Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers

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As I expected, Heretic TOC’s Lewis Carroll blog last time proved controversial. I have held back from responding in any detail to specific points of criticism in part because I felt I should avoid my own contribution becoming too much “the dominant discourse”, as it were. I am delighted to say this restraint has been richly rewarded with a number of interesting comments that have already appeared. There was also a blog-length one by “Sylvie” of such quality it cried out to be used as a guest blog, and it accordingly makes its debut below. This is Sylvie’s second guest piece, her first having been “We fight for more than Love or Pleasure”, last year.

This latest article is especially valuable as Sylvie is the author of two academic theses on Lewis Carroll and writes with obvious authority.

 

It seems that, as the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland continue, we are likely to find Lewis Carroll mentioned over and over again in newspapers, at literary events, and all over the Internet. I welcome this, as any discussion around this wonderfully complex personality never fails to thrill me. Unfortunately, it seems that we are not going to mark 2015 with white stones. Those who hope, as l very much do, to finally read an unbiased portrait of the author of the Alice books are doomed to be disappointed this year as well.

Were it not for the fact that I am well acquainted with the character of the man, I’d have good reasons to lose my sanity over the mostly absurd theories revolving around him. There are seemingly two opposite factions nowadays: the very indignant “Lewis Carroll-Absolutely-Not-A-Paedophile” one, and the apparently nonchalant “Dark-Side-Of-The-Repressed-Paedophile-Lewis Carroll”. Whereas these two battling factions claim to be distinct, truth is that they are very much alike in their lack of insight into the nature of paedophilia: they are Tweedledumbs and Tweedledumbers on the subject. Even more poignantly, they strive in controversy over a non-existing man: the real Lewis Carroll – whom they claim to appreciate but evidently fail to fully grasp – was neither dark nor sinister, nor was he repressed.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was not, in many respects, a repressed man. On the contrary, he had come to terms with himself, perhaps not without difficulty, as he had very likely been on his own on the challenging journey to self-discovery. He must have arrived at such realisation possibly after much soul-searching, as is usual when one has a rich and complex inner life. He was not “strange”. He had his quirks, true, but that’s because he was somehow naturally unconventional – in his mind first and foremost, and therefore in his outer demeanour, interests, and hobbies. I believe he was at peace with his conscience; that is why he would not welcome interference from people, whether parents (whenever he thought they were being unnecessarily cautious) or anyone who would raise an eyebrow.

When word of his “friendships” reached his sister Mary, she wrote a concerned letter to her brother. Charles’ reply (21 September, 1893), shuts the mouths, l believe, of those who accuse him of being “sinister”, and reveals instead the character of the man as well as his integrity:

“The only two tests l now apply to such a question as the having some particular girl-friend as a guest are, first, my own conscience, to settle whether I feel it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God; secondly, the parents of my friend, to settle whether l have their full approval for what l do.”

He was so free from repression that he claimed the right to pursue whatever friendships he liked best: not only with children but, for instance, with adult unmarried women as well, which may not have appeared as terribly appropriate at the time. He would happily mingle with artists and actresses. He was always looking out for like-minded people.

He took decisions that were coherent with his lifestyle: he took up photography and experimented with it as long as it thrilled him. He gave it up, not because of wagging tongues but more likely because technological advancement had made photography a more complex and burdensome hobby, and he presumably no longer wished to commit that much, in his later years, to something he felt he had experimented enough with.

His decision not to proceed to the priesthood cannot be accounted for convincingly by his speech impediment, which he had managed to control to a certain extent through discipline and professional help; a better explanation is that his beliefs developed as his life progressed, taking him beyond his Anglican faith towards a more ecumenical attitude. You couldn’t hold him down; he refused to be restricted.

In a letter to his niece, Edith Dodgson (March 8, 1891), he wrote:

“A truth that is becoming more and more clear to me as life passes away –- that God’s purpose, in this wonderful complex life of ours, is mutual interaction, all round. Every life…bears upon, or ought to bear upon, the lives of others.”

