sees it as their responsibility to live and craft an ethical life. It goes without saying MAPs, whether they have convictions for sexual abuse or not, are not asked to contribute to how they manage their lives – they are told how to live, how they must live.

That call for all of us to live ethically – if one is informed by Western philosophical ideas – reaches all the way back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. According to that tradition what I am talking about is how to live a good life. Despite the long time-lapse between those philosophers and where we find ourselves, that challenge has not gone away.

Not limiting itself to commending Prof. Rose’s call to resilience, my post also hinted that valuable insights may be gleaned from writers who comment from within diverse worlds: psychoanalysis, Marxism, philosophy, history, critical theory, etc.

My reading in recent years has included a number of writers and social theorists: Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Elizabeth Roundinesco, Slavoj Zizek, and Alain Badiou – a predominantly French group of intellectuals who published and debated their ideas of freedom, ideology, knowledge, emancipation, health, and sexuality.  What makes this group especially interesting is the way they bring together disparate disciplines in crafting their texts and their ideas.

The major voice informing this post is Slavoj Zizek. Of particular interest is his talk of knowledge, in particular his recommendation that we look into what he calls the science of not knowing as a part of a general theory of epistemology.  What is striking is the paradoxical way Zizek talks, and it is perhaps this feature that draws his audience  into what he has to offer.

Slavoj Zizek's talk on "Not Knowing" (YouTube)

Slavoj Zizek’s talk on “Not Knowing” (YouTube)

In his video clip, “Ideology and Modalities of Not Knowing. 2014”, Zizek explains “Ideology is not only what it says, it is also the complex network of solicited transgressions”. He offers an example from his army training.  There were things that were prohibited and there were accompanying messages about those prohibitions: if you did not transgress those prohibitions, then you would be viewed as an idiot.  He offered the example of how a soldier would be told, Don’t get drunk.  That soldier, if he did not go drinking with his comrades on a regular basis, would be viewed as failing his fellow officers and even as being unpatriotic.

Zizek argues all human communities have rules.  Accompanying those rules are what could loosely be called meta-rules – a guide to how the rules can be broken and under what conditions.  He takes a special interest in these meta-rules – and so do I.  Zizek begins by asking how the rules help reveal how ideological systems work, then via a question from his audience he explains how this rules/meta-rule idea can be seen when talking about knowledge.

In this post I am taking a further step – how might one talk about the rules/meta-rules relationship when looking at human sexuality.  I see here an opportunity to use Zizek’s thinking as a tool box rather than simply quoting what he says about sex.

The behaviourist will tell you that the key issue is: for the pedophile to not have sex with children.  A behaviourist perspective will focus on the management of sexual arousal and the management of risk.

Zizek’s argues there is a crisis that needs responding to – but it is not the crisis we read in the media. My interest is to ask the question, using Zizek’s toolbox, if we have a crisis for human sexuality – one of the issues being sexual contacts across generations – then how would it be talked about? My rendering of this issue does differ from how the behaviourists frame the discussion.

Zizek offers his view on the question of rules with the added point that the ‘not knowing’ feature of his epistemology includes modalities. The first one involves these rules paired with other rules – usually unspoken and unacknowledged – telling us how rules can be broken and in what circumstances. A second modality, another version of the same thing, is where you are offered an opportunity but the unspoken rule is you must not take it. Now let’s  unpack how this modality runs when talking about sex.

Zizek gave an example from his days in the army. At the beginning of their training a soldier is taught various things and after a short period of time there might be a public ceremony where they would make a public statement about becoming a member of the army.  They would also be offered the chance to sign the book stating their commitment. Of course the signing is positioned as a moment of free choice. This opportunity includes the ability to say no, I won’t sign.  Zizek recounts an army cadet who asked was he free when signing and was told yes. He then said “I don’t sign”. The trainers were angry; they felt the cadet had ‘broken a central rule’. They issued a written order – sign the book freely. The situation looks absurd, even humorous, but the important point is the army officials were very serious. For them it was no joke!

The behaviourist approach regarding minor attraction is to focus on a prohibition – you must not have sex with children; and more than this, in your thinking about them, you must not explore that idea as positive. For the behaviourist – and others, I suspect – this is how they would frame today’s crisis: don’t have sex across generations. Using Zizek’s talk of rules we can frame the situation differently. Yes, there is a crisis but it is not this one. The real crisis is the possibility that people might be given the choice – that you actually are free to decide, and it is this, I argue, that frightens people. This is our current crisis; you have an opportunity, you are expected to say no, freely, but now it becomes necessary for us to acknowledge some may say yes.

This post is not offering is a full history of all human choices regarding this matter; that would be bold and an unfair request for a reader to make. What is offered is a way of seeing how this practice of not knowing has been brought into the light.

Zizek mentions how the issue of not knowing has been highlighted by the Wikileaks situation and the disclosures by Edward Snowden.  Zizek argues that while some detail is being made available to us, it has not been a process where at one time we knew nothing and now we know it all.  He argues the crisis for democracy is the cessation of the ability to say we don’t know.  Zizek puts it to us we always suspected our leaders acted the way Julian Assange and Edward Snowden position them.  The crisis is now we can’t say we don’t know.  To cement his argument Zizek links this situation of the crisis to Jacques Lacan’s view that most of us ‘don’t want to know’.  Lacan questions the assumption that  we are all curious animals who, at our core, desperately want to know things.  Lacan argues, in some areas of life and in certain situations we desperately want to send the message, “I don’t know” or “I did not know this”.  This is, in Lacan’s view, a crisis situation for many.

For Western cultures in the period before the 1970s the situation ran along these lines: a person is offered opportunities where they could have sex with children, but these are opportunities to which the person must always say no.  In this period there were people who said yes.  The meta-rule required that this be part of what is not known.

At that time there was no imagined future where one might be offered a real choice in this matter; nor was it perceived there was a new wave of social optimism unfolding where such choice could be publicly acknowledged.  Furthermore, before the 1970s this view was the preferred understanding of how everything worked.  There was an overarching set of rules, one where you were told what you could and couldn’t do.  Interestingly we felt free, but it was deemed a freedom we must not act on.  We were free, as long as we never said no to the prohibition.  Just like Zizek’s cadet who was ordered to freely sign the book, this was all done freely.

