Question: Who do you think would win in a fight between a tiger and a tiger’s weight worth of shrews?
The essence of the political problem paedophiles face is one which is common to all who are subject to witch-hunts: the stigmatised group, for whatever reasons and by whatever processes, is deprived of the power to define and assert its true identity.
“the threat of stigma, ostracism, violence and death, and the collateral suffering of their family and friends, renders the groups that are the focus of fear […] unable to speak out when something inaccurate is said about them.
This threat also extends to anyone who is not a member of the stigmatised group but who dares to defend them or advocate more humane attitudes towards them.
Once there are no longer any voices that can correct mistaken ideas, the public imagination becomes over-heated : assumption trumps knowledge; rumour, conjecture and fantasy (generally drawing on the worst that can be imagined) become ‘facts’; the worst actions of individual members of the persecuted group become seen as ‘typical’ behaviour for the whole group; the language used around the issue no longer fits what it purports to describe, becomes dishonest, hysterical, and twisted out of shape. A positive feed-back loop is established : as the public’s ideas concerning the hated group become more and more monstrous, it becomes less and less possible for anyone to say anything that could correct or moderate those ideas.”
(from ‘18 Common Misconceptions About Paedophiles & Paedophilia‘)
Under such conditions the development of knowledge and the communication of experience (both within the stigmatised group and between the stigmatised group and the wider Society) is severely hampered. Evidence and research can even be suppressed (e.g. The Rind controversy) and the identity of the stigmatised group is effectively no longer tested against reality and becomes a free-floating concept.
Some members of the stigmatised group, because it is the only one available, will adopt the dominant narrative’s stigmatising identity, despite its distastefulness, giving rise to a self-fulfilling prophecy: the dominant narrative uses as proof of its own validity evidence which it has itself created: many of those accused of witchcraft in the Salem trials actually believed that they were ‘witches’, and acted in accordance to the commonly held ideas of how a witch should act.
Shrews and tigers
A fully grown tiger can weigh up to about 390 kilograms. The smallest species of shrew (the Etruscan Shrew) can weigh as little as 1.8 grams. In the fight proposed in the above scenario, the tiger would be facing about 216,700 shrews.
If all those shrews (reputedly the fiercest of mammals pound-for-pound) acted together in a coördinated, simultaneous attack, the tiger would certainly lose. Granted that there would be many dead and injured shrews – mainly crushed by the tiger’s body-weight as it rolled around in pain – but I reckon that once enough shrews had sunk their teeth into its skin, the tiger would tap out.
Though no soricine ethologist, I know that the shrew is not a pack animal. Unlike, say, wolves they do not act in concert towards a common goal, taking individual risks for the greater good of the pack. The natural reaction of any individual shrew when faced with such a huge foe would be to flee and hide, regardless of the number of its companions.
In short – the fight is unlikely to happen.
This scenario embodies the opportunities and risks that paedophiles face regarding concerted political action such as a mass ‘coming out’. The tiger represents Society, particularly those aspects of society that generate and sustain paedophobic attitudes; and the paedophile is, of course, the shrew: a small, crush-able creature , solitary by nature, not predisposed to collective action. And, unlike the shrew, the paedophile is not known for his or her ferocity. Quite the contrary: to love a child requires qualities of gentleness and restraint.
In his contribution to the December blog-post ‘Road-Maps to a Kinder World – Part Two‘ Aethanic wrote:
“The fear of real-life retribution keeps us from coming out and getting together to try to set things right.
It is, I think, the only way forward. Coming out, whether singly or in large or small groups, and standing up for what is true. And never ever making concessions […]
Being brave in the face of overwhelming oppositions is the only way forward.
It is the only way. Only one of us can start things rolling.”
‘Coming out’ is a way of resisting the mechanism of the witch-hunt. Whether the ‘coming out’ is public (as exemplified by Todd Nickerson and Tom O’Carroll) or whether it is private, it is an act that asserts the paedophile as a human being, it presents a counter-narrative, creates a nexus for discussion and debate, and undermines the stigmatising construct of the ‘monster’.
Estimates vary as to what percentage of the population are paedophiles but it’s a very seductive thought that even if the lowest estimates were correct (1 to 2%), if a large enough proportion of us were to ‘come out’ the society would not be able to sustain the stigmatising narratives it currently believes about paedophiles: there would be a critical mass of likeable, respected and decent people, enough people of integrity and talent, , friends and family, and, yes, quite a few National Treasure-rated celebs for the simplistic caricatures about paedophiles to decisively undermined.
The popular narrative around paedophilia has drifted so far from reality, that, despite its ubiquity, it is inherently fragile and very vulnerable to being tested and found to be false.
