Licence expires for French men of letters

94 Comments

What do you call a guy who can openly celebrate his sexual relations with children in books and on TV without being prosecuted?

A giant of French literature.

Things are different in France, or have been until recently for elite figures in the cultural establishment. One of those figures, Gabriel Matzneff, is a feted novelist, a winner of numerous literary prizes who appeared many times on France’s top cultural TV show of the 1970s and 80s, Apostrophes. Back in the day, he wrote: “Once you have held, kissed, caressed, possessed a 13-year-old boy, a girl of 15, everything else seems bland, heavy, insipid.” One of those minors was a girl who met him at 13 and was his lover at 14; now, at 47, she has given France a #MeToo moment, denouncing the man she once fell for in a sensational book, Le Consentement (Consent). It is flying off the shelves, quickly selling out at Amazon and needing seven re-prints in only three weeks.

That girl, that woman, is Vanessa Springora, these days head of the prestigious Paris publishing house Éditions Julliard, a position giving her the ear of the media and hence immense personal power to pursue a vendetta: Le Consentement has been all over the press and Springora has done the rounds of the TV shows.

Not content with consent: Springora’s book is flying off the shelves

What, then, is her complaint? We see no bad behaviour along the lines of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual coercion. She has admitted she wanted sex and consented to it with Matzneff. The Washington Post’s  version says that “for the teenage Springora, Matzneff was the 50-year-old for whom she developed a schoolgirl crush after her mother, who worked in publishing, dragged her to a dinner party. There, she met and was bowled over by the writer who seemed to have eyes only for her.” After that, we hear, “he then set about grooming her”.

But it has to be asked, who was grooming whom? Vanessa’s mother had been a press officer for her firm. She would certainly have been alert to the potential for giving her daughter excellent prospects in the business by “dragging” her to glamorous parties where she could meet famous writers, making contacts that could be hugely advantageous later on. And so it turned out. After an elite private education at the lycée Fénelon and the Sorbonne, Vanessa went on to enjoy a glittering career, to which her early association with the great Matzneff would certainly have added lustre, making her a person of note and allure. It is not as though the relationship was ever hidden: he shared with her his Parisian life in the literary world; she joined him for dinners, visits and interviews, presumably without needing to be “dragged” along.

Not that the relationship lasted. Springora broke away from Matzneff  when she was 15. “Are you sure?” her mother reportedly asked her, “He adores you.”

The problem, for young Vanessa, was that he apparently adored lots of other girls her age as well. And boys. Reportedly, it was Matzneff’s own writings that did it. While he was away on a trip, she read his torrid accounts of sex with other youngsters, works he had told her not to look at. They killed her illusions that their relationship was an exclusive and special romance.“His books were populated by other 15-year-old Lolitas,” Springora writes. “This man was no good. He was, in fact, what we are taught to fear from childhood: an ogre.”

If he deceived her, that would have been caddish indeed. Very reprehensible. But he had not been not such an ogre, it seems, that she ever felt it necessary to go to the police, even later in life, over a relationship of a kind now being rebranded by victim feminists around the world  as “rape”.  She claims that what pushed her into writing her account of their relationship was her disgust over his reception speech upon winning  the Renaudot literary prize in 2013. The prize is awarded for new novels, but Matzneff claimed it was for all his work over the years, which included his early celebration of sex with minors, in works such as his essay Les moins de seize ans (The Under Sixteens) – published in 1974 by, ironically, the company she now directs, Éditions Julliard! He wrote:

What captivates me is less a particular sex than extreme youth, that which extends from the tenth to the sixteenth year and which seems to me to be – much more than what is usually meant by this expression – the true third sex … In my view extreme youth alone forms a particular, unique sex.

He described sex with children as “a holy experience, a baptismal event, a sacred adventure”, and deplored the fact that the “erotic charm of the young boy” is denied by modern Western society, adding that “the two most sensual beings I have known in my life are a boy of twelve and a girl of fifteen”. In 1990, he published Mes amours décomposés, his diary for the years 1983-1984, in which he admitted engaging in sex tourism in the Philippines, picking up “little boys of eleven or twelve years”.

One can well imagine that being obliged to compete with enterprising street urchins would be an intolerable humiliation for many women. Even so, I am sceptical over her explanation. She claims her indignation and ire were provoked in 2013. Why then, did it take until 2020 to write her slim book of only 216 pages and get it published? She is a publisher after all: how hard could it have been?

My guess is that a stronger motivation for her to go public came much later, starting with the Me Too movement, with its explosion of public discourse not only on sexual harassment and rape but also on the meaning of sexual consent. Victim feminists have been increasingly insistent on the need for “affirmative consent”; “rape” has been re-defined much more broadly in the UK and elsewhere to include a range of physical acts that were never traditionally considered rape; consensual sex with minors is now called rape.

It is no accident that Springora’s book is called Consent.  She claims to have been manipulated, reportedly speaking of “the frightening ambiguity in which the consenting, loving victim is placed”. It seems, in other words, that her aim is to seize the moment, cashing in on a Paris court case that she must have known, with her sophistication and publishing experience, put her in prime position to surf the victim culture zeitgeist by exploiting the very concept of consent itself – a concept under unprecedented scrutiny and pressure, especially in the Anglophone world but also beginning to stir in France. The Paris case gripped the public’s attention in the autumn of 2017, coinciding almost exactly with the start of #MeToo in America.