With the 1960s and 1970s I argue freedom and our general social fabric experienced a jolt – we asked in a very broad way, are we really free?  The disruption of two world wars, shifts in bodies of knowledge about sexuality, gay liberation, the rise of equal rights for women – the mix is complex.  We had preferred not to know we were being told what to do, we considered ourselves free and indeed expressed strong political, philosophical and even religious ideas about why this mattered.  But with the 1970s, to keep that old view about ourselves became harder to sustain.  It was this that defined the crisis for Western societies and Western cultures.

"... very few victims reported any fear, shock, force or violence at the time the abuse occurred." p.22

“… very few victims reported any fear, shock, force or violence at the time the abuse occurred.” p.22

I argue intergenerational sexually-expressed friendships were impacted by those shifts.  Along with the narratives of sexual emancipation came narratives of abuse and exploitation.  Those stories have multiplied greatly, and have become increasingly valued narratives inside our culture.

The prominence given to the ‘sex abuse industry’ tells us that it is more than merely one discourse among many; it behaves as if it is the benchmark against which all narratives of this sort are measured.  In terms of what this post argues our current position is not one of “now we know all”; what persists, in fact, is our version of not knowing.

We have always known, or at least suspected, that some of those relationships between the young and the older involved consent, friendship and reciprocity.  To this knowledge we say “I don’t know.”

My text speaks to the narratives which, for a short time, emerged but seem to have subsequently been shut down. There were friendships in which rules were broken.  We knew some adults had sex with children.  Public accounts of allegations of sex with children in day care centres multiplied.  Groups were formed – like the Pedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in England.  It became increasingly difficult to hold to the view, “We don’t know”.  By the 1990s, with the help of the media, we were telling ourselves our eyes were opened, and now we knew better.  The knowing, however, focuses on abuse narratives.  The knowing, I argue, still retains a piece of the earlier modality.  To this day, in public discourse, we act as if we don’t know about the non-abusive and non-exploitative intergenerational exchanges.

The sexual profile of the pedophile has never been so much a part of media talk and most recently there seems to be a desperate desire to explain the origins of the pedophile sexual orientation just as there were similar efforts to explain the homosexual male in the 1990s.

The ideological grip of heterosexism has been dislodged.  Sexual variety is experienced as part of the way things are.  The idea of ‘what is normal’ functions to limit what we say yes to, but we can’t say that variety and complexity experienced at the level of the individual as desire, is unknown to us.

The real root of our crisis I argue is the possibility of a different life, a different set of choices.  A minor attracted person can and even should be encouraged to make a life; that life can and should be ethically crafted; that life can and should be seen as free.  It is not about permission to have sex with children.  We have always known for some the choice might well be to say yes to opportunities to form friendships and be ‘all that one can be’ and respond to that call to ‘be one’s best self’.  This aspirational view ultimately doesn’t tell us what to do.  As societies and cultures we are confronted with people who on the face of it are not like us – but they are in fact just like us – the gay male, the lesbian, the minor attracted, the diversity is striking.

We can’t say we don’t know any more.  Everyone is in fact called to be ethical, free, responsible members of our societies and cultures.  Our understanding of sex, sex roles, gender and gender identity offers a more detailed picture of sexuality.  Human desire is part of an ethical journey for same-sex couples, for heterosexual couples – these are our new version of normal.  But for  the individuals inside our societies for whom age is a component of how desire functions, for this group we must now wrestle with how to manage this also.

"Future can be a reference to the one who comes, whose  arrival is totally unexpected. For me that is the real future."

“Future can be a reference to the one who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me that is the real future.”

I am not arguing all this is settled, or that it is straightforward.  What is interesting and challenging is that here one can take the notions of rule and knowing used by Slavoj Zizek and attempt a process that could be called a type of unmasking.  Zizek argues that in politics we can’t go back, we can’t really say we do not know our leaders spy on us and tell us lies.  I don’t think that situation is quite the same in the area of sexuality.  The preference to not know something – all the while of course we do actual know – can be very strong.  For quite some time we might choose to tell ourselves that minor attraction is beyond our understanding; that, I think, has to be left to what is our future.  My preference is for an an inclusiveness; that preference is a possible future.  That comment offered by Jacques Derrida seems worth citing: our real future, the one that matters, remains what is likely to be unexpected and unplanned

Further Reading:

  • Clancy, S. A. (2009). The trauma myth and the truth about the sexual abuse of children – and its aftermath. New York: Basic Books.
  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Ditum, S. (2015, 13 April). Why are we so desperate to find a genetic explanation for sex offenders? [Newspaper article]. New Statesman (United Kingdom), Online Magazine ed.
  • Dunham, A. (2014, 18 August). ‘Paedophiles should commit suicide’: Expert. The Local: Spains News in English (Spain), Online Newspaper ed., sec. Society. Retrieved from http://www.thelocal.es/20140818/paedophiles-should-commit-suicide-official
  • Hunter, J. (2008). The Political Use and Abuse of the “Pedophile.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 55(No. 3), 350-387. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00918360802345073
  • Rose, N. (2014, 15th to 17th August). Making us resilient: Responsible citizens for uncertain times. [One of two keynote talks.]. In Keynote Talk. Competing Responsibilities Conference, Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Seto, M. C. (2012, Feb). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Arch Sex Behav, 41(1), 231-6.
  • Sharpe, M. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). In J. D. Fieser, Bradley (Ed.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource.
  • Sonenschein, D. (1998). Pedophiles on Parade: Volume 1 & 2, ‘The Monster in The Media’ and ‘The Popular Imagery of Moral Histeria’. San Antonio, USA: Sonenscheirn, David.
  • Zizek, S. Ideology and Modalities of Not Knowing. 2014 [You Tube item]. In European Graduate School Video Lectures. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBa-pCmuBHU#t=15

Still breaking rules, but that’s okay

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer (Sourced at entertainment.ie.)

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer are married. It seems unlikely either man will read my blog but that is the myth of modern celebrity isn’t it? – the proximity of those who are famous – the modern celebrity seems close to us, almost familiar. In earlier  times fame meant distance, not closeness. In keeping with that modern feel I can send out a message of congratulations to them both as if I might meet them at the supermarket next time I buy my fruit and vegetables.