He had had a religious, conservative upbringing, but despite being traditional in many respects, he was never narrow-minded, or regressive. Far from being repressed or frustrated, he had a disposition that we could positively define as all embracing. Whereas the dicta of the established Church would not easily condone such an intellectual stance, he positively included dissenters and sinners into the picture.

Likewise, as a result of the same independent spirit, he did not remain a bachelor because “it was part of his contract with Christ Church”, as it has been perhaps too naively stated. Had he considered marriage feasible for himself, it is safe to assume that, in the end, he would have married. It had been clear to him, from an early age that married life was simply not for him. Not because he was uncomfortable around adults, or he failed to be appreciative of the many benefits of marriage, but likely because he may have recognised married life as incompatible with his lifestyle, and perhaps, with himself as a man – what he was, what he could or could not give. He longed to maintain a life that was not strictly bound by domestic obligations; a life that enabled him to be free to pursue interests and hobbies, and take up things and dismiss them, and change opinion and route.

The very strong point in Tom’s blog is, in my opinion, the affirmation that Dodgson’s sophistication was not at all incompatible with paedophilia. That’s because it is rather convenient nowadays to convey the message that virtually anyone who has a paedophilic inclination, or has experienced paedophilic feelings towards a child, must necessarily be an emotionally retarded loner. To concede that paedophilia does not necessarily make one “retarded”, either emotionally or on any other level, would attribute a certain degree of “normality” to paedophilic inclinations. There is always a risk that the public may suspect that the game is not being fairly played, and that this suggested “degree of normality” clearly clashes against the modern crusade that sees all adult-child relationships as suspicious. The mere suggestion of normality would make the crusaders’ stances reek more and more of propaganda, and less of legitimacy. Far from being emotionally retarded, Lewis Carroll “had a passionate orchestra playing within his breast”, as Morton N. Cohen has perceptively remarked.

Lewis Carroll did what he enjoyed doing and he could see nothing wrong in anything he did, because there simply was nothing wrong or “strange” or “unhealthy” about him. It’s not a matter of “Victorian social sensitivities” as the apologists (scholars included) nowadays claim, rather it is a matter of what he was and what he was not: he was not dark, he was not sinister. He was not then, he is not now.

Is this what you call, living a repressed life?

Similarly deluded are those Carrollians engaged in a (puerile and rather boring, if you ask me) battle for the affirmation of an appreciation for the companionship of children, on the part of Lewis Carroll, that was absolutely free from any paedophilic implications. Whereas I could, on a good day, be willing to make an effort to try and understand the reasons of those “fans” who evidently sleep better at night if they know that their literary “hero” was as far from being a paedophile as anything could be, I most certainly am not as merciful with “experts”, who have spent decades researching the life of Lewis Carroll. If the former are naive, the latter are likely to be intellectually dishonest.

I am absolutely sure Tom was perfectly aware of the fact that Lewis Carroll was being humorous when, in an attempt to amuse a child, he reassured her that he indeed was “fond of children, except boys”. I bet any girl would rightly giggle at that!

But was it just humour?

To say that he would spend more time with girls because girls were what he would find at home while boys were in school, is deluded at best, outright dishonest at worst. Such an openly misleading remark would convince no one except perhaps a naive audience longing to be reassured that Lewis Carroll was not a “child molester”. Furthermore, by rejecting allegations of paedophilia, the speaker is implicitly conveying the message that all erotic fascination with children is unacceptable, and therefore resisting the idea that paedophilia could be a sexual orientation with a legitimate place in the complex universe of human sexuality.

For most of his life, Lewis Carroll was actively and relentlessly seeking the companionship of girls, writing letters to girls, pleading mothers to bring girls along, asking permission to take girls out, simply because that’s where he derived his emotional satisfaction. It’s not that he went to this or that home and had to be content with what he found there, namely girls. There was a component with girls – emotional, romantic, and possibly erotic, why not? – that was just not there with boys. The fact that Lewis Carroll was most certainly celibate is no evidence that he never experienced a paedophilic attraction. Rather it is evidence of his stern rules of behaviour, and what he believed to be moral rectitude.

