Begad, sir, you’re an impostor!

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It’s the end of the year again, and what more appropriate time for leisurely reflection over the past twelve months and a look forward to the future?

Well, sorry, but sod that. Heretic TOC has been up to his ears in something far more exciting, and is bursting to tell you about it. Not since Oscar Wilde was accused of “posing as a sodomite” (speaking of sodding it!) over a century ago has anyone been more improbably insulted than I was yesterday. We paedophiles are well used to insults on a daily basis, of course, but not like this one!

The thing about old Oscar is that far from “posing” as a sodomite he actually was one. To the modern ear, at least, the Marquess of Queensberry’s accusation sounds much queerer than its intended target: why accuse someone of “posing”, or pretending, to be a homosexual, when Wilde really was one, and would have been mad in those days to “come out”? The solution to that riddle, as we know, is that Queensbury was accusing Wilde of being an active gay, not of being some sort of impostor.

Bizarrely, though, I was accused yesterday precisely of being an impostor: that very word was used. So why on earth would anyone accuse an out paedophile like myself of such a thing? Who in their right mind would pretend to be a paedophile, thereby guaranteeing themselves pariah status?

Again there’s a riddle: I was accused not of “posing” as a paedophile, nor even of being one, but of an altogether more serious offence in the eyes of a leading figure on the amazing and wonderful Sexnet forum. I was accused – and you must imagine me now uttering this in hushed tones, portending the most shocking and shameful revelation – I was accused of, of…

It’s no good. I can’t even bring myself to say it. It’s not the guilt and shame that’s holding me back, though. It’s more that I cannot quite get my head around what the offence was. Let’s skip that for a moment, then, and turn our attention to the accuser.

This was none other than my old adversary James Cantor, he of the theory that white matter deficiency is implicated in the allegedly “crossed wired” brains of paedophiles (see The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’, 14 December).

James, aka Jimmy “the screamer” Cantori, notorious hit person of the Toronto mob, has been squealing like a stuck pig again, this time denouncing me as an “impostor” unless I can “produce an alternative explanation for the handedness findings”.

Uh? See what I mean?

“Impostor” suggests to me the sort of guy who would con his way into practising as a gynaecologist with no more than a plumber’s qualifications – or perhaps some bogus researcher who might fancy a go at putting on a lab coat and conducting experiments at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto, where quite a few Sexnetters (the Toronto mob!) are ensconced. But I was hardly being accused of that kind of thing.

Beyond the bafflement, though, a man knows when, if not why, he is being insulted. Yes, sir, oh yes! Impostor indeed! This clearly called for pistols at dawn. I would have considered handbags instead but that might have given James an undue advantage.

Diabolically, though, just when I was about to shoot off an email throwing down the gauntlet, in steps the moderator. Hold your fire, gentlemen, he insists! No duelling hereabouts, pray!

What set all this hullabaloo in train, you might ask? What spark reignited the dry tinder of our passions? The telling, in truth would be tedious: he said this, I said that, he came back with…

What I tried to do today, though, was something a little more substantial: a lengthy Sexnet missive addressing the handedness issue, and others. If James makes the effort to answer it with more than just defensive shrieking and wild accusations, I’ll let you know. This tittle tattle is fun, but a real advance in the debate would be much more significant, and of far more lasting interest.

Have you got what it takes to be a guest blogger?

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Heretic TOC is pleased to have attracted on average around eight comments for every blog posted so far. A number have been rejected as unsuitable but the general standard has been gratifyingly high.

Some commentators have expressed frustration over the 200-word limit. On the whole I feel it is a useful restriction which encourages everyone to focus on a particular point and stick to it. There will be times, though, when what is needed is not just a “point”, but a developed argument, much as you would expect to see in a good blog piece or an op-ed column in a newspaper.