My next comment probably has both men in mind, but Stephen is its focus. For two persons of such differing ages to be sexually intimate – and be very public about that – is not typical of our time. I am not saying Stephen Fry is ‘one of those bad types’. There is a rule of thumb which asserts a partner ought not be younger than ‘half your age plus seven’. Stephen Fry is 57, so by that rule his sexual partner should be older than 35 (approx.); Elliot Spencer is 27. It is my assumption this rule applies to Elliot as well – he isn’t meant to go for those older guys – a partner can as easily be too old as too young.

Let me say it again, no way am I hinting that Stephen is ‘minor attracted’, and yet the discourses of sexual assault, child abuse, negative narratives about what male culture is perceived to promote, all position Stephen Fry badly. For all that his profile is doing fine; he is even viewed by some commentators as likely to get the nod from upper-class English society for some honorary title in the near future. Truth is some see him as a darling of the British public – the British Royal Family included. Where I sourced that view was listening to John Crace’s podcast for The Guardian, he discussed this very point we taking of Stephen Fry’s new book – More Fool Me.

So has Britain turned the corner on tolerance to the older man who is attracted to the young, where the guy’s interest is younger than ‘half your age plus seven’? No, I don’t think so. A New Zealand woman – Justice Lowell Goddard – has just been appointed to head a British inquiry into child sex abuse in British society, aimed right at the very group of people a chap like Stephen Fry is likely to do his local shopping with – the upper class of England. No, what Stephen – and very likely Elliot as well – have done is to manage their profile. I argue they have done this because they understand what has changed inside Western culture and have kept all that negative stuff at arms length.

What sits at the centre of what is offered here is sociological, not psychological. I can actually take a middle position here and say I find a psychoanalytic discourse more helpful here than the text so often offered by psychology. Desire is a very broad category and a very ‘thick’ one – there is a lot to consider when using the term ‘desire’. When discussing or viewing the desire of the minor attracted person one is not looking at some kind of desire different from what is so readily acknowledged by the adults who view the sex they experience as ordinary.  I argue desire is this aspect of the human condition that everyone has as part of who they are – straight, gay, minor attracted – it’s all desire and its all part of who a person is. In my view the term ‘sexual orientation’ is a modern term that attempted to convey this radical and fundamental equality and ‘sameness’ that can be understood to unite the gay and the straight worlds – this term carries the message we are all in the same boat.  I am saying the boat has more than two people in it.

To gloss over this issue without making an effort to say what I mean would be a mistake, but I also know the value of being precise. There is a need to speak briefly rather then offer long paragraphs.  It is my view the language used to speak about what we experience has been influenced in recent decades by a reductionist view of the person. Sex and desire has become merely stimulus and response; sexual life is viewed more and more as the management of mechanical bits. People are being told to manage their sexuality as if it is only an issue of ‘sexual urges’. Actually that view is itself problematic. Why all this matters is because the minor attracted person finds themselves being told to stop urges and to stop his or her desires as if they are different in kind from everyone else. The truth is they aren’t different – desire as one finds it lodged inside the texts of literature and poetry is at the heart of who we are and – for everyone – understanding it is vitally important.

Thus when attempting to see what has gone on for this celebrity gay British couple it is not about what desire is allowed to have our social/cultural support – gay and straight get a thumbs up; minor attraction gets a thumbs down; it is about how sociological shifts have unfolded over time and how Fry and Spencer have managed their profile. Both know how desire feels – they  have fallen for each other. What is clever, and I think it has been a matter of being smart, both men have worked to prevent their profile being spoiled (to use Irving Goffman’s term).

Let us unpack things even more.  A Western philosopher writing in the distant past was read, even admired, but there was no expectation for that person to write about their sex life. There are those who will say they know what Socrates and Plato were, sexually, but in reality this says more about the readers than it does about the philosophers.  The two men’s private lives were not seen as warranting our investigative gaze. Move closer to our time – say Emanual Kant – and I would say never in any of the writings about his philosophical views are Kant’s sexual interests referenced. However by the time we get to Jean Paul Sartre we see a shift. The relationship between Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir is an important part of how Sartre is read as a philosopher and an author. Come even closer to today and this year one of the films nominated for a film award is about  Stephen Hawking.  The modern biography references things we would never expect to be told about Kant. A good read that documents this shift and these features of modern Western society is Erving Goffman’s book, Stigma: Notes on the management of a spoiled profile.

Where the modern biography – and even the notion of a profile – gets interesting is when one has a negative bit, a fact or factor that might be construed as bringing the person’s reputation into question. Take Martin Heidegger for example.  His links to the German Nazi movement are often pointed out when commenting on his work and assessing its credibility; not all commentators will reference the matter, but there is no surprise when the connections are discussed.  In a very different field we have the example of Richard Wagner and how Jewish feeling against him and his music can be very strong because of particular features of his profile.

The ‘modern’ way to manage this sort of thing is to actually put it out there early  to acknowledge the difficult bit, and not attempt to hide it. Where a person offers a profile and later a difficult bit surfaces, one’s audience feels ‘wronged’ somehow, the reaction against the person can be very strong. What I am saying here is that, in our modern ways of thinking and behaving, we seem to have shifted what we consider privacy involves. One gets the feeling that, for a celebrity, privacy is simply not something this person has a right to.  The profile of the sex offender is actually a kind of modern-day criminal celebrity.

To date, Stephen Fry has published three books that make up his ongoing narrative about himself. It is more memoir than biography. It is my belief Fry has rightly understood how this is all done.  Pulling no punches, his latest volume – More Fool Me – details his use of cocaine as a younger man, putting out so much ‘stuff’ for us to consume that it seems like oversupply, a surfeit.  In a sense we are shock-proofed regarding who he is as a person. I had considered buying Fry’s latest book about himself but after reading the reviews I am reluctant to do it because it all seems just too much. I argue it is this rather novel way of  putting himself out there that has allowed him to retain his on-going social and cultural position as ‘the darling of modern England’ and at the same time self-narrate himself as an admirer/lover to another who is very much his junior. A classic case of “still breaking rules, but that’s okay”.

