“… a rational bolstering up of a belief held on irrational grounds […] When our desires lead us to believe something, our minds construct a rational set of reasons for supposing that belief to be true. The belief does not, however, follow from the reasons; the reasons follow from the belief.”
‘Straight & Crooked Thinking’ – R.H. Thouless
The accusation of ‘rationalization’ is frequently levelled against paedophiles advocating children’s sexual rights. Such accusations can be explicit:
“[G]o to one of the pro-contacter boards and read the posts of the people there who are arguing for legalization of adult-child sex. It is chock full of just these kinds of rationalizations.“
An accusation of rationalization can leave you feeling that your opponent has a ‘get out of jail free card’ with which, on your presenting conclusive evidence that two plus two does in fact equal four, they can undermine your credibility by suggesting that you have an interest in two plus two equaling four, and thus avoid having to actually address the arguments you are putting forwards.
But the hardest pill to swallow is that someone who claims that I wouldn’t be in favour of children’s sexual rights if I weren’t a paedophile is almost certainly correct: if I’d been born an ordinary, heterosexual teleiophile it’s unlikely that I’d have any knowledge or ideas on these issues beyond that which I’d have absorbed from the media and culture, and my opinions about paedophilia and child sexuality would almost certainly fall within the range of opinions sanctioned by society. Of course the same can also be said for Virpeds: if they hadn’t been born paedophiles it’s also very unlikely that they would have grown up to be a supporter of the Virped position.
The pros and cons of Rationalization
An accusation of rationalization is essentially an ad hominem attack: the focus of its attack is the person making the argument rather the argument itself. However, books on logic and debating consistently classify rationalization alongside ad-hominems as a form of fallacy.
This means that whilst it is unacceptable to point out that your opponent is a congenital liar (an ad-hominem attack) it is acceptable to suggest that they have an interest in their stance being true (a rationalization). This suggests that accusations of rationalization are just a permissible form of ad-hominem.
Even proving conclusively that an opponent has a personal stake in the arguments he’s making does not invalidate, or even weaken, the position they are arguing for: it is perfectly possible to argue something out of self-interest and be correct: many English slave owners actually supported the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act because domestic manufacturing was becoming more lucrative than their plantations, and the huge compensation that parliament was proposing to pay slave owners for loss of their property would allow them to cash in a failing resource and invest in that increasingly lucrative domestic industry – indeed the mills of the North of England were built on the proceeds of this compensation.
Why then are accusations of rationalization considered valid whereas ad-hominems are not?
In “Straight & Crooked Thinking” Thouless goes on to say about rationalization:
“[…]we [must not] make the foolish mistake of supposing that we can settle controversies by […] labelling their arguments ‘rationalization’. Some people seem to think that it is a sufficient argument against socialism to say that it is based on envy of those without possessions for those with, and that its intellectual defence is just a rationalization of this envy. This is no more reasonable than the opposite argument that conservatism is merely based on the determination of the wealthy to hang on to what they have got, and that its intellectual defence is simply a rationalization of this determination […] But having made all allowances for the strength of whichever of these prejudices our own circumstances have given us, the question remains – which is the better system? That question we cannot settle by discussing prejudices of our opponents. A true opinion as well as a false one may owe much of its strength to irrational motives.”
From this we can take that the main value of an alertness to rationalization is a reflexive one: the person whose interests we are in the best position to know and whom we are best qualified to accuse of rationalization is, of course, ourself. An alertness to rationalization is primarily a tool for sorting out our own thinking rather than that of others.
We can suspect an opponent of rationalizing and use that suspicion to increase our alertness to any deceptions, fallacies and crooked thinking in his arguments, but to actually accuse someone of rationalization amounts to our saying “I suspect that there’s something wrong in your argument because you have a clear interest in making that argument, but I can’t say what those flaws are” – in short: an admission of defeat.
There are also benefits to rationalization:
People come to ideas in different ways: most ideas are accessed unconsciously through the prevailing culture and people hold them in a kind of ‘default’ way; some ideas are ‘inherited’ (religion), others can arise out of a perception of one’s self interest (politics). However some ideas are not accessible from the general culture and can only be accessed by people who already have a strong interest in the issues. Genuine knowledge or insight concerning paedophilia is a prime example of this.
A stake in an issue, which might lead to rationalization, is what can also make one sufficiently interested in that issue to dig beyond common knowledge and the common pool of ideas. Generally those who have an interest in an issue will simply know more and care more about that issue.
