If an intelligent and observant alien from another world arrived today to assess human society’s values with respect to its children, it would likely be utterly confounded by what it observed, even amongst the most civilized portions of our species. Were our cosmic observer to put together an account for its own species of what it had learned with respect to humanity’s general attitude toward its offspring, I think it would find Homo sapiens to be rather schizophrenic on the whole. It seems that, theoretically, we consistently place children in the status of ultimate humanity, that being my term for the faction of human beings who are considered the most valuable and worthy of protection. And yet, in practical terms, children are still largely at the bottom of the proverbial ladder.
As a member of the most despised sexual minority in the Western world and as someone who truly adores children, I have, I think, some unique insights into our culture’s overarching perspective and treatment of children. This is not to say that being pedophilic inherently affords me any special insight into children—it doesn’t. What it does mean is that I have gone to great lengths to educate myself about the plight of children around the world, to understand them and their struggle not in terms of ideology or social mores or any of the other filters through which the majority of people must view children in order to make them fit into their personal concept of reality. The problem is, children are not inherently ideological or moral—they do not come into the world with preconceived notions about reality, and that can be incredibly frustrating for parents, educators, and anyone else whose job would be much easier if kids came pre-molded accordingly.
It is largely for this reason that I think so much of society has such a love-hate relationship with kids. On the one hand, they claim that children are precious, that they’re the future, that their innocence must be protected above all, and so on and so forth. Think of the children! remains the most durable of thought-terminating cliches among politicians and social justice advocates of every political stripe, and yet, in terms of realpolitik, children forever flounder at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to installing worthwhile protections, investing government funds, et al.
Take education. A solid majority of nations invest less than 6% of their GDP in educating their children, including the United States. That in itself would not be so problematic if other factors mitigated the lack of proper funding. For example, many students are now graduating from high school with less than adequate skills in reading comprehension, writing or mathematical proficiency. This is a result of rising numbers of poorly trained and apathetic teachers, as well as pressures on teachers to conform to failed programs like No Child Left Behind that place undue focus on gearing kids toward passing standardized tests at the expense of both a broader knowledge range and independent-minded thinking. Additionally, in America at least, education as a whole is still based on a largely outmoded system that was created when the majority of society was agrarian. It does not cater to an ever more complex and diverse occupational landscape and culture. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Anyway, there are plenty of more detailed examinations of this issue on the web already.
From my vantage point, at the heart of this breakdown is society’s ambivalence about children themselves. When I look at an issue like gun control, where the need to protect children should be fairly clear-cut, though I should be astonished by America’s unwillingness to bend on this despite the huge numbers of children who are injured and killed by guns every year, I’m not. This is because the overwhelming degree of evidence has long suggested that society’s blathering on about children’s safety and security is mostly just lip service, a point that serves politicians and self-congratulatory parents well but falters when it comes to carrying through.
Another great example is corporal punishment, a practice long discredited and deemed harmful by every US professional organization that intersects with children in some capacity. A recently published meta-analysis (which is basically a huge study comprised of a whole bunch of other studies), as described in A.D.P. Efferson’s fantastic article 4 Reasons Most Americans Are Wrong About Spanking that came out today in The Federalist, adds another boulder to the growing mountain of evidence that spanking is indeed harmful to children, and yet most American parents still practice it. Why? I think most parents really don’t give much credence to the notion that spanking is truly harmful, which is to say, they simply don’t trust the experts on this. Or is it possibly that they just don’t care?
Whichever it is, it all comes back to the fact that people ultimately believe what they want to believe, and it is nearly impossible to change their minds on something that contradicts what they already hold as gospel. They will search out contravening evidence, and if they can’t find it, they will simply make it up. And like it or not, parents want to believe that spanking is okay, because it is convenient as a form of discipline with an immediate effect, and it helps them channel a build-up of frustration and aggression towards a person who cannot fight back. Children make good punching bags, even if the “punch” is relatively light and doesn’t leave a physical mark on the child.
But perhaps nowhere is this huge disconnect between how people claim children should be treated and how they actually treat them more evident than with the ongoing moral panic over pedophilia and sexual abuse. You would think that when minor-attracted folks come forward and say, “I am willing to live a law-abiding life, but I need your help, society,” that most people would bend over backwards to make sure that person gets all the help and resources they need. And when those same pedophiles (not to mention all the prominent experts in the field) say, “You know, by persecuting us, you just push us further underground and make us more apt to offend, not less,” that society would be all ears and willing to pay attention. But that has largely not been the response. The reason is simple: the anti-pedophile reactionism is not fundamentally motivated by the need to value and protect children. While it may have earnestly begun as such, what it has largely become is a scapegoating movement, which has historical precedents in every major culture throughout human history.
