‘Virtue is its own reward’. This saying’s homespun simplicity tries to persuade us of something that deep down we know not to be true. We know that the real rewards of being virtuous are approval, acceptance and respect.
‘Virtuous Pedophiles‘ is an Internet-based mutual support group founded in June 2012 by Ethan Edwards and Nick Devin. They emerged from B4UACT – a pioneering paedophile support organisation established in 2003.
The goals of Virtuous Pedophiles, as stated on their website’s home page, are:
“[..] to reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia by letting people know that a substantial number of pedophiles do not molest children, and to provide peer support and information about available resources to help pedophiles lead happy, productive lives. Our highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.”
Virtuous Pedophiles share many of the perspectives and beliefs of B4UACT. However:
“B4UACT officially makes a point of not saying that adult-child sexual activity is wrong aside from the need to obey laws. At the time (2011), its public actions and the discussion forum both favored the view that adult-child sexual activity was fundamentally OK if only societal attitudes would change. We felt the need for a separate group grounded in the fundamental belief that sexual activity between adults and children is wrong.” (see under ‘Q15 – Our history’)
Virtuous Pedophiles have had some significant success in getting their message heard in the anglosphere media. Channel 4 last November broadcast a humane and compassionate documentary called ‘The Paedophile Next Door‘. More recently, the Virtuous Pedophile, Todd Nickerson, has published two articles in Salon, and has given a lengthy interview on Irish Talk Radio, in which he articulately and intelligently presented a view of paedophilia few of the readers or listeners were likely to have encountered before.
But ‘He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon’; and whilst Virped has undoubtedly had some success in making inroads into the impervious and adamantine-hard carapace of public ignorance and hatred that surrounds paedophilia, I believe it has only been able so at considerable intellectual and emotional cost.
Virtue and Ethics
It is maybe a bit unfair to dwell on the name ‘Virtuous Pedophiles’. Ethan Edwards himself admits that he and Nick Devin, “found it hard to pick a name for this group that did everything [they] wanted’. But their name does provide a useful prism through which to consider the philosophy, actions and impact of Virtuous Pedophiles.
Ethics, Morality and Virtue are three concepts which represent the stages leading to right action:
- Ethics – the philosophical examination of what constitutes right and wrong, or good and bad behavior
- Morality – the function of applying ethical principles (you don’t have ‘ethical’ behaviour, you have ‘moral’ behaviour)
- Virtue – behaviour guided by high moral standards
Ethics can exist without Virtue: a discussion of an abstract problem, such as the Trolley Problem, does not result in Virtue unless the participants in the discussion are in a situation where they can act on the moral decisions elucidated by such a discussion.
Virtue can also exist without Ethics: someone who refuses to kill because doing so violates the Golden Rule is acting ethically, whilst someone who refuses to kill simply because society, a god or some other authority tells him not to is not acting ethically since ‘obedience’ is a renunciation of one’s capacity to make ethical calculations. Both these people can act ‘Virtuously’, having each come by very different routes to the same moral conclusion e.g. that it is wrong to kill. Only one however, is acting ‘ethically’.
This difference is an important one – the route by which one arrives at one’s moral decisions often has very significant repercussions.
The Moral Position of Virtuous Pedophiles
Virtuous Paedophiles divide paedophiles into two camps:
“Pro-contact: Philosophy among some pedophiles that children are perfectly capable of consenting to sexual relationships with adults and thus consensual adult-child sex is fundamentally OK.”
“Anti-contact: Philosophy among some pedophiles that children are not mature enough to give meaningful consent to sexual relationships with adults and thus all adult-child sex is fundamentally immoral, whether there is perceived consent or not. The Virtuous Pedophiles community was founded based on this philosophy.” (from their Glossary of Terms)
This creates a dichotomy in which they allocate to those whom they disagree with an extreme and untenable position. In truth the great majority of so-called ‘pro-contact’ paedophiles (a better name for this position is ‘Pro-Choice’) would be as adamant as any Virtuous Pedophile regarding the necessity of refraining from acting on their desires. This is not because of a belief in some vague, but eternal and ineluctable, mechanism of harm intrinsic to any sensual contact between a child and an adult, but rather out of an awareness that no matter how equable, trusting and caring the relationship, or how consensual and child-led any intimacy, one should not risk exposing a child to society’s most intense and damaging form of stigma.
On the question of sensual interactions between children and adults there is little or no difference between the ‘anti-contact’ position and the mandatory position of Society. This could be a coincidence: Virpeds may have arrived at this conclusion through evidence-based reasoning, debate, questioning and the acceptance of doubt. Or they may have adopted the default position of society in an act of faith akin to that of the religious person who refuses to kill out of obedience to a god.
Show your working out!
There are two characteristics that distinguish morality arrived at through reflection and morality arrived at through obedience to authority.
To arrive at morality using ethics involves considering the many sides of a question, it involves doubt (after all what’s the point on embarking on ethical reflection if you are already certain of your conclusions?), it involves imagining your way into the minds of those you disagree with and trying to understand why they believe what they believe, it involves considering situations and contingencies which are not clear cut.