Rationalisation may give rise to false arguments more often than disinterestedness but this is not necessarily a bad thing – humans and culture are machines for generating ideas. They are also machines for evaluating and sorting them, and one could view the progress of history, culture, reason and science as a process of sorting the good ideas from the bad.
Indeed the process of sorting out good and bad ideas is a dialectic and can equally benefit both sides in an argument: though I disagree with many of the statements which anti-choicers make for the ears and eyes of those whose ‘tolerance’ they seek, those debates I have had with them ‘behind the scenes’ – when they haven’t had to self-censor – have been interesting and challenging and obliged me to develop and refine my ideas.
If radical, difficult , unpopular or highly counter-cultural ideas are to be explored and evaluated and introduced to society one must accept that those who take the first, pioneer steps into these difficult areas are often going to be individuals who have had no choice but to confront these issues through having a personal involvement in them, and thus an interest. The first people to think that homosexuality should be legal and not stigmatized were, of course, homosexuals; it took much longer for the disinterested general population to catch up.
Experience vs Rationalization
Experiences are a product of one’s situation and circumstances and will therefore tend to result in biases that align with one’s interests.
A rich man will better understand and be more aware of the problems of the wealthy than a poor person, and a poor person will better understand and be more aware of the problems of poverty than the a rich man. It should not surprise us if the rich man takes a stance against, say, inheritance tax and wealth redistribution and the poor person takes a stance in favour of them.
However this is not the same thing as Rationalization, but is rather a result of an unbalanced accumulation of evidence, ideas, experience and emotions. And despite those experiences being partial both the rich man and the poor man will bring a great deal of knowledge, experience and insights to any debates on these issues.
To automatically dismiss the experiences and insights of a rich person or a poor person in a debate over wealth redistribution, on the grounds that their opinions, if they align with their apparent interests, could be ‘rationalizations‘ would be to greatly impoverish the debate, and to do those two participants a disfavour. Those people who are most deeply implicated in an issue may have a stronger perception of their self-interest than someone who has no stake in it, but they also likely to care enough about the issues to do the necessary book-work, foot-work and brain-work.
Moreover there are areas of knowledge and experience which can only be accessed at great cost to the individual – a cost that disinterested participants in the debate could, or would, never willingly pay themselves. Paedophilia is one of those areas: there is a whole raft of knowledge and experience that a non-paedophile simply could never access.
This is why I think Ethan Edwards is profoundly mistaken when he writes the following:
“[T]he majority of vocal pedophiles online think adult-child sex should be OK, and they have an apparent selfish interest in that conclusion […] It is just not plausible that these pedophiles understand the issue better than everyone else.“
It is frighteningly easy for someone to maintain that child sexuality doesn’t exist in a society where children are shamed, punished or ‘treated’ for it, where its every manifestation is explained away as ‘curiosity’, or a result of ‘abuse’ or the observer ‘sexualising’ children’s behaviour.
Indeed society seems to have constructed a case against the existence of child sexuality which is incapable of being disproved, which is capable of dismissing all evidence to the contrary without actually considering it: a self-sustaining position akin to someone asserting that ‘bananas don’t exist. And those things that look, smell and taste like bananas aren’t really bananas at all but just convincing imitations of them’.
Given the above embargo on acknowledging its existence, who in our society, other than the paedophile, can be a positive witness to child sexuality? Who can acknowledge its manifestations without at the same time repressing it? Who won’t flinch, get flustered, or react negatively? Who won’t shame the child and make clear to it that sex is ‘bad’? Parents? Teachers? Social workers? Policemen? Psychologists?
Granted, the paedophile is certainly not an impartial observer of child sexuality, but nor are parents, teachers, judges, policemen &c, and given that the rest of society is bent on (paradoxically) both denying its existence and suppressing its every manifestation – the paedophile can bring new and challenging evidence to the table that could not come from any other source.
A paedophile who has engaged in an intimate, consensual relationship with a children may have knowledge and experiences which testify to the existence of child sexuality and to how a child can eagerly initiate and enjoy the sharing of sensuality, flourish from experiencing an equal and loving relationship with an adult, and look back on such experiences fondly when grown up.
Some will object that such knowledge and experience is inadmissible because it has been obtained illegally. But that would be to beg the question: the same objection could have been used under Apartheid of any evidence derived from experience that was favourable to inter-racial relationships. Or likewise of homosexuality before it was decriminalised.
