An Open Letter to the Labour Party

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Heretic TOC is today sending an Open Letter to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party. This follows the news, widely trumpeted in the British media last week, that your host here has been expelled from the Party. I was suspended on Tuesday, on the grounds that my conduct may have been “prejudicial” to the Party. Then, on Wednesday, I was expelled.

So, if I have understood the matter correctly, there will be no hearing at which I could mount a defence.

The first I heard of all this was through the media. Official confirmation reached me only somewhat later, on Friday, when I received two letters from the Party, dated the 16th and 17th and both postmarked the 17th. The first letter did not specify any particular allegedly “prejudicial” conduct, but my activism in relation to paedophilia was obviously the issue, as was made abundantly clear in the widespread media coverage. The second letter, though, was much more specific. It stated:

“The Labour Party has learned that in December last you were convicted at Caernarfon Crown Court of sexual offences involving two children and given a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years…”

The letter went on to say that the Party’s National Executive Committee had decided to expel me immediately based on this being a serious criminal offence, as the NEC is empowered to do under section 2.1.4.D.3 of the Party’s rules.

It seems the Labour Party learned of the conviction from a Daily Mail report on Wednesday. I alluded to the case somewhat cryptically in Truth, reality and baby elephants at the end of last year. Now it is in the public domain and is being used as a handy stick to beat me with, I feel I should say something about the circumstances. But the story will take some telling, and I must put it on the back burner for today.

So, first things first. Heretic TOC is read globally, everywhere from Canada to Cambodia, and Austria to Australia, so I imagine many heretics beyond the purview of British party politics will be utterly perplexed and bemused at this point. All of you, and also UK-based readers who may have missed the news, are advised to read the links guide at the end, which will enable you to catch up fully if you wish.

Briefly, I joined the Labour Party last year, under my own name, under the £3 subscription scheme which enabled non-members of the Party to vote in the leadership election. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn. When he was elected leader, I joined the Party as a full member. I attended Party meetings, canvassed on doorsteps during a council by-election, and socialised with the local MP.

This was all abruptly ended soon after I made the mistake of telling the local police about my Labour Party membership and activities. This arose during one of their regular monitoring visits, conducted because I am on the Sex Offenders Register. They had been asking about whether I had taken up any positive activities that might be of benefit to the community. I thought my work for Labour could be put in that category. The police, however, homed in – as I should have realised they would – on the supposed danger to children involved in me doing door-to-door canvassing, because of the possibility that a child might open the door. Once they knew about this aspect, they decided they needed to notify the Labour Party about my background. This notification was supposed to be “confidential”, but was all over the media within days.

I hold out no hope of being readmitted to the Party but I nevertheless feel I should give them a piece of my mind over the decision to chuck me out. Accordingly, the following Open Letter is being sent to the General Secretary, with copies going to the Party leadership, my MP, some other leading members of the local Constituency Labour Party, and certain journalists.

Preamble almost over, the letter follows. You may feel it is too apologetic and that they are the ones who should be saying sorry, not me. There is a lot of truth in that, but bear with me. Anger has its place, but shouting at people is not the best way to get them listening. Anyway, here goes:

 

DEAR GENERAL SECRETARY…

I deeply regret that my membership of the Party has resulted in harmful publicity and I entirely accept the decision to expel me. Indeed, if anyone had thought to ask me, instead of blabbing instantly to the media, I would have been prepared to resign quietly.

This is because – although it might surprise you to hear it – I genuinely want the Party to win the next General Election. Note that when the story of my membership broke in The Times, my initial response was No Comment. I hope John Woodcock retains his seat in due course but I think he should take a leaf out of my book in knowing when to shut up, especially as regards his continuing and counterproductive sniping at Jeremy.

Disagree on Trident if you must, John; vote on Syria as your conscience dictates too. But get a grip on your gripes about the leader and take a tip from another unlikely advisor over your communication style: too many tweets make a twat, as “Call me Confucius” said.

John is a likeable young man and already a smart politician. When he grows up he might even move on from being a graduate of the febrile, rapid response, Thick Of It, school of political strategy, and develop a more mature style, less prone to knee-jerk sounding off.

Can’t blame him for his arrested development though. After all, he was groomed by the Labour Party right from when he was a kid in Sheffield. Once ensnared by the cult, he would have been easy game for brainwashing into thinking the Blair/Campbell political lifestyle is normal. Early abuse of this sort is inevitably traumatising and obviously what lies behind John’s problem with depression. He could sue for compo!

And before any professional offence-takers start screaming with outrage over mocking a man’s mental disorder (I’m not, actually), I would remind you that paedophilia is in the psychiatric textbooks as just that. More helpfully, it would be regarded as a sexual orientation parallel to hetero- and homosexuality, along with recognition of the right to be free from discrimination. Instead, paedophiles are routinely treated to hate-speech and face massive discrimination not just in political life but across the board, in housing, employment, you name it. Similar treatment for Jewish people, or gypsies, or Muslims or gays or blacks or women, would rightly be condemned as barbaric and worthy of the Nazis.