I will close this post by making a brief comment on the inquiry Justice Lowell Goddard has been set up to lead. Goddard is not the first person to be put in this role, the first two leaders having been obliged to resign. What is significant is the new feature this body has – statutory powers to compel a person to appear before it and answer questions. In America’s past Joseph McCarthy and his links to the House Un-American Committee have become an icon for what can be called state ‘over-reach’. I can imagine the notion of loyalty to America and the stigma of being thought ‘a danger to the American dream’ is not too far from what the modern day call to rally around the flag of the fight to oppose sexual abuse of children has come to be for us. I am, of course, not wishing to denigrate national loyalty to one’s country – in this case America – any more than appear to be dismissive about the need to address how children can be treated terribly by adults. It is my perception that England is very much in the grip of a process that is a very serious indeed. It is my hope, of course, that the statutory powers this current inquire now has will be exercised with care. The last thing we need is for the specter of Joseph McCarthy to walk amongst us.

Justice Lowell Goddard is one of sixty three New Zealand judges who have been ranked in 2014 and the results posted on the Kiwi First website.  What follows are comments that flow from three items found on this site.

  • The first article offers its version of how that ranking of New Zealand judges was done – “… sixty-three judges in total were ranked, based upon their melded average score of four factors, on a scale of 1 to 10; perceived intelligence, fairness, knowledge of law and personal character.” What is noteworthy is Goddard sits at the lowest slot on that list.
  • In another piece on the same Kiwi First website Goddard is profiled and the picture is far from comforting. It seems best a reader go look at what is said for themselves. What seems a common perception of her is put in this sentence found on the site – “Lawyers who appear before Justice Lowell Goddard generally have little regard for her as a judge who is willing to conform to law or to rule consistent with relevant facts.  They are far more impressed with her impeccable dress and makeup.”
  • The most damning statement, and the author of this web item links what is said directly to the new appointment of Justice Goddard to the UK role, the comment is made –”her due diligence determined lawyers in New Zealand broadly consider Ms Goddard a political puppet.”

Justice Goddard is presented by some in very different images in the media items that come to us via our televisions and the radio. That is on its own a real source of concern. If the internet can offer such a significant set of criticisms of her and yet the mainstream media are silent on any of this then I find myself asking why. This move in England to set up this inquiry is significant and I am convinced a thoughtful and critical eye needs to be kept on what unfolds.


We see what we want to see

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review - details offered below.

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review – details offered below.

A friend recently invited me to a screening of “The Imitation Game”, a movie that offers a portrait of “mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing”, as one reviewer describes him.

Susan Sontag, in her essay Against Interpretation, worked to make readers more aware of what she saw as a false claim to be merely describing something or that modern Western self-belief that one can remove subjectivity and have only some bare-bones way of writing.  She felt that was just one more rule-bound way of writing, claiming “there are no rules telling me how to write.”

Sontag’s self-awareness as a writer and a critic is precisely what I want to work with here.  If a Jewish patron were to see The Imitation Game, they would very likely see more than the story of Alan Turning the wronged cryptanalyst; the ‘wrong’ here would for them necessarily and inescapably involve an understanding of what went on in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

We would be unlikely to find a survivor from Turing’s time in the movie theatre; if I were to talk of Turing as a wronged homosexual some of my readers would nod their heads in agreement.  It would be interesting to locate – or, better put, acknowledge – what other current-day wrongs can be mapped onto Turing’s story.

While writing this blog piece I noted that in the reviews, some from well-known sites, the reference to Turing’s homosexuality was often not explicit, as if the reader would take it for granted.  What is going on here represents a further social marker of change – the homosexual man is in the process of being socially repositioned.  Western societies and cultures now find themselves ‘after’ a period of emancipation; they live inside what sociologists call a phase of normalization.  The homosexual man is just like all men: he is now ‘included’ and the putting right of the wrong includes no longer having his sexuality referenced.  In other parts of the world – in certain African states and in Putin’s Russia, for example – Turing’s experience of prejudice and socially-configured hostility is playing out as violence sanctioned by church and state.

I’d be doing a bad job if I failed to acknowledge inside mainstream Western societies and cultures there are other voices, other messages – and the gay lobby, I suspect, is well aware of this.

What I find perplexing is a subtext which insists that the Turing story is only about gay men, that to do what I am doing now is somehow not valid.  As a critic and a film viewer I would want to leave open how a movie might be interpreted.  Jews, persons of colour, and women have every right to see themselves inside this movie’s depiction of individuals who are wronged.

What I experienced whilst watching The Imitation Game was that feeling you have when you see what you want to see – Morten Tyldum‘s Turing is  there, of course – but what is most striking is that whatever piques one’s interest is there as well.  What I saw was not limited to the story of a homosexual man; I also felt an empathy for the experience of those who are currently labelled ‘paedophile’.

One begins to hear all the reasons why this can’t be the case – mustn’t be the case.  Turing was brilliant; that is not what one expects to see inside the profile of the paedophile, is it?  Well, actually, the modern gay movement knows only too well most gay men aren’t brilliant either, but they expect to be afforded respect as persons on the basis of the consumerized, value-added Alan Turing the film serves up to us.

Second objection would be: but we see homosexuals differently today; we know better.  Funny that – seems to me that’s what the movie is on about: how a society can get things so wrong.  For those who are unaware of the work of John Money, he was a New Zealand sexologist (1921–2006); one of his professional concerns was what he referred to as ‘paedophilic genius’ (discussed inside Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions).  Money gave Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie as examples of paedophilic genius.

As with the homosexual man in the 1950s – and (as discussed above) in some non-Western countries today – social stigma all too often blocks and hides the contribution and giftedness of the ‘deviant’/’pervert’/’child sex-abuser’. I know some readers will be very angry with what I say next: in my lifetime, Michael Jackson would have to be the West’s poster-boy when it comes to paedophilic genius (Tom O’Carroll has authored a text under the name of Carl Toms called “Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin… The A-Z of All the King’s Boys“).