As several of the commentators here have shown they are clearly good enough writers for this, Heretic TOC has decided to afford the opportunity to do so. Instead of a long comment in the comments box, readers will from now onwards be able to sit in the driving seat, as it were, and submit a full-length guest blog by email. This should ideally be 700-800 words but could be up to 1000. Unlike a comment slot, where you need to keep to the theme of the blog, you will have freedom to choose your own topic. The only constraint beyond the usual will be the need to have some direct thematic connection to minor attraction. I hope hitherto silent lurkers will be among those who have a go.

Anyone who fancies their chances as a guest blogger here should first email me (tomocarr66@yahoo.co.uk ) with their choice of topic. I will then give the general idea the thumbs up or down, or perhaps suggest some variation on the theme. I cannot guarantee publication of the final endeavour, but I will be keen from time to time to accommodate those who make the effort, if the article is good.

So, why not get your thinking cap on and give it a whirl?

The old queen’s Christmas Message

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What is it about carols? I cried a bucket listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. Don’t worry, though: it only took a nice mince pie to perk me up afterwards.

Superficial sentimentality then? And is that all an atheist’s faithless response to Christmas can ever amount to?

Well, you can be the judge of that for yourselves, but when I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died – or rather when I survey the gorgeous choirboys (an especially fine crop at King’s this year, but not great for those into “ethnic” or, God forbid, girls), when I survey the soaring vaulted roof of King’s, when my thoughts turn to the power of the Christmas story down the generations in lands near and far, when I think of the Star of Bethlehem and all the myriad stars, and what lies beyond them, and all the majesty of creation, I am overwhelmed.

What’s it all for? Why are we here? We live. We die. We are no more. Does this diminish the magnificence of Life, the Universe and Everything, or does it demand that we bloody well appreciate it while we’ve got the chance?

The latter, for me, is the message prompted by the spiritual power of Christmas – that and thoughts of sharing, inclusivity, fellowship, love and hope. I write this alone, as many paedophiles and other “minor attracted” people will be at this time of year, some of us ostracised by our own families and cut off from any sense of community.

Luckily for me, I do have good friends and my days are filled with a tremendous sense of purpose. I love writing and sharing my thoughts and feelings. For many others, I know, it is not so easy, especially at this time. What can I say to you? Hang in there, buddy, things can only get better? Not really. They might get worse. I can remind you that Jesus befriended the sinners and the outcasts, even if most of his oh-so-fucking-righteous Christian followers wouldn’t dream of doing so. Not a lot of comfort there then either.

It must be admitted, though, that there are some real Christians, and doubtless these stalwarts of religion have their counterparts in other faiths: I’m thinking of the Salvation Army types, the ones who put themselves out to help the lonely and the troubled and the down at heel. It is not unknown for them to extend the hand of friendship to paedophiles as well as others, through organisations such as the Circles of Support and Accountability and Heather Elizabeth Peterson’s Unconditional Love. If you’re really at your wit’s end you might want to turn to them.

Beware, though, a deal with such people is a Faustian pact: they are after your soul, and when you are feeling low you might sell it too cheap. You would be handing over your conscience, giving it up as a vassal’s tribute to an alien moral imperium. As a complete human being, as a moral agent, you would be exterminated.

An Old Testament way of putting it would be to speak of selling your birthright for a mess of potage. None of us has a birthright to sexual engagement with whomsoever we choose, because others must also choose us. But we do have a right to our own sexuality and to seek willing sexual partners of whatever age. That right is denied by law. The law must be obeyed. But we should not lightly surrender the moral birthright of all humanity, including its children.

Religion in general, and Christianity as developed by St Paul and his followers in particular, has a poor track record when it comes to sexual morality and much else. The best Christians, as already noted, are good on fellowship: they do community values much better than most of us atheists. But their primitive, brain-dead pretence to have worked out in the Bible an enduring guide to moral values is ludicrously inadequate to all except those who still feel adulterers should be stoned to death as its pages demand, or who approve of a vicious megalomaniac God who would torture you for eternity for failing to respect Him: this is the morality of a vain and sadistic Mafia capo.

