August 21, 2006
On the Web, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach – New York Times. Peter Singer once made an energetic defense of bestiality by considered from first principles whether it was “bad”. In that spirit I’ll examine pedophilia. First, let me state that I absolutely DO NOT support pedophilia!! It is interesting, however, to look at the issue without our cultural baggage. The central question is whether or not sexual contact with minors (let’s say less than 16) is harmful. Before our modern times, various cultures have married off girls as young as 10. Ancient Greek and Roman societies condoned sex between adult males and adolescent boys. Though we may now shudder at these examples, they have existed widely without, as far as we can tell, harmful effects on the children. Sexual relations doesn’t have to include full penetration; it could simply be touching. That would push the age even lower (before puberty) to the point where children might feel some kind of pleasure. I don’t know if they do, so I can’t guess at a lower bound. So sexual contact between adults and children has been going on for far longer than our modern period which bans it.
There is a second, trickier question. Children may be emotionally damaged by pedophilia because our society keeps telling them how awful the child should feel. As an analogy, Americans think public nudity is horrifying, while Europeans couldn’t care less. American children are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, while European kids are not. Therefore, simply telling children that they should feel bad about something will cause them to feel bad about it. The same applies to adults, too. Since pedophilia violates social norms, minors will be emotionally hurt by it. But this is a lame excuse. The act is not intrinsically bad, it is bad only within the context of a culture that considers it bad. Anyway, all morality falls into this grey area. When in Greece, do as the Greeks do.
But social mores could change. The radical and rapid change in attitudes about gay people is an excellent example of this. What was once considered a mental disorder and an affront against nature is now practically celebrated on the Bravo cable network. Could the same happen to pedophilia? What about polygamy, swingers, or general pornography? These things are changing slowly. Personally, I would brutally slaughter anyone who touches my kids, but that’s because I’m still rather conservative about pedophilia. I doubt I’ll relax that view.