Yet even nice guy John Woodcock apparently feels it is acceptable to crank up fear and loathing where paedophilia is concerned.

Why? Because in this case I am a convicted paedophile? a criminal? I would remind you that is not so long ago that practising gays were also considered criminals. So, in his way, was Socrates. And Jesus. And countless ordinary people, too, have been condemned unjustly for their beliefs and even just for who they are. I hoped – still hope – that the Labour Party believes in free expression and even, on occasion, compassion for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. I need only name the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and there is no shortage of other examples.

Which brings me to the values – the Labour values – I hold dear and to why I joined the Labour Party.

I have been a Labour supporter since long before John Woodcock was born, converted at the age of 15 from my working class dad’s support for the Tories by a clever fellow pupil at my local comp who went on to study economics at the LSE. As a VIth former, I was already an activist, joining CND and taking part in one of the annual marches from Aldermaston to London to Ban the Bomb. When I went to Lancaster University in 1964 I was one of the founding members of the new university’s Labour Club. I canvassed for Stanley Henig at the 1966 general election, when he was returned as the MP for Lancaster. When I was a press officer for the Open University in the 1970s I canvassed for Labour there too, and later did the same in Yorkshire when I was a journalist with the Wakefield Express. I was on the million-strong London march in 2003 against Blair’s ill-fated decision to back the war in Iraq.

Not that I have ever been “hard left”. Absolutely in the mainstream Labour tradition, I have always supported democratic socialism, and I favoured Neil Kinnock over those to the left of him, including Tony Benn. Bearing in mind that there is said to be more of Methodism than Marx in the Labour tradition, I felt a great affinity for Benn’s Christian socialism, but always felt he flirted too much with undemocratic elements, not least in his sympathy for those who were seeking to unify Ireland through terrorism. Jeremy did likewise, but all is forgiven in view of the fact that peace in Ireland was eventually secured through negotiation. Credit to Tony as well over that, of course.

Why, then, it may be asked, did I never join the Party until 2015?

It is simply that I was never inspired to do so because the Wilson and Callaghan governments were a disappointment compared to the fantastic achievements of the Attlee years. As for the betrayal of democratic socialism under Blair, disappointment is too weak a word. The much brighter prospect of a Corbyn leadership was what finally persuaded me I really should join and get properly involved.

Right from the moment of joining, though, I always felt it would be only a matter of time before members would find out about my background and take exception to my presence. Then I would have to go. Until that time, I told myself, I would be content to help as best I could with such humble but vital tasks as stuffing envelopes and pushing leaflets through doors.

For me, it was all about the Party. Passionately as I believe in freedom of speech and radical thinking unimpeded by any perception of the “correct” line, I am not an indulgent individualist. I am a team player when allowed to be. I simply wanted to do my bit in a quiet and unassuming way.

Turning to my own “radical” thinking, I would note first that there was much hand-wringing last year over whether those joining the Party under the £3 scheme were true supporters of “Labour values”. That is not the easiest term to define. The Party’s website presently says the following, which is a bit motherhood and apple pie and open to wide interpretation:

…the values Labour stands for today are those which have guided it throughout its existence.

  • social justice
  • strong community and strong values
  • reward for hard work
  • decency
  • rights matched by responsibilities

Some might feel my values fail on the “decency” score but I beg to differ based on Labour’s own history and traditions, and also on a broad view as to what the word means. I take it to be grounded in respect for others, rather than blind conformity to conventional mores. I might also mention that this official list of Labour values is too Blairite. It fails to spell out that “social justice” requires a more equable distribution of wealth. Also, does Labour not value liberty? Where is that word? Is freedom a value to be ceded to the right? Has Labour become just a party that hates pleasure, loves to restrict people’s lives, and seeks to ban things – including me?

I mentioned the importance of Methodism, or one might say non-conformist Christianity more generally, to the Labour tradition. But the non-conformity of Marxist studies on the family, and on the fundamental economic underpinnings of social and sexual life, have also contributed deeply to Labour thought. Engels’ book The Origins of the Family did not shy away from such big issues as the origins of the incest taboo, the rise of patriarchy, and the “bourgeois” family. Anthropology was in its infancy then: much theory was perched precariously on a sketchy foundation of traveller’s tales from far-flung outposts of empire; but a tradition of deep engagement with the origins of our social arrangements, and the ways in which they might be critiqued and developed for the better, has been an aspect of Labour intellectual life ever since the Party’s inception, if not always through the Party itself then through associated intellectual developments, notably the Fabian Society, the Workers’ Educational Association and the Left Book Club.

Early Fabians included the poet Edward Carpenter and sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis. Carpenter was an early LGBT activist, whose socialist vision saw sexual freedom, including free reign for consensual sexual relations between man and boy, not as the abuse of a powerless young person by a powerful older one but quite the opposite. As he proclaimed in his book The Intermediate Sex,

“Eros is a great leveller. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society.”

