Give generously to Shag the Children

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“Did the earth move for you?” as the aid worker said to the quake victim after sex in the ruins.

Or maybe this particular aftershock was followed by, at best, a less romantic “Thank you, ma’am” plus a few dollars. Or “Thank you, young lady” if she happened to be a marginally underage 17-year-old in Haiti where the age of consent is 18.

Oxfam staff in that country after the 2010 quake, as the world has known since The Times broke the story early this month, had been involved with prostitutes, according to the organisation’s own leaked internal report, which was reportedly “unable to rule out that some of the sex workers were underage” – a sensibly cautious conclusion, but careful caveats were utterly ignored, of course, by opportunist moral panic mongers, who lost no time in deciding there had been rampant child prostitution and a plague of predatory paedophiles.

Personally, I have little doubt that those who risk life and limb in war zones, earthquakes, and other dangerous scenarios, to help desperate, traumatised people, will tend to end up physically exhausted and psychologically shocked themselves; so it seems mean to begrudge them a bit of R&R, at least at the end of their tour of duty. That was certainly what the American military thought during the Vietnam War, when soldiers were billeted in Thailand for a vacation on their way home, where they were expected to enjoy the services of sex workers, including underage ones, notably in the beach resort of Pattaya. Previously just a fishing village, Pattaya grew to accommodate one of the biggest red light districts in the world. R&R was a military term meaning “rest and recuperation” but the soldiers often called it “I&I”, for “intoxication and intercourse”.

As for the “underage” aspect, this may have been officially frowned upon by the US military, but nothing was done about it and a blind eye was turned to soldiers cavorting with even very young girls and boys in Pattaya, Bangkok, and other R&R destinations such as the Philippines.

There is no evidence whatever that Oxfam’s leadership ignored staff involvement with obviously underage sex workers, or younger children, and there has been no more than a hint that anything went on with underage persons at all. Yet the storm in the British media was immediate, sustained, and so relentlessly thunderous one might have supposed this was the most appalling, sickening scandal in the long history of scandals. It was as if “we murdered babies in their cots”, beleaguered Oxfam boss Mark Goldring lamented in a Guardian interview; but, if he thought his bemused bleating would help, he would soon have to think again. Only days later, after coming under heavy fire for daring to complain about being unreasonably attacked, he found himself forced into a grovelling apology for his remarks, in front of a parliamentary committee.

Why? This level of outrage is usually reserved for cases involving children. But there were no children; or at least there were only imagined, slightly underage, teens in the case of Oxfam.

The hue and cry is to some extent easily explained by the view that people in certain occupations, such as the clergy, and teachers, are expected to set an example to others. When they fall from grace, therefore, they disappoint high expectations. Some media commentators have explicitly made this point in relation to Oxfam, although it is by no means obvious to me why those doing this type of work should have to demonstrate saintly celibacy when the task in hand frequently calls upon them to prove their worth in other ways – for instance, like soldiers, they very often need to show courage and endurance. So are we saying, as we sit at home comfortably doing nothing, that these people – many of whom are volunteers, or very modestly paid local staff in poor countries – must be perfect in every way so as not to fall short of our pampered expectations?

The unreasonable requirement of saintliness has definitely contributed to the outrage against Oxfam and other aid organisations dragged into the scandal, notably Shag the Children (sorry, Save the Children), UNICEF, and latterly the Red Cross, but this is not the half of it. There are at least two further factors. The most obvious one for Heretic TOC’s usual concerns is that victim feminist outrage is no longer confined to concern for child victims, so the lack of evidence that Oxfam staff availed themselves of child prostitutes in Haiti does not kill the story. I will come to this factor later.

A much nastier aspect of all this, sadly, is that not only do we punish other people for falling short of standards we would be hard-pressed to match ourselves, we also rush to engage with a narrative that seems to justify our own hard-hearted, lack of compassion and generosity. Well, I say “we”, but really I mean readers of the Daily Mail and similarly minded elements of the mainstream media, which have leapt onto the Oxfam story, following it up with page after page of reports and commentary all designed to play up the idea that the charities are hopelessly corrupt, siphoning off donated money off into huge executive salaries and bloated expense accounts, while conducting wasteful and inefficient operations in the field. Another element in this narrative, in fact an ideologically even more important one, is that government aid also goes to waste, allegedly ending up in the pockets of “corrupt dictators” and the like rather than the people who need it.

Ian Birrell, in the Mail on Sunday, even managed, at least implicitly, to link these two themes – private charity and government aid – when he took the opportunity to hammer Oxfam over their “flawed” (but he did not say what was wrong with it) recent report on global inequality. On their website, Oxfam said in January: “Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, and nothing went to the bottom 50%.”

The Mail and other billionaire-owned media outlets hate any such “socialist” hints that the super-rich are not paying their way, with the implication that they should be taxed more in order to finance not just foreign aid but also health, education, etc., at home. Thus hacks like Birrell are hired to stir up public resentment against outfits like Oxfam for daring to think about important issues of politics and finance instead of (actually, as well as) building tent cities for quake victims, distributing emergency food aid and so forth.

