Is there a ‘third scenario’ in which paedophiles and their partners can engage in intimacy, but Society manages to maintain all the advantages of Modernity?
Those who defend this possibility point to Modern Western societies that have had paedo-friendly moments and enclaves: the radical movements of the 60s and 70s in which intellectuals such as Michel Foucault and Alain Robbe-Grillet openly advocated child-adult intimacy; reforms to consent laws in 1970s Netherlands; communes such as Kibbutzim and religious cults which dissolved the nuclear family and thus created the conceptual space in which people could feel comfortable about child sexuality.
But these are experiments that failed, that hardly existed outside the minds of intellectuals or, when attempted on a large scale, as with the Dutch, were abortive. And whilst the small scale examples (such as religious cults and kibbutzim) seem to confirm the hypothesis that where the nuclear family is weakened, child sexuality becomes licit, I know of no modern example of this kind of enclave scaling up.
As such it seems that there is little historical evidence that the Third Scenario is possible.
Those who defend the possibility of a third scenario may point out that liberation movements have been successful in the past (for example women’s and gay rights, and the abolition of slavery). Why should a movement in which children demand full sexual autonomy not be similarly successful?
Analyses of successful liberation movements identify changes in economic conditions that caused a shift in the Overton Window that made the proposed advances thinkable. For example, it is not a coincidence that gay liberation occurred at the same time (and same places) as the rise in hysterical paedophobia: the move from industrial to consumer capitalism, as well as giving rise to the clashing archetypes of The Child, also radically changed what the economy demanded of masculinity: industrial capitalism required physical and mental strength, stoicism and solidarity; consumerism requires a workforce that is less gender-differentiated and with feminised men. This shift in the masculine ideal created fertile ground for gay liberation movements, whose rapid gains can best be conceptualised as pushing at an open door that had till then had been firmly locked (I go into this in more depth in my blog-post Unthinkable Thoughts and the Mechanism of Hatred).
The idea that changes in attitudes are made possible by economic changes is also supported by the example of the Classical World: despite them producing some of the greatest, most humane and most original thinkers mankind has known, not a single ancient Greek or Roman thinker or writer ever came close to contemplating the absence of slavery. Because their economies were wholly dependent on slavery, the absence of slavery was as unthinkable as is the licitness of fully sexually autonomous children in our society today.
Such liberation movements were possible only after certain (usually economic) conditions were in place. Which is not to downplay the role of liberation movements and campaigners: even open doors can be heavy, resistant and rusty-hinged, especially if they’ve remained locked shut for millennia.
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So paedophiles face an essentially binary choice: aspire to live under Modernity, but accept that there is little hope of their love becoming licit; or aspire to the legitimisation of child-adult intimacy, but at the price of severe deterioration in the general conditions of life.
Some will object that I am assuming that living under Western Modernism is better than living under, say, Sharia or localised feudal or pre-feudal structures. After all, doesn’t the bien-pensant orthodoxy take it as axiomatic that cultures are by definition equal? That one culture can not be said to be superior to another? That cultures can’t be compared and contrasted?
What, if anything, makes living in one civilisation preferable to another? Why should living in a western-style democratic mixed-economy be preferable to living under religious totalitarianism or in a feudal society?
To risk countering one axiom with another I propose that the job of a civilisation is to help its inhabitants to flourish and avoid unnecessary suffering. ‘Flourish’ – admittedly a vague term – can be broken down into more concrete components: good health, long lifespan, learning, creativity, love, community, agency, security and stability.
Western civilisation’s extraordinary success in promoting these is a result of the integration of several dispositions, including monogamy, science, the work ethic, competition, consumption, and private property rights. Which is not to say that the West is the only civilisation to have adopted these – but that their combination has made for the freest, fairest, most prosperous, healthiest, most technologically advanced societies that mankind has yet known, societies in which citizens can best pursue their talents, interests and flourish.
We can also gauge the success of a civillisation by the choices people make, both from within and from outside that civilisation.
When, for example, a ‘Westerner’ chooses to undergo surgery under anaesthesia he is effectively voting for the civilisation that developed effective and safe anaesthesia; when he chooses not to emigrate to a country whose laws recognise polygynous marriages, he is implicitly voting for the immense social, civilisational and moral benefits of monogamy; when he uses a computer he is voting for the civilisation that harnessed electricity, created transistors, elaborated higher mathematics and quantum physics etc etc.