Havelock Ellis, likewise, an esteemed figure in his day, described the sexual relations of homosexual males, including men with boys. He wrote objectively, as a scientist, without characterising such relations in terms of disease, or damning them as immoral, or criminal. He discovered through his studies that same-sex love transcends age taboos as well as those of gender.

Fast forwarding to more recent times, my own early recollections are of a Labour Party in the 1960s and 70s that actually achieved far more than I gave it credit for at the time. Looking back, I note in particular the great social and educational reforms under the leadership of Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, such as the abolishment of the death penalty and of theatre censorship, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality and the creation of the Open University.

Roy was derided by the right as a “champagne socialist”. It seems to me he simply wanted a rich, enjoyable life for the many, not the few. Unlike today’s dour breed of censorious, mind-shrinking, PC authoritarians on the left, he was the patron saint of permission. May we do it? Yes, we may! The permissive society, he boldly declared, is the civilized society. He is even said to have been impressed by the Paedophile Information Exchange’s Evidence to the Home Office Criminal Law Revision Committee, which would effectively have led to an age of consent of 10 in most cases, plus a new system of civil law protection against relationships contrary to the best interests of the child. It may have been under PIE’s influence, indeed, that research was commissioned by the Home Office leading to an official report in which consenting underage children were described as “partners” rather than “victims” (Sexual Offenses, Consent and Sentencing, H.O. Research Study No. 54, 1979).

The big mistake of that era was not Labour’s “permissive” approach, which was always grounded in respect for others and for communal values. Nor was there anything wrong per se with the hippie mantra “make love not war”. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence from primate and human studies linking the encouragement of personal intimacy in infancy and childhood, including the unimpeded discovery of sexual expression, with peaceable, cooperative, pleasant attitudes in adult life: it’s the difference between the female-dominated bonobo world, where sex is permitted in all age and sex combinations and is actually used as a peace-making strategy, and the tough, kick-ass mentality we see exemplified in gun-loving America, where Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl, exposing a nipple, apparently counts as a bigger outrage than the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 20 children aged between six and seven years old, and six adult staff members, lost their lives to a crazy gunman.

What remains discredited from the days of Roy Jenkins, and rightly so, is selfish, individualistic, irresponsible hedonism – a philosophy that includes the relentless pursuit of personal greed and wealth accumulation, and which belongs to the right wing not the left.

I rest my case.

 

LINKS TO THE NEWS

Fury as paedophile campaigner is allowed to join Labour party

Subscription access only. This was the story that broke the news on Tues 16 February. No indication here as to how reporter Nigel Bunyan was first on the scene, for The Times. Story gives background re Harriet Harman; Hacked Off; Heretic TOC blog, with quote from About: : “I have been at odds with ‘the dominant narrative’ of sexual morality over the last several decades”.

Paedophile campaigner who joined Labour to back Jeremy Corbyn knocked doors in a by-election campaign

Very full account in Daily Mail on 17th. Story mentions my trial in Wales last year for “abusing brothers aged nine and ten”. Says “Labour today said O’Carroll had been ‘auto excluded’ from the party following his suspension yesterday and would not have the opportunity to resign.” Quotes one of the brothers, who: “…feared he had infiltrated Labour in a bid to continue his campaign to justify paedophilia.” Briefly, I had some sexual engagement with a 10-year-old boy in the 1970s. He said in court that he had been a willing participant and I treated him “respectfully”. His younger brother, who had been present at the time, took a dim view. He is the one who initiated the case.

Notorious paedophile’s night in the pub with Barrow MP

Local paper in Barrow: Quote: “Looking back, the most disturbing thing about that meeting was how pleasant and articulate was the demeanour of this highly dangerous man – a million miles from the myth of the shifty paedophile who can be identified from his suspicious manner.” Also: “He also spent two hours debating Trident and Syria at a Christmas party at Cunningham’s, the former Furness Hotel, in Bath Street, Barrow.” Also: “The Barrow and Furness MP said: ‘The idea of him using Labour activities to get the opportunity to prey on children is sickening beyond words’.” Story says I will step down voluntarily as I do not wish to embarrass Corbyn.

Yet more paedophile questions for Labour

Daily Mail editorial: “…the suspicion is that his membership was only suspended yesterday because the Press had found out about it.” Also: “Hacked Off, of course, is backed by Max Mosley – who has never forgiven the News of the World for revealing his spanking sessions with prostitutes. Is it so surprising that O’Carroll beat a path to its door?”

Former chairman of the Paedophile Information Exchange has Labour Party membership suspended

Daily Telegraph. Nice quote from my blog site About: “My aim here is to present a discourse of resistance. That probably sounds grim, but humour and cheerfulness are my weapons of choice, along with reason and research.” Also a Profile box with details of two books: Paedophilia: The Radical Case (1980); Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons (2010). Also some quotes from Radical Case.

Tom O’Carroll: Labour suspends convicted paedophile and pro-child sex campaigner who joined party

The Independent: Followed by some interesting comments, notably from Leonard Mann and Liberationista.