I read the Authorised Version of the Bible (more commonly referred to in America, I believe, as the King James version) from end to end a few years ago, taking my time over the course of a year or so to absorb it slowly and thoughtfully. It is a wonderful read: many books, in many styles, with much wisdom and drama, and much to elevate the soul; but also a lot of utterly vile, despicable, nonsense.

I had just completed this Bible reading of mine back in the day, when Bill Clinton was in trouble over his sexual transgressions in the White House. I happened to get involved at that time in an email debate with a Christian American lady who opined that Clinton, who professes Christianity, should read his Bible more, and absorb its “lasting values”. With a detailed knowledge of the Bible fresh in my mind, I was able to tackle her view as to the real value of these so-called “lasting values”, referring her, chapter and verse, to all sorts of difficulties raised by her approach.

The outcome was two substantial essays, one primarily focused on the Old Testament, the other on the New. I am as proud of these pieces as of anything I have written. If you are interested, see The First Epistle of Thomas and The Gospels According to Thomas. Feedback would be very welcome.

Here endeth the lesson – or, rather, one old queen’s Christmas Message!

Taking the hex off a media word in edgeways

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As a blog that aspires to rationalism, Heretic TOC abhors superstition: your enlightened host wouldn’t dream of crossing the road to avoid walking under a ladder or fret over what might happen on a Friday the 13th.

It is different, though, when the stakes are raised a bit beyond the ordinary, as they were a couple of months ago on the day of Heretic TOC’s launch. Those with good memories may recall that I mentioned (The media must be desperate, 8 Nov.) being contacted by several newspapers in the wake of the Savile affair, one of which was the Guardian. The others, I said, had offered money for information about celebrity members of PIE. But what about the Guardian? The reason for their interest was something I left hanging.

Looking back, I now realise there was perhaps a shameful touch of superstition at work. I didn’t want to “put a hex” on the project in question, which promised the prospect of getting a word in edgeways in the mainstream media. Well, it’s been “hexed” for a long time anyway, despite my caution, so perhaps this is the time to reveal all.

Back in October, the man from the Guardian was Jon Henley. He said his editor, Alan Rusbridger, was interested in doing a more wide-ranging article on the P subject. Rather than seeking to embarrass the famous, the idea was to explore with me why paedophilia had become the focus of such intense concern in recent years. Did I have any thoughts on why PIE’s campaign to liberalise the age of consent (AOC) laws had faltered, even back in the 1970s, and why our perspective had become steadily even more unpopular ever since?

As might be expected, I had plenty of thoughts on this that I was happy to share. A phone interview over an hour long duly ensued within a day or two. It went well. Henley’s questions were intelligent and reasonably well informed. Googling him, I had discovered a really interesting piece of his from about ten years ago on French intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, who had all signed a radical petition back in 1977 calling for the abolition of the AOC. That was when he had been the Guardian‘s Paris correspondent.

A few days later, now into early November, I contacted Henley, who told me he had finished his 1500-word article and it had been accepted for publication. Ever since then, I have been given assurances by him personally and by the features desk that they intend to use it.

But when? I’m getting old. I’d quite like to see this article before I die!

My strong suspicion, I have to say, was that publication had been overruled by the Guardian’s numerous feminist writers: while the final decision must be the editor’s, he would be aware of the need to maintain some degree of consensus with his top columnists, to say nothing of not wanting to alienate the paper’s legions of women readers.

The latest installment of this long-running saga was yesterday. The Guardian were doing a charity phone-in: make a donation to their nominated charities and you would get the chance to speak personally to various Guardian writers, including Henley, and even with the big chief himself, Rusbridger. Right, Tom, I told myself: Go for it! Speak to the editor directly! Charm him into scheduling Henley’s piece without further ado! How could he refuse, especially as I would be supporting his charities at massive personal cost? – Well, quite a chunk out of my modest budget, anyway, but hardly big enough to smack of your actual bribery.