Even someone of very limited experience, someone like myself, who has never gone beyond the boundaries of the law, can affirm that if you are not condemnatory towards a child who displays sexual, or (if you prefer) ‘proto-sexual’ behaviour, they will pick up on this and can quickly become very open in their behaviour and eager. A lot of children (especially children under the ages of 7, who haven’t fully internalised sexual shame yet) really seem to appreciate an adult who is accepting and appreciative of their sensuality and sexuality.
Clearly this is knowledge that society doesn’t want brought to the debate – hence the intensity with which anything that bears witness to child sexuality (i.e. actual relationships, erotica or porn, or even research) is suppressed.
So, yes, any arguments put forwards by a paedophile for children’s sexual rights, may be open to accusations of arising from rationalization, but one must also balance that against the probability that those arguments arose from those experiences and insights that come with being a paedophile.
Who can argue for children’s sexual rights?
“[T]his issue isn’t really about the kids’ rights for the pro-contacters; it’s about their right to have sex with children. The fact that no one else but the pro-contacters are really demanding amply demonstrates that fact. If kids themselves ever start organizing en masse and clamoring for their right to have sex with adults, then I might begin to look at differently. Until that happens, no, kids cannot meaningfully consent to sex.”
If pro-choice paedophiles have no right to argue for children’s sexual rights because they may benefit from them being granted those rights, does that also mean that a white man who loved a black woman in apartheid South Africa had no right to argue against miscegenation laws?
Where are the marches organised by children in the Sudan against female genital mutilation? in Britain against physical abuse and neglect? against male circumcision in the US? against child marriage in the Yemen? against indoctrination into institutionalised superstitions? Should we not act against these abuses because children are not organising themselves en masse against them?
I find no record of any children’s marches demanding that Gladstone raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 in his 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, though I expect that Todd Nickerson would nevertheless still approve of that measure.
If children were only granted those rights which they ‘clamored for’ ‘en masse‘ they would have precious few rights.
And what, in our society, would happen to a child who did ‘clamor’ ‘for their right to have sex with adults’? Such a march would be rapidly thinned-out to nothing by eager social workers and policemen waiting with their vans. And, if those children were in a relationship, what would happen to their adult lovers?
In a sense every child who has found an adult sexually interesting or desired some kind of intimacy with an adult, every child who has dreamed of being intimate with a pop star or sports idol, every child who has engaged in sexting, or posted videos of themselves on youtube acting ‘sexily’, and every child who has enjoyed an intimate relationship with an adolescent or adult, every child who is criminalised and stigmatised for being interested in sex, is protesting at the way society deprives them of their sexual rights.
Given that ‘child sexuality’ exists, and that the idea of ‘children’s sexual rights’ is therefore at least an arguable proposition, and given that children themselves are not going to independently organise a movement calling for their sexual rights – who in society, other than the paedophile, is exploring those ideas and arguing for them? Who else cares enough to do the necessary book-, foot-, mouth- and brain-work?
I had planned to conclude by looking at the rationalizations Virpeds and the lumpen paedophobes engage in, but to do this justice requires a full blog-essay.
I want to keep my powder dry, but I won’t be giving too much away in saying that, if pro-choicers are vulnerable to the accusation that their stance is a rationalization of their sexual desires, the most evident rationalizations of Virpeds result from their aspiration to be ‘tolerated’ and ‘accepted’ by those who oppress them. In their desire to present an ‘acceptable’ face to the world they often turn a blind eye to, and fail to follow up the implications of, much knowledge, experience, evidence and research.
I have already acknowledged that I wouldn’t be espousing a pro-choice stance if I weren’t a paedophile. However this is not in itself enough to justify an accusation of rationalization. And even if such an allegation could be proven it would not of itself be enough to undermine the arguments in favour of children’s sexual rights.
Rather such opinions emerge from an accumulation of evidence, research and experiences which are, for the time being, largely only available to paedophiles, and non-paedophiles with rare intellectual courage and integrity.
However, I am alert to the lure of rationalization and try to guard against it by engaging in discussions with those who disagree with me and who are in a good position to point out weaknesses in my argument – unfortunately those best qualified to test my ideas are notoriously reluctant to engage in discussions and are prolific in their use of ‘no-debate’ strategems – accusations of rationalization being one of them.