To claim that Lewis Carroll’s pursuit of child friendships equalled that of your average Victorian gentleman is nonsense. While it is true that Victorian attitudes towards children in general, and child friendships in particular, were certainly very different from ours, it is also true that it would have been quite unusual, even in those times, for a Victorian gentleman to engage in a relentless, life-long pursuit of friendships with little girls.

To claim that Lewis Carroll could not have been a paedophile because he was able to appreciate the beauty of the adult female form, is sadly unconvincing. There is no indication that one who has paedophilic inclinations cannot, at the same time, be attracted to adults, let alone recognise and appreciate the beauty of the human form.

Finally, to claim that Lewis Carroll did not have an appreciation for the company of girls that largely surpassed that of any man or woman of his times because, in his later years, he seemed to enjoy the company of adults as well, or even more, is frankly risible. Far from persuading me that there was “absolutely nothing even remotely paedophilic” in the man’s proclivities, it is evidence of that “degree of normality” in paedophilia that has been suggested before. In other words, that there is nothing, in an individual who has paedophilic inclinations, that will prevent him or her from being intellectually sophisticated, emotionally stable, fully psychologically developed, and socially acceptable.

In conclusion, the real obstacle to an open and frank discussion about Lewis Carroll seems to me to depend upon a reluctance to admit that there might be nothing inherently harmful in paedophilia, and that there is nothing, in paedophilic inclinations, that may prevent an individual from positively contributing to the greater good. In other words, that paedophiles as well can be a force for good in society.

All his life, Charles L. Dodgson cared for and looked after people, including attending to those in need as well as relatives, and providing financial support well beyond his obligations. In his dealings with child-friends he would make sure that the child was more than happy with anything he proposed, otherwise he would step back. He was forward-thinking in many respects: he wrote numerous pamphlets, including one pleading for the construction of a Women’s University, as he believed women were equally entitled to a higher education.

Very likely he experienced obvious difficulties. Very likely he experienced frustration. Very likely he experienced disappointment. Very likely he experienced loneliness. Still he was a creative genius who would always make sure that all of his magical gifts were shared with others, friends and strangers alike. His whimsical, immortal genius has continued to amuse and inspire generation after generation of readers, up to this day. If that’s not a beneficial contribution to society, what is? If he is not an example to truly look up to, who is?

Author Will Self has recently expressed concern over the creator of Alice in Wonderland: “It’s a problem, isn’t it, when somebody writes a great book and they’re not a great person?”

According to the dominant cultural climate, anyone who experiences an attraction to children, must automatically be “not great people”. To even suggest otherwise invites reprimand and suspicion. To suggest that paedophilia may simply be a natural variant in the diversity of human sexuality, could rightly be described, theologically speaking, as a newfound “scandal of the Cross”: an idea that is so radical, that it can only be perceived as scandalous.

According to some, Lewis Carroll had such “dark side”. But let me challenge the status quo: why must this side be dark? Why can’t it be bright, instead? And why can’t you be just as great if you have it?

Lewis Carroll was anything but dark. He was not only a decent person – he was indeed what you would describe as “great”.

Then where do these allegations of a “dark side” originate from?

They very likely stem from the unwillingness to accept the idea that the same individual who experiences an attraction to children (whether this be romantic, emotional, psychological, erotic – or all of these combined) can, at the same time, be the one who will go to great lengths to ensure that a child’s wellbeing is a priority, and who naturally has a child’s best interest at heart.

Just as Lewis Carroll had.

 

SMEAR CAMPAIGN REACHES NEW LOW

In “An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble” last month, Heretic TOC reported on a couple of events in parliament, one of which was a rally by Hacked Off, a group which aims to secure a more independent press complaints body than the toothless old Press Complaints Commission and the equally non-scary watchdog the press barons are presently trying to replace it with, an outfit laughably called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

In their efforts to smear Hacked Off, the Mail on Sunday, owned by one of the said barons, Lord Rothermere, has run a story highlighting the presence at the meeting of someone who would be, in their words, “an embarrassment” for the group. Who was that person? Well, it was someone who had been an activist in an organisation “formed in 1974 to campaign for sex with children to be legalised”. Yes, you’ve guessed it: they were talking about thoroughly embarrassing yours truly! See here for their mighty scoop, which mentions this blog albeit without doing the courtesy of giving the name or a link.