Labour Suspends Pie/Hacked Off campaigner

Guido Fawkes, 16 Feb 2016: “Guido was in the room but failed to spot him among the crowd of weirdy-beardy grey-haired wrong ’uns with shared interests in shutting up the press.”

Paedo Tom O’Carroll’s plan to emulate Corbyn

Guido Fawkes, 17 Feb 2016: “O’Carroll wrote a disturbing post praising Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, implying he wanted the paedophile movement to take inspiration from how a man with controversial views had won “respect” after decades of sticking to his principles.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whither the punitive state? Whither go we?

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The final chapter of Roger Lancaster’s Sex Panic and the Punitive State, a book lauded by many heretics, is titled “Whither the Punitive State?”

Frustratingly, it doesn’t really address its own question. While it would be unrealistic to expect firm predictions, or a rousing action plan (“Sex offenders of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your tags!”) all we get is a lame – because also unrealistic – list of “pointers for a sounder public discourse”. What it lacks is any sense of agency: good things would happen if his suggestions were adopted, but there no indication of who is ever going to do so. It is as though Lancaster had been sitting at his desk thinking “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone thought like me?”

But they don’t! Many of his readers, to be sure, may think like him and will benefit from his penetrating analysis of our woeful times, but we are left with little sense of engagement in making better things happen. Perhaps the closest we get is this:

“Concerted efforts by scholars, public intellectuals, journalists, and others could begin to make tabloid culture less respectable.”

But who is to do the concerting?

The political landscape might change if, say, the increasingly huge expense of incarcerating ever more sex offenders becomes unsustainable; in that eventuality, economic facts will have been the driving force towards a new discourse, not the conscious efforts of Lancaster or his readers. But concluding that history is just the working out of blind forces beyond our control might have seemed too bleak a note on which to conclude his book.

Nevertheless, it is one of several difficult considerations we must face unflinchingly if we are to “keep it real” as heretics. Another is whether the existence of a powerful state is necessarily a bad thing.

Marx, Engels and Lenin all asked not so much “Whither the state?” as “Wither the state?”

Friedrich Engels was the first to articulate the idea (which he attributed to Marx) that the state in a socialist society would wither away: the propertied classes needed coercively enforced laws to protect their unfair advantage; once the war against such injustice was won, the state would atrophy from lack of any purpose. But famously this vague “withering” thing, magicking the state away with a wishy-washy wave of Marxism’s rhetorical wand, never happened, either in the Soviet Union or in any other avowedly Marxist society: on the contrary, the state under Stalin, Mao and other Communist leaders grew ever more totalitarian and oppressive without even being efficient.

Likewise, we heretics have our own radicals who quite rightly oppose both “sex panics” and “the punitive state” but fail to propose plausible alternatives.

Recently, for instance, I unexpectedly found myself in a debate with the generally excellent Ben Capel at Inquisition 21st Century. At one time I was somewhat contemptuously dismissive of “unscientific” psychoanalysis grounded in the Freudian tradition. Ben put me right, alerting me to the radically humane potential of such therapy as compared with the supposedly more scientific CBT, which is used in coercive and degrading ways in penal settings.

So I value Ben’s thoughts highly and was pleased when Brian Rothery, editor of Inquisition 21, invited me to respond earlier this month to an article by Ben titled “Cruel and unusual punishment”. He had written that parents, as well as MAPs, sometimes find themselves subjected to unjust treatment at the hands of the state, suffering “harassment from social workers to the point where they are driven to mental breakdown or flight”, then seeing their children taken from them into state custody.

The article was part of an initiative called “The Rallying Point”, designed “to bring together isolated and fragmented groups” to fight back against the exercise of power by a state perceived as heartless and arrogant, blundering and bureaucratic.

I like the idea of rallying together with others who suffer injustice, but nevertheless found myself uneasy over the uncompromising anti-statism. Yes, I thought, social workers can sometimes be excessively interventionist. But should it be ignored that children are murdered at the rate of around one every 10 days in the UK at the hands of their parents, sometimes following unspeakable neglect and cruelty? I think not. What we do not hear so much about, and perhaps we should, are the cases where social workers intervene successfully and children are found better homes with loving adoptive parents.

Ben was unmoved when I made this point, insisting that the state should “withdraw and leave its citizens unmolested” until a whole bunch of tough conditions had been met, such as “until cops and social workers are required to have deep and enduring insight into their own irrational drives and sadistic tendencies”.

But, I asked, would the citizenry be left happily “unmolested”? Or would life be nasty, brutish and short? The Hobbesian nightmare of violent anarchy in the absence of a strong state is no mere imagining, I said, but well grounded in man’s truly savage history. The challenge is how to keep the baby (the rule of law) while throwing out the bathwater (unjust laws and unjust law enforcement). Note that my “savage” assessment relates to our history: prehistoric times are another matter, and I will be coming to those below.

I suggested that human rights law, a recent development, is a beginning.

Children’s rights, too, as I have argued here before, are only sustainable in a context of enforceable law backed by state power. And, believe it or not, those rights are being successfully used in Britain right now as a bulwark against intrusive police inquiries into the sex lives of young people.

