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Archive for November, 2009

Act Naturally

with 13 comments

Okay, let’s cause even more trouble, and try to be a little more articulate about what I was trying to say yesterday.

First, an aside–I’m with Mique, but  I go farther, in my distrust of psychologists as experts.  There are branches of psychology–brain science studies, genetic mapping–that have call to claim status as a science, but I don’t think ordinary clinical psychology does. 

Clinical psychology seems to me to assume its conclusions far too often–to begin with “theories” of human nature based on anything but actual human nature, and then to reinterpret whatever it sees so that it fits those theories. 

And they’re notoriously bad at predicting anybody’s future behavior.  One of the things never mentioned about the priest “pedophilia” scandal is that what the Catholic Church did was to take the advice of the best psychological experts of the time, who tended to insist that victims (as young as six!) were conplicit and that offenders could be easily cured with anyting from “counseling” to aversion therapy.

And I’m not necessarily opposed to sex offender registries if they’re restricted to actual child rapists, or rapists.  I do think it might make more sense for us to simply keep the guys in jail longer.  If we want them away from the general public, they’re more likely to be contained there than in a house on the next block that everybody knows belongs to a “sex offender.”  This guy in Ohio managed to live fifteen ears and rack up at least ten kills over the course of fifteen years while on the registry the whole time.

The real issue here is the way we look at sex–all sex, not just the bad sex, but all of it.  Sex is the last bastion of the romantic fallacy for most of us.  You remember the romantic fallacy.  It’s the idea that anything that’s natural must be good.

I remember sittin in a classroom listening to this idea for the very first time and thinking about hurricanes.   It seemed obvious to me even then that ten seconds worth of thought would be all it took to disprove th is kind of nonsense.  Hurricanes are natural.  Tsunamis are natural.  The E. Coli virus is natural.

With sex, though, we’ve gone farther than to say that anything that’s natural is good.  We’ve managed to become so essentialist that we’ve begun to equate sex and identity.  Sexuality, we say, is the most important thing about us.  We have to be able to be “who we are” and that means we have to be able to be open about our “sexual orientation.”

And that gets us into some problems.

The first is that pedophilia is in all likelihood a sexual orientation.  In other words, I think the guys who say they have “always been this way” are probably telling the truth. 

And let me be clear here–by pedophilia I mean the drive to have sex with PRE-pubescent children.  True pedophiles are blessedly rare, as far as we can tell, but that doesn’t make what they feel “unnatural.” 

Nor can we easily blame the phenomenon on a “mental illness” caused by having been abused oneself in childhood.  Most of the abusers we catch at least claim to have been abused in childhood, but not all of them do–and what is more important, most children known to have been abused in childhood do not grow up to be abusers themselves.  There’s no verifiable cause and effect relationship here. 

Which means that the very first thing we have to do is to accept the fact that some things are both natural and unquestionably, irrevocably wrong.

The way we get around this problem is to invest the wrongness of a sexual act in the consent of the parties to it.  But although this covers true pedohilia, it doesn’t cover the drive to have sex with adolescents nearly as well.

The reason it doesn’t is that an attraction to adolescents is not only natural, it’s got the driving force of one hundred thousand years of human evolution behind it.  Speaking strictly from a biological standpoint, the optimum age for women to have children is between the mid-teens and the early twenties.

We try to get around this by saying that the power differential between old and young is too great, or by  saying that somebody who is fifteen cannot really consent to sex.   But we’re conflicted about both these claims, and everything in the culture makes that conflict–and the resulting ambiguity–clear.

Take, for instance, the standard works of fiction used in high school sex ed classes, and some literature classes, dealing with homosexuality.  A remarkable percentage of them, and an even larger percentage of films, depict the relationship between an adolescent and an older man, as if this were the standard history of discovering a gay sexual orientation.

It’s possible to argue that that is the standard history of discovering a heterosexual sexual orientation, at least throughout most of the history of human beings on this planet. 

And we acknowledge the centrality of female adolescent ssexuality and its attraction for older men in virtually everything we do.  Lots of people, especially feminists, complain that the image of women in advertisements and entertainment is false and unrealistic–but it isn’t.  That “look,” the slim thighs and narrow hips along with large breasts, is in fact what girls look like when they first hit puberty. 

What’s more, it’s not entirely clear that a sixteen or seventeen year old girl can’t meaningfully consent to sex with a thirty year old.   It would depend on the girl, of course, but n oting magic happens when she turns eighteen.

The reasons we want to prohibit these relationships has nothing to do with consent, or with harm as it’s usually understood, but because we want our girls to stay in school, get educations and become lawyers, which is harder to do if they’re getting married straight out of high school to the local doctor, or even if they’re just shacking up with him. 

What all this means is this–we cannot get the kind of sexual ethic we want by relying on the “natural” and “consent” foundations which is all we’ve given it.  Assuming the centrality of sexual orientation to identity is a disaster.

When pedophiles say they “can’t help it,” are they telling the truth?  Probably not.  Most of us can in fact “help” our sexual behavior.  Men and women have committed themselves to chastity for lifetimes, in the face of strong sex drives, too. 