An Idiot’s Guide to the Westminster Bubble

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Charming and disarming, a not too critical critic of Heretic TOC wrote on another blog recently that “There comes a point when even the best argument becomes too well written, too well researched and too learned. An Idiot’s Guide to both Stephen Hawking’s and TOC’s theories would be appreciated….” It must be admitted that the “punitive state” piece last time was a bit relentlessly heavy on the theory, although the number and quality of the comments, plus over 300 hits per day, suggests there is interest.

This time, then, for a little light relief (relatively speaking!), TOC brings you a taste of his adventures last week inside the Westminster Bubble, an experience more akin to Alice in Wonderland than to other phenomena with which it might be confused, such as the South Sea Bubble.

American readers will be familiar with the bubble concept from their own expression Inside the Beltway, or the Washington Bubble, denoting an intensely political world, peopled almost entirely by politicians, government officials and media folk who spend so much time incestuously preoccupied with each other that they lose touch with the realities of life outside their privileged zone.

Or so it is claimed. The real truth, though, is that these clever people have sharp political antennae, which is how they keep their power and influence: they need to stay alert in all sorts of ways, paying attention not just to opinion polls and focus group research but also to those who turn up in person to lobby them, from corporate interests (especially!) to activist groups of every hue.

Which is where my London trip comes in. I was there for a whole bunch of personal lobbying, networking and media reasons, and also to participate in various rallies, protests and debates.

Two of these events were in the Palace of Westminster itself, aka the Houses of Parliament, starting with Challenging the Campus Censors. Held in the Grand Committee Room with a panel of speakers, this saw the launch of the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) by the journal Spiked. What FSUR devastatingly demonstrates, sadly is the extent to which freedom of expression is being eroded in the very institutions where it is most vitally needed if any sort of heresy – including but not limited to the Heretic TOC variety – is to survive the onslaught of hegemonic political correctness.

Back in the 1970s I appeared by invitation at a number of universities, mainly to address student gay societies on paedophilia and children’s sexual freedom. There were neither objections by the university authorities nor any attempt by students to No Platform me*. After speaking at Cambridge University, I was treated very hospitably by the organisers: they took me to hear (and of course see!) the choirboys perform evensong at King’s College. Those were the days!

In my case, the high watermark of this openness to heresy was a prestigious invitation from the president of the Oxford Union to address that august debating society, possibly the world’s most famous; its speakers have included three US presidents, top scientists from Einstein to Hawking, and celebrities of all kinds from Michael Jackson to Kermit the Frog. Ahead of the event, though, the university was subjected to heavy media pressure against my appearance, and the invitation was withdrawn.

We all know how the sorry saga has played out since then in terms of paedophilia as a There Is No Debate (TIND) issue. What I discovered to my horror, though, from FSUR and related revelations last week, is the extent to which free speech is now being denied on campus across a whole range of issues. As Ian Dunt told us in the Guardian:

“In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion because protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men; the Cambridge Union was asked (but refused) to withdraw its speaking invitation to Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues; officials at London Southbank took down a “flying spaghetti monster” poster because it might cause religious offence; UCL banned the Nietzsche Club after it put up posters saying “equality is a false God”, and Dundee banned the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from their freshers’ fair. The Sun is banned on dozens of campuses because of Page 3. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song has also been banned by many student unions.”

Note, especially, the relevance here of this last one: the lyrics are about sexual consent.