Morals reached through ethical reflection involve a lot of ‘working out’, are complex, contingent, and usually require a long essay or book to explain adequately. They are made up of shades of grey.
Morals obtained from authority are definitive and can be stated briefly. They rarely acknowledge nuances, doubts, context and exceptions. They also transfer authority to those who repeat them. Think of the ten commandments. They are ‘black and white’.
Of course a glossary is not a book-length analysis – so to accuse the above-quoted statements of Virped’s morality of deriving from ‘authority’, on the basis of their brevity and clear-cut nature, would be unfair.
So is there any evidence on their site and forum as to how this moral position was arrived at? Is there any evidence that they’ve noted and addressed any weaknesses in their stance, that they’ve acknowledged counter-arguments? The following, from Virpeds’ rules, definitively answers these questions:
“All the discussion in the group takes as its premise that sexual activity between adults and children is wrong. The idea that it is only the legal system and misguided attitudes of society that keep adult-child sex from being a good thing is not welcome here. Detailed discussion of why such activity is wrong is not allowed either. It’s fine to do that in other forums, but not here. It reopens the question for members who don’t want to do that.” (from INTRODUCTION and RULES, RULES, RULES)
This blanket refusal to engage with challenging ideas should be balanced against the necessity for such a site and forum to state, establish and police its core philosophy and principals. I participate of several paedophile forums that will have no truck with non-consensual interactions with children. I am sure that any sadistically-inclined paedophile may feel this unfairly excludes them and that such a position is casually dismissive of arguments they might put forwards to support their desires.
So why do I feel comfortable with the policy of some sites which don’t allow the defense of paedo-sadism but not with virped’s blanket ban on the consideration of so-called ‘pro-contact’ ideas?
I think it’s because, for Virpeds, the distinction between pro- and anti- contact is not a peripheral issue but a core issue. They state this as the difference which caused them to secede from B4UACT (see quote above): it defines their existence, their membership, and is a determining factor in how they present themselves to, and access, the media and the public.
This suppression of any arguments which throw into question the philosophy upon which Virpeds are based resembles that of cults and dark-age religions which, through forbidding access to inconvenient narratives or labeling such narratives as beyond the pale, preemptively immunize their membership against adverse influences, ensuring that ‘once you’re in there’s no easy way out’.
On a more subjective and personal level I certainly have the impression that on Twitter, and other such sites, Virtuous Pedophiles have a dismissive and censorious attitude towards anyone whom they perceive as having ‘pro-contact’ ideas. If one doesn’t find oneself blocked or un-followed for expressing ‘pro-choice’ ideas, they have often seemed to think that they can shut down discussions with statements such as “Children cannot consent. End of. Move on”.
“Children cannot consent. End of.”
I don’t intend to write a detailed criticism of Virpeds’ stance here as that would take up a whole essay in itself – but I would want to draw attention to how their stance can only be maintained by ignoring or discounting crucial evidence and ideas.
Virtuous Pedophiles, like the uninformed public, believe that 21st Century WEIRD societies (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) give the impression of believing that they have hit upon an unquestionable and evident truth; a truth that has eluded many other cultures (including most of the west itself in earlier historical periods) for possibly hundreds of thousands of years: that, regardless of contextual factors such as stigma and illegality, and regardless of the quality of the relationship and interaction involved, any sensual or sexual intimacy between a ‘child’ and an ‘adult’ is intrinsically harmful to the child.
Clearly there are major problems with this position. Can Virped offer any proof or indication that the youthful sexual activity common in societies such as the Lepcha, the Marquesans or various Inuit tribes was harmful? (Indeed it’s my impression, from a non-systematic perusal of the ‘Growing Up Sexually Archive‘, that those societies most permissive of child sexuality are generally the least war-like, least rapacious and are most often described in idyllic terms.) Indeed a site search for either ‘Growing up Sexually’ or its prime author’s name, Magnus Hirschfeld, brings up no results. It seems that they are not interested in thinking about the issues outside of the confines of 21st Century WEIRD society.
Whilst Bruce Rind fares better (with 17 topics in which his name is mentioned) there is little evidence on the site or forum that they have taken into account the potentially game-changing research of Susan Clancy (as outlined in her book The Trauma Myth). A search of the Virped forum brings Clancy’s name in only one topic (there are more topics for the writer Tom Clancy!) and here a discussion is preemptively quenched out of respect for the above-quoted rule forbidding any discussion which doesn’t take “as its premise that sexual activity between adults and children is wrong”:
A: “I know this goes against the thesis, but… I was a “victim” of non violent sexual abuse. I didn’t ever fear him and I loved him. I sorta liked it even. As an adult, instill love him. I remember the past with a fondness. He and I chat on Facebook often. I don’t blame or hate him. I don’t have trust issues and i don’t feel betrayed. Oh I didn’t mention I was 7 at the time. Idk if thats important or not to the discussion.”
B: “I don’t want to turn my review in a discussion, cause it could easily turn into a discussion about arguments on adult-child-sex, which is against the rule in this forum […]”
A: “I can see your point about not turning it in to a discussion..my apologies.”