So, how did Mission Improbable but definitely not Impossible go? Not badly, actually. After calling at the scheduled start time in the morning, I was disappointingly told Rusbridger would not be around until the afternoon. So I was put through to Henley instead. Jon was a pleasure to talk to, full of seasonal cheer. And he assured me the article has not fallen victim to censorious opponents. On the contrary, he said, there is every chance it will be used at some time over the holiday period: it had only been left because it is the sort of article that will not date and can be used any time. After all, paedophilia may be out of fashion as a sexual activity, but it is always in vogue as a subject for journalism. So what better time to slot it in than when all the writers are too festively occupied to do much writing?

With this fresh, and very credible, assurance safely banked, I decided I did not need to bend Rusbridger’s ear after all. Or not this time. Back in March, though, I went along to the Guardian’s Open Weekend in London, where I attended a public session on the paper’s future and did manage to get a few minutes’ worth of private conversation with him, at the end. I can’t be sure, but that contact may have been a factor behind the decision to contact me in October. More about that, perhaps, another time.

A hectic, shambolic, festive tour of duty

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Heretic TOC has been on the move this week, on a hectic festive tour of duty almost as demanding as Santa’s, manoeuvring steadily southwards from the blog’s bleak northern fastness to greet old friends, and make merry and in ye fine olde taverns and ale houses of London.

It’s proving a tough slog for the blog, which is totally unfamiliar with life on the road or, rather, railroad. Wi-fi was very welcome on Chiltern Trains, but proved to be heavily policed. I was refused access to the IPCE site (see Blogroll), which I needed for reference purposes in connection with the work of James W Prescott (see previous blog post). An online message delivered the damning verdict that the site was “tasteless”. Chiltern Trains passengers, it seems, are obliged not just to obey the law but also share the tastes of…well, those whose tastes match those of the directors of Chiltern Trains, perhaps, or more likely some dreary agency touting themselves as experts in taste and decency, such as the Internet Watch Foundation.

Heretic TOC immediately fired off an angry email to the administrators, of course, pointing out they had banned an important website for academic research. If it achieves anything, I’ll let you know.

Another hassle of being away from home base was that I could not log in to Heretic TOC’s WordPress website as I had left the password at home and couldn’t think what to do. So much for any claim to brainpower I might have! Eventually I realised I could get a new password, though I could have found the old one from my LiveDrive cloud backup, except that I was also lacking the password for that. The upshot of all this woeful inefficiency is that my blog on the Sandy Hook school massacre appeared rather later than intended. Also, embarrassingly, I was unable to approve the posting of a suitably modest disclaimer when I was flatteringly mentioned in a comment post in the same breath as Shakespeare, Socrates and other such immortals.

In the face of this omnishambles, perhaps I should just wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or joyous pagan winter feast, or whatever!

And more here soon, I promise, provided that the immortals choose to smile upon Heretic TOC’s humble endeavours. Cheers!

 

 

America’s kick-ass, kill class, culture

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Will America follow Obama’s bid to tackle the country’s insane gun laws? The signs are slightly more encouraging than in the wake of previous school massacres. Even the stone-hearts of the “right to bear arms” cannot face-down the butchery of so many little kids, right there in the face of the nation. We’d do well not to hold our breath though: any change is likely to be minimal, and long haggled over in ways that need not detain Heretic TOC.

Here the focus will instead be on how we look upon such events, whether as individual pathology or cultural malaise. It is both, of course. These aspects may be separated for convenience of discussion but, as the poet said, no man is an island. Actually, John Donne’s words were part of a prose meditation, but they are sometimes rendered as a poem:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Each child’s death diminishes us, as does the loss of their teachers. Nor can we detach ourselves from the killer as much as we might wish: he is the monstrous Other, but we cannot sensibly ignore the backdrop of the American culture that made him.

It is a culture in which children less “in the nation’s face” than those of an American primary school are routinely scrubbed out and no one turns a hair. I do not doubt the sincerity of Obama’s sorrow and his televised tears following the Sandy Hook school massacre, but it cannot pass in silence that the President of the United States has disappointingly become utterly at one with the most violent aspects of his country’s culture.