A counterblast to this mean-minded, selfish attitude to the world was to be found, though, by those with the patience to look beyond the headlines and in the right places. The distinguished foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn, for instance, writing in the Independent, said that if we care so much about Haitians we should be asking why Oxfam was there in the first place. It was not as though Oxfam staff were too busy having it off with prostitutes to organise food distribution and so forth in the immediate aftermath of the quake, which was in January 2010. Months passed after that during which UN soldiers, brought in from Nepal to help, inadvertently brought cholera with them, starting an epidemic that killed over 7,500 in two years.

Few recent commentators, said Cockburn, bothered to ask what Oxfam was doing in Haiti at the end of 2010, long after the quake itself, and the beginning of 2011. He wrote:

In fact, Oxfam was trying with some desperation to stem the cholera epidemic, the first outbreak of which was detected in central Haiti in October, from spreading further. By the following month, it had reached Port-au-Prince and Oxfam was trying to provide uncontaminated water to 315,000 people already rendered homeless by the earthquake. An Oxfam statement on 10 November describes how “Oxfam continues to strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and activities in the camps/communities where we are working. A cholera strategy is being developed to guide our activities for at least the next three months. At this time, we are reinforcing our water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in camps where we already work in Port-au-Prince, and in Artibonite. We are currently reaching over 400,000 people with water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, and another 100,000 individuals mostly through our emergency food security and vulnerable livelihoods (EFSVL) programmes.”

This work, in Cockburn’s view, “kept a lot of people alive who would otherwise have died”. But foreign journalists and politicians huffing and puffing about the alleged exploitation of Haitian sex-workers did not even appear to notice that there was cholera epidemic raging in Haiti while Oxfam was there, and neither noticed nor apparently cared about the vital work being done by Oxfam.

The clashing worldviews represented by Birrell and Cockburn do not appear to speak directly to our primary concerns here at Heretic TOC and I know that expressing my left-leaning view may serve only to piss off the right-leaning (or toppling over) heretics among us. Nevertheless, the Oxfam aspect of the “predatory paedophiles” narrative is inextricably embedded in a world of politics, economics and human values: to remain mutely agnostic on these big issues would surely be to deprive our discussion of context and depth.

I said I would return to the fact that the absence of child prostitutes in Haiti did not kill the story. Suddenly, this is part of an emerging theme. The entire #MeToo movement in the wake of Harvey Weinstein has been about allegedly exploited and vulnerable women rather than children. As for prostitution, the “social purity” campaigners in the 19th century would dearly have loved to ban it altogether, and this has been an aim of moralistic feminism ever since. The big stumbling block for a hundred years was men’s entrenched political strength; when this came under serious challenge with second-wave feminism in the 1960s and beyond, further headway was prevented by sex workers themselves, who organised and gained a media presence in the UK through the English Collective of Prostitutes and through COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) in the US.

Now, it seems, their voices are being drowned out by the all-conquering victim lobby. A recent BBC report, for instance, did not mention any such organisations or quote anyone in support of sex work when covering a review of a police deployment, Operation Sanctuary, which saw 18 people jailed for the “sexual abuse” of young women “groomed” in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in northern England. The review concluded that “vulnerable women” are probably being “extensively” abused across the UK and that the government should look at tightening up the law.

The most depressing aspect of this, for those of us who value sexual self-determination at all ages (and personal freedom generally) is the mounting pressure against even adults being allowed to make their own sexual choices. This was made clear in the review’s finding that the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them “making bad choices” or forming “inappropriate relationships” – with the implication that such powers ought to be established in law.

As for how far some feminists are prepared to go in stamping out sex work and “exploitation”, it was made almost comically clear in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s World At One, when host Martha Kearney interviewed a BBC colleague, Gemma Cairney, who had helped raise funds for Oxfam until the present crisis. Asked what could be done to prevent such scandals, Cairney replied, apparently in all seriousness, “We need to change human nature”. Even Kearney, a fellow female and no doubt a card-carrying feminist, remarked that this might be a bit ambitious; but I fear all too many women would be up for the challenge – provided that the target was only men’s human nature.

 

A rare escape, without bribery or bloodshed

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In An Open Letter to the Labour Party recently, I revealed that the official reason given for my expulsion from the party with no possibility of defending myself was because the party had learned, apparently from a Daily Mail report last month, that I had been convicted in December of a “serious offence”.

My priority last time, as the “Open Letter” title suggests, was to focus on the Labour Party. I drew upon the thinking of radical leftists, from Friedrich Engels on the family to Roy Jenkins on the “permissive society”, to explain why I had become a member and why I thought the party should think again before repudiating the socially liberal strand within its own tradition. Fat chance of that, I fear, although I note that leader Jeremy Corbyn is now publicly saying prostitution should be legalised, thereby infuriating his own more censorious MPs. Well done Jez!

This focus of mine on politics meant I could only briefly touch upon the “serious offence” in question. It is now time to put the record straight. Heretics here know better than to take mainstream media monsterings of Kind people at face value, so thank you everyone for taking it all in your stride and waiting patiently for me to begin.