How? Through Gillick Competence.

And here’s the context: the big, bad state in full panic mode has resulted in police forces around the country being tasked to hunt down teenagers exploited through so-called “grooming”. Publicity following a report last year that had claimed 1,400 victims in just one town, Rotherham, put pressure on the police and other official agencies to reveal the “true” scale of abuse elsewhere – which in practice meant intruding into the intimate behaviour of many youngsters who do not regard themselves as victims at all.

Gillick Competence, as I discovered obliquely from a BBC radio report, is protecting these youngsters. The Gillick principle, enshrined in a House of Lords ruling, acknowledges the competence of many young people under 16 to make important decisions in their life, including, implicitly, the decision to have an active sex life. This ruling, made in 1986, enables them to get advice on contraception and other sexual matters independently of their parents. That is an important reason why, as the BBC reported, police forces asking their intrusive questions found they encountered difficulty in getting answers from other public bodies, notably the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS is important in this regard because children are likely to be seen by healthcare staff, such as their local doctor, or school nurse, if they are sexually active and need contraception advice or have related medical needs. Thanks to the Gillick ruling, these staffs have been able to rebuff police enquiries in the name of patient confidentiality.

Thus a legal ruling, backed by the force of the state’s laws, is here seen in support of children and against the police. What this tells us is that reliance on a narrative of the oppressive state crushing the individual is hopelessly simplistic.

As for the ignorance and malevolence of police, social workers, etc., it is easy to reject the state that employs them. But then what? Ben talked about the “spontaneous cultivation of informal networks of trust and solidarity between people” as an alternative to state power.

Umm, really? Like a modern love relationship, say, which is a spontaneous coming together of two people who love each other and set up house together? But what happens if they fall out? Who gets the kids? What if one partner is murderously jealous after a betrayal? In the absence of law, it’s every man (and woman and child) for themselves and devil take the weakest.

And so the debate went on. Readers can decide for themselves who “won”. I like to think my logic was strong but persuasion comes mainly through the heart not the head and Ben definitely had a better story to tell in that regard.

In another debate, though, this time with Nick Devin of the Virtuous Pedophiles on the Sexnet forum, the roles were reversed. Nick was characteristically dour, dull and “realistic”, while I was the “romantic” rebel. In an earlier exchange, I had blasted him as being part of the problem, not the solution. He snapped back at my “fatuous” efforts, saying I spend far too much time blogging to “like-minded people” who collectively wring our hands over the unreasonableness of the world at large and accomplish nothing. “Occasionally,” he said “you speak to the press and invite blowback which leads to more derision and hate.”

You can read the full exchange here. Part of my response addressed fundamental aims:

At heart I am a “make love not war” type. I was never a drop-out or a hippie. I am too driven for that, rather than “laid back”. But my vision sort of harks back to the 1970s and invites us to think how we could take the most promising elements of those times forward while ditching the bad, especially the gender inequality and male chauvinism. Having just finished reading Douglas P. Fry’s wonderful recent book, War, Peace & Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views (O.U.P., 2013), I am persuaded that the deep prehistory of humankind was not Hobbesian as Steven Pinker and other popular writers would have us believe, and that our future as a species will more and more depend on cooperative strategies rather than the intense competition that has prevailed from the agricultural era onwards. This shift away from extraordinary and often deadly intra-species competition, which arose initially in response to relatively recent Malthusian resource-pressure crises not evidenced in the EEA [environment of evolutionary adaptedness], will be far more compatible with gentler and less rule-bound erotic styles: more bonobo than chimp, if you will. I would argue this as a feminist vision bearing in mind that the erotic governance of bonobo society depends fundamentally on strong female alliances capable of holding males in check.

I admitted, though, that I have little idea of how to plan politically for the achievement of any such exotic utopia – or zootopia! So did I have more rationally defensible grounds for swimming against the tide of public opinion? Something more rooted in the here and now? I continued:

Looking first at the social ills we face in society, there is an urgency to many problems which appears not to concern Nick, or he regards them as a matter for “experts”, people above his pay grade. He wants to help paedophiles deal with the strain of their sexual repression – the hopelessness, the depression, the suicidality – but seems wholly blinkered as regards the social context of their lives. As a result, his remedies are like trying to cure a cancer with a band aid. He ignores, for instance, that the sexually so-called “moral” cultures are the most disastrously violent on earth, as we see from Islamist extremism and kick-ass, gun-toting, America, where sexually repressive, moralistic beliefs are instilled from childhood.

My approach at least engages with discussion of this social context rather than focusing narrowly on “adjusting” the “abnormal” individual to the procrustean bed of a sick society – an enterprise doomed to contribute to the sickness not alleviate it.