This is the man, lest we forget, on whose personal orders massacres are routinely conducted through drone strikes on Pakistan that wipe out children (64 on Obama’s watch alone) along with “terrorists”; this is the man who continues to support indefinite detention without trial and George W. Bush’s notorious extraordinary rendition programme, both of which policies amount to support for gross violation of human rights and torture; this is the man who has personally supported, without even the figleaf justification of national security necessity, the vindictively sustained ill-treatment, amounting to mental torture, of Wikileaks hero Bradley Manning.

This is the man who has become the very embodiment, at the highest level, of weapons-loving, military might-deploying, “kick ass” America – an America so much in love with the violent enforcement of its will that the Sandy Hook killer begins to look almost normal.

The American way, sadly, is to “make war not love”. If evidence supplied by neuropathologist James Prescott is right, there is a near inevitability to this state of affairs in the U.S., where it is widely considered proper  for kids to destroy bodies for pleasure but not to pleasure their own or anyone else’s. Hunting and trashing animals for fun, not food, is somehow right in this warped culture, but harmless body pleasure is not.

Prescott focused his investigations on early upbringing. He suggested that sexual satisfaction early in life, and sensual – specifically, tactile – pleasuring in infancy, are a direct antidote to violence in adulthood. His theory was based on correlations between levels of violence in 49 pre-literate cultures and certain variables reflecting physical affection – such as the extent to which infants were cuddled, caressed and played with in each of the cultures, and the permitted levels of pre-marital and extramarital sex. Despite the enormous significance of these findings they have essentially been ignored for decades: research suggesting a positive approach to early sensual and sexual expression does not go down well in America.

The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’

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Time to resolve that cliffhanger I left you with yesterday – since when, incidentally, Heretic TOC’s hit rate has jumped significantly: seems a bit of controversy is good for business!

So, where was I? Ah, yes, I said a neuroscientist had agreed with Susie Orbach and myself that there was good reason for skepticism over a theory that paedophilia is caused by “crossed wiring” in the brain. An MRI scanning study by James Cantor and his team into the brains of paedophiles and others had shown that paedophiles have less “white matter”, this being interpreted as a dysfunctional deficiency.

Before going into the details, it might be an idea to point out that there are good reasons for not jumping to conclusions about “deficiency” based on measurements of gross brain anatomy. Not so long ago it was thought women must be less intelligent than men because their brains are smaller, but this is classically a field of study in which size really isn’t everything: the average brain weighs around 1.4kg. Einstein’s weighed only 1.2kg. True, he had more white matter than most, so the extent of this tissue and how it is “wired” may indeed be hugely important. I gather that white matter is basically a load of lard: fat. The fatty sheathing for the axons, or long, message-carrying, tails of the brain cells, acts as an insulator and hence helps signals whizz around at speed from one part of the brain to another.

Something like that. Anyway, the main point of interest here is not so much what white matter does as what factors might influence changes in its volume, especially whether its size and density could change in response to what our brains are exposed to in daily life. In the case of London taxi drivers, we know that a part of the brain associated with memory, the hippocampus, grows considerably when they study for “the knowledge” i.e. the detailed knowledge of the streets of London they must acquire to pass their exam and get their cabby’s licence. This is grey matter rather than white matter but, no matter, the changeability, or “plasticity”, of the brain could apply to various parts.

And now, at last, what really matters, who is this mystery neuroscientist I have recruited as an ally, and what does he say? Well, all I know – so it really is a bit mysterious – is that he works in the UK and is a highly respected blogger operating under the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin monika of Neuroskeptic. As he puts it, “A neuroscientist takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond.”

I emailed him in the hope of discovering whether my amateur speculations as to potential weaknesses in Cantor’s work might possibly have some substance. I was not disappointed. Here is what he wrote in reply, last month:

Hi Tom, many thanks for your email & extremely astute comments. Essentially I agree on all counts. I may well post about this because it’s pretty important: the extra arm analogy is just misleading. cheers, NS

Ah, the “extra arm analogy”!

