In one of the interminable threads that devolved into endless discussions of pedophilia a couple of months ago, I raised an academic question about whether those who were commenting could come up with a reason why pedophilia was "wrong" without relying on a Judeo-Christian cultural context.   The history, I argued, was that in Greece and to a lesser extent in Rome, pedophilia in some forms was culturally acceptable; only those pesky Christians managed to radically change the culture.

For me it was just an academic speculation, but apparently I was much closer than I had ever considered possible.

In a recent interview with the Times magazine, Richard Dawkins attempted to defend what he called “mild pedophilia,” which, he says, he personally experienced as a young child and does not believe causes “lasting harm.”

Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts,” and that to condemn this “mild touching up” as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.


Child welfare experts responded to Dawkins’ remarks with outrage — and concern over their effect on survivors of abuse.


I'm just curious what people think?   Even in the midst of the groping, fondling, and raping of kids, and hiding/covering up of the crimes which occurred among clergy of my faith, it was exceptionally rare that anyone actually tried to condone it as being harmless. 

Tags: Dawkins, Richard, pedophilia

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"What is regarded as taboo in every culture I know about is what we call pedophilia, sex with babies, toddlers, and/or preteens."

Three words: 1) sex - absolutely, sex (= penetration) would, in all likelihood, cause physical harm, leading to anxiety and/or trauma; 2) taboo - I remember back to the early 50s in primary school, we'd hear teacher describe "dirty old men" hanging around just outside the schoolyard in raincoats. "Don't accept candy from him." I never actually saw one, but we all thought it to be very funny.

Times have changed. In the last 20 years or so, moral panic has set in. Every word must now be weighed for the moral absolutists for whom the likes of the dirty old man is no longer "taboo", he is now the epitome of evil. Society doesn't caution citizens against contact. Instead the moral absolutists promote shooting him in the head. And, like the anti-ACA, right-wing, "let-'em-die" crowd, we've become used to cries of affirmation, "yeah, shoot 'em all". What's really disappointing is to hear like-minded people parroting these sentiments in this sanctuary of reason.

3) pre-teen - let's take, as an example, a 10-year-old girl. (I've strayed from my non-sexist words for a reason - girls are sexualized FAR earlier than boys - and NOT by society, by their bodies. (My ex-partner remembers masterbating to orgasms at the age of 5 and every boy knows that girls have cooties until the boy reaches puberty.) So, say this 10-year-old girl approaches a dearly-loved uncle with questions she would never take to her parents. They continue talking over a period of time and she finally succeeds in seducing him. They engage in mutual masterbation. She has NO regrets.

Does the uncle really deserve to have his whole life completely ruined?

I think THIS is where Dawkins is coming from..

So, say this 10-year-old girl approaches a dearly-loved uncle with questions she would never take to her parents. They continue talking over a period of time and she finally succeeds in seducing him. They engage in mutual masterbation. She has NO regrets.

Does the uncle really deserve to have his whole life completely ruined?

A 10 year old? Yes, unless he's a mental defective.

An adult male of normal intelligence should not give in to an underage girl if she makes a sexual play. And she probably wouldn't be making the play if she hadn't been abused by another man.

Her seductiveness is no excuse. ALL children, and especially girls with their fathers (and by extension other father figures), use seduction to get their way. They really have no other power over adults. If they want something and you say no, they play up their cuteness and maximize their appeal. "Oh,please, Daddy. Let me stay over at Mary's. It'll be so much fun and we won't stay up all night" combined with a big hug and looking into his eyes.

I was a dad. I know how it goes. 

If seductiveness goes over into the sexual area with someone that young, responsible men say no because (Angela E. will appreciate this) in OUR complex society they really don't understand the implications, so it's the adult's role to protect them..

"in OUR complex society they really don't understand the implications"

What I'm trying to get across is that there would be NO lasting "implications" were it not for the moral panic within our society - any more than if she DID stay up all night. It's the society which (wrongly) introduces the harm (guilt, shame, etc.) where no harm would otherwise have existed.

"ALL children, and especially girls with their fathers (and by extension other father figures), use seduction to get their way."

Why do you suppose that is?

As usual, Dawkins is correct. Rational thinkers should be getting behind him instead of rallying under the "It's Just Wrong" flag of the moral absolutists.

What I'm trying to get across is that there would be NO lasting "implications"

The only point of view from which one could possibly KNOW there would be no lasting implications would be by being an omniscient observer or someone with a time machine who could travel to the end of the life of the youngster and verify that no harm was done.

So, your hypothetical situation is a lot more than just slightly hypothetical. It's hypothetical to the point of irrelevance. We learn nothing from it.

It's hypothetical in the same way that I can test the strength of a bridge I have designed by imagining a very heavy truck using it and deciding that, because I can imagine the truck reaching the far end, that it is safe.

"Does the uncle really deserve to have his whole life completely ruined?"

Interpersonal interactions are complex with more variables at play than any human or legal system can possibly entertain. We can construct a hypothetical scenario in which no harm is caused, but in practice, it's rather difficult to actually evaluate harm. What we look at, then, is the risk and potential for harm.

When it comes to kids and sexual interaction, the risk of harm seems greater than most of us can tolerate.  As such, there is a categorical prohibition. We may not know in every case how much harm was caused if any, but we do know that the general behaviour places children at risk. Sexual gratification isn't typically considered a valid justification for this.

Knowing this and pursuing sexual activities with minors all the same is, to some extent, like driving straight into a brick wall: you may not deserve your injuries on a moral level, but you do deserve them as a matter of cause and effect.

In my eyes, this isn't really about the nuance of moral deservedness in every individual case, but rather what one deserves when they plough headlong into a society which can afford almost nothing in discriminating leniency.

Does the uncle really deserve to have his whole life completely ruined?

Sounds like a pretty atypical situation, to me.

One of my daughters (when young) was outside on the grass, when a neighbor saw a dog humping her. (No, she did not initiate it.) My southern, seriously-Christian neighbor came over, all freaked out, warning me about it. It seemed comical, and I think I accidentally smiled before realizing how upset she was.

Anyway, that just became another one of those teachable moments with my kid. No big deal. I was glad the neighbor didn't go freak out my kid, first, but I suppose that would have become part of the teachable moment, too.

(Oh yeah, it wasn't a creepy old, stranger dog, either. I would have been wanting to exercise a lot more caution, if we didn't know the dog.)

"Sounds like a pretty atypical situation, to me."

I would imagine that, in virtually EVERY case where such contact caused NO harm, the event would go completely unreported. But even assuming it is, as you say, "atypical", the question remains: "Does the uncle really deserve to have his whole life completely ruined?" Unseen says "Yes". How about you?

Does uncle deserve his life to be ruined? No, not if he's senile.

I thought of this before Unseen responded, but just didn't want to get into a hypothetical where we're supposedly omnipotent, knowing everyone's motives and behavior. I see at least two realities worth discussing.

Back to tribal societies, where (I think) we were still evolving as a species, people knew each other better, had little privacy, and were subject to scrutiny and group peer pressure daily, if not minute by minute. This includes behavior of both the uncle and the kid, who are naturally going to have deeper bonds to their social environment. The significance of this matters in the sense that it, if we knew more about reality back then, we should be able to understand better why humans behave the way they do, even in an environment (like today) when we have a lot more privacy, and disconnection from daily face-to-face society (if we choose).

That's the second, possible reality, which is today's modern lifestyle. We don't know people's motives behaviors and motives as well, and judgments must come from complete strangers, presented with "evidence" in a courtroom, and so a whole lot of arbitrary assumptions need to be made in order to determine some kind of binary, guilty or not guilty verdict, with little discretion/gray area possible.

A third reality is not so much a reality, but a contrived hypothetical designed to discover minutia of people's decision-making process to find thin lines of where a person's verdict switches between guilty or not guilty. Some kind of omnipotence over the entire scenario has to be assumed, else how could one assume its conditions? Are we suddenly God, who knows all, and holds all the cards of judgment?

I could get into this more, but the problem with today's, real-life scenarios, is that we usually don't know all the details, and we can't predict what kind of judgment will affect the best, possible outcome, or what kind of monitoring, deterrence, or treatment can have the best possible influence on perps, and the best possible mental health for the kid.

(Ah, MikeLong, I see now that you've posted something with similar reasoning, at least about the business of fine-line, guilty vs non-guilty requirements of modern society.)

@Pope Shouldn'ty

"No, not if he's senile."

Very nice post (except for this one line - which translates to "Yes, unless he's senile").

The beauty of hypotheticals is that they are designed to uncover binary thinking. I understand that guilty/not guilty is, to a small extent, an unavoidable binary, but, other than that, binary thinking (outside mathematics) is to be avoided. 

What I've determined is that even in this bastion of rationality, the binary thinking of moral panic prevails. Though I agree with the rest of your post, your lead sentence says it all: that a man should forfiet everything for a single transgression which is DEFINED as having caused no harm. Why? Totally irrational: "It's just wrong". No grey area.

Hawkins was extremely brave to speak out for rationality, but I'll guarantee he won't do it again - not on this subject. 

Not an isolated incident, though, was it?  If he did it once, he will have been doing it regularly.  If I went around putting my hand inside little boys' pants, I would expect to get the book thrown at me. 



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