At the Barbican: bums and barbarism

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We don’t expect anything much to happen at 9.30 on a Sunday morning.

It’s a time when usually I would be mooching about with a cup of coffee and looking forward to another coma-inducingly complex Brexit analysis on the Andrew Marr Show, where we are no longer, it seems, stuck on the “backstop” (that’s the ordinary backstop), or even the “backstop to the backstop”. We have made great progress. We have moved on, so that instead of failing to come to any agreement on backstops we are now hopelessly mired on the “transition”, and even the “transition from the transition” – and no, for those of you who haven’t been following closely, I am not talking about trans persons or any aspect of sex or sexuality.

But I soon will be, as you will be relieved to hear.

So. Sunday. No comforting coffee or mystifying Marr. Just an empty platform in a quiet London Tube station as I make my way to the start of a conference. With only the sound of my own footsteps for company I make my lonely way to the exit. As I turn a corner onto a staircase I see my first humans. A couple. Or so I think, as the stocky man and slim woman appear to be walking together side by side some distance up ahead of me.

So when he gives her a firm spank on the backside I guess it must be a relationship thing. You know, playful. Pert enough posterior, I must admit, barely covered by hot-pants of a provocative shortness I haven’t seen for decades in my own sartorially challenged thigh of the woods. The young lady was about 30. Had she been only 20 years younger I would certainly have envied her “boyfriend” or “partner”.

Expecting some lively banter between the two, I was quickly disillusioned. Without a word, and without looking back or in any way acknowledging the man, she quickened her pace up the steps. As the distance between spanker and spankee grew it became apparent he was drunk, lurching from side to side. I gave him a wide berth as I overtook. Not that I thought he would spank my elderly male backside (no hot pants there, I assure you!) but I didn’t want any sort of confrontation.

That same morning, though, I found myself voluntarily confronting about a hundred people over this incident when I raised it as a question in a conference session at the Barbican Centre titled “Consent classes: from school to parliament and beyond”. By the time I spoke, several of the feminist platform speakers had come on strong in various ways (no surprise), suggesting that teaching strict rules for consent to schoolchildren or students is vital but not enough; basically, the consensus was little short of “All men should be castrated”.

In this atmosphere, I confess, I didn’t have the balls to suggest that even young children can consent – I might not have kept them for long had I tried! In any case, I was curious to sound out opinion on the Tube station spanker.

“A funny thing happened on my way to the conference,” I began. Well, not really: to me it had been “funny peculiar” but no way did I want anyone to think I meant “funny ha-ha”. I was also acutely aware that many women complain of sexual harassment such as uninvited spanking on an almost daily basis. So I took pains to emphasise that in all my many years I had never before actually witnessed such an incident in front of my very eyes.

“What should I have done?” I asked. “Should I have intervened in any way?”

It was pleasant, I have to say, to find myself in a good-guy role for once, the role of the Concerned Bystander. OK, so I hadn’t actually done anything good. A proper “English gentleman” might have taken the scoundrel by the scruff of the neck and given him a damn good thrashing, but that would have been far too aggressively masculine to win the approval of this conference session.

No, just thinking vaguely the right thoughts in an ineffectual way was apparently good enough for this surprisingly easy-to-please audience. One of the sterner panel speakers, law professor Susan Edwards, author of Sex and Gender in the Legal Process, seemed to think it was important that my consciousness had been raised. Alisha Lobo, a university students’ “community officer”, said she would have intervened herself, but only to go and ask the woman if she was alright. As a man, though, could I have done this without raising worries about my ulterior motives?

A guy in the audience pointed out that everyone, including the perpetrator, knows that spanking a complete stranger in a Tube station is bad behaviour. Consent classes would make no difference.

The best answer came from panellist Joanna Williams, author of Women vs Feminism and associate editor of Spiked. Instead of getting all worked up over “someone touching someone’s bum on a Sunday morning at Barbican Tube station”, she said, women should be celebrating their freedom, gained not so long ago, to go out in the world as independent people. The present emphasis on victimhood through “harassment”, “micro-aggressions” and the like, risked sacrificing spontaneity, freedom and intimacy. The Tube spanker’s behaviour was definitely unpleasant but the cost of trying to eliminate such incidents through ever greater vigilance and sex-negativity was far too high.

I am happy to say she got a very vigorous round of applause.

The conference was the excellent annual Battle of Ideas chat-fest on topical controversies, from #MeToo to Brexit to climate change, organised by the Institute of Ideas, whose director, Claire Fox, will be known to many heretics as a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. Those with an elephantine memory will recall that I wrote about this gathering a couple of years ago in “Are we (or they) driving kids crazy?

With Steve Freeman, my successor as chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), barbarically incarcerated on an indeterminate sentence of “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP) for the last seven years for child porn offences , I thought I should also attend the session on the policy of offender rehabilitation in prison, and whether it works.

Much of the session was focused, reasonably enough, on the lack of funding for getting offenders back on their feet when they leave the prison gate. Instead of getting the help they need they are left to wallow in unresolved problems, especially as regards drugs and alcohol, and a lack of skills that would enable them to gain and hold down a job. As a result, they soon find themselves back inside after re-offending: it is known as the revolving door syndrome.

I would have preferred a session given over entirely to the horror-story that the IPP system has become. The idea was supposed to be that “dangerous” prisoners, including sex offenders,  should only be released when they are no longer considered dangerous. In theory this need take only as long as necessary to successfully complete a treatment programme aimed at rehabilitation – which might mean a matter of months rather than years. In practice, staffing and other difficulties have meant that the required courses have often been long delayed, and the Parole Board has been reluctant to release anyone labelled “dangerous” for fear of the media shit-storm that would ensue in the event of any further offending.

Also, there has been a huge problem for heretics. In order to “pass” the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) the offender has needed to convince the assessors running the courses that he (it’s usually a male) has changed his beliefs and no longer has an “offence supporting attitude” or a so-called “cognitive distortion” that makes him think consensual sex with minors is OK. A lot of us would struggle with this test, wouldn’t we?

Then, last year, came the shock news (no surprise to me but it was to the authorities) that the SOTP doesn’t actually work, and that those who have successfully completed the courses re-offend at a higher rate than those who do not! Logically, then, if you cannot “cure” offenders who are too “dangerous” to release, they must remain locked up.

So it’s a nightmare scenario for the remaining IPP prisoners, who find themselves stuck in a legal limbo that neither the parole authorities nor the politicians dare tackle. It has become a gulag system, much like the endless “civil commitment” faced by many sex offenders in the U.S. i.e. continuing detention behind bars long after their sentence has ended, waiting for a “cure” that does not exist. Note that the IPP is officially a life sentence, although the offence leading to it can be relatively minor, with a minimum term (sometimes called the “tariff”) that might be under a year. In Steve’s case it was two and a half years and he has so far served seven.

Nobody at the Barbican even mentioned sex offenders until I raised the subject.

Wouldn’t it be a far better use of resources, I asked, now that the SOTP is known to be useless, to spend the money instead on practical post-release help, making sure ex-offenders have somewhere to live and so forth? Whether the remaining IPP prisoners should in justice be released immediately, after completing their tariff, was a follow-up question I had in mind, albeit the session was too short to take it.

The panel included Jerry Petherick, previously a prison governor responsible for HMP Dartmoor and now the director in charge of all the G4S prisons in the UK, including HMP Rye Hill, where all the inmates are sex offenders. To my surprise, this guy from the hard-nosed capitalist business of making money out of locking people up came across as surprisingly pleasant and well-meaning, notwithstanding the terrible mess his company has made of riot-stricken HMP Birmingham, now taken back into state control.

And judging by the answer he gave me he is pleasant and well-meaning but with little to offer but waffle and bureaucratic bullshit. He spoke of the “demise” of the SOTP, saying it had caused “real uncertainty as to how and how effectively it will be replaced”. How indeed. He didn’t get much further.

In the chair was Pamela Dow, a former director of strategy with the Ministry of Justice. She claimed the SOTP had worked well in its early phase when it was in the hands of experienced clinical psychologists, but when it was rolled out over the whole prison estate it was not given enough funding and was delivered by poorly trained staff.

I totally believe her. But again unanswered was the question of what comes next?

Nobody mentioned the new Kaizen programme, perhaps because there is some embarrassment over this fancy-sounding rebranding of the SOTP, re-launched with a few untested tweaks. This is designed to be a more “holistic” (great buzzword!) course for supposedly high risk offenders such as Steve,  incorporating “biological, social and psychological factors”, whatever that means. There is also the Horizon programme for lower risk offenders. As a blog associated with the journal Sexual Abuse pointed out, these courses may be evidence-informed but they are not evidence-based. Citing forensic psychologist Ruth Mann, the bloggers suspect that we can see “the evil twin of evidence-based policy-making” at work in this case, namely “policy-based evidence-making”.

But there may be some faint hope for better policy. The holistic approach (soothingly served up to me by Mr Pecksniff, sorry Petherick, when I button-holed him at the end of the session) could actually have something going for it. In the damning academic evaluation of the SOTP, one of the possible reasons given for the programme’s failure was its one-size-fits-all nature, with violent young rapists considered just the same as gentle and often elderly kind inmates.

I could have told them this. In fact I did, in an article published in the house journal of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) a few years ago. Maybe someone has noticed at last. My main point was that heretics like us do not take kindly (pun intended!) to having it dinned into us that we must have “cognitive distortions” and lack empathy. Either of these failings could be a factor (as one would expect when children are manipulated or coercively molested) but it ain’t necessarily so. And if it ain’t so we won’t buy it. We will instead either be in open revolt against the objectives of the course or seethe in quiet resentment. Either way, the programme will fail.

Far better, I said, would be to have programmes that respect the individuality of the inmates concerned, giving participants the opportunity to discuss their beliefs freely, and any evidence they know of that supports them. Resistance to the prescribed ideology should not on its own be taken to indicate that an inmate is still dangerous when a fair and intelligent evaluation of their expressed views would suggest the opposite.

Steve could pass that course, and rightly so.

Welcome to the joys of Springer!

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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!

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