OK, dear readers, if you want to know what that is all about, and I hope you do, you will need to settle down comfortably and give the exercise some quality thinking time. So take a break at this point, if necessary, and come back to it after.

HERE GOES THEN, THE REST OF THE BLOG IS WHAT I WROTE TO NEUROSKEPTIC:

An interesting study in this area was J.M. Cantor et al.’s sMRI paper “Cerebral white matter deficiencies in pedophilic men”. Journal of Psychiatric Research, Volume 42, Issue 3, Pages 167-183 (2008)

The study looked for brain regions that distinguish pedophilic from nonpedophilic men. Pedophiles were found to have less white matter. The authors suggested that the regions in question operate as a network for recognizing sexually relevant stimuli and that pedophilia results from a partial disconnection within that network.

The work is one of a series of papers purporting to indicate that pedophiles have brain deficiencies resulting from “perturbation” of prenatal development, and other misfortunes such as trauma from childhood head injuries. Papers have shown lower average IQ of pedophiles and far more left-handedness than average.

Leaving aside methodological problems with the IQ etc. studies, I would be interested to know whether Neuroskeptic sees any grounds for scepticism over this white matter paper. Is it just the new phrenology or something more substantial?

The thing is, the speculation offered about the said white matter “deficiencies” (Does anyone know how much white matter is sufficient?) does not appear to offer any particular explanatory model for causing paedophilia. Is there an issue here as regards direction of causation? Could paedophilia cause changes in brain anatomy, rather than the other way around?

Writing about structural MRI studies, including his own, of paedophilia, in an article aimed at non-specialists in this field, James Cantor acknowledged the question mark over direction of causation, and explained his own thinking:

When comparing pedophilic and nonpedophilic men, one must remain careful not to confuse cause with effect. That is, one must consider carefully whether the brain differences we detected cause pedophilia or whether some aspect of being pedophilic caused the brain differences. Previous research findings suggests that it is more likely for the brain differences to be causing pedophilia than for the other way around: Although it is now known that certain brain structures respond to environmental stimulation, such as the motor cortex, there is no evidence that such stimulation causes any changes in the superior fronto-occipital fasciculus or right arcuate fasciculus (the brain regions in which pedophiles and nonpedophiles differ). Moreover, the brain regions we identified are extremely large, and no previous research has ever found changes in such large regions of the brain. As an analogy, physical exercise will generally stimulate one’s muscle tissue to grow, but one would not grow an extra arm; neurological changes occur only in a very specific manner.” http://individual.utoronto.ca/james_cantor/blog2.html

The analogy of the extra arm is a vivid and plausible one, but is it really valid? At a time when, we are told, epigenetic discoveries are showing that environment can profoundly modify organisms’ biology, might it be entirely possible, or even routine, for brain anatomy to be altered quite radically by unusual environmental influences? I am thinking here of unusual conditioned responses to sex pheromones emitted by fellow humans. In the case of pedophilia, this would mean sexual arousal to child-related sensual stimuli (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) once these had been conditioned from an association with the pheromone, this being theoretically the primary (olfactory) stimulus.

Genetically identical bees vary enormously from each other both in physical form and the roles they play. The queen can be twice the size of a worker bee. Workers typically have a lifespan of only weeks, whereas a queen can live for years. Also, the differences in the roles played by workers as opposed to queens are many and complex. As the genome is exactly the same for these massively differentiated types of bee, the differentiation would appear to arise from different patterns of gene expression.

If similar processes are at work in humans (not such a big “if”, it seems, given the fundamental cross-species nature of the molecular mechanisms involved) might not pheromone-mediated changes in gene expression within the brain be capable of giving rise to lasting and quite large changes in brain anatomy, such as different white matter structure for those experiencing pedophilia? If this is the equivalent of growing an “extra arm”, epigenetics seems potentially entirely capable of being up to the task.

Does Neuroskeptic agree?

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