What shocked the French public, we are told, was a story about an incident in the Paris suburb of Montmagny. A girl aged 11 willingly had oral and vaginal sex with a man of 28 and told her mother about it later the same day. The mother immediately called the police, expecting that the guy would be charged with rape. But no. The public prosecutor said there had been “no violence, no coercion, no threat, no surprise”. The girl had consented.

From outraged media coverage around the world, it might have been supposed that France had suddenly woken up to find that instead of having an age of consent set at 15, as it thought, it actually had no AOC at all. It was presented as though a perpetrator was going to get away with his “predatory” deeds entirely.

Propagandist crap! Sure, the villain of the piece could not be charged with rape, which was the only charge that would satisfy the victim feminists. But because the girl was under 15 the man was still in the frame for a charge of “sexual infraction”, punishable at that time by a prison sentence of up to five years. This was played down to the point of invisibility, as though the worst he could get would be hardly more severe than a typical parking fine.

Nonsense it may have been, but this media pressure had the desired effect, leading to a tough new law in 2018. Not that you would know it from the impression given by the media in the UK and US. Britain’s Independent ran two headlines, “France votes against setting minimum age of sexual consent amid backlash” and “President Macron accused of missing opportunity to protect minors”. Further into the story we hear “there is still no law establishing a legal age of sexual consent in France”.

Fake news! While it is true that the legislators declined to say minors under 15 could never consent, if the threshold for rape was not met judges could now classify the incident as “sexual assault” and offenders would face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Also, if “the victim lacks the ability to consent” the offence would be classified as rape, with a sentence of up to 20 years.

A day after Springora’s book hit stores, French prosecutors announced that they were opening an investigation into “rape committed on a minor under 15” related to the allegations in Le Consentement. The publishing house Gallimard, which released Matzneff’s latest book in November, has halted sales of his work. The Kindle version of Les moins de seize ans is no longer available on Amazon, and we are told Matzneff could lose a state pension for writers that he has received since 2002.

It must all be getting a bit traumatic for the literary superstar, now aged 83 and perhaps utterly bewildered by what must be an unexpected fall from grace after getting away with so much for so long – in terms of candid revelations at least, rather than serious crimes, of which he appears to be entirely innocent. We might expect him, as an old man, to be rather stuck in the culture of the past, which in France has long meant that the concept of “literary licence” has been extended not just to what writers write but also to an exceptional degree of freedom in their lifestyle.

So where was this French exceptionalism coming from? How did they ever come to be given such a free pass to be “immoral”, as many would have thought, or “perverted”?

Well, the moralists could start by blaming the French Revolution, which swept away the old criminal laws and in 1791 a new code was introduced that deliberately focused on “real crimes”, excluding moralistic old offences such as incest, bestiality and homosexuality, which were decriminalised. And there was no AOC. Not that the revolutionaries were entirely easy-going: if you destroyed evidence of someone’s marital status you could be clapped in irons for 12 years! Napoleon’s much longer-lasting penal code of 1810 did not include an AOC  either. It specified rape or any other indecent assault committed with violence as criminal offences but said nothing about non-violent sexual acts with children, so these were legal. Very sensible!

The spoilsports eventually got their act together though. In 1832 a new law specified that indecent assault on a child of either sex, under the age of 11, without violence, was an offence. So this was at last an AOC; the age was raised to 13 in 1863 and 15 in 1945. Interestingly, though, the courts have at times resisted applying the law.  For instance, Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu cites the case of Nicolas B., accused of indecent assault on his 5-year-old niece, who in 1865 benefited from extenuating circumstances on the grounds that his victim had not been deflowered. However, as the man was charged with a non-violent attack and not with rape, the question of defloration should not have arisen. As recently as 2015 (following a recasting of the entire penal code in 1994), the Constitutional Council reasserted that French law “does not set an age of discernment in regards to sexual relations: It is for the courts to determine whether the minor was capable of consenting to the sexual relationship in question.”

At all events, the low AOC in the early part of the 20th century gave plenty of scope for writers such as Henry de Montherlant and André Gide to indulge and write about their sexual tastes for young boys without fear, thereby setting the tone for post-war writers – a permissive tone that found more general expression in the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, supported by such immense figures as Sartre and Foucault.

By the 1970s, backing for children’s sexual freedom had become fashionable, at least in the intellectual world, and the middle of that decade saw books by no less than four major authors cheer-leading for paedophilia – including their own. One of them was Metzneff, as already noted. Another was the philosopher René Schérer, whose 1974 essay Émile perverti  supported pederastic relations between teachers and pupils. A third was Tony Duvert, who won the Medici prize in 1973 and the following year his first openly paedophilic essay appeared, Le Bon Sex Illustré.

Finally, we have the most internationally famous of them all, the Franco-German firebrand Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who shot to prominence in the great student protests of 1968 as a leftist revolutionary dubbed “Danny the Red”. In later years re-invented himself as an elected politician, leading both the German and French Green parties and becoming a leading member of the European Parliament. This successful track record was amazingly achieved despite his extraordinary chapter in a 1975 book called Le Grand Bazar, devoted to “the sexuality of children”, in which he spoke of his interactions with little children when he had been a kindergarten assistant in Frankfurt the previous year. It included incidents in which, as he put it, they would open his flies and tickle him, and he would caress them. He also appeared on Apostrophes in 1982, saying: “You know that the sexuality of a kid is absolutely fantastic…. When a little girl, five years old, starts to undress you, it’s fantastic! It’s fantastic because it’s an absolutely erotomanic game!”