The homosexual story is a good teacher when it comes to understanding how stigma works and what is at stake when it operates in full swing.  Those of a more academic bent might take a look at Stanley Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” (The 1972 version of this book is referenced below; the link offered in this paragraph is the 2011 Routledge Classic of the same book.)

Sociologists refer to stigma in terms of social distance. A recent study – “Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys” – looked at stigma and the paedophile noting that in our current societies and cultures the paedophile is the most strongly negative profile inside our spaces.  This condemnation – and even hatred – is practiced inside our societies, perhaps because people tell themselves this social practice keeps children safe; Jahnke, Imhoff and Hoyer argue this is not the case; in fact the very opposite may be true – stigmatization of the paedophile may make child sexual abuse more likely.  The abstract for this paper states, “The strongest predictors of social distance towards people with paedophilia were affective reactions to this group (anger and, inversely, associated, pity) and the political attitude of right-wing authoritarianism …)”.

Given that we see what we want to see, was what I felt when watching that film an example of personal delusion?  I don’t think so; in my view, seeing what you want to see sits at the heart of all art.  If that is the way things work, then failing to admit this is where real delusion lives.

What I think is important is not how one’s sense of empathy for Alan Turing as a gay man might map onto the paedophile.  The real issue is seeing the ‘person’ who would want to punish Turing in his lifetime.  The key question is, Does that person – the one who sees a subhuman object they can kick, punish, imprison for being ‘that way‘ – live in our world today?  My sense of things is that yes, that person is very much alive … and kicking.

Put “The Imitation Game” on your list of films to watch – see what you see.


  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge
  • Downing, L., Morland, I., & Sullivan, N. (2015, 4/01). Pervert or sexual libertarian?: Meet John Money, “the father of f***ology” [Excerpt from the Book “Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts”]. Salon (USA). Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2015/01/04/pervert_or_sexual_libertarian_meet_john_money_the_father_of_fology/
  • Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015, 20 June). Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(1), 21-
  • Pedophilia: Biosocial Demensions. (1990) (J. R. Felerman, Ed.).
  • Songtag, S. (2001). Against Interpretation. USA: Picador.
  • Staff Writer. (2014). The Imitation Game [Web commentator on Film and TV shows.]. In Rotten Tomatoes (Movie Info).
  • Toms, C. (2010). Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin. The A-Z of All the King’s Boys. Leicester, United Kingdom: Troubador.
  • Tyldum, M. (2014). The Imitation Game [Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong.]. U.S.-U.K.) A Weinstein Co. (in U.S.)/StudioCanal (in U.K.) release and presentation of A Black Bear Pictures/Bristol Automotive production. (International sales: FilmNation Entertainment, Los Angeles.) (113 minutes). Retrieved from http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/telluride-film-review-the-imitation-game-1201294590/

Historic sex abuse cases

Taken from piece in MailOnline (See below for details).

Taken from piece in MailOnline, Source details/link given below.

Recently the British media offered yet another example of how things work for them and for us when telling a story. The news item was about Chris Denning and how he has been put in prison, again, for sexual abuse of the young. In this blog piece I am not writing about how they got it right or got it wrong; what interests me is the experience of the processes that typically shapes a historic sex assault case in countries like England, America, and yes New Zealand 2014/15. People may find these historic sex cases difficult and ‘annoying’ but in a way they are very much how we are as a society.

What are often referred to as historic sex charges involve allegations an adult has broken laws when the actions taken are very much in the past; in Chris Denning’s case the period was some thirty years ago – during the 1970s and 1980s. When events are located in the past they are rendered via our gaze, our looking back. How that rendering is done is what this post will seek to discuss.

Many fail to understand this process which generates feelings of betrayal and anger. This experience is not only possible for those who believe a child or youth has been sexually abused, it can also be how those who identify with the accused can experience the process.

Working with accounts of past events is hardly a new riddle to unpack. In my past professional life working with religious texts was central to what I did and through this work I have become familiar with how language and interpretation of items which sit in our past has been at the centre of fierce social debates. Religious texts are a central part of society, and have been so for our culture for as long as we have records.  In my lifetime I can see how working with texts has been shaped by discussions inside literary studies, philosophy, psychology, put briefly all the knowledge fields have had a say about how such texts can be rendered – the process is on-going. What I argue here first came into view for me because these ways of thinking were deployed when discussing accounts of early Christianity, and now I can see the very same ideas impact on how one does history and how one constructs a text for a law court – text is everywhere; in a radical sense, all texts are shaped by the same processes – they are made, read, and rendered.

For a time there was a belief we could, with discipline, retrieve an account of the past that was freed of our prejudices and such accounts could be seen as stable. I recall reading Michel Foucault argue such a discipline sits at the heart of what an intellectual and the academic world is tasked to do. In Religion this discipline was discussed under the headings of hermeneutics and exegesis. In our current time one of the interesting differences between the Muslim and Christian traditions  is how Christianity has found a new sense of itself by allowing these literary tools to help the reader discuss and access the texts Christians see as important to them. Muslims see their texts – often shared texts with the Christians – as important to them as well; however they have so far resisted bringing together the discussions that live inside secular discussions of literature, history, and philosophy and their readings of the Koran. From where I am now I see both what Foucault was arguing for – a disciplined accessing of the past and a rendering of that as an object of study – and a different set of readings shaped by postmodernism. Simply put we understand that we are continuing to tell ourselves stories and that this is just what we do.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with religious texts or just prefer a secular example for a discussion of how to write and how to read let’s look at modern literature. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell is a tale many of us are familiar with and it provides an interesting way of pointing to some of the debates focused on what is history and how to approach accounts offered to us about the past. The novel by Orwell is clearly a caricature and through the story we are offered pointers about ‘truth-telling’. I argue here that to point to an object is to imply its opposite. Orwell’s novel offers, along with it’s fictional tale, a belief we can do history. He shows us as a reader there are ways we use to decide how and if an account offered to us is legitimate. Orwell’s novel refers to institutions, social practices, and a view of knowledge where the reader can see these accounts of the past are reworked and rejigged – the principles of newspeak. At the very same time as this is offered to the reader its opposite sits silently in the background; accounts of the past can be rendered that are trustworthy.