But we live in a world in which the ability to control sexual behavior is not only denied, it’s largely denigrated.  Not only can’t we control ourselves, we are told, but we’re being hateful and intolerant if we expect anybody to control themselves.

Except we don’t say anybody.  We say teenagers–teenagers hae sex, what else do you expect them to do?  And we say gay people–it’s natural to them, so they should be able to express themselves sexually just the way heterosexuals do.

Now, you’re talking to somebody who sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, and who supports gay mariage.  But I don’t do it because homosexuality is “natural” (it is, but so is pedophilia, bestiality, and all the rest of it).  Nor do I do it because life isn’t worth living if you can’t “be true to yourself” when it comes to sex.

If these are the only bases on which we can approve or disapprove sexual behavior, then we will in the end have no grounds for forbidding the things we don’t want. 

If we do want to forbid those things, then we have to start by acknowledging that some of the things that are natural to us should not be done anyway, and that a climate in which some knds of sex are forbidden even though they’re both natural and consensual, is an environment in which we will have fewer actual active sexual predators.

Written by janeh

November 4th, 2009 at 8:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sex, Offensive and Otherwise

with 18 comments

The woman–and, certainly, the very pretty woman–Jem was thinking of is Debra Lafave, and it’s odd that she should have brought it up, because it’s part of a phenomenon that I find a little uncomfortable.

First, I will say I see nothing wrong with the judge’s decision.  As far as I can tell by Googling it, Lafave had a sexual relationship with a fourteen year old male student, which is certainly against the law–but she doesn’t seem to have shown the sort of predatory behavior the sex offender laws were designed to police.  She hasn’t been caught fondling six year olds or raping fourth graders.  She doesn’t hang around on chat rooms looking for underaged naifs to jump on. 

There are certainly such people out there, and I think most people think that it is such people who are required to appear on the sex offender registry.

The fact is, however, that that registry now has lots of names of people who have exhibited nothing like the predatory behavior the lists were designed to inhibit, or tha tthe public (and the SCOTUS) was allowed to think was the basis of the end run these laws have taken around a number of Constitutional guarantees.  A number of states, for instance, require any person arrested for a sex offense–even if ultimately acquitted–to appear on the state registry.  SCOTUS says that this is okay, although it would be unConstitutional for any other crime, because “we have to protect the children.”

Okay, don’t get me started on Sandra Day O’Connor.

But here’s the thing–if you’re an eighteen year old high school senior who has sex with your fifteen year old sophomore girlfriend and her parents find out and get nasty–well, you’re guilty of statutory rape and if you’re convicted (and lots of people have been), then you go on a sex offender registry for life.  This is, I feel sure, not the kind of thing the public thought it was supporting when it got behind the registry and the sex offender laws.

I’m sure it also wasn’t the intent of those passing, and approving, of  child pornography laws to prosecute thirteen year old girls for taking pictures of themselves nude and sending them to all their friends, and then prosecuting the friends for receiving the pictures even though they didn’t know they were about to get them, and then put the whole crew on the sex offender registry for life. 

It seems to me that what we have done with sex offenders is to find an excuse for relocating moral controls over sexual behavior to the legal realm.  Our private culture may insist that anything goes.  A thousand psychologists may declare that sexual guilt is entirely a bad thing.  It doesn’t matter, because none of that applies when we’re dealing with children.

Then, of course, we redefine the word “children.”  Ask anybody you know about the “priest pedaphilia” scandal, and they’ll tell you that it was about priests raping little boys–six and eight year olds.

But in fact, aside from one really high profile case (concerning a very prolific priest), almost all the abuse allegations were against priests who approached teen-agers.

And no, I’m not saying that this is allowable, because it isn’t.  I am saying it’s not about “children.” 

Our sex offender laws treat sexuality with more inherent distaste than a Victorian chaperone, lumping together real crimes with minor malfeasance and things that shouldn’t be crimes at all.  What’s more, they treat all “sex offenders” as equal, as if that eighteen year old kid is just as much a danger to the public as a John Wayne Gacy.

It seems to me that we would do better if we accepted the fact that most of us do not, in fact, think it’s okay for sex to be as open, available and outside the realm of judgment as it is–that would, at least, be the truth.  If we think teen-agers should not be having sex, then maybe we need to send a culture-wide message–not just in laws and sex ed classes, but in movies and music and television–that it’s unacceptable, period.

Or–bigger shock–maybe those of us who have reached the age of consensual adulthood–you have no idea how long it took me to figure out the grammar for that prepositional phrase–anyway, maybe adults need to accept that there is only one way to really protect children from sexual predators, and that is to voluntarily accept some restrictions on their own sexual behavior.

I don’t know enough about the Debra Lafave case to have any kind of real take on what happened between her and the student, besides the sex.  And no, when you’re dealing with an adolescent, the actual case often isn’t as simple as it may seem.  She may have been a predatory bitch.  On the other hand, Mary Kay Latourneau is now married to the kid she went to jail for having sex with.

Okay, grammar is not my strong suit today.

I’m also very aware, at this moment, of a case in Ohio where a known sex offender–the real kind, guilty of rape against children–managed to kidnap, rape and murder six more and bury the bodies in his home in spite of his place on the registry.  And the reports of his neighbors did absolutely squat in getting him investigated.