These early indiscretions have come back to haunt him from time to time, but simply by denying  any paedophilic interest in children he has managed to avoid any really damaging scandal. I don’t think he would have got away with it in the US or UK.

Perhaps the most high-profile contribution by the French intellectuals in these years, though, came in the form of petitions in 1977 issued after a trial that saw three men jailed for non-violent sex offences against children aged 12 and 13.

“Three years in prison for caresses and kisses: enough is enough,” one petition said. Incredibly, among the 69 signatures were those of two government ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Jack Lang.

“French law recognises in 12- and 13-year-olds a capacity for discernment that it can judge and punish,” said a second petition signed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, along with fellow intellectuals Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida; a leading child psychologist, Françoise Dolto; and writers Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Louis Aragon. “But it rejects such a capacity when the child’s emotional and sexual life is concerned. It should acknowledge the right of children and adolescents to have relations with whomever they choose.”

That was the place! Those were the days!

 

SCRUTINISING SCRUTON

I made a rare post on BoyChat yesterday, following a thread there in which the recently deceased philosopher Roger Scruton was discussed and mention was made of my critique of his work. One or two people had put in a good word for Scruton. Nothing wrong with that. I am all in favour of fair and balanced assessments but it did seem to me that they had forgotten just what a nasty piece of work the great man himself could be. So I put in my own two penn’orth here.

One thing I didn’t mention is that even as a father the old reactionary might be a bit of a bastard, if we are to take him at his word (though we probably can’t!) Back in 1999, when his son was a baby, Professor Scruton penned a piece in the Guardian on his plans for the boy’s upbringing, titled “Raising Master Scruton”. He wrote:

…my wife Sophie and I have decided to offer Sam a genuinely deprived childhood… It goes without saying that Sam will not enjoy his childhood…But that is not the point. Childhood is not an end in itself but a means to growing up…

The most important factor in the old systems of education, the factor which caused children to emerge from them with all their wildness and selfishness subdued, was religion. Sam is to get a good dose of this. His parents are Christians.

It sounds as though Sam, now into his twenties, might be dancing on his dad’s grave! I have a horrible suspicion, though, that he is a chip off the old block: it appears he studied theology at Oxford. And if he has done a jig atop his old man’s sod it would have been after reading from St John’s gospel at the funeral.

Proudly sticking out my double CHIN!

98 Comments

When Dave Riegel kindly offered to host a link to my CHIN paper recently published in Sexuality & Culture, he was more alert than me to the need for an explanatory summary to go with it – a double CHIN, as it were – or an edited highlights version. As he wrote along with the link:

This paper comprises some 15,000 words and 33 pages. While composed with the academic or professional reader in mind, it can be read profitably by the layperson who puts his mind to the task, and who follows the logic carefully. For those who feel the sheer size is overwhelming, it is suggested that they begin at the “An Alternative Ideal” section.

Good advice! And at Dave’s request I am now taking a couple of steps to provide a reader-friendly introduction to the article. One of the steps, for visitors to Dave’s SafeHaven site, will comprise a short piece to go with the link there. The other step, for heretics here, appears below. It aims to encapsulate the paper’s main themes.

Before starting, I will just note that as I write, less than two months after CHIN’s publication, the paper has been downloaded 2,200 times from the official Springer site, a figure that I feel more than justifies splashing out, as I did, to pay for Open Access, making the paper freely available to all. Heretics here have donated generously in response to my appeal aimed at raising funds to cover the fee but I am still considerably out of pocket. So please consider making a donation if you have not already done so: see Donate button near the end text of the right-hand column or email me (tomocarr66@yahoo.co.uk) to ask for my international bank account number.

So, here we go.

It may help to begin with how CHIN came about. This has roots going back seven or eight years to a meeting in a London pub with psychiatrist Richard Green, whose record of pioneering support for gay and trans rights will be familiar to many here and who has recently published a memoir of his involvement in these issues. At Richard’s instigation we were joined for lunch by Agustin Malón, a Spanish specialist in sex education, whose views seemed agreeably liberal. We got on well, and in the years that followed I read a number of his academic papers with growing enthusiasm.

He was never a committed heretic, but his writing always showed understanding and goodwill. Many years ago, he wrote in the preface to his doctoral thesis:

Those who love children – and who very rarely attack them – undoubtedly lead a complicated existence; especially those who are attracted to prepubertal children, since society is not likely to allow them to live out these experiences in relative liberty and tranquillity. We have a lot to learn – as do they – about how to permit them to live out and express those desires through channels that are more acceptable, and that cause fewer problems for both minors and society.

This clearly indicates empathy but it is hardly a radical position. There is nothing to suggest he ever thought child-adult sex could ever be allowed. So I was agreeably surprised when a paper of his appeared in 2015 in a leading academic journal. The introductory Abstract noted that such relationships might indeed be morally permissible under some circumstances, based on his understanding of general ethical principles. What he was saying, in effect, was that the usual “anti” arguments, such as the idea that children cannot give valid consent, are weak: they do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Excitingly, it looked as though Malón was finally getting on board with true radicalism. But that turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Seeing only a glass half full, I was overlooking the half empty perspective. His article was planned as the first of two. The first would throw out the weak case against child-adult sex; but the second would bring in some new, much stronger, “anti” ideas to replace them! So we would be left not with a radically libertarian analysis but a beefed up conservative one!