Many people need a designated scapegoat in order to feel that their own lives are worthwhile. They need a group that is safe for them to hate and persecute, and now that racial minorities and gays are off the table, pedophiles are the obvious next choice. It doesn’t matter to these people that pedophiles are not the primary culprits behind sexual abuse, or that pedophiles do not all molest children, or that pedophilia is, like every other sexual orientation, not a choice. What matters is that pedophiles are easy to demonize, because so few of us are willing to come forward and call society on its nonsense, or to demonstrate through our own lives that they are wrong about us. So they are free to invent whatever myths they want/need to fuel the fires of hatred and fear. If one truly is willing to look at this issue with unbiased eyes, then he or she should be able to see this for themselves. This terror and rage directed at people like me is not about protecting kids. If it was, then these same people would put their money where their mouths were and do everything in their power to protect kids from real dangers like guns, poverty and physical abuse. You know, things that actually kill kids and cause real objective harm. And beyond that, they should take us seriously when we say that their persecution of us often makes us fatalistic and apathetic about following society’s mores.
But they don’t. And that should be all the evidence you need to conclude that many of these people ultimately don’t care about kids, not even sexual abuse victims. As documented in this post, when I pointed out to one such hater who emailed me that many abuse survivors had contacted me to thank me for my article, this is what he wrote back:
And you could tell all those idiots, I am glad they were abused. Leave my email too, stupid
I’ll wager a lot of these hateful types feel exactly the same as Nick Casillas, only they are less willing to be honest about it. Indeed, the need many people have to define all sexual abuse as the worst thing a child can experience is, in itself, a negation of abuse survivors and a stumbling block in the way of them healing from the negative effects of their abuse. Survivors are expected to adhere to the prevailing narrative, and if they don’t, they are frequently punished for their heresy in various ways. As Margaux Fragoso has explained at our forum:
In my book release for my memoir Tiger, Tiger I get a ton of flak for describing good times with my abuser Peter Curran. I’m “supposed” to say he’s a monster and everything was damaging. As far as my own experience with the sexual experience[s] they were definitely traumatic on their own: they were coercive and I saw them as disgusting and upsetting. But having [to] act as a “victim” and “damaged” because I describe it in Tiger, Tiger was in some ways even more traumatic than the abuse itself. I hate the way society tries to take away the last power survivors are left with: the power to define their own experiences in any manner they please!
There’s also a rising number of people who confess to hating children. I find this ironic, as admitting to hating any other group of human beings would be labeled what it is: a form of bigotry. But somehow kids are exempt from this status; there is no Anti-Defamation League for them. Moreover, short of beating them up, sexually abusing or killing them, adults can pretty much do as they like to children. Honestly though, given how society reacts to anyone who shows any amount of affection or attention to children other than their own, a growing movement of hatred expressed towards kids was probably inevitable. Call it self-preservation, but it’s all very Orwellian, I think: if you say you hate children, then you are a safer bet to be around them in many people’s minds than if you say you love them. It’s a predictable outgrowth of how weird and subverted our entire culture has become with respect to kids, largely because of the sex abuse panic. Children have died because strangers were unwilling to get involved for fear of being seen as a pedophile.
Ironically (or not), many pedophiles, even those who abuse them, actually do place a high degree of value on children. This too runs counter to the extant myth that pedophiles see children essentially as objects rather than human beings. In my experience it is often the other way around. It may be that most sexual abusers treat children essentially as vessels for their sexual needs, but then, most sexual abusers are not pedophiles. An abusive pedophile’s perspective is generally very different. They may rationalize the abuse in order to feel comfortable in their own skin. They may convince themselves the child wants or needs sex. But they rarely devalue children or treat them as less than full-fledged human beings. I would say it is no coincidence that many pedophiles—perhaps the majority—are against spanking and other forms of painful and humiliating discipline. In fact, I very nearly got into a fist fight with a relative defending a child from a spanking once.
All of this is to say, even pedophiles can see that society needs to do much better by its children. Don’t poison the well by dismissing our opinions and suggestions out-of-hand because of our sexuality. We have a valid perspective. Pay attention, people. We can all make the world a better place for children to grow up in, if given the chance.