As I briefly indicated in the Open Letter blog, I was intimately involved with a 10-year-old boy in the 1970s. Recently, in December, his adult incarnation testified at a trial in Caernarfon, Wales. A Daily Mail report said I had “narrowly escaped jail” last year after “preying” on the boy and his 9-year-old brother.

The question that will leap to mind is how could I possibly have got off scot free, with no time whatever behind bars? In today’s savagely punitive climate, “predatory” offences against children are routinely attracting prison terms into double figures, including a whopping 35 years, no less, for the “ringleader” in the Rotherham “grooming” case last month.

So how did I “escape”? Did I bribe the judge? Did I whip out a smuggled gun, leaving a trail of bloodied corpses as I blasted a way clear of the courtroom?

There is another explanation, one the Daily Mail was understandably coy about because it failed to fit their preferred narrative. The real reason I left the court a free man is that neither the judge, nor the prosecution, nor crucially even the “victims” themselves, appeared to have seen me as callously “predatory”. Which might leave you wondering why this “historic abuse ” case came to court at all after nearly forty years.

All will be revealed.

First, we need to take ourselves back all those years, to 1977 and a very different social climate. As a young man then, I worked for a while as a group leader at an outdoor activities camp for kids, in Wales. One of the youngsters in my charge was a nine-year-old boy I will call Adam (other names will be changed too). Unlike some of the other kids, who were with their school mates or a sibling, Adam was on his own. He latched onto me, and during his week’s stay we became fond of each other. At the end of the week he gave me his address – I hadn’t asked for it – and he invited me to come and meet his family sometime.

A year later I did. It would have been about August when I met his parents at the family’s country home, and also his younger brother, Zac. By now Adam was 10 and Zac 9. These were by no means “vulnerable” children from a disadvantaged background. Quite the contrary. Their father, Sebastian, headed a significant organisation and was later knighted for his services. Their mother, Cassandra, was a highly cultured woman. The privately educated brothers now in their mid-forties, are doing well in their own careers, with families of their own ranging from young adult to early teens. They are in good shape, too: tall, slim, handsome. Adam’s relaxed warmth is still apparent. Zac has style, a touch of rock star glamour.

I felt I got on well with the whole family at that first meeting, an impression borne out by the fact that a couple of months later I was allowed to take Adam and Zac for a week’s hiking based at a holiday cottage in Snowdonia. We had a great time. Cassandra’s diary from all those years ago was an exhibit in the case. Her entry, when the boys arrived back home, records that they went straight off to some friends to tell them “what a fantastic holiday they had had.”

Adam, the only witness in the trial, had plenty of good things to say about me. I had seemed “a really nice guy” when we first met, an impression that did not change. He remembered the week at the cottage not just for the mountain walking, which he enjoyed, but also the fun. He liked my humour. There was plenty of joking and laughter. I was always “very respectful” towards him. He told the court I had been “very charming”.

He had not been sexually unwilling either. At age of seven or eight an older boy had introduced him to “wanking”, and he needed no further encouragement. When he did this quite openly at the cottage, naked and in full view of his brother and me, he had not objected when I became intimate with him. He didn’t feel pressured into anything. He did not feel he had been harmed in any way.

Asked in court if such activity might unconsciously affect a willing child participant, he agreed that it could: it might cause them to grow up with ultra-liberal sexual views without knowing why! This was as close as Adam came to saying why he eventually gave a statement to the police more than six months after Zac had done so. Zac, it is clear, was the prime mover in the case. He never claimed I touched him sexually, but on the basis that he saw me in a sexual situation I eventually admitted gross indecency towards him.

Zac, it has to be said, was always a very different character to Adam. Both were great kids. But, unlike Adam, Zac was just not physical. Whereas Adam loved to hold hands and snuggle close, Zac preferred to keep his distance. I thought I respected that. But not enough, apparently. He was the one who brought matters to the attention of the police. He claims to have suffered erectile dysfunction and marital problems as a result of his childhood encounter with my sexuality. I do not doubt his sincerity. I am sure he has suffered the issues he mentions but do not think they can reasonably be attributed to any aspect of his time with me.

The fact is that people with all sorts of problems, not just sexual ones but also drugs, gambling, business failure, you name it, are apt to look for a scapegoat. We all try to blame our woes on something beyond ourselves. In recent decades the scapegoat of choice has been childhood sexual abuse. Even people who were never “abused” will go to therapists, desperate to be told that they were, because that would “explain” everything.

Fortunately for me, Zac was not vindictive.  As part of his victim impact statement in court, he said he did not wish to see me punished. As for his testimony as a witness, that was not needed. Following Adam’s testimony, word reached me through my barrister that changing my initial Not Guilty pleas to Guilty (indecent assault against Adam and gross indecency towards Zac) would result in a suspended sentence, and I accepted that.

So, if Zac had not been out to punish me, what did he want? His written prosecution statement was very revealing. What prompted him to make his complaint against me was not just what happened on a very enjoyable holiday in 1978 but what was going on in the media in 2014 shortly before he went to the police. Specifically, he objected to what a TV news bulletin had reported me as saying about paedophilia at a time when PIE’s supposed political connections were under the media spotlight. He wrote:

“What concerns me is that paedophiles may have read his book or his online blogs and used that information to justify their own actions.”