This could have been very deflating, but when the second article appeared, in 2017, I soon began to see it as an opportunity. Malón’s new paper was grounded in virtue ethics. And just as he had seen the weakness of the usual “anti” arguments, it seemed to me his “virtue” approach was also full of holes. All I had to do was point them out. Also, without placing any great store on the virtue concept as a basis for deciding whether any sort of behaviours should or should not be permitted, answering Malón’s case appeared to offer a marvellous platform for talking about active child-adult sex as potentially something that could be seen positively, as part of a virtuous adult’s life.

Malón’s appeal to virtue ethics is part of a revival in recent times of a very old sort of moral philosophy, going back to ancient Greece. The person of good character, in this way of thinking, is one who lives life well in the sense that their behaviour tends to promote their own well being and that of their society, and may even be considered good for human flourishing in general. Virtue ethics these days is often referred to as “neo-Aristotelian” moral philosophy, as Aristotle was one of the key figures in the field among the ancients, following Socrates and Plato, and a good deal of his writing has survived.

It makes sense to ask, as these great philosophers did, what sort of life a good life is, and what makes for good character. One problem with this, though, is that you tend to get very different answers depending on when and where the question is posed. Different cultures have widely divergent views. Life could be harsh in ancient times and that was reflected in what was seen as morally acceptable. Aristotle, for instance, defended slavery.

Perhaps that is why Malón doesn’t mention him! His approach may be neo-Aristotelian but the figure he draws on for inspiration is a leading public intellectual of our own times, Sir Roger Scruton, knighted two years ago for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”. The official citation emphasises his promotion of “freedom and Western values” in Soviet-era Communist Europe, but in Britain he is better known for his love of fox hunting, his distaste for homosexuality and his ferocious hostility towards anything he considers to be perverted or obscene – including, of course, paedophilia. He once argued that gays have no children and consequently no interest in creating a socially stable future, so it was justified to “instil in our children feelings of revulsion” towards homosexuality.

His ideas on sexual morality find their fullest expression in his 1986 book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, which is undoubtedly a hugely sophisticated and erudite work, running to over 400 pages. Unfortunately, Malón appears to have been over-impressed by it and uncritically blown away. In my article, as a result, I found that really I had to regard Scruton as my primary opponent. The first part of CHIN is in effect an attempt to demolish Scruton’s thinking, and I hope readers will feel I have succeeded.

After that I found myself gloriously free on the open philosophical road, able to put my foot on the gas, driving the article hard towards my own vision of “An Alternative Ideal”. Dave Riegel is quite right to propose this section as a possible starting point: it avoids the unfortunately necessary negativity of the early sections, allowing the reader to get straight to what I hope will be considered more inspirational material. In fact, with this in mind, you could perfectly well begin and end with this single section.

Those who want to take that advice are free to do so. What I think may be useful in the remainder of this blog is to give a guide to the overall structure and main contents of CHIN.

Abstract and Introduction

The Abstract and the Introduction were written with the academic reader in mind and will perhaps feel rather perplexing and unhelpful to a wider audience. As Dave says, though, a careful, attentive reading should reap rewards.

The Illusion of Sexual Exceptionalism

This section is one to skip unless you are keen on philosophy. It tackles the idea that human sex of any sort is unlike other aspects of morality and needs a different kind of ethics. This view is at the heart of Scruton’s book, which takes a “phenomenological” approach focusing on human “intentionality”, a tricky concept which takes him 15 pages to “explain” in an appendix that leaves the head spinning. Basically, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors that enables him to claim, unpersuasively, that where sex is concerned the birds and the bees may do it but human sexual desire is on an altogether more elevated plane, such that ethical discussion essentially has to be inward looking:  we must contemplate our feelings for other people without reference to the wider world of nature, or indeed without delving into what science can tell us about our own sexual natures and how best they might be enabled to flourish.

Virtue Ethics and Child-Adult Sexual Relations

Malón’s particular contribution with regard to child-adult sexual relations sets out by identifying three potential lines of argument against paedophilic behaviour made available by the virtue approach. They are considered under these headings: (a) perversion and obscenity; (b) the sexual bond; (c) erotic neutralization and “extended” incest. CHIN responds to each of these three approaches.

Perversion and obscenity

Malón invokes childhood “innocence”, but he does not defend the concept against the charge that it represents a state of ignorance in which children are deliberately kept by adults in order to control them. Instead he seeks to justify the tradition in which a high value has been placed on virginity, a valuation challenged by feminists as being at the heart of patriarchal control of female sexuality.

It has also been put under scrutiny from an evolutionary perspective, and here I draw on the work of psychologist Darcia Narvaez. She suggests that we have been wrongly “projecting onto the past a scenario like today’s of sexual restriction and competition, assuming sexual competitiveness for virginity, and emphasizing the timing of first sexual behaviour”. Evolutionary psychology, she says, has wrongly assumed “mate competition and male desire to control female reproduction to ensure genetic dominance”.  Among the small-band gatherer-hunters of the past, in contrast, “sexual relations are widespread with experimentation at all ages”. Also, “As with our bonobo cousins, individuals do not wait for the right fertile mate. Sexual relations are more about pleasure than control.”