Orwell and Foucault are not the only names to throw into the ring when discussing how accounts can be assessed. Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard spring to mind, and whole groups as well, Marxists, the French Nouveau Philosophies of the 1970s, Feminists, religious factions, pop and media culture, the list is extensive. The point is not so much who is right in some absolute sense, the issue is how accounts are made, read, the rules that govern discourse. We have in such a short space of time shifted how we decide what can be trusted when making judgements about any account we view inside Western culture.

In the mid-1970s television became a new way authors could access their readers. The old pathways of legitimation were pushed to one side as a TV interview with an author was capable of moving a book from obscurity to being a best seller. Now, 2015, it can be argued this is what is happening with the Internet, and why the media cultures which have become so central to how we live have become so powerful. Engage a person or a group in a debate inside these spaces and one has the sense one has lost control of what might happen. The rule has become ‘enter these spaces at your own risk’. It is my view those in the academic world, and in the legal spaces as well, share a common failing. The features of pop-culture and the world of media are often under-estimated in how these spaces gives expression and direction to both who we are and who we are becoming.

Our legal courtrooms are no exception to what is being argued here. A court of law may well task itself with the business of finding out what happened in the past, involving the competing claims made by prosecution and defence. In fact two things are happening, we can see how we both want to believe we can get to the truth – that the past can be a rendered as an object we can view and make judgements about – and we are aware of how constructed our accounts of life are. The picture is, for all this complexity, still incomplete.

Michel Foucault has argued discourses have rules. You cannot say just anything, not just anyone can speak. Where one is looking at a case like that of Chris Denning the rules in play block the very possibility of speaking inside the legal spaces as if he is ‘just like us’ – at the heart of the profile of the sex offender is how his humanity is not to be ‘believed’, any more than one would be free to construct an account of Osama Ben Laden as ‘just like us’.

Where an adult has had sexual relations with the young, and those relationships violate our laws about sex with the young, efforts to reconstruct the past as it may be understood by the adult involved are unlikely to succeed. Notions of friendship, consent, love, they are all blocked. Because of the rules that govern current discourse – to use Foucault’s way of viewing this process – one is not able to speak and in a sense that past the accused has in their head never happened. The rules Foucault speaks of are fluid, ever changing, and some spaces operate differently than others. The law court, the media spaces, blog sites, a discussion at a pub, a talk in our homes with friends, all offer different rules, but there are patterns, blockages – ‘you can’t say that …’, templates.

In a way analogous to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four what we have that guides our lives is both a textual process governed by rules, and its opposite. It is not as if, in an objectively real sense, what Chris Denning as an convicted sex offender has had as a set of experiences has been made to disappear.  With discipline one might well reconstruct an account Denning could look at and say, yes, that is what happened. However the tale we tell ourselves about those who have sexual contact with the young has a template that is dark, condemnatory and punitive. Yes, sexual assault does happen in the sense that unwanted sexual encounters take place, exploitation is a component of our social relations as people. My point is many do find the historic sex case difficult to experience because of all of what I am unpacking here, especially the person standing in the dock. (What contributes to this experience is far more than the simplistic question ‘Did you do it?’; to pose the question ‘What happened? is more open.)

As a closing remark let me say the blog discussion offered by Tom O’Carroll about the Chris Denning case is an interesting rendering of the past. It includes many bits that are unlikely to ever find themselves living inside the courtroom. Hopefully someone will find a way to allow Denning to view that discussion, he might enjoy the read.


What are we running from?

stifled - peanuts 02

Cartoon taken from a site on Peanuts. (click image to access)

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

Jacques Derrida

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.

Cool at 13

Image used in the media piece by Jan Hofffman.

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.

Kia Marama Unit 02

Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit

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.

Eddie, a minor attracted person with no sexual contacts with any child, is committed to keeping this profile. (Interviewed inside The Paedophile Next Door.)

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.







What you start as may matter to you; what you become matters more.

resilienceWhat does it mean to be a good person? Or more to the point, what does it take to be seen as a good person? Here in New Zealand in 2014, these are vital questions and they relate to so many current issues – politics, the economy, inequality, child abuse. The list goes on.

The behaviours of our social and political leaders are at times ethically bankrupt. There is growing inequality between rich and poor, and between the diverse cultures that make us up as a nation. Child poverty and child abuse are crucial problems, and they justify the attention they receive in the media and in public forums. At the same time as all this is happening for us as a wider society, the minor attracted person is being sent the very clear message that nothing they do can be viewed as constructive or worthwhile, ethical or good.

In modern Western culture and society the pedophile (minor attracted person) is dehumanised. The message to such a person is he/she may as well as give up. (See Dunham’s media piece, details below.) In a conversation I had with a man who is minor attracted – he is not living in New Zealand – he made the following point: “This is the message some send the pedophile – Why do anything to help others, as a pedophile society sends the pedophile the message, you can do no good. If there is a burning building with people in danger, don’t bother saving anyone, if you do anything good, the credit you gain will be short-lived. When people know what you are, that good you did will evaporate.” The people you help in that burning house may be lucky because you helped them but you will gain no thanks. This chap does not see himself this way – he is certainly not going to harm anyone – but his words are a wake-up call. He was telling me how things are; this is the thinking of so many about the pedophile, and in saying this I am challenged to include those nice educated types.

You might think things are different in an academic context. After all, these people are educated; they don’t consume media pieces in an unthinking way. The language people use in academic settings may well be different, and the arrogant and hostile attitudes are less likely to be expressed there, but these spaces are no more optimistic. It is this lesson that I think was handed to me recently at a talk I attended here in Wellington. On an internal level I have taken this on board. I find myself changing, not because things are better – more humane; no I am changing because I find myself more able to acknowledge the way things are.

The talk was part of a sociology conference – titled Competing Responsibilities: The politics and ethics of responsibility in contemporary life. I want to be very honest and careful in what I offer here. No one was nasty, no words spoken were like those of some blogger or media person slagging off at “those pedophile bastards”. However beneath the text of what was said and done the mood really was ‘just give up’. Leaving the conference venue, I realized how disappointed I am with the academic community here in New Zealand.