In other words, he was bidding to use a criminal prosecution in order to shut me up. His ideological motivation is to be seen even more clearly in a remarkable admission: until several years after the holiday he “felt no resentment” towards me and “probably thought upon him as a nice guy”.

That changed only after I went to prison in 1981 for conspiracy to corrupt public morals. He knew about this because his mother told him. She had found out from the Guardian. Nothing surprising about that. What might astonish many now, though, is that Cassandra’s response was remarkably civilized: she wrote a very kind letter to me in prison and received me at the family home again when I came out in 1982. By this time she had even dipped into my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case. I had given her a copy before the public morals trial, in part at least because I felt she and her husband should learn about my philosophy through my own words rather than media distortions. She showed no sign of agreeing with my views but had the grace to say she thought my position was well argued.

Whereas Cassandra was calm and compassionate, resolutely refusing to be freaked out, her newly teenage son Zac started to take a much dimmer view in ’82 and has continued to do so. In his victim statement he said his object was to dissuade me from encouraging others to break the law. Regular readers of Heretic TOC will know that I absolutely do not do that and could be prosecuted if I did. But Zac appears to have been under a different impression.

The judge, in his sentencing remarks, quite properly emphasised that I was entitled to express my views. He seemed genuinely puzzled, though. He could see just from my bearing in the dock that I was deeply upset by the case. So he knew I was very much taking to heart everything that was said, including Zac’s own emotional statement as to the pain and distress I had caused to him and his family. What was going through the judge’s mind, plainly, was the paradox of my sincere response to Zac’s certainty that I caused harm, combined with the fact that I had given no indication that I intended to stop blogging, or otherwise speaking out publicly in ways that Zac feels are wrong and dangerous.

Through my barrister, I had said  that if I had known in 1978 what I know now, I would not have behaved as I did. It was an honest statement. When we defy the law we put children at grave risk of growing up feeling they must have been damaged – because our culture virulently insists it is so, on a daily basis – even when that is not how they felt at the time. Only in a culture which has changed so much that it is ready to accept more liberal laws will child-adult sexual relationships be ethically feasible. It is because I refuse to give up on that vision that I continue to write.

Zac said in his written statement that he wanted to “challenge” me. But he has made it impossible for me to answer his challenge. Part of the sentence was a court order preventing me from contacting him or Adam, so I find myself unable to pick up the gauntlet he threw down: I can neither explain myself to him, nor probe his thinking. I find this hugely frustrating. To coin a phrase, it is hard to find closure.

I wish him well, though. Adam too, and Cassandra and Sebastian. They are a remarkable family and I still have fond memories – shattered ones now, but still precious, like shards from a dropped Ming vase.

 

 

Holy hots, why not child sex robots?

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It had to be a spoof, didn’t it? Billed as an article lifted from the sober Washington Post, the piece I was reading online about some nutty professor campaigning to ban humans from having sex with robots must surely have been lifted from The Onion. Even the clinical psychologist David Ley, who posted the piece on the research-oriented Sexnet forum, said he hoped it was a parody.

But the reference to checkable names of academics and their universities suggested otherwise. First and foremost there was Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. She was said to have presented a paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots,” at Ethicomp, “a forum to discuss ethical issues around computers” held in Leicester last month.

I looked it up. And there it was, the full text, including this remarkable direct quote:

“I propose that extending relations of prostitution into machines is neither ethical, nor is it safe. If anything the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subjects.”

Er, excuse me, but if one of the parties is a robot, doesn’t that sort of suggest they are not, you know, human? So would a robot really be all that bothered about “relations of power”? Reading a bit further, though, I came to the startling revelation that Richardson was also worried about robot children. Somehow, I must have missed the news that not only can robots have sex, they can also “give birth” to baby robots.

But why would this be such a surprise after the news in June that a robot couple had married in Japan? It was a white wedding, so it would be polite to assume the bride was a virgin. Thus it could be at least a few months yet before the first “happy event” is announced, if robot gestation is anything like ours.

The Tokyo wedding, between groom “Frois” and bride “Yukirin” had every appearance of a grand occasion, celebrating an uncontroversial match between two entirely respectable and well-loved robots.

But Richardson, it is clear, wants to take us into a “darker” scenario. Prostitution! Her worry is that men paying for sex with robots – perhaps through buying the robot outright as a sex slave – will treat them as mere things, regardless of the robot’s feelings, needs and rights. She is not alone, either. An academic conference in Malaysia on “Love and Sex with Robots”, due to take place next month, was abruptly cancelled just over a week ago after the authorities declared it illegal to have sex with robots.

Muslim Malaysia, it may be supposed, would react with knee-jerk antagonism to any sexual unorthodoxy. Dr Richardson, by contrast, must at least be credited with giving long and hard thought to her specialist branch of ethics. Her real anxiety is that giving humans permission to do whatever they want to robots that look and sound like humans, with nothing ruled out, no matter how degrading or violent, will encourage bad attitudes towards real humans, including children.