Consumer Capitalism is generally very accomplished at assimilating and defanging subversive narratives: think of how commerce tamed Punk , how the face of Che Guevara has become a style icon, how the market has bought-off people’s ecological anxieties through ‘green’ consumerism and how overt homosexuality is now accepted in the media.
Most controversial issues are at least ‘debatable’ – but paedophilia and child sexuality seem to undermine concepts and attitudes which are keystones to the current economic and social system. Paedophilia can’t be ‘assimilated’ or ‘defanged’ hence all the strategies Society uses to suppress evidence and prevent a debate from occurring at all.
I suspect that this may be one of the reasons why the popular narrative is defended with so much savagery and by such dishonest means.
This is why, when someone’s status as a paedophile becomes public Society will act to ‘heal the breach’ which having a living, breathing human representative of ‘paedophilia’ creates.
Society will do this by so reducing the status of the person ‘sub-human’ and ‘criminal’ that anything he represents or says is automatically discredited.
Usually this is very easy since most paedophiles who become known to the public don’t ‘come out’ but are ‘outed’ – by either law enforcement agencies or vigilantes. In such cases it is generally not in the victim’s interest to be seen to counter the false narratives around paedophilia – and the media can easily deprive him of his humanity and defuse any threat he could pose to the ubiquitous, fragile narrative.
This makes the paedophile who outs himself a special problem. ‘Coming out’ implies a pride at a condition that had previously assumed to be entirely shameful; it implies the presence of oppression and injustice; it implies a coherent ideology which runs counter to cultural assumptions; it implies that there are more individuals, as yet invisible, who do not buy into the cultural assumptions of the mainstream.
And the fact that ‘coming out’ is voluntary, that it is not linked to the commission of a crime and that the person is articulate and ‘normal’ makes it harder for the media and the public to dismiss the person as simply subhuman and criminal.
doors – locked and unlocked
The effectiveness of the gay movement’s mass coming out is a tantalising and tempting dream for many paedophiles.
However, I think we should not be too readily seduced by this apparent success.
There are differences between the condition of paedophiles today and that of gays in the period before ‘coming out’ became an option, and these differences make me less optimistic as to whether paedophiles could reproduce the success of the gay movement’s coming out.
I strongly suspect that the success of the gay movement is less a result of strategic choices than down to a question of timing.
The oppression and stigmatisation of homosexuals has existed for centuries – why did they wait until the 1960s before systematically combating it? Advances in communication technologies may have allowed larger and more dispersed populations to act in concert, but (to revisit ideas I explore in detail in ‘Unthinkable Thoughts and the Mechanism of Hatred‘) the social, and especially economic, structure of Western societies changed in the 60s in such a way that meant that the ‘straight’ population could harbour pro-homosexual sentiments. The homosexual community, who for centuries had been effectively locked in the closet, suddenly found that the closet door was unlocked and all they had to do was to push at it. ‘Coming out’ was one of the strategies by which they pushed at this door, but the door was an ‘open’ one.
Paedophiles do not face an ‘open door’ today– far from it I fear: the economic and social forces that create paedophobia are intensifying rather than diminishing (I have touched on this here).
Paedophiles are not pack animals
Another reason that is likely to make a mass coming out of paedophiles less effective is a that paedophilic desire is not inherently community-forming, whereas homosexual desire is: homosexuals need other homosexuals to fulfill their identity and sexuality; paedophiles don’t.
Homosexuals have a need to physically interact and form their strongest relationships with each other. This means that homosexuals will tend to be part of very wide social networks in which all the social bonds are strong, and (nominally) equal and reciprocal. The structure of the homosexual community resembles the diamond – a structure that makes diamond the hardest naturally occurring substance.
The paedophile’s interests are focused on the child, whose own social circle (especially in WEIRD societies) will tend to be narrow, and strictly patrolled.
Consisting almost exclusively of peers and family, the child’s social circle is unlikely to include other paedophiles. Even if it did the element of competition between paedophiles would counter-balance feelings of solidarity. The structure of the paedophile community is more like a cloud of Carbon monoxide: the bond between the carbon and oxygen atom, within the molecule, is strong but the bonds between molecules are weak (hence its gaseous state).
This means that when a homosexual comes out of the closet he generally comes out into a real-life community and/or identity. This makes coming out much easier and provides him with a kind of safety net.
The paedophile will rarely have a real life community to receive him and support him. Many paedophiles take part in on-line communities – but for all their many virtues they can not offer the same sense of support and community that real-life paedophile friends would down at the local ‘Paedo Pub’ (complete with indoor climbing frame and paddling pool and, behind the bar, ice-cream available all year round…) after a hard day absorbing the hatred and abuse of a paedophobic society.