The curious thing, to someone of my generation at least, is that the censorious spirit is not coming from above, from heavy-handed political or administrative quarters. It is not state censorship. Rather, TIND reflects what seems to be a new fragility among the students themselves, who are arriving at university from a school culture in which they have grown used to seeing themselves as in need of protection, reflecting a wider cultural background in which child protection is seen as a priority. It reflects specifics of their cultural environment, such as school anti-bullying policies, and also their exposure to what is admittedly sometimes a brutally obnoxious scene of social media trolling. Feeling (with every justification) that being subjected to violent threats and venomous defamation online is just plain wrong and unacceptable, these youngsters are turning up at university believing they are entitled to remain shielded from “offensive” views of all kinds. They do not seem to realise that new but potentially important ideas are often shocking, and that a university is a grownup place whether intellectual debate needs to be unfettered.

The following day I was back in the palace, this time supporting Hacked Off, which Spiked muddle-headedly presents as a group lobbying against free speech. Hacked Off, as British heretics will know, was set up in the wake of revelations that newspapers including the now defunct News of the World, and the Sun, both owned by global media baron Rupert Murdoch (whose other crimes against humanity include Fox News), were engaged in illegal phone hacking and libellous smear tactics – including the infamous Fake Sheikh’s sting operations which have resulted in innocent people being jailed and many other lives shattered. As heretics here may remember, I was among those on the receiving end.

Where Spiked gets it wrong is in confusing the “right” of a handful of mega-rich media moguls to trash people as viciously, mendaciously and unaccountably as a Twitter troll, with the right of all of us to legitimate (non-libellous, not inciting violence) freedom of expression. The latter right, in Hacked Off’s view and mine, will be advanced, not retarded, by such means as giving a strengthened right of reply to those who are traduced in the press, and encouraging wider media ownership. Hacked off also supports the recent Leveson Inquiry report, which recommended measures aimed at securing a more independent press complaints body than the toothless Press Complaints Commission.

Hacked Off’s rally was in Committee Room 14, which turned out to be an even grander venue than the Grand Committee Room. When I think of a committee I have in mind no more than about 25 people, but about ten times that number were present for Hacked Off’s big day, packed along two sets of opposing benches like a miniature version of parliament itself. When I arrived, slightly late after an appointment with my MP, I was lucky to get the last seat before my attention turned to a distinguished-looking, silver-haired old gentleman who was holding forth as one of the panel speakers.

The voice seemed familiar. Then it struck me: John Cleese! Goodness, it was a face I probably hadn’t seen since The Life of Brian over thirty years ago. Anyway, he was on good form, blasting the new Independent Press Standards Body (IPSO) as anything but independent, saying it was designed to be a puppet of the big corporations, with editors given a key role, like setting foxes in charge of the henhouse. Actually, he had his own comparison, a rather good one:

“Of course they want to regulate themselves, we’d all like to regulate ourselves wouldn’t we?” he said. “Builders, accountants, murderers, they’d all like to regulate themselves.” He added: “The murderers would make a very good case – they’d say we murdered a lot of people, we know people who have murdered people. We really are best qualified to regulate.”

Dramatically, these remarks led within just a few minutes to the verbal murder of a particular journalist present in the room, one Mr Alex Wickham. Allow me to announce it Cluedo style: he was attacked by the chairman, in the committee room, with some very blunt accusations!

Wickham, as the chairman revealed, is a sleazeball sting artist working with political blog Guido Fawkes. The scurrilous scribe had immediately tweeted what Cleese said, in a message falsely implying the comedy actor had seriously compared the newspaper bosses to murderers. In a trice, news of this tweet got back to the committee room, where the chairman outed and admonished Wickham, saying he didn’t know how he could sleep at night, doing what he did. There were calls around the room for the malefactor to stand up and be seen.

The pressure must have got to the hounded hack, because he meekly stood up, as he had been ordered, and tried to explain himself. He didn’t get far before he was slapped down by the chair, who said, “Sit down, I don’t want to give you a platform as you have a megaphone”.

I didn’t feel sorry for Wickham, who is a double-dyed shit. I did, however, find myself a bit uneasy over the kangaroo court I had witnessed. And I noted, also, that one of the later speakers was a dreary feminist of the most humourless kind, who spent her allotted time at the mic grinding out a litany of demands for new press standards including a requirement that the term “under-age sex” should be replaced with “child rape”. Alarmingly, she was given a substantial round of applause.