From outside the culture, we can note immigration to the West from non-Western cultures vastly outnumbers immigration in the opposite direction. We can also note how non-Western cultures have eagerly adopted Western institutions, inventions and discoveries.
(if you doubt this, next time you are in a non-Western city try listing everything there that elevates people’s lives above Dark Age conditions. You will find precious few things in your list that are not gifts of the West)
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But surely, even granting that the West offers the best civilisational model that History has yet produced, that does not prevent us from imagining and inventing even better models, and demanding them of the future?
Utopias can be seductive to those whose sexuality sets them at odds with their society. But it is one thing to criticise a society or civilisation because it lags far behind others, it is an entirely different thing to evaluate civilisations by the criteria of one’s dreams. Society is a clockwork whose delicate intricacies have been hard-won over millennia by our ancestors through much trial and much error. To judge Society by how far it falls short of our dreams is to adopt unrealistic criteria for what constitutes a ‘working society’. If one bases one’s political expectations on one’s dreams, Reality will always be unsatisfactory, requiring radical and revolutionary change of the sort that holds Utopia just the next genocide away from being realised. Dissatisfied that our home is not a dream palace, we demolish it, only to realise too late that we have neither the resources or skills necessary for rebuilding the original home, let alone building the dream palace. Revolution based on Utopian dreams is akin to demolishing one’s home out of frustration at a squeaky hinge.
Muddling through is generally the best way for a society to advance into the future: empirically, attempting small changes and advances, and seeing how they work out. Where revolutions are justified, it is where they arise empirically: the ‘Arab’ Spring was based not on Utopian dreams, but on people aspiring to conditions that they could see taken for granted elsewhere in the world. It was an aspiration to swim with the stream of Modernity and Progress, rather than against it backwards to the 7th Century.
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There are ways of ‘normalising’ paedophilia that are so harmful and ethically compromising that everyone (I would argue) is better off with the status quo of paedophobia.
This statement will outrage many. But I hope it’s not controversial to state that both paedophiles and children have needs that far supersede their sexual needs, and that there are a lot worse things a Society can do to both paedophiles and children than forbidding them intimacy with one another. A society that allows paedophilic interactions, but that is bad at everything else, is not good for anyone. Children not being allowed to choose adults as their sexual partners may be hard for us paedophiles (and for those children) but is, I strongly suspect, a necessary condition for living in a society worth living in.
I do not make this argument because I want it to be true.
I make this argument because the evidence points to it being true.
A field of study becomes ‘grown up’ when it can accept unwelcome facts and evidence, and allow those unwelcome facts to influence and change it – that is what differentiates mathematics from, say, Grievance Studies. Scientists are accustomed to unwelcome truths. The acceptance and investigation of unwelcome truths is a large part of why Reason and the Scientific Method has been so effective in improving the lot of humanity: a diagnosis of cancer is, after all, a scientific statement, albeit an unwelcome one.
Our condition, as paedophiles, leaves us particularly vulnerable to the temptation of Utopian dreaming. There is nothing we can realistically aspire to that is particularly good. To enjoy the warm glow of Hope we must turn to dreams. But we must recognise our dreams for what they are, and not think we can extrapolate from them functioning social systems
Sometimes I feel that the the wheels of Radical Paedophilia have been spinning in the mud, recycling theories, narratives and dreams that have grown too comfortable and comforting, but that have little interface with reality. We have too often mistaken our dreams for facts, and extrapolated all kinds of wonderful, impossible things from those dreams. We’ve been fascinated by the sight of angels dancing on the head of a pin and become proficient at annotating the choreography we’ve imagined taking place there.
The challenge for Radical Paedophilia is that of integrating difficult truths; of understanding that the fears of otherwise-decent ordinary people do not arise from malevolence or ignorance; of working out a vision for society that improves things for paedophiles, and for children who want more sexual autonomy, but at the same time accepts that it is quite reasonable that Society should not prioritise these above its general well-being.
It is about recognising that we, as paedophiles, should be on the side of Civilisation, rather than, wittingly or unwittingly, setting ourselves against it, as we have far too often been tempted into doing whenever we mistake our Utopian dreams for Evidence and Facts.