With this in mind, I raise the possibility that it might be beneficial to practise intimate relationships well before the time when there could be reproductive consequences. I note that childhood and adolescent sexual experiences with adults have been reported in very positive terms in the research literature as relationships characterised by warmth, pleasure, affection and humour.

The sexual bond

Malón argued that the child’s capacity for intimacy and to be emotionally connected to another person would be damaged by a sexual relationship with an adult. He did not even claim there was any evidence for this in the case of consensual encounters. I decided to stick with a single really good counter-example, that of the psychoanalyst and theorist Heinz Kohut: he claimed his sexual relationship at age 10 with an admired tutor was life-saving for him when his parents’ marriage was deteriorating.

Erotic neutralization and “extended” incest

It is difficult to argue in favour of sex with children in a nuclear family setting simply because behind closed doors it is hard to be sure kids have real choices: no one wants to see them become sex slaves of their parents. This has nothing to do with the danger of producing deformed or otherwise genetically damaged offspring in an incestuous union, as young children are physically incapable of becoming fathers or mothers. And, despite his use of the word incest, “blood” relations have nothing to do with what Malón is saying. He talks about so-called extended incest, by which he means any adult-child contacts that show some of the same psychodynamics as family relationships, especially via the quasi-parental authority invested in teachers, sports coaches, scout leaders, etc.

His argument is not against such authority, quite the reverse. Rather, he thinks that having a sexual relationship is likely to undermine legitimate authority. Good parents, after all, teach their children good values and try to set an example through their own good behaviour. An implicit assumption is that unless they are firmly in control, they will not be able to keep their children on the right path. By revealing their own sexual needs, by “surrendering” to passion, they become vulnerable to the child’s power; and in a consensual relationship the child can withhold willingness to meet those needs.

The argument is a strong one, but I argue that it puts excessive emphasis on the value of hierarchy. I give examples of role reversals that can be valuable for children and adults alike, where the younger party is in command.

An Alternative Ideal

Please simply read this section: it is easier going and arguably more important than some of the other parts.

Some Further Misconceptions

Intellectually, this section is a minor mopping up operation after zapping all three of Malón’s main arguments but it contains some interesting evidence you are unlikely to have seen elsewhere: use the search terms “Bemba” and “Nyakyusa” for some fascinating material on pre-pubertal consummation of marriage in African tribes – as researched by intrepid female anthropologists in the mid-20th century.

A prudential argument

This short section deals with the argument that child-adult sex may be harmless or even beneficial at the time but damaging in the long term on account of the social stigma attached to such encounters. Some give this as a reason not to permit them. I cite philosopher Stephen Kershnar’s powerful counter-argument.

Conclusion

The paper concludes with a plea to look at the evidence rather than just assuming that child-adult sex is harmful; it is also pointed out that relevant research has been systematically blocked and censored in recent times.    

Welcome to the joys of Springer!

266 Comments

The publication of yet another dry, difficult, boring article in an obscure academic journal may seem no big deal, but I hope heretics will be persuaded that one specific recent addition to “the literature” really is major news for us.

Some readers will have noticed straws in the wind – a hint or two from me in the comments section, even the actual news being leaked at a couple of Kind chat forums – and now the time has finally arrived when I am ready to spill the beans with an official announcement.

Official, that is, because the article is my very own. I like to think the really special thing about it is the content – what it actually says in its 15,000-words – but the most immediate aspect to crow about is that this is the first piece of mine accepted as a work of serious scholarship after going through the process known as peer review i.e. after being read and critiqued in detail by other scholars, who tend typically to be professors and other senior academics.

This in itself would be of no great interest to anyone but me, but when the article in question claims that consensual child-adult sexual relationships could be ethical, or even represent the embodiment of an ideal in human relationships, it does become a bit special. And when that article is written by an activist without so much as a doctorate to his name, much less a chair in moral philosophy, it becomes unique. Even more securely unique, indeed, given that my formal introduction to ethics was acquired while studying an Open University course in philosophy from a cell in Her Majesty’s Prison, Wandsworth.

“Unique”, as it happens, was an epithet used by one of the three anonymous (so they can criticise without inhibition) peer reviewers, who wrote: “The article is unique, interesting, important, and nicely argued. It will be an important contribution to the literature.” Another reviewer called it “stimulating and polemical” while the third said it was “…a great article. Very well researched… Well written and well argued throughout.”

Enough with the fanfare! The title of the paper is “Childhood ‘Innocence’ is Not Ideal: Virtue Ethics and Child–Adult Sex”. It was published online by the journal Sexuality & Culture on 20 April. The print edition will probably come out later this year, from which point it will grace the shelves of university libraries.

Wannabe readers will not need to hunt it down in the groves of academe, though, nor will they need to pay through the nose for it or seek a pirated download (somewhat harder to find now, following a lawsuit last year). No, all they need in order to read the full text free of charge online, or to get a free PDF download, is this link to the article’s page on the Sexuality & Culture website provided by Springer Nature, a gigantic academic publishing corporation.