Maybe Spiked has got it at least half-right after all.

Looking beyond Westminster, it has been another extraordinary week in Britain’s disastrous post-Savile Cultural Revolution, worth half a dozen separate blogs at least. Sadly, I’ll have to settle for a few brief news items with links.

* I tell a lie. The relaxed atmosphere changed once PIE hit the headlines in a big way. After that, in 1977, PIE speakers, including me, were No Platformed a lot. In Liverpool, for instance, I was not only prevented from speaking at the university, I was also banned by the Liverpool Hoteliers Association from staying in any of their hotels!  

 

JAIL EVERYONE IN THE LAND, DEMANDS PM

Well, not quite everyone, but British prime minister David Cameron made a giant leap towards outright insanity by insisting it’s not good enough just to jail “abusers”; now he wants to put teachers, social workers and local councillors behind bars if they fail to meet his stringent witch-hunting targets. Coming in the wake of a report on the “grooming” of teenage girls Oxfordshire by ethnic minority males , the move is a blatantly populist piece of pre-election gesture politics. As letter-writers to the Guardian and others have pointed out, the main result will be to further discourage anyone from working with children in professions already suffering from low pay and low prestige. On the Oxfordshire situation, these reports are very revealing, although not necessarily in the way their writers intended: see professionals and kingfisher.

 

TOUCHING IS WORSE THAN TORTURING

Glam rock star Gary Glitter was jailed for 16 years for under-age sex with three girls. His offences, though serious, appear to have been essentially of a “statutory rape” kind plus lesser intimacies rather than truly violent: the three girls in question were his fans. The youngest was eight. A mother who tortured her eight-year-old daughter to death received a lesser sentence, of 13 years. The court heard that her lesbian lover convinced her that the child was possessed by demons and had to be “destroyed”. The women would give the little girl cold baths, force feed her until she was sick and make her scrub the bathroom floor to rid her of “evil spirits”. She died from a blow to the head at her home. What does this contrast say about our society’s values?

 

RACCOON WRESTLES WITH ‘ALLEGATORS’

The indefatigable Anna Raccoon has again been wrestling the ‘allegators’ in the Savile case on her wonderful blog, exposing the paucity of allegation after allegation. See her Home Page and scroll down for five recent blogs with Savile in the title. To my mind, though Anna’s most devastating recent piece was Alphabet Soup and Paedo Hysteria. which looks at the work of Kevin Harrington, the author of Serious Case Reviews on real child abuse, ranging from Child ‘A’ in London, through Child ‘C’ in Portsmouth, onwards to Child ‘K’ in Southampton and beyond. These are ghastly cases like the torture/death one above, most of which never even make the national headlines. As Anna points out, instead of pouring in resources to prevent these cases, money, effort and attention is wasted on paedo hysteria instead.

 

ONE THAT FLEW UNDER THE GAYDAR

To finish on a pleasanter note, Wendy Fenwick in the March/April edition of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, reviews Craig Johnson’s recent film The Skeleton Twins, which sounds good, although way too gay for my taste. Anyone seen it? She writes:

[Milo’s] first sexual experience was with a high school teacher when the lad was only fifteen. It was a huge deal when it happened – things were settled quietly, we learn – but Milo isn’t completely over the relationship and in fact seeks out the teacher, named Rich, with thoughts of reviving the affair. Thus has the movie entered that radioactive territory of “intergenerational sex,” otherwise known as pederasty. What’s surprising is that the film doesn’t indulge in the usual hand-wringing over Rich’s turpitude or dwell on how Milo was traumatized for life by the affair. In fact, Milo wasn’t traumatized at all and insists that it was not only consensual but a positive experience in his early gay life. …I’m surprised it didn’t trigger more controversy than it did, including threats of a boycott.

Even Daily Mail critic Brian Viner allowed himself to like it, perhaps because the overall context is a gentle romcom not a fiercely challenging drama.

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