Before decriminalisation and destigmatisation, homosexuals developed systems of signs and symbols by which they could identify one another, most notably ‘Camp’.
Camp meant that someone, through the way they moved, dressed, talked, or by their cultural tastes, could identify themselves, and be identified by others, as ‘gay’ reasonably safely. The camp identity allowed homosexuals to form real-life communities and gave them a not-wholly negative presence in the ‘straight’ culture.
Today, characters such Julian & Sandy from ‘Round the Horne’, and Mr Humphries from ‘Are you being Served?’ may come across to us as a caricatures, but I suspect the existence and popularity of such characters represented a significant step forwards in the acceptance of homosexuality by the general public. The laughter they provoke is ultimately sympathetic, admiring even, when compared to the laughter that shows such as ‘To catch a predator’ are designed to provoke.
‘Camp’ also provided for the homosexual a kind of half-way house to coming out: a gay youth, by consciously or subconsciously adopting camp mannerisms, could identify himself (or ‘herself’ – ‘butch’ I suppose, being the equivalent in the case of lesbians) to other homosexuals and also the wider straight community. His simple presence became a form of ‘coming out’.
A homosexual considering coming out to (for example) his parents can hold out the hope that they might turn out to be understanding and accepting of their sexuality. Indeed it is often the case that the parents suspected, or were actually aware of, their child’s sexuality a long time before their child actually came out to them – generally making for an easier and more positive coming out.
Given the hatred and stigmatisation and the ubiquity of false narratives around child sexuality, few paedophiles coming out today can have such a hopes.
I’m not sure whether the camp identity was originally used by the dominant narrative to stigmatise homosexuals – its overtones of effeminacy suggest that this may have been the case – but one has to admire the chutzpah and creativity with which the gay community appropriated, ‘hijacked’ even, this tool of oppression and turned it into a tool of liberation.
But it’s hard to imagine how, in the absence of an intrinsic need for real-life interactions, a paedophile equivalent of ‘camp’ could evolve. Could the ‘Monster’ or ‘Predator’ libels directed against paedophiles be appropriated and turned into something positive? Into an identity that even non-paedophiles might warm to? Maybe it could… after all our culture is awash with lovable monsters (Monsters, inc. Jack Skellington, Shrek, King Kong, the BFG…)
Another factor which militates against the formation of community and identity amongst paedophiles is that the objects of a paedophile’s desires (children) are sufficiently distinct physically and behaviourally for there to be no need of ‘identifiers’ to distinguish them from the wider population (of course, how a paedophile identifies his object of desire is only half the story – there remains the much more interesting question of how a child who is keen to engage in intimacy with an adult identifies or recognises one that is willing – in other words a ‘paedophile’…)
There will be many who might think that ‘lemmings’ and ‘cliffs’ might make for a more apt metaphor for a mass coming out of paedophiles than ‘tigers’ and ‘shrews’. And rereading and proof-reading I’m aware this essay that I’ve arrived at its end without really coming off the fence and proposing any coherent position on ‘coming out’. Like Humbert(x2) I’ve just been “winking happy thoughts into a little tiddle cup” and, at approaching 2,700 words “My little cup’ certainly ‘brims with tiddles.”
I think that this is because ultimately I have no position on ‘coming out’.
I have ‘come out’ quite often myself – with mixed results. I’d originally intended, like a proud old soldier, to display my ‘battle-scars’ in this essay but somehow found I had other things to say.
Clearly ‘coming out’ can work: activists and bloggers such as Tom O’Carroll and, more recently, Todd Nickerson, by associating a human identity to their ideas, have achieved much more than a blogger hiding behind the safety of anonymity could do. Whether one agrees with everything they say or do (I, personally, have a very different take on things to Todd Nickerson) we should feel grateful and admire those who have the courage and integrity to fight for their beliefs publicly and openly.
But the risks and costs of a public coming out are enormous.
We are on safer grounds with trusted friends and family members, with whom we can control the spread of one’s revelation.
Of course you have to know that they will ‘stick around’ after the revelation, and be open enough, despite their probably shocked and confused state, to undergo a process of ‘re-education’ where many things they took for granted, and concerning which they have strong gut-reactions, will be questioned, analysed and turned on their head.
This re-education means that even a ‘personal’ coming out, if succesful, is likely to have a ‘political’ impact, in that it will, in the minds of those one comes out to, alter the identities and concepts which legitimise the social oppression of paedophiles.
A last question: eventually there may come a time when paedophiles will be able to fruitfully engage in a mass coming out. But how will we know when this time has come?