And thereby hangs an important tale. Springer didn’t get big and profitable by being generous. It may look as though you are being offered a free lunch but it won’t be the publisher picking up the tab. Most of their articles are paid for in the traditional way: the reader has to buy them, just like going into a bookstore and buying a book. That tends to be very expensive for the reader, at £35 or more (around $50 U.S.) for an article of typically only 15-20 pages, unless they are able to borrow a copy from a library. This has been getting increasingly difficult in recent years because the libraries themselves in the UK and elsewhere have been finding it harder to come up with the money for their subscriptions to the journals. This means there is an increasing danger that only a small elite have much chance of discovering the latest scholarship and research.

Determined to reach the widest possible readership for my own pro-Kind paper, I decided this was not good enough. I could have done the same as most authors, which is to transfer the copyright to the publishers, so they can charge for the “intellectual property” (the article) and keep all the money that comes in. Doing it that way means there is no cost to the author. But I decided to put my money where my mouth is by forking out far more than I can sensibly afford in order to retain the copyright and exercise my choice to make the paper free to all readers under a scheme known as Open Access.

I paid Springer’s standard charge. Including VAT this came to a whopping £2,311, or over 3,000 American dollars. The first sign that this was money well spent is shown by the figures: in the first three weeks there have been over 300 downloads from the publisher’s link and more via ResearchGate, which is a networking site for scientists and researchers. This might seem small potatoes compared to the million a minute or whatever it is for cute cat clips going viral on YouTube but it is extremely good for a scholarly site – and unlike the cat clips a good article can have a long-lasting influence on people who are themselves seriously influential – such as public intellectuals (those high-profile profs who tend to be on the telly a lot), or leading bloggers and journalists.

With the help of a single generous sponsor I also made an earlier Springer publication of mine Open Access. This was a book review (which did not itself need to be peer reviewed) titled “Arthur P. Wolf: Incest Avoidance and the Incest Taboos, Two Aspects of Human Nature”. Without me making any significant effort towards publicising this review, it has gained 2,100 downloads since going online in November 2015. I confidently expect my present paper to get much bigger figures, not least because I intend to trumpet it far and wide.

The fact that I put my own money upfront this time around was an expression of my passionate belief in “Childhood ‘Innocence’ is Not Ideal”. It was also an act of faith in heretics here that you will wish to play your part by supporting my endeavours. I trust you will be willing to make whatever donation you can, not just to ensure that I can pay my next electricity bill now that I have taken a big hit to the wallet, but that I can also keep Heretic TOC and other projects going on a flourishing basis. My only income these days is a state pension. Thanks to serial career-busting activism over the years I have never been able to generate more than a sliver of a pittance from company pensions or anything of that sort.

That was my choice of life-style. I do not complain. But looking forward to the next few years I will be unable to keep on giving my time so freely unless I can cover my costs . I might be forced to give up Heretic TOC entirely, along with any further scholarship, in order to supplement my meagre income by devoting my time to commercial work instead – editorial consultancy and research such as I used to do after being recruited by Gordon Wills in the 1980s, in the field of marketing, and in more recent years Bill Percy, assisting with his history writing and research projects. The earnings in both cases were good, and the work was interesting, so it is tempting to go in that direction again.

I would far rather stick with what I am doing now, though, as I feel it is more important. But for that I need your help, your contribution. That is why, as you will see, I have added a Donate button to Heretic TOC. You will see it on the right hand side of the page. It is the last item, after the Follow button. The system uses PayPal, which is a very easy way of paying from accounts in any major currency, either using a credit card or your own PayPal account.

Nominally, your contributions will go to Dangerous Books Ltd, which is the name of the company I set up principally as the vehicle for promoting and selling my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons (authored under the penname “Carl Toms”) some years ago. My PayPal account just happens to be in this name but it is not actually a company account. So your contributions will go to me personally and be entirely at my disposal.

I see no reason why the donation system should not work smoothly, but if there are any teething problems with it do let me know.

In making this appeal I am acutely aware that many heretics have faced career disasters and consequent financial limitations comparable to my own, so may not have much to give; others will have been so traumatised by unkindness to the Kind that they have found it tough just to hold off depressive inertia and keep themselves going sufficiently to make a modest living. To these I say, give what you can and you will be doing yourself a favour as well as me: you will feel good for having contributed. It’ll cheer you up a bit!

There are also those who have been resilient; they include skilful, talented people who have done well in life, being wisely alert to pitfalls and how to avoid them. Among them are those who generously came to my aid a couple of years ago when my need was far more desperate than it is now. When it looked as though I would need an expensive legal team to keep me out of prison, this gallant band of stalwarts rose to the challenge stupendously, some pledging four-figure sums. Fortunately, in the end I needed only a tenth of what had been offered and accepted that amount with relief and gratitude.

To these heroes, and to others who are at least modestly prospering, I would now say I have no need for a four-figure sum from any single individual (but of course it would be nice if any millionaire heretics happen to be feeling bountiful!) I would urge you, though, to think seriously about a three-figure one: without a number of donations at this level I could be struggling.

Enough with the funding!

A word may be needed about the paper itself. It is not an easy read, especially the first sections. One of my main targets in this early part is the stance taken by the eminent British conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. Heretics who are into philosophy might enjoy what I hope is a successful demolition job on his enthusiasm for denouncing “perversion” and “obscenity”.