This is a valid issue. In dealing with it, I think it will be helpful to clarify our thinking about robots, especially as regards artificial intelligence and sentience. The most obvious and important point is that we are suckers for believing in both. The popularity of sci-fi books and movies featuring sophisticated humanoids with super-human brains and even quasi-human emotions, shows how we love to anthropomorphize. The most significant example here, perhaps, is that of the film A.I., in which a robot child is programmed to love its owner, a mother whose own son is desperately ill and (in effect) in a coma. The boy robot, given the name David (Haley Joel Osment), is seen as a substitute to comfort her until her own child recovers. When he does, David becomes dispensable; rejected and cast out, he suffers ceaseless agonies of bewilderment and longing. For anyone with a heart it’s a heart-breaking film, not least on account of a compelling performance by the immensely lovable young Osment.

If we ever manage to create robots who really do feel emotions as deeply as David, or physical pain, then of course how we treat them (assuming we remain in charge) will become a moral question. But it is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Stories and drama are great vehicles for the imagination, enabling us to contemplate ethical issues in a far more vivid and engaging way than is to be found in philosophy books, with their brain-torturingly complex chains of argument. But whereas the philosophers often use their own imaginative tools, called thought experiments, to sharpen their judgments and reasoning, what we often take from science fiction is simply amazement and entertainment. Rather than using it to make tough ethical choices in our own world, we prefer the escapism of exotic scenarios and often distant futures.

Oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with  Erik Billing, of the University of Skövde in Sweden, who, with Kathleen Richardson, has jointly floated the idea of a campaign against sex robots. Billing, a senior lecturer in informatics (the study of information) is quoted in the Washington Post story as having said that films such as this year’s Ex Machina, with very advanced robots, ask big questions about what it will mean when machines becomes sentient. But these big questions can distract from the robots we already have, and how we interact with them.

However, I come to very different conclusions from Billing or Richardson, and Heretic TOC will now time travel back to the future to show why. The year is 1987 and a futurist film is made called Cherry 2000, which is set thirty years in the future – in other words, almost now. With astonishing accuracy, the film predicts that society has become increasingly rule-bound, requiring contracts drawn up by lawyers prior to sexual activity, with the result that actual sex is on the decline. But there have also been immense technical developments, fostering hypersexual expression in novel ways.

Remind you of anything? The rise of internet porn, perhaps, alongside the ever-tighter rules that feminist moral entrepreneurs insist are necessary to ensure sexual consent is valid?

Most precisely prescient by far, though, is Cherry 2000’s prediction that the hot new craze of 2017 would be sex androids that routinely malfunction during intercourse. A news report last month, meanwhile, saw Californian company RealDoll announcing plans to sell an “artificially intelligent”, talking, animatronic rubber sex doll by – wait for it – 2017.

Now, the important thing here, the really real thing, is the malfunctioning. To understand this we can park the Tardis and meet sex robot Roxxxy (triple x and likes to get her rocks off, geddit?), who exists right now and could be yours for as little as $6,995, or nearer $75,000 for “custom designs” (at that price it really ought to include child versions, boy and girl), from TrueCompanion, a company that has been in the sex doll business for a good many years and now touts its latest lady of the night as the world’s first sex robot.

Roxxxy, we are promised in a promotional video, has a range of “personalities”: you can choose whichever you find sexiest or most companionable. Touch her shoulder and she responds, saying “That is so exciting”. Fingering her knickers in the right place elicits enthusiasm expressed more urgently. She can even, if the video is to be believed, give a pretty mean blow job, with very realistic head movements. It’s hard to be sure how effective this would be, though, as we only see from behind and Roxxxy’s “partner” is left to the imagination.

Selling us Roxxxy’s charms in the video – or pimping her, as a hostile commentator might put it – is company chief executive Douglas Hines, who seems a nice guy as he gently takes us through Roxxxy’s features, focusing quite a bit on her companionate qualities. He seems keen to present her as a person, not a thing. There is nothing in the demo that would encourage Roxxxy’s owner to regard her as a “slut”, or someone to be abused.

For me, though, it’s a bit of a giveaway that Hines wears a white lab coat, just like the guys in those naff 1960s washing powder ads, doing their best to look like research scientists, offering housewives chemical wizardry in the pursuit of “whiter than white” whites. Every new detergent promised to get your whites whiter than the last, regardless of earlier promises by the same company that perfection had already been achieved.

It looks a bit like that with Hines, whose name suggests he might have moved on from flogging baked beans and whose sex “robot” spiel is really just an exercise in parlaying an overgrown talking Barbie doll into an intelligent, sensate being. So when I speak of malfunctioning being at the heart of things, what I really mean is that today’s “robots” do not truly function as robots at all, and nor will we see such a development anytime soon.

This does not mean they are worthless. It just means Richardson’s hyperventilating ejaculations against them are premature. There are more urgent things to worry about than hurting robots’ feelings and treating them unethically.

Having read Richardson’s paper, I can tell you that all it amounts to is a fancy dress version of tired old feminist clichés about men “objectifying” women. While it is right to be concerned that everyone is treated with respect, it is grossly unethical to put the utterly bogus needs of non-existent robots above the needs of real people.

David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, spelt out these needs in an interview with the BBC:

“There is an increasing number of people who find it difficult to form relationships and this will fill a void. It is not demeaning to women any more than vibrators are demeaning.”