Can it be any accident, I ask myself, that all the desperate, at-their-wits-end people turn up at Nick’s door, looking for help he cannot give, whereas the bright, cheerful, upbeat, full-of-ideas folk come to my parties and have a ball…

My blogging for a constituency of “the like-minded” as Nick claimed, is certainly no big deal in terms of what the wider world thinks. Within that constituency, though, something significant does take place… Heretic TOC has a therapeutic function. Sure works for me: despite all the hammering I’ve had in terms of wrecked career, prison terms, missing out on family life, …vilification and sometimes physical attack, you won’t find me depressed or suicidal these days, or drinking too much…

… we are not afraid to critique society vigorously and engage with the media on unapologetic terms. Usually they ignore us; but to dismiss the exercise on that basis as a waste of time and energy is to miss its massive value to us. I fight, therefore I am. To resist is to be alive and to be me… not just the meek, compliant, person our oppressors want us to be.

Back to Roger Lancaster. I started by slagging him off for his lack of answers, or rather his failure to project his own big questions into the future with any conviction. I find Fry’s vision more interesting, even though, bizarre as it will seem to anti-statists, he holds up the European Union as an example of the way forward. He accurately notes that the EU, much derided these days as a corrupt bureaucratic monster, was founded soon after the Second World War in order to secure lasting peace through trade and prosperity.

But for the most part it has worked. It has delivered a peaceful life, backed by relatively efficient governance and the rule of law, for hundreds of millions. Has it resulted in the acceptance of child sexuality and freedom for adult-child sexual relations? No. Is it heading, like national governments, towards risk-averse child “protection” and entrenching a victim culture? Yes. Does the expansion of supra-national institutions like the EU threaten a world monoculture, potentially culminating in the tyranny of the “moral” majority across the globe? Yes.

Does this dystopian vision terrify me? Sure it does. What I share with Fry, though, is the perception that focusing on strategies of human cooperation – strategies developed in our prehistory, as he demonstrates, and now extended into modern statecraft – offer the best long-term hope for a rational, peaceful, future in which loving intimacy for all may be allowed to thrive.

Love and peace, brothers and sisters, love and peace!

The pre-WEIRD world, according to Rind

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Dr Bruce Rind charts new territory in his latest published work. Or rather he newly charts some very old terrain, going deep into history and beyond, to the evolutionary origins of our sexuality. There are literally charts, six magnificent ones, each of which sets out a table of studies and a summary of their findings across a great swathe of fascinating erotica and exotica, with characteristic Rindian thoroughness.

Did you know, for instance, that “pederastic-like behaviour” is so pervasive among bighorn sheep that females will mimic young males in order to get sexual attention from the more mature males! Or that mature lyrebird males will follow an adolescent for hours, “serenading” him! Thought not! Such observations go way beyond “our” evolutionary origins, of course, if “we” refers specifically to humans rather than all animals.

So what is Rind up to? Is the good doctor such an eccentric, ivory tower academic that he has failed to notice humans are a somewhat different species to sheep and birds? Does he, with his obsessive systematising, falsely draw analogies between our sexuality and theirs? It would be an easy charge to level, of a kind often made in kneejerk fashion by those who are (albeit rightly) suspicious of genetic determinism. But would it stand up to scrutiny?

The work in question forms Chapter 1 of a new book called Censoring Sex Research: The Debate over Male Intergenerational Relations, which I mentioned late last year. In his introduction to the book, joint editor Thomas Hubbard tells us that in this new piece, which runs to 90 pages, “Dr Rind contextualizes his earlier analyses of psychological data through an aggressively interdisciplinary approach, showing that his earlier finding that male intergenerational relationships are usually not harmful is not as surprising or implausible as critics claim.” Actually, those earlier analyses covered man-girl contacts and other gender combinations as well. The fact that Rind sticks to “pederasty” (men with adolescent boys) in his new work is highly significant, in ways I’ll come to.

The chapter is called “Pederasty: An integration of empirical, historical, sociological, cross-cultural, cross-species, and evolutionary perspectives”. What he hopes to gain through this wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach is a way of judging scientifically whether a particular class of sexual behaviour is normal or abnormal, healthy or pathological. If the behaviour turns out to be extremely widespread and culturally accepted in other eras or cultures it becomes hard to argue that it is “abnormal” for humans, even if it is so regarded here and now. Also, a cross-species approach that demonstrates the prevalence of “pederastic-like behaviour” in other primates, or even across a wider range of animal life, would give strong grounds for believing that human pederasty had an evolved evolutionary function. To call it pathological in humans would then make little sense. Not that Rind feels we should accept the tyranny of normality, nor does he fall into the trap of the “naturalistic fallacy”: he is not suggesting that any behaviour to be found in nature is moral and good, only that behaviours should not be condemned as immoral and bad, or dysfunctional and harmful, on the basis of false information.

So, what does he find? Briefly, a lot. The six data sets summarised in his charts comprise studies of sexual relations between: (1) boys and women; (2) gay boys and men; (3) boys and men in history and across cultures; (4) immature male primates and mature ones; (5) immature male sub-primates and mature ones; (5) immature male birds and mature ones.