It is in the later part, though, that I feel I really get motoring. This is where, having ditched the negative approach to sexual “virtue” espoused by Scruton and his supporter Agustin Malón, I develop my own, positive, approach.

I might add that I have met Malón a couple of times and downed a few beers with him. He is a very nice guy; so our differences are ideological rather than personal. A Spanish scholar, he is a professor of education, and has written a number of papers pertinent to our concerns that are far more humane and sympathetic than anything I have seen from Scruton.

 

THE BITER BIT: WHAT A HYPOCRITE!

Would you Adam and Eve it! John Woodcock MP, the man who had me kicked out of the Labour Party could be shown the door himself, after being suspended at the end of last month over – wait for it – alleged sexual harassment! It is claimed “he sent inappropriate messages to a former female member of staff”.

In an even more delicious irony, the first thing Woodcock did to undermine my position in the party two years ago, after the police alerted him to my background as a Kind activist, was to go blabbing to the press. And guess what he is complaining about now?

Yes, you’ve guessed it: he is upset that his detractors have gone blabbing to the press! The BBC quoted him as denying the truth of the allegations, and as saying:

“The decision… to place details of my case in the press and then suspend me places a serious question mark over the integrity of the process….”

Oddly enough, he didn’t seem so concerned about “the integrity of the process” in my case, which I blogged about in An Open Letter to the Labour Party.

Can’t say I feel a lot of sympathy for him. As he appears to have made it his life’s mission to undermine Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at every opportunity, the party would do well to see the back of him.

 

HOT CONTRABAND IN PRISON

Email received this morning from a correspondent in the U.S.:

“I talked with a fellow tonight who was recently released from prison. He told me that someone smuggled a copy of your book on Michael Jackson in by having it mailed to an inmate who was not there on a sex crime, so his mail is less scrutinized and it got through. Then, to allow the sex-crime inmates to read it, someone took the cover from a book by Isaac Asimov that was about the same size, and replaced your cover with that so the guys could read it without the guards knowing what they were reading.”

So, never mind drugs, mobile phones and the rest, it seems the cool item to smuggle into prison now is Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. Way to go, dudes!

The consequences of consequentialism

19 Comments

A big thank you to everyone – and I do mean everyone – who has commented on Why children may want to keep a secret. This has been an exceptionally lively debate, now amounting to well over 11,000 words and it ain’t necessarily over yet. Inevitably, some words of real wisdom in all this will be overlooked, failing to make the impression they deserve.

The ones I most strongly feel need to be rescued from oblivion came in a contribution by T. Rivas, when he talked about the development of society over decades or centuries. In his view, “the development of human and ‘even’ animal rights since the period of Enlightenment is part of an inevitable progress in civilization and leaving behind barbarity”. After a certain point, he says, “the moral and emancipatory progress cannot be undone anymore, because it has become an intrinsic part of rational moral progress. This point has been reached with women’s and gay rights in many parts of the Western world and more and more people are realizing that animal rights are simply another strictly logical consequence of respect for the individual. One day, the same will happen with erotic and relational rights of children and pedophiles.”

Heretic TOC will not here be concerned with whether Rivas is right or wrong as to the inevitability of moral progress, except to say that brilliant minds have argued the point at least since the great burgeoning of rationalist optimism in the 18th century Enlightenment to which he refers. The political philosopher John Gray, for example, insists in his book Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, that “the old Adam” will out: human moral frailty is always with us; the perfectibility of man is an illusion; our selfishness, arrogance and shortsightedness render us vulnerable to all sorts of disaster, such as man-made climate change apocalypse. Psychologist Steven Pinker, on the other hand, argues in his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, that we are gradually becoming less violent.  He suggests that moral progress, although not inevitable, is likely to continue thanks to factors which have already proved beneficial, such as increased education, mutual interdependence through trade, and the spread of democracy.

Among those impressed by Pinker’s analysis is moral philosopher Peter Singer, a name particularly relevant here in view of Rivas’s reference to animals, concern for whom was pioneered by Singer in his 1976 book Animal Liberation. When Rivas speaks of “people…realizing that animal rights are simply another strictly logical consequence of respect for the individual”, he appears to be invoking something like historian W.H. Lecky’s concept, developed by Singer, of human concern as an expanding circle which begins with the individual, then embraces the family, then ever wider social groups up to nations, and eventually all humanity and even beyond, with animals included.

There is a long tradition, subscribed to in their very different ways by Hobbes, Kant, Rousseau and numerous other such luminaries, that the needs and interests of individuals might be given consideration if they are rational beings capable of thrashing out between themselves what the rules of good conduct should be. Having agreed on the rules (which find some approximation in law and government) and come to a sort of social contract, social justice is then expressed primarily in terms of individuals’ rights and responsibilities. As non-rational creatures, so the reasoning went, children and animals (and women!) might be owed a duty of care by their “owners” but if they had no responsibilities they could have no rights.

Jeremy Bentham bypassed all that contractual thinking. Regarding animals, he said the key question was not “Can they reason?” but “Can they suffer?” His so-called Utilitarian (a ghastly word which fails to capture the majestic power of the concept) philosophy focused on the amount of happiness or unhappiness we experience, which translates in crude but very important terms to pleasure versus pain. We all know about pain, in particular, whether physical or emotional, and the tremendous imperative to avoid it, especially as regards extreme suffering.