There is unquestionably a lot of loneliness and frustration in an era when men are under increasing pressure to match up to feminist ideals and more people are living alone. And of course kind people like many of us here have no opportunity to be kind with kids.

Comments made online in response to a CNBC story about sex robots are very telling:

  • It’s about time! Women have wanted less and less to do with men over the years so let’s give them what they want. Who needs em?!
  • Cherry 2000 is the solution to having a feminist nutjob in your home… heck, for the most part they dont want the men, they openly say so, and they openly shame and hate them (that is until they are done screwing around and need someone to pay their bills for them)
  • Feminists should be glad of sex robots: sexual harassment will hit an historical low, approaching zero! 🙂 It will be a magic moment for all poor wimminz! 🙂

Misogynistic? If so, it’s hard to say the feminazis haven’t been well and truly asking for this sort of backlash. They keep loading men up with guilt and self-doubt but don’t give a shit about their problems. Their relentless pushing for women’s ever greater power and dominance is a cruel creed. Let me reiterate, it privileges the dogma of “objectification” over the lives of real people.

Oh, and before anyone objects that prostitutes are real people, yes, they certainly are, and they resent snooty feminists trying to force them out of sex work. Against this bullying, Amnesty International recently backed prostitutes’ rights.

Hines has said he feels robots (well, dolls) like Roxxxy help to reduce sex trafficking, sexual and domestic abuse. And there is academic support for this view, including from Ronald Arkin, professor of mobile robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology, who has proposed that child sex robots could be used in the treatment of paedophilia.

Furthermore, the idea that child robots could have therapeutic value is very much in line with extensive research findings showing that the ready availability of legal child pornography results in sexual assault offences against children falling, not rising.

Milton Diamond, director of the Pacific Center For Sex And Society, at the University of Hawaii, has found that in those countries where child porn has been legal (Japan, Denmark, Czech Republic), child sex offences decreased. He and his colleagues suggested that if computer generated child porn were to be made legally available it could provide a non-abusive, socially acceptable, way of reducing sex offences against children. He also noted findings by Swiss investigators that viewing child pornography does not appear to be a risk factor for future sex offenses (Endrass, et al., 2009).

A similar plan by brain researcher Dick Swaab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) has even found support from the Dutch anti-paedophile group, Stopkinderpornonu (Stop-child-pornography-now). Spokesman Chris Hölsken went so far as to describe it as a really good idea.

“… because we’re fighting to stop child pornography and child abuse. That means that every form and every method should be studied carefully. If fake pornographic images, such as in cartoons, can lead to stopping child abuse, we support that.”

So if computer generated child porn is capable of producing benign effects, why not child sex robots? If Kathleen Richardson really wants to be ethical, she will take these findings into account.

 

 

Street grooming: a nut to be cracked?

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Street grooming is a hot “child sex abuse” topic in Britain right now. Many months of celebrity scandal in the wake of the Jimmy Savile allegations have seen numerous big names going under or else left in a legal limbo of unresolved court cases – a time of stomach-churning suspense for those caught up in the net, but not exciting enough to sate the public’s voracious appetite for fresh sources of disgust and outrage.

So there has been a ready market for “grooming” stories. Grooming  is itself a relatively recent concept, dating from a 1985 report in the Chicago Tribune, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and “street grooming” is newer still, so perhaps I should say at once that is nothing to do with combing one’s hair in public or picking up litter – although pick-ups of a different kind do feature strongly.

At one time, not so long ago, grooming was a word in search of a meaning, an essentially empty propaganda concept. It was just a way of talking about a pleasant thing – spending time with a child you like and finding they enjoy your company too, with a growing bond of mutual affection and trust – and making it sound nasty, reducing it to a cynically exploitative exercise. Nevertheless, empty or not, it was enshrined in British law by the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which introduced “meeting a child following sexual grooming” as a criminal offence, to combat the perceived new threat of “virtual” adult-child friendships made online.

But, as the name implies, street grooming is face-to-face rather than virtual. And news coverage of recent high-profile trials has revealed nothing virtuous about it either, nor does it seem merely empty propaganda. Cases centred on the post-industrial northern towns of Rochdale and Rotherham, and more recently a place with a much more cultured image, the historic university city of Oxford, have disclosed an unsavoury scenario in which mainly underaged teenaged girls have been taken up by an initially pleasant “boyfriend” only to be violently bullied at a later stage into having sex with many men, and sometimes trafficked as prostitutes to distant parts of the country.

Heretic TOC has read (so you don’t have to!) the House of Commons home affairs committee’s report this month on Child sexual exploitation and the response to localized grooming. It’s grim stuff. A number of men were given long sentences for a range of sexual offences including trafficking and there are grounds for believing the judges’ tough approach was right: some of the girls were given a very hard time, including a lifestyle of controlled sexual coercion amounting to serial rape. A key question for us heretics arising out of this is what we should think about girls who might initially give sexual consent to a “nice” boyfriend who then find themselves drawn gradually out of their depth into coerced submission to acts of prostitution – acts which they may mistakenly believe they consented to because they did not actively refuse.

At one level it is easy: acts done under duress, with the possibility of violence as the price of refusal, are non-consensual. A crime has been committed and the criminal can have no complaint if a long prison sentence is handed down. But a trickier question arises out of this: how can we avoid such exploitation? Easy answers aplenty are to be found in the parliamentary home affairs committee’s recommendations: more vigilant policing, more surveillance, more “proactive” intervention by teachers and social workers, etc., etc. What all this amounts to is a massive intensification of social control that cracks down not only on “the bad guys” but also on young people’s sexuality and their life choices more generally.

Scores of such reports have played to this agenda in recent years, generating ever more restrictive laws and official policies. Essentially, it is the Social Purity movement of Victorian England all over again. It is worth remembering that a child prostitution scandal of those times gave decisive political clout to those who wanted to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16 for all girls, even though only a tiny percentage of them would be at risk of falling under the control of a violent pimp, or of being involved in any form of commercial sex. It was a sledgehammer policy to crack a nut.

So are the more draconian measures proposed against so-called street grooming, more formally described as localized grooming. This “grooming” can lead to a multitude of things, many of which are about children’s self-expression and sexuality as well as those of adults: anyone who strikes up an acquaintance with a youngster in a public place could be considered a groomer if he ends up in a sexual encounter with the minor, even though there was no sexual intent at first, and even if the relationship only became sexual after months of friendship and at the urging of the younger party. Also, the image of the reluctant child who is bribed or cajoled into sex by an adult does not fit at all well with the evidence presented to the home affairs committee as typical of the girls. While there was undoubtedly exploitation by some of the men given long sentences in the recent trials, the youngsters they encountered – mostly young women rather than children – were far from being sexually naïve, and out of the scores of minors investigated in connection with the police operations behind the trials, we hear little of the ones who resented official interference with their personal lives: their stories inconveniently fail to fit the authorized narrative of victimhood and accordingly are ignored.

Hints of that resentment do come across indirectly though. The home affairs committee’s report takes teachers and social workers to task for doing too little to prevent young people from escaping adult supervision. The suppressed part of this message is that there are teenagers who, for whatever reason, are unhappy with their lives and feel a need to escape. Very often they are girls from residential “care homes” whose “care” they clearly don’t much care for, or from dysfunctional and abusive families they are likewise eager to flee. They are girls, in other words, who are making active choices that they would prefer to be out on the town, in the company of an older boyfriend, than chafing under the oppressive yoke of a disagreeable home life. Yes, the boyfriend may turn out to be less than benign, but to present the girls as merely passive puppets on a string, controlled by a devious and scheming adult, is simply dishonest propaganda. We can be certain of this from some of the evidence the committee discusses: some of the front-line workers dealing daily with these girls candidly admit they were “making their own choices” and even sexually “asking for it”.

There is, as has been admitted above, a problem. Girls out on the street at night are much more likely to get into heavy drug addiction, dangerous drinking, and dependency on violently abusive men. It may be quite a tough nut of a problem, but that does not mean a sledgehammer of repressive policies is needed to crack it.

For one thing, the worst excesses of the recent cases have been very culturally specific in their origin, which owe a great deal to the iniquities of religion. Yes, religion. British readers will probably know what I mean, but Heretic TOC is read worldwide, so I should explain. And I should explain carefully, as otherwise I will be misunderstood as promoting religious and racial bigotry, which is absolutely not the intention. The point I will be making is that when the regulation of sexual conduct is expressed through religious beliefs it often tends to be absolutist and harsh – God’s word calls for obedience, without ifs or buts, and judgments against the disobedient can be tough. There are cultural factors too: in the mainstream of British society the modern interpretation of all the great religions tends to be much more subtle and less “fundamentalist” than of old – but there are some significant cultural exceptions, especially those associated with recent immigration.

As many British readers will know, the recent trials were strongly characterized by Muslim men of Pakistani origin whose victims (properly so called in view of the real abuses endured) were mainly white non-Muslim girls. The men appeared to believe the girls were immoral: their willingness to have sex outside marriage was in their eyes such an offence against religion that treating them badly was justified. It was a hypocritical double-standard, of course: the men were also having sex outside marriage; but in their cultural background it was always the women who were most honour-bound to be “pure”.

When I say the problem is culture-specific, I mean really specific. Ann Cryer, a former Member of Parliament for Keighley (another northern town), raised concerns about localised grooming in her constituency as long ago as 2003. She insisted that most of the offenders came from the Mirpur district of Kashmir. The home affairs committee report says she still stands by that, adding that Kris Hopkins, the current MP for the same constituency, has backed Cryer’s understanding of the facts. Because the problem is so culturally specific, it is highly likely that the process of immigrant assimilation to the host culture will see it disappear within a generation, not least because the wider Muslim community is deeply embarrassed by it and keen to promote countervailing education.

As for the more difficult problem of kids more generally being allowed to “run wild” and fall into “bad company”, I can understand and sympathize with the view of good parents who would be horrified by the thought of their own children being out all hours, at the mercy of street-corner drug dealers and pimps: children, they would argue, often need protecting from themselves. They are not wise. Their choices are not always good ones.

It is a strong argument, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is that the children of loving, reliable parents in general appreciate them. They will even accept parental firmness. They might protest, giving mum and dad a hard time as they strain towards independence in adolescence, but deep down they will sense that their seniors know a thing or two and are worth listening to.

What parents should bear in mind, though, is that not all kids are so lucky. There will be those whose home lives, whether under state supervision or in dysfunctional families, are so bleak that breaking free and taking their chances in the wider world actually becomes a rational choice. This problem – how to improve those lives – is indeed a tough nut to crack, although at this point we may find the metaphor has outlived its usefulness. To the hammer, it is said, every problem looks like a nail – something to be hit on the head, hard. And if you are a powerful state in possession of a surveillance and law-enforcement sledgehammer, it is all too easy for every problem to look like a candidate for heavy-handed crack-downs.

Perhaps we should think, instead, of gently solving, or dissolving, the problem rather than cracking it. One such gentler solution would be to think positively: how can we enrich the lives of “wild” kids other than by strategies of control? There have been hints of an alternative approach with boys: mentorship schemes, for instance, drawing in well-meaning adult volunteers. Where such schemes fail is their timidity: the bold approach would be to see minor-attracted people of the better kind as a currently underused resource, not as a threat.

Glad to hear about Bad Thad

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Now here’s a guy whose work seems worth looking into: historian Thaddeus Russell. I hope American heretics here will excuse Heretic TOC for only now catching up with the daringly iconoclastic Russell, but such is the smothering ubiquity of the dominant narrative he may have passed largely unnoticed even in his own country. A couple of items made it under the radar and into the media though: in 2009 a Daily Beast piece on film director Roman Polanski’s “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a girl of 13, called How young is too young?, and in the following year a Huffington Post article, Why I Got Fired From Teaching American History.

The titles alone suggest fireworks, and when he tells us he was “raised by pot-smoking, nudist, socialist revolutionaries as an egghead white boy in black neighbourhoods” we just know we are in for an exciting ride. Dubbed “Bad Thad” by his students at elite Barnard College, Russell showed them:

… that during the American Revolution drunkards, laggards, prostitutes, and pirates pioneered many of the freedoms and pleasures we now cherish – including non-marital sex, interracial socializing, dancing, shopping, divorce, and the weekend – and that the Founding Fathers, in the name of democracy, opposed them. I argued not only that many white Americans envied slaves but also that they did so for good reason, since slave culture offered many liberating alternatives to the highly repressive, work-obsessed, anti-sex culture of the early United States. I demonstrated that prostitutes, not feminists, won virtually all the freedoms that were denied to women but are now taken for granted. By tracing the path of immigrants from arrival as “primitives” to assimilation as “civilized” citizens, I explained that white people lost their rhythm by becoming good Americans. I presented evidence that without organized crime, we might not have jazz, Hollywood, Las Vegas, legal alcohol, birth control, or gay rights, since only gangsters were willing to support those projects when respectable America shunned them….I wanted to show that the more that “bad” people existed, resisted, and won, the greater was what I called “the margin of freedom” for all of us.

And how about this for ringing bells of recognition:

My students were most troubled by the evidence that the “good” enemies of “bad” freedoms were not just traditional icons like presidents and business leaders, but that many of the most revered abolitionists, progressives, and leaders of the feminist, labor, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the cultures of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the flamboyant gays who brought homosexuality out of the closet.

The suppressive activities of “good” feminist and gay leaders, especially, have stretched, as we know all too well, somewhat beyond the list of cultures listed here!

Barnard College, as we will gather from the article’s title, would ultimately feel Russell was too hot to handle. He was fired. Barnard’s loss is our gain, though, as he has since written a book, A Renegade History of the United States: How Drunks, Delinquents and Other Outcasts Made America (Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Now, this is all very colourful, rollicking stuff, and Heretic TOC is sure he will enjoy reading it. But can it be enjoyed with a good conscience? After all, one man’s freedom may be another’s enslavement – literally so in the days when white Americans were free to own black slaves. In the Introduction to his book, though, which is as far as I have got at the moment, Russell makes it clear that although he might be fascinatingly “bad” he is not plain evil:

This book does not advocate a renegade revolution. Were the heroes of this book to take control of society, it would be a living hell. No one would be safe on the streets, chaos would reign, and garbage would never be collected. The social guardians are enemies of freedom, but there is no claim here that they are morally wrong. They chose to take the role they believed was best for them, a decision I would like to treat as autonomous of moral claims. More importantly, they provide essential functions that nearly all of us value: safety, security, and clean streets. The argument here is not that “bad” people should replace the disciplinarians but that in American history the struggles between the two have determined the breadth of personal liberty. I make no claims for other parts of the world, where at times renegades have overwhelmed the guardians of order, but in this country the more “bad” people existed, resisted, and won, the more freedom was expanded…

So, we have an element of subtlety and sobriety along with the more free-wheeling themes. That’s intelligent, that’s cool. I can’t wait to see in more detail where Russell is going with all this, and I look forward to telling you all about it – but by all means beat me to the draw if you can, all you crazy, gun-toting, freedom-loving, Wild West cowboys out there!

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