He starts with the easy stuff, so to speak, in order to make a relatively unassailable point straight away. Using formal academic studies, he demonstrates what would not so long ago have been considered so obvious as not to need demonstration: most adolescent boys are turned on by women. For most boys in their early teens having sex with a woman would not be seen as “abuse”. Far from seeing themselves as victims, they would be thrilled to the core by a dream come true. Same with gay boys and men: the evidence strongly suggests they like it, and why wouldn’t they? It’s when we get to “straight” boys and men that the picture becomes more counter-intuitive for those of us brought up in the developed, non-pederastic, world. Why would the boys be interested?

No, no, that’s a rhetorical question. Don’t all rush to answer! Many have done so already, notably Edward Brongersma in his enormous two-volume Loving Boys and Theo Sandfort with his structured interviews and psychometrics probing boys’ ongoing relationships with men. Quite recently Dave Riegel drew a lot of threads together in his paper “The role of androphilia in the psychosexual development of boys”, which notes that boys identify intensely with men as role models, often to the point of hero worship, and considers “the extent to which boys’ generalized inclinations to explore, experience, and enjoy their emerging masculinity in the company of older males” is also “manifested in their psychosexual developmental interests, desires, and activities”.

Rind draws on an immense range of anthropological and historical studies to demonstrate that it is the modern developed world that is unusual in not accepting pederasty: many other cultures have done so. Not for nothing is the acronym WEIRD (Western, Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries) increasingly being used by social scientists to capture the exceptional nature of modernity. Even in our own times, he shows, it is possible for pederasty to be very positively experienced by boys. One case he cites is that of leading psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, who described a pederastic relationship with his tutor from the age of 11 in glowing terms. At a time when his parents’ marriage was deteriorating, his tutor helped him through it and “it was in some ways psychologically life-saving for me”. The relationship with the tutor was both emotional and sexual. He welcomed it at the time, even though he was destined to be heterosexual as an adult.

So far, I think, Rind is on strong ground. Likewise his trawl through studies first of primates (bonobos, gorillas, gibbons, monkeys, etc.) and then of sub-primates (from whales to rodents) and even the birds (but not the bees!), shows a huge range of species in which “pederastic-like” behaviour can be found in abundance.

What is also clear, though, is that Rind has a much tougher job on his hands when he invokes evolutionary psychology to explain all this sexual activity between adult and adolescent males. And what is a good deal less clear is the implications of his ideas for modern society, bearing in mind that we are so WEIRD, and most of us would not wish to be otherwise.

Now there are many heretics who jump at the idea that pederasty is deeply rooted in nature and has performed a useful or even vital function for many species, including our own. But we should be careful what we wish for. We may discover that pederasty was indeed an adaptive trait at one time, giving better survival chances to social groups in which it played a part. We may also find, though, that it has outlived its usefulness. Whether that is true or not could turn upon what life was like tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago, in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA) when we were gatherers and hunters. Rind bases his ideas on the view, which is not as uncontroversial as he seems to think, that not only was there a permanent struggle for survival – which is the firmly established bedrock of evolutionary theory – but also that this struggle was typically expressed not just in terms of being predators (hunters) and avoiding falling prey to other species, but also via battling for resources against our own kind: in other words, frequent warfare, possibly also including predation (cannibalism). Rind accordingly paints a picture of primitive bands, or tribes, in near-permanent conflict, such that it was utterly vital for boys to “man up” drastically as early as possible, leading to cultures characterised by fierce initiation rites – so ferocious in the case of some surviving hunter-gather cultures studied in the last century or two that they could and did prove fatal for weak or unlucky boys.

Rind proposes a “mentorship-bonding/enculturation-alliance hypothesis” arising from this scenario, in which there were four ways in which pederasty helped the male group replicate itself: (a) mentoring in skills and social demeanour (including “manning up”); (b) bonding, to which pederasty’s erotic character contributed; (c) enculturation into the practices and ideologies of the group; (d) cementing alliances with other group members that were essential for teamwork in hunting and warfare.

These days, as Rind observes, we do our “hunting” at the supermarket. Boys do not need to be all that tough. He also suggests that manhood in the rugged sense is an evolved capacity not an irresistible drive, noting that in isolated societies such old Tahiti, where warfare was not endemic, men were not tougher than women and there was a high degree of gender equality, as in our WEIRD world.

What Rind fails to acknowledge, though, is that the capacity for men being tough – which certainly exists and so must have evolved – may or may not have co-evolved with pederasty in the EEA. He provides absolutely zero evidence (such as might be obtained from gene sequencing and metrics of heritability) that pederasty is anything other than a cultural response to environmental conditions, just as the relatively gentle ways of Tahitian manhood developed culturally in response to living on a remote island where food was plentiful and they were not under constant danger of attack. No genetic change was required in order to induce this radically different pattern of behaviour. Biologist Eric Alcorn, in Chapter 5 of the book, provides a detailed and to my mind compelling critique of Rind’s evolutionary hypothesis, dismissing it as just the latest in a long and inglorious line of speculative “just so” stories thrown up by the not very disciplined discipline known as evolutionary psychology.