In his keynote address (Making us resilient: responsible citizens for uncertain times) Prof. Nikolas Rose discussed what I considered to be a good idea – he said that notions of risk management can be more positively reframed inside the idea of resilience. Modern life is full of talk of risk management – and this blogsite is named with that in mind – but the problem is that such ideas imply anxiety. With the social construct ‘pedophile’ anxiety blossoms into moral panic. Professor Rose’s words seemed very wise indeed.

Resilience is a term used when talking about helping victims of sexual abuse. Prof. Rose’s talk offered an archeology of the term resilience, together with a critical analysis. He even went on to ask, Where to next? It was in the spirit of this approach that I asked my question: When looking for a less anxiety driven and more positive view of our world can we use resilience in relation to the minor attracted person? After all, that person is required to manage a life in a very hostile society.

Prof. Rose’s response to my question was disappointing. To express an optimism where a minor attracted person can be invited to become more resilient to what is currently happening both for them and for those they are connected to – friends, family – is a non-starter, even in the academic world.

Prof. Rose’s response to my question had three steps. First he wanted to set aside the reference to pedophilia – ‘after all it is a bit of a bombshell topic’. He commented next that it would be problematic to take a soldier about to go into battle and kill people – to become the cause of considerable suffering to others – and attempt to use the term ‘resilient’ when talking about that soldier. Of course I and those in the lecture hall understood what he was saying: This is how people fear a pedophile would behave. So for Prof. Rose, and others, the pedophile is primarily a dangerous person. Rose spoke of the concern he had the pedophile might develop a suit of body armour that made them less likely to see or acknowledge the harm they do. Clearly my proposition that a pedophile be even considered to be involved in a life where being an ethical subject is central is out of the question.

The third step in Prof. Rose’s answer was to speak of his concern – and I would join him here – that some British celebrities have been made into demons and monsters, and how unfair this is. But notice what is central here is the idea that the wrong people are being made demons. It is really about the sights on your gun being out of whack; it is not about putting the gun down and nor is it an acknowledgement that dehumanizing people is a problem in its own right.

A sociologist is always going to resist being turned into a psychologist. In his talk Prof. Rose explained that resilience is more than a reference to an individual’s character or internal disposition. Resilience also involves a set of social relations that surround the individual and that this wider dimension, often a concern for a sociologist, was frequently underestimated in academic critiques of modern life. I found myself taking on board what he was arguing for.

When talk occurs in public spaces about pedophilia and sexual abuse of the young, one sometimes hears references to the need to promote resilience in the child. Listening to Prof. Rose I began to see how one could apply the concept of resilience to discuss the other party in such situations – How can the term resilience be used when talking of the adult who is minor attracted and is seeking to construct for themselves an ethic of conduct that wishes to act responsibly and also strives to own their self-making?

A second aspect is precisely what Prof. Rose was arguing for – how the social relations that surround the individual are as important as that person’s character. As things stand now the minor attracted person finds themselves stigmatised and excluded from society. How does the individual grappling with this process remain socially connected, a part of society? Resilience is sometimes referred to as a capacity to bounce back; it is here one can say the minor attracted person needs to push back against their social exclusion, to see it less as risk management and more as resilience.

My perspective and that of Prof. Rose were clearly very different. I see the minor attracted person experiencing suffering and isolation in modern life; the language of resilience might offer a more positive way to formulate a path forward. For Prof. Rose the minor attracted person simply has no permission to use ‘resilience’ in this way.

There is a set of rules at play here – including a rule about how to break the rules. (For further discussion of this point see Foucault’s text “Fearless Speech”, details offered below.) When it comes to talking about the minor attracted person, a speaker can find themselves saying something that draws a strong negative reaction. That response may well be an indicator a discursive rule has been broken. In theory my asking the question in the context of an academic conference was legitimate but the flaw in my thinking was soon apparent – in relation to the minor attracted person, talk in an academic forum is very similar to talk in a non-academic setting.

Prof. Rose did show a humanitarian feeling for certain individuals: he expressed concern about the allegations and media talk that surrounded Rolf Harris and others. Rose’s message clearly pointed to the poor use of the term ‘pedophile’ in the media coverage, but he seemed not to be showing any real insight or even interest in the life situation of the minor attracted person. He is one of many who I suspect see that beating up on old men (see Guardian article) is not the thing to do, but one would be unwise to see this humanitarian concern for the older person signals the arrival of that compassion I keep waiting for.

I have changed. My attendance at the lecture was not a mistake. I can see how things are, but I am not giving up.

As things stand, a valid question would be: Where can we source other perspectives that present as more open to what is at stake in these relationships and situations.

In this blog post the academic setting references have largely been those of sociology, psychology, linguistics and media studies. If we look at the disciplines of psychotherapy, literature, and critical theory, they include reference to the management of desire as part of managing a life. It is my view now that such ideas as these, alongisde those of Prof. Rose and his ideas of resilience, the minor attracted person, the young, and the rest of us can find a way forward.


  • Dunham A. ‘Paedophiles should commit suicide’: expert. The Local: Spains News in English. 2014, 18 August. Spain. Online Newspaper.
  • Foucault M. Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), Distributed by MIT Press; 2001.
  • Harris gets jail sentence of five years nine months. The New Zealand Heald. 2014, 4 July. New Zealand. Online Newspaper. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11287931
  • Lawyer says age of consent should be lowered to end ‘persecution of old men’. (2013, Thursday 9 May 2013 12.22 BST). The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/09/lawyer-age-consent-persecution-men
  • Rose N. Making us resilient: responsible citizens for uncertain times. In: Keynote Talk. Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. 15th to 17th August; 2014. Competing Responsibilities Conference.

Re-imagining the Modern Man

drunk-superman edited

… the good bloke is transformed into a “figure of dread and suspicion”

“I’m sorry for being a man, right now,” David Cunliffe told a Women’s Refuge Symposium recently. “Because family and sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men against women and children.”

David Cunliffe is the leader of the Labour Party, the largest opposition group in New Zealand’s parliament. His intended audience was clearly not only the women in the room, but it would be a mistake to argue his only target audience was NZ men, even when he said, “Wake up, stand up, man up and stop this bullshit.’’ Cunliffe’s words are cited on a blog called Bowalley Road, which reports that later, in a TV3 interview with Patrick Gower, the Labour leader remained staunch in his position, despite the criticism he had begun to attract.

It goes without saying that women need to be respected, protected and valued. In what is offered here, there is no effort to promote the idea that one section of society should benefit at the expense of any other part. Women, men, children, ethnic groups, sexual minorities, marginalised groups – and the criminal is included in this list – all these people are the beneficiaries of a better society and a future world worth building and fighting for.

When considering the roles men play in all this, an important distinction is necessary: one can speak of how men see themselves in general, or one can focus on how men view themselves in relation to the violence David Cunliffe was highlighting. Chris Trotter, the blogster behind Bowalley Road, sees matters of identity and human responsibility as linked to the issue of social benefit – who benefits from the way things are? He argues that all men benefit when they live inside societies and cultures that are patriarchal, even if they as individuals would see themselves as nice guys. So for him all men must own the negative outcomes of patriarchy. I can agree with him and yet it is actually the subtext of that ownership I want to look at. I don’t want men to say yes to a belief that they as individuals and as a group are somehow flawed – men bad/ women good.

It is a genuinely modern view that a text is no longer a sequence of words or marks on a page that are set in motion by the intentions of the writer. A modern reader appreciates that how a text is read is more important than how it was intended to be read. So a good author, that is a thoughtful and knowing author, actually looks at both the intended message and the many ways the text could be read. Viewed critically Chris Trotter’s position could be read as a little naïve. He certainly has the intention of addressing the issue of violence against women and children; some of the other possible readings of his text, however, carry the potential to misdirect New Zealand society and culture. Note what is being argued here: neither David Cunliffe nor Chris Trotter intends to let men off the hook; the danger nonetheless is that men might become less willing to own and explore who they are and short-circuit the kind of reflection that is needed if a way forward is to be found.

The reflection process for this blog piece actually began inside an Australian media item. What was offered there was, unlike the messages of Cunlilffe and Trotter, a wrong turn as far as leadership messages go.

The local call to regret being a man from David Cunliffe sadly sounds so similar to what the Australian piece delivered it seemed sensible to open with what happened for us as New Zealanders first and then use the Australian piece to shed light on where not to go.

Before getting into the detail, a few general points are pertinent. Leadership can involve sending messages to people about what a person should do, and that can get very tricky. Some situations are difficult to navigate; one such instance is to say something critical about a person who is a victim of social oppression. It is even harder to say it to them face to face, although that may have the best chance of being understood by others.

Having read some of the texts authored by Hannah Arendt – one of which was her book The Origins of Totalitarianism – I see her as an articulate intellectual of her day. She had to deal with just this kind of situation: she was critical of the Jewish leadership regarding how they managed their role in the period when the German political movement led by Hitler brought many of the Jewish population to their deaths. When she made those comments some of the Jewish community saw this as rubbing salt into an already deep wound. Despite the victim status of the Jewish community Arendt was, in my view, right in what she had to say. (A good account of this process is given in the 2012 movie about Hannah Arendt.)

Group-think – and that is how I will refer to it – is a process where people give away ownership of how they do their thinking, and (sadly) become easily manipulated by others. Arendt was speaking about how the Jewish group, en masse, just stopped being sufficiently critical and reflective to understand what was happening to them. This is precisely what I sometimes see men doing when they are required to deal with matters concerning the sexual abuse of women and children.

Women and children have certainly been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of men, and continue to suffer harm. Our social and cultural awareness of this issue is higher now than it was when I was a younger man. Given the importance of this issue and the need to take steps to stop the abuse some men are adopting a group-think approach that is deeply flawed. I saw this step being taken inside a piece published this week by the Australian media magazine, The Age. The item was authored by Sam de Brito and the title of the article was “Suffer the men, not the little children”.

De Brito points to an image of the past in which men saw themselves as good blokes – “part of the scenery at parks, beaches and playgrounds” – but then the image changes, and the good bloke is transformed into a “figure of dread and suspicion”. De Brito is offering the view that the change is best explained by the sexual abuse of women and children by some men. He says the good bloke image has been shattered by accounts of abusive men. But the ordinary man senses that this ‘self’ he is being offered today is not really him; his problem includes a generalised not-being-sure.

This is not how I read de Brito: his writing does sound like he understands the average bloke; he has been to a guru, to check that he’s right. But what he has been told by psychologist and author Steve Biddulph is what I choose to call a wrong turn – it was at this point the group-think error unpacked itself. (Biddulph’s book, Raising Boys, is a worthwhile read.)

Biddulph offered de Brito the view the current environment of mistrust towards males is simply “a correction”. “For decades, in fact centuries,” Biddulph explains, “people were in denial that such things could happen – priests sodomising little boys, TV stars molesting pre-teen girls, and so on. … So when it finally all came out, and we shifted to the vigilance we should have had all along, it became necessary to suspect everyone.”

De Brito argues the path that unfolds runs along these lines – “The resulting apprehension and scepticism about men and children is an undoubted inconvenience for guys today, however, we just have to accept it.” De Brito has Biddulph closing off his overview with the comment, “It’s tough, but like security at airports [and the presumption we all could be a terrorist] it is probably worth it.”

I view Biddulph as behaving in a very similar way to how Jewish leaders responded to the political moves by the German leadership under Adolf Hitler. There are some very powerful movers and shakers at work in our present, just as there were in 1940s Germany – and yes, one needs to assess what can and cannot be done; however, the level of capitulation imaged for us in Biddulph’s advice is frightening. It is vital that fathers and male caregivers love the children in their care; to let go of that is a serious wrong turn.

My somewhat utopic vision looks forward to societies and cultures where men respect, support and love the young; and equally, oppose and guard against all disrespect, abuse and indifference towards them.


Arendt, Hannah

1973    The Origins of Totalitarianism. San Diego; New York; London: Harcourt Press.

Biddulph, Steve

2014    Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different – and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men. New York: Ten Speed Press.

de Brito, Sam

2014    Suffer the Men, not the Little Children. Newspaper Comment. The Age [Australia], 24/June, Online Newspaper, Comment Section.

von Trotta, Margarethe

2012    Hannah Arendt (2012). Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer. Heimatfilm. 113 minutes.