Part of the reason for that, I am sure, is that the registry is now so full of people who have committed so many different levels of offense–including (think of the senior and his sophomore girlfriend) things that weren’t offenses twenty years ago–that the police get complacent.  Joe may be on the sex offender registry, but, geez, lots of people are, and they didn’t do anything much–no need to jump through hoops just because the neighbors are complaining.

At some point, I think we’re going to need to decide what it is we really want to do about sex–about its appearance in the popular culture, about our own behavior and that of the other adults around us–and not just about what happens to children. 

If we don’t do that, we can pass all the laws we want, and they won’t do any good.

If we do do that, maybe we can go back to a common-sense approach to all these incidents.

Written by janeh

November 3rd, 2009 at 10:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Stupid, Possibly Part 2

with 9 comments

I’ve been thinking, since yesterday, about the different kinds of stupid people in the world, and I think that part of the problem is that we use the word “stupid” to mean two nt necessarily related things.

Certainly there is “stupid” as in “has no talent at learing things,” to turn the definition of “intelligence” upside down.  And the things we’re talking about in that definition are largely intellectual–math, history, the meaning of the essay “A Modest Solution.”

But even most of the people who have difficulty with that kind of thing know better than to behave like your average stupid criminal.  Take just one small issue: video surveillance cameras.

For years, I thought the security cameras were a little silly.  I mean, for God’s sake, they were right out there in the open.  Anybody with any sense would see them and disable them before they got started, or remember to wear ski masks or something so that they were of minimal usefulness.

The reality?  Not only does the average guy looking to rob the local bank ATM not disable the cameras, he doesn’t even seem to know they’re there.  He just hauls himself in with his face fully visible, goes at the ATM machine with precision burglar’s tools like a hammer and chisel, and then finds out that it’s pretty hard to pull one of these things out of the wall, and they’re heavy. 

Of course, the guys with the hammer and chisel are smarter than the guys who sho up with no idea at all how they’re going to get the machine out of the wall at all, or who decide to enter the lobby where the machine is by backing their pick-up truck right through the plate glass wall, putting themselves in the perfect position to get their license plate clearly recorded on that video camera they’re not paying any attention to.

But the guys out to rob the ATM are smarter than the ones robbing the local convenience store, because the ATM is at least likely to contain serious money.   Walking into the Quik-Mart with a baseball bat and demanding everything in the cash register usually nets about thirty dollars, if it nets anything at all.  And then there are those security cameras again.

You don’t have to spend you time watching World’s Dumbest Criminals to realize that the vast majority of crimes seem to be committed by people who would have a hard timne following an episode of Scooby-Doo–and that’s just as true of the violent, nasty ones.  Your average rapist-murderer is a man of opportunity and no self-control, not Dr. Moriarity.

In fact, nobody is Dr. Moriarity.  Even in situations that seem, on the surface, to be ripe for attracting intelligent criminals don’t.  Take Prohibition-era liquor and modern-day drugs.  You’ve got to have at least some intelligence to put together an operation like that.  It is, at base, a business. Even the low-level dealer on the street has to be able to figure profit and loss.

What do you get?  Idiots who sell everything from crack cocaine to knock-off AK-47s to the first undercover cop who shows up, and fearless entrepreneurs who blow up entire trailer parks trying to cook crystal meth in efficiency kitchens.

While so high themselves, they have a hard time finding the toilet without falling over.

It’s not just that your average classical murder mystery couldn’t be written from material like this.  It wouldn’t make a decent plot for a noir police procedural.   Ed McBain was the only person I ever read who tried to put real crime into police procedurals, and even he had to come up with one “smart” crime per book in order to have a book. 

The kind of crime I like to write about–and the kind of crime I like to read about–is far less interesting in the real world than we make it in fiction.  The wife who murders her husband for the insurance money, in real life, almost always takes out six insurance policies on him in the month or so before the crime.  Then she hires a hit man by putting an ad for one in the local classified.

I’m not making that one up.  That one actually happened.  Of course, the “hit man” who showed up was an undercover cop.  Who else would it be?

Maybe the key to all this comes with the motivation.  I never really did understand Moriarity’s motivation.  He seemed to be evil in order to be evil, without any clear reason for eing so. 

Most criminals in real life seem to be interested in getting some money as fast as they can get it, or acting out some inner drama of anger they don’t understand themselves, and thought would be mostly a hindrance to any of that.

But it gets a little depressing.

Consider my favorite Dumb Amateur Criminal of the Week:  early this past week, a 66 year old Deputy Attorney General in the state of  South Caroline was caught with an eighteen year old prostitue in a cemetary.  The arresting officer searched the car and found a big bag of sex toys, which clinched it.  Prostitute, sex toys–reasonable cause to think that something illegal was about to happen.

The  Deputy  AG protested vigorously.  That bag of sex toys was proof of nothing at all.  He always carried that bag of sex toys with him.  You know. “Just in case.”

I have to go listen to  Bach before my head explodes.

Written by janeh

November 1st, 2009 at 5:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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