As Alcorn concedes, that does not mean Rind is wrong, only that there is no reason to believe he is right. I would add that he may be wrong for two scientific reasons. Frankly, I hope he is, for two ethical ones.

Firstly, so far as the science is concerned, his hypothesis relies on group selection, which has been enjoying a revival recently but is still controversial. The idea is resisted with near apoplectic fury by no less a figure than the distinguished biologist Richard Dawkins: it gets him even crosser than religion!

Secondly, Rind implicitly relies upon Napoleon, who has been all-conquering for decades but may be about to meet his Waterloo – Napoleon Chagnon, that is, the anthropologist whose work underpins the idea that our hunter-gatherer forebears were almost perpetually at war. His book Yanomamö: The Fierce People, published in 1968, became the all-time bestselling anthropological text. Critics of Chagnon and his successors, however, have shown that this celebrated ethnography of a spectacularly violent tribe of the Amazon-Orinoco watershed region was not based on a pristine society such as would have existed in the EEA at all: the tribe’s culture had already been significantly impacted by the outside world for well over a hundred years before Chagnon studied them. Also, there is a reason to believe the struggle between humans for resources would have been nothing like as intensive and violent in the EEA as it later became: during the greater part of mankind’s evolutionary history, our numbers were very small and the amount of territory available for gathering and hunting was literally boundless: instead of fighting neighbouring tribes over the right to hunt or gather in a particular area, there was always the possibility of moving to pastures new – well, not pastures but forests and savannahs in the first instance.

As for ethics, Rind’s investigations bring to mind two questions of social justice: gender equality is a very salient one; less obvious, but just as important, is the injustice that would inevitably arise as a result of privileging pederasty at the expense of other forms of adult-minor attraction, especially man-girl love and man-boy love when the child is prepubescent.

To be fair to Rind, he is not advocating pederasty in today’s world (except perhaps covertly, based on an unstated critique of modern values). Although he credibly insists it used to have a positive function, he concedes it is an evolutionary mismatch today. He likens the modern-day pederast to a naturally light-coloured moth:

“The modern-day pederast is like the moth with a light-coloring mechanism transported to an industrialized, sooted environment, in which the mechanism is functioning as designed but this functioning now imperils the moth” as it has lost its protective camouflage against predators. “Pederasty”, Rind continues later on the same page, “is currently gravely at odds with the social structure and cultural ideologies, especially since their modifications in the 1970s. Therefore, when it occurs now in particular cases, it is likely to be occurring far outside the context associated with its design, devoid of mentoring, bonding and group purpose. Its occurrence is prone to being tainted with opprobrium and a sense of exploitation and violence.”

As Alcorn astutely observed, the vivid metaphor of the moth subtly paints modern society as an agent not of progress but of sooty pollution. In some ways I think this is true, but not in the way Rind seems to imply. His elegiac remarks look to a romanticised past in which pederasty functioned well as a legitimate marriage of apprenticeship and male bonding. Fine, but it is a bit rich to join in with the usual badmouthing of modern pederastic experiences because of their supposed (often wrongly) association with violence when – as is implicit in Rind’s own account – pederasty arose almost entirely in a context of training for violence. The raison d’être of the man-boy bond was to turn soft mummy’s boys into utterly ruthless, hard-as-nails, warriors who wouldn’t hesitate to wipe out other tribes, including their children.

The societies for which Rind is apparently so nostalgic really have nothing to commend them. They thrived in a world of violent male dominance and hence extreme gender inequality, which was a recipe for every kind of horror. Ghastly as extremist modern feminism has become, with its cult of victimhood, we would not wish to return to the brutal kill-or-be-killed world in which Rind’s vision of pederasty thrived.

But was it really like that? Read “How to raise a child the hunter-gatherer way”, from Jared Diamond’s recent book The World Until Yesterday, and a totally different picture emerges, based on a more balanced appraisal of hunter-gatherer lifestyles than it is possible to take from Rind’s pages. Instead of the Hobbesian nightmare envisioned by Rind, in which pre-civilized life is seen as merely “nasty, brutish and short”, we learn of cultures that are genuinely worth imitating by the modern world in some important ways, including greater freedom for children (girls as well as boys) and their sexual expression from a very early age. These were societies with distinct gender roles, but not necessarily with great gender inequality or grossly unjust inequalities of any kind. It is only materially much richer societies – starting with agricultural ones – which allow individuals and classes to become hugely rich and powerful, unfair and oppressive.

By contrast, Rind’s dubious privileging of pederasty as a functionally evolved form of adult-adolescent sexuality is by his own admission redundant in terms of any applicability in modern society. Furthermore, his blinkered vision utterly ignores the situation not only of women but specifically of girls. Only men’s sexual relationships with adolescent boys appear to interest him. It is as though, for Rind, girls simply do not exist or are of no account. As a consequence, the pressing question of how children of both sexes can be brought up in a happier and more self-determining way amidst the endemic hysteria of modernity is not addressed. All that Rind leaves us with, in the end, are reasons to reject his special pleading on behalf of long-dead pederastic cultures. After giving us so much interesting information, that is a pity.

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