Singer’s approach, like Bentham’s, is Utilitarian. This has enabled him to focus our thinking on making choices that maximize the amount of pleasure we all experience and minimize the pain. The former might sound a bit trivial and hedonistic, but the latter is definitely not, especially when it comes to concerning ourselves with such questions as the horrors and degradation of keeping slaves or exploiting workers in dangerous sweatshops – or the suffering of battery chickens and laboratory animals. What he asks us to do, rather than legalistically concerning ourselves with rational capacity (which includes, incidentally, the concept of “informed consent” as applied to children), and rights tied to responsibilities, is to focus instead on the consequences of our actions when measured against a very clear ethical principle: will our actions tend to increase or decrease the sum total of suffering?

Used properly, this approach can be very illuminating: see for instance the way Singer uses it to test the mettle of our moral beliefs in his essay The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle.  Lesser thinkers than Singer, however, have invalidly seized upon very well known and obvious limitations of “consequentialist” thinking (e.g. the impossibility of predicting the consequences of one’s actions with certainly), in an effort to trash it entirely. I encountered a classic example myself only recently, when a certain person who shall remain nameless sought to consign my review of Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger memoir to the garbage can on the basis that it is “wrapped up in consequentialist morality”, as though that automatically invalidated it.  My interlocutor appeared to believe that consequentialism can be used to justify anything, such as slavery. And so it can, if it is misapplied, and all the other major systems of ethics can be misapplied too: “virtue” ethics, for example, can be used lazily to make a virtue of anything that is traditionally approved of, no matter how dubious – “virtuous” paedophiles please note! For instance, even a “proper” philosopher, such as Roger Scruton, manages to conclude that cruelty to animals can be justified as the legitimate pursuit of a virtuous man when it happens to be the traditional pursuit of respected people, such as the fox-hunting English gentry. Ironically, after bad-mouthing consequentialist reasoning, my critic then proceeded to deploy it himself in a way which might be worth examining in a future blog.

For now, though, I’ll just give another prize example – this time used against Singer – of what we might dub “consequentialism abuse”. Perhaps we need a law against it.  Victims such as Singer and myself might then get lots of sympathetic media coverage and be able to claim compensation! This time the villain is one Moshe Averick, who was ordained as a rabbi but became a theology teacher rather than a priest. Unsurprisingly, the rabbi dislikes atheism, and he wrote:

…the logical and philosophical consequences of atheists’ belief systems are inescapable. When asked by journalist William Crawley if he thought that pedophilia was “just wrong”, Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University – a world-famous philosopher of “ethics” – responded as follows:

“I don’t have intrinsic moral taboos. My view is not that anything is just wrong…You’re trying to put words in my mouth.”

Singer went on to explain that he is a “consequentialist.” For the benefit of the philosophically challenged let me explain “consequentialism” in a nutshell: If you like the consequences it’s ethical, if you don’t like the consequences it’s unethical. Thus, if you enjoy child pornography and having sex with children it’s ethical, if you dislike child pornography and having sex with children it’s unethical. In an article entitled Heavy Petting, Singer likewise gave his stamp of approval to bestiality. As a reward for producing such pearls of wisdom, he has been granted the privilege of teaching our children “ethics” at an Ivy League university.

Apart from making it clear via this satirically outrageous misrepresentation why the rabbi does not teach at an Ivy League university, this little extract from his snappily titled article A Plea to Atheists: Pedophilia Is Next On the Slippery Slope; Let Us Turn Back Before It Is Too Late usefully alerts us to matters of rather greater interest than himself. One is the claim that Singer supports “bestiality”, despite the fact that his fame was built on a radical insistence animals should be treated well, with respect and dignity. Another is the hint that Singer may not necessarily be against paedophilia either. But is any of this true?

Let’s take “bestiality” first, as this is easy to check out. The article in question, Heavy Petting, is a review of a book by Dutch biologist Midas Dekkers called Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, which I have read and highly recommend. Singer is careful to say that sexually violent acts towards animals are clearly wrong, but that is not the whole story. He says:

But sex with animals does not always involve cruelty. Who has not been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop.

As for paedophilia, Singer has understandably been less forthcoming: he has an Ivy League job, after all, and presumably wants to keep it. So he did not allow journalist William Crawley to put words into his mouth, nor did he rise to the bait, so far as I am aware, when another journalist, William Saletan, in a Slate article none too subtly titled Shag the dog, tried to hook him with this challenge:

What about Singer? He has often compared the mental ability of higher animals to that of children. Does he think this level of comprehension is sufficient to give consent to sex? If the answer is no, isn’t zoophilia wrong? If the answer is yes, isn’t pedophilia OK?

Singer’s fellow philosopher Tom Regan, himself a supporter of animal rights, agrees with the implication from Saletan: the argument that favours “bestiality” could be used to justify having sex with children. Regan writes that Singer’s position is a consequence of his adopting a consequentialist approach to the moral status of animals rather than a strictly rights-based one, and he argues that a rights-based position distances itself from non-consensual sex.

Regan’s position is logical, I think, but that does not mean Singer is wrong; indeed, it would be fascinating to hear what the latter might say about paedophilia were he free to do so without suffering serious consequences. Unfortunately, though, that is a “consequentialist” consideration Singer is unlikely to overlook!

%d bloggers like this: