Soft Science, Hard Time:The Expanding Sexual Regulatory State As Facilitated By Science-Light
Most would be shocked to learn that, in many American states, and as recently as the late 1970's, unlucky citizens, having been selected through pseudo-scientific methods as undeserving of reproductive rights, were once forcibly sterilized, having been determined to be of "subnormal intelligence" or of possessing "antisocial traits".
Abnormally high intelligence is not required to imagine the myriad uses to which such laws were put. Indeed, they came in handy when searching for a solution to the “problems” of abandoned children, the poor, the black, the American Indian and those otherwise socially disenfranchised. Criminals convicted of "sexual insanity", institutionalized boys guilty of excessive masturbation or homosexual "acting out" and girls expressing un-lady-like sexual curiosity were also sterilized, with some males even castrated. There existed little oversight of those making these decisions nor rights of appeal afforded its victims.
Hurriedly administered I.Q. tests and shocked observations by scandalized clinicians were the criteria a post-Victorian and puritanical society would employ to justify forced sterilization. The recently discovered but completely untested “science” of Eugenics provided the appearance of modernity and enlightenment so necessary for social engineering in the early 20th century.
These programs had served as an inspiration to Adolph Hitler and his National Scialism and, despite that odious endorsement, American Eugenicists continued to enthusiastically commit medical and human rights atrocities for many decades after WWII, long after the Third Reich's chief eugenicist bit down on his glass cyanide capsule to enjoy his own richly deserved genetic and existential oblivion.
Indeed, Eugenics' origins in the United States were every bit as ignominious as they would later prove to be in Germany. America was, at the time, a deeply racist country where Eugenics provided the appearance of a scientific endorsement of views which held that Irish, blacks, Italians, and Jews were biologically inferior to whites. It further maintained that laws against racial intermarriage were necessary. The Ku Klux Klan, itself praised as a champion of the Anglo Saxon people by Woodrow Wilson, in turn enthusiastically supported Eugenics, just as it did Prohibition.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once famously declared "Three generations of imbeciles are enough!" in joining with the majority to affirm the imposition of involuntary sterilization by the state in a systematic effort to "eliminate defectives from the gene pool." (Buck v. Bell, 1927) In doing so, the “last stop” on the route to justice demonstrated a susceptibility to tyranny informed by a chimera of science.
We should be grateful that eugenics, as a public policy and blunt instrument of the state, eventually faded into obscurity in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Korea, Japan and Canada. But it did so only because champions of human rights, as well as principled scientific professionals, persevered in decrying its barbarity, its inconsistency with democratic ideals, and its specious scientific foundations.
The Eugenics movement, which had once enjoyed hugely popular support in the U.S., counting President Woodrow Wilson (the great "progressive") amongst its enthusiastic proponents, should serve as a warning to contemporary society in its comparably ill-considered policies of lifetime imprisonment and "civil" detention (and occasional castration) of those it considers to be "sex offenders".
For a new threat, a new war
Child sexual abuse, as a contemporary moral panic and hysterical obsession, had its origins in the legitimate concerns with the physical and emotional mistreatment of children, mostly at the hands of their parents, which began to receive much needed attention some four to five decades ago.
But what had started as a long overdue campaign to liberate children from the horrors so many had been subjected to and which rightly included non-consensual rape, was soon subverted to the purposes of both angry “gender”- feminists (the kind who actually do hate men) and their unlikely allies in this particular crusade, the bible-poisoned religious fundamentalists who hated all sex outside of marriage and, especially, homosexuality.
Soon, child “sexual” abuse was grabbing all of the headlines, having emerged as that form of abuse most in need of discovery and elimination, with many of the “gender”- feminists, having appointed themselves the saviors of those so-abused, proclaiming child sexual abuse to be a fate “worse than death” (and yes, they really did say that and, almost certainly, some really meant it).
Thus followed a multi-decadal downward spiral into the realm of increasingly shrill and improbable conspiracy theories, eagerly propagated by a media shorn of any sense of journalistic objectivity, soft-science “experts” representing newly emerged “child-saving” organizations suddenly flush with cash, and pandering politicians who knew a great opportunity for the aggrandizement of power when they saw it. And, of course, there were the lawyers.
It was also a call to arms for a credulous and, it must be said, ignorant, public which possessed, much to the delight of the foregoing hystericists, an enormous appetite for scandal involving children, sex and adults.
The laws quickly changed, with numerous statutory “loopholes”, having previously provided some semblance of justice, angrily closed by the critical mass of outrage which had been achieved with such breathtaking speed.
Milk carton depictions of the “missing children” followed on the heels of evil satanic cabals as the specter of children abducted, raped and killed by depraved strangers filled the popular imagination with horror and, it must also be said, titillation.
Underlying all of it was the central conceit that theirs was a campaign of “children's rights”. A term which clearly meant, to those of us who had long embraced it, the empowerment of children to flee abusive families and governments and to exercise rights clearly denied them, would be co-opted by the self-appointed and self-proclaimed child-savers who then, having thoroughly stripped it of any of its original meaning, sanctimoniously presented it as their own benevolent contribution to the ages.
The decades-long sex offender hysteria is especially remarkable in one respect; it's ability to hold the public in its thrall despite mountains of accumulating evidence which give lie to its extraordinary claims.
The recently-departed Christopher Hitchens, a man of formidable intellect and with an extraordinary ability to quickly slice through logical fallacies to arrive at essential truths which, once revealed, become obvious to us all, had said of religion: “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”.
That simple and disarmingly obvious challenge should be employed to exorcise those many specters visited upon us in the name of protecting children but motivated by something much darker and more menacing.
Sex offender hysteria disproportionately shapes public policy and erodes the rights of citizens even while the evidence of its destructive powers and the absurdity of its central conjecture continues to pile up around us.
Within the past twenty-five years we have seen an enormous expansion of the powers of government to investigate, to entrap, to punish, and to marginalize those it deems “sex offenders” at the same time as it has shorn the rights of children to explore their world and to grow independently of governments which have come to view them, increasingly. as the rightful property of the state.
That the extremists, most of whom have since passed from the scene and whose popularity has long since waned, were wildly effective in the imposition of a fundamentally reordered society, there can be no doubt.
Mainstream society, in all its moderation, ingested their poisonous effluvium and thoroughly integrated it into their own world view where it has been woven into the fabric of society and codified into law.
Today, liberals, conservatives, the rather-more-pleasant “equity”-feminists and even libertarians accept as an unassailable truth that the sexually depraved pose an imminent threat to children's well being and sexual purity. Given the scale and scope of the perceived threat, most have willingly relinquished many of those rights they once enjoyed in the interest of advancing (at least, in appearance) public safety. Trust, freedom and autonomy, just decades ago widely enjoyed, are now a fading memory – an anachronism increasingly believed to be unaffordable in an age most imagine to be rife with existential threat and terror.
In this respect, the war on sex offenders is very similar to some of our other wars, such as the war on drugs and the war on terror, where the display of public demands and a government which is seen to be responsive to them is more important than an accurate perception of threat.
The Weapons in the war on sex offenders
In the endeavor to identify and prosecute sex offenders and to permanently remove them from society, sex abuse theorists have developed an arsenal of weapons which purport to provide compelling and scientifically verifiable evidence.
Those mental health professionals who receive dramatically larger, government-sourced salaries than they could ever receive anywhere else, employ tools whose efficacy is widely disputed within the wider field of psychology. Using polygraphs, penile-plethysmographs, Abel Assessments (measurement of minuscule differences in dwell time while viewing flashing pornographic images), statistical inferences and check-box quizzes, the sex offender theorists make existential decisions on behalf of those unfortunate enough to come under their total control.
Easy-to-administer metrics such as the "Static 99", just as with the IQ tests once employed by the Eugenicists, give these policies' practitioners the requisite imprimatur of "scientism" required to decide who should be locked in cages for the entirety of their lives or who should be set free.
Curiously, those sciences, other than psychology and sociology, both frequently employed as hand-maidens for social engineering experiments and various political expediencies, are entirely absent from any discussion of "what to do about sex offenders?".
The fields of anthropology and evolutionary biology, for example, may well have valuable insights, gained in the course of genuine scientific inquiry, into the role those sexual attractions which lie outside the narrow boundaries of Western acceptance may play in cohering societies or even in ensuring a species' survival.
Unsurprisingly, scientists of those disciplines remain unconsulted by those who craft far-reaching and liberty-stripping social policies which meet the punitive expectations of a tyrannical majority and which leave unanswered fundamental concerns both scientific and civil libertarian.
Instead, this cultural and legal juggernaut is informed solely by those whose work and conclusions comport with prevailing cultural prejudices and whose products are congruent with political power and ambitions as they are now exercised.
Functional MRI's, already detecting, we are assured, "atypical" patterns consistent with sexual deviancy, promise to be a future goldmine to those planning to cash in on the diagnostic gravy train.
Perhaps one can be excused for failing to adequately enthuse over the scientific certainty which fMRI is said to possess or the purposes to which it will undoubtedly be put. There is, after all, an alarming ring of familiarity which accompanies its recent emergence.
Over the millenia, humans have devised many methods to extract meaning and truth from their world and to predict the future, whether it be the scrutiny of animal entrails by the ancient Romans or the testing of buoyancy of those accused of witchcraft as a means to ascertain their guilt.
In the last century, we witnessed the emergence of myriad psychological tests which, we were promised, would produce an accurate interpretation of our psyches as well as proof-positive of the extent to our depravities.
Already, many of those lie abandoned and largely forgotten, having been thoroughly invalidated in the fullness of time. Still others, such as those irrepressible blots of ink first given life by Hermann Rorschach nearly a century ago and inflicted upon generations of test subjects exhorted to their reinterpretation are, still today, enthusiastically displayed by confident psychologists as the state-of-the-art of their trade. This, despite little credible evidence of their efficacy in determining much of anything.
The limitations of these diagnostic tools and their inability to withstand scientific scrutiny make clear that an undistorted window into men's psyches remains, for the time being, out-of-reach and that their liberty should not rest upon insights so gained nor interpreted, as they are, by those informed by deep, cultural biases.
Lifting the Veil on the Academy
The now thoroughly discredited theory of recovered memories (although many, including Paul Shanley of Massachusetts still rot in prison on the strength of that scientific canard) helped to facilitate the removal of statutes of limitations across the country, enabling successful criminal prosecutions of events which occurred decades earlier.
The memories of the younger parties to these events, having now come to define themselves as victims, are now reinterpreted with adult sensibilities and the warm embrace of sexual abuse theory, assuring them that, whatever their life failures, only their alleged “molesters” are to blame. Their memories, alone, often form the sole basis for successful criminal prosecutions.
For a behavior which, we are continuously assured, is so certainly traumatogenic as sexual contact with children or adolescents, it is remarkable that the professional victimologists are entirely at a loss to explain the mechanism for that damage.
Those who have attempted to detect such trauma and its proximate cause, such as Susan Clancy, a distinguished Harvard scholar of psychology and human memory, have been rewarded for their efforts with howls of outrage when their findings failed to deliver results consistent with the sacrosanct “trauma” model of the academy. It is telling that, in the hysterical aftermath of her books publication, she thought it safer to physically relocate to South America.
Within the incestuous academy of professional victimology, reciprocal citations and circular accolades form the disingenuous facade which serves to conceal the many deficiencies of its underlying structure.
Upon its tautological foundation (“it's wrong because it's wrong!”) the academy more closely resembles a medieval church, its priestesses insistent that all believe in their fundamental conceit, a conceit which, by itself, forms their religion's organizing principle.
If child sexual abuse theory were a science, it would not rely upon unchallenged cultural assumptions to which all of its findings are then forced to conform. It would not answer legitimate inquiries into its means and methods with howls of victimist outrage. Ad hominem attacks upon those who dare question the motives of those promulgating this travesty of pseudo-science are the norm from the academy, not the exception.
Because it's not a science so much as a weapon, its designers have been able to tap into the public's deep primeval well of atavistic rage to fuel its destructive power.
The source of this rage is, to this author's mind, clearly a persistent meme of ancient religious origins, having arisen from the cauldrons of religious superstition and in the complete absence of a rational understanding of the world - scientific insights which would only begin to emerge many centuries later.
Even so, this meme continues to propagate and to infect entire societies today, even those who would insist that religion plays no role in shaping their world view.
It has only been very recently that homosexuality, once very much a part of this “stigma meme”, has begun to wrest itself from the punishing grip of a primeval and unchallenged hatred, carried down from one generation to the next.
How we are all different today
The dramatic changes undergone by society as a result of the ongoing child sex panics which began in the late 1970's are most apparent to those of us who came of age in previous decades. From our perspective, society has been fundamentally reordered around fears and prejudices directly informed by those panics.
Periodic social upheavals as a result of moral panic seem to be the norm for humanity, with large segments of society reacting, or overreacting, with almost virally propagated outrage to perceived threats. The moral panic of our current age, an obsession with child sexual inviolability, illustrates our continued susceptibility to emotional and irrational fears.
Children now exist almost entirely within protective bubbles; ghettos of other children whose ages are within several years of their own, without any access to “unqualified” adults.
No choice is exercised by the children in choosing these adults, since their instincts for sensing danger are considered to be wholly absent, even when well into puberty.
“Unqualified adults” i.e. those adults not blood relatives or without “appropriate” academic credentials and unlicensed by the state, are almost entirely unavailable to children and adolescents as mentors and friends.
As a result, children now must derive all intellectual and emotional sustenance from those adults vetted and approved by their government and their parents.
Since children and adolescents are assumed to be, at all times, acutely vulnerable to exogenous dangers, possessing no innate instincts for self preservation, even their opportunities to play with other children are closely structured and supervised by fretful parents.
“Play dates”, entirely managed by parents in consultation with other parents, specify dates and times during which kids can get together to play, with the assurance that there will be a responsible parent close by to keep a watchful eye on them at all times. Telephone numbers are exchanged and ground rules established in advance of the “date”. The visiting children will be accompanied to and from the “date” with their parent, often driven there in a car.
Increasingly, children live indoors, in front of televisions, computers and video games. Physical activity that requires leaving the house is now limited to those times when qualified adults are able to act as their protective chaperones.
Consequently, children are now more inclined to obesity than ever before, with vanishing opportunities for vigorous physical activity to build strength or to burn calories.
Lost, too, are the opportunities for social interaction and improvisational play which is known to provide valuable life skills and emotional development.
Social isolation has replaced, in just one or two generations, real world experience, experimentation and exploration.
Children themselves are now scrutinized for any sign of “inappropriate” behavior with other children. Six-year-old boys have been charged with felonious sexual assault for playing doctor with five-year-old girls. Children are now routinely added to sex offender registries for sexual interests expressed towards other children.
Children who sexually “offend” are, invariably, subjected to involuntary “therapy” to ensure that they will not “re-offend”. Again, the soft science of child sexual abuse theory asserts its ability to define pathology and to determine its effective remedies.
Incongruously, when children commit terrible crimes, they are often quickly promoted to the status of “adults” for the purpose of severe punishment. Yet, for all others, they are rigorously constrained to the strictly limited rights of childhood.
Adolescents, once able to stake out a more independent existence and to form relationships or to conduct a life significantly outside the view of family and schools, are increasingly infantilized, enjoying little more freedom of movement or freedom from continuous monitoring than the average eight year old. For them, the future transition to full adulthood will be most abrupt.
After chasing children back into their homes to live in protected isolation from all possible contact with “unauthorized” adults, government now insists that they be completely shielded while using social media such as Facebook (which may include possible contact with “unauthorized” adults) even though they probably do so while safely ensconced within their own homes.
This is an example of "mission creep" in which we continue to move the goalposts of acceptable risk closer together to define an ever-smaller field of existence which kids must then content themselves to occupy.
The “Precautionary Principle" which posits that all risk, no matter how minuscule, is unacceptable, today informs all policies affecting child and adolescent exposure to adults.
Except that, of course, its not "all" risks. Only those risks corresponding to the most lurid possibilities with which society has become obsessed, namely, stranger abduction and the ostensibly explosive combination of kids and sex, are addressed by the social fortresses in which children are now held in protective isolation.
These stated concerns for children leave unaddressed some of the consequent dangers they face as a result of these policies: social isolation, frustration, physical inactivity, obesity, depression, life inexperience and a dissociation from the busy, complicated world which awaits them.
Every citizen is now exhorted to look for even the slightest hint of “inappropriate” behavior on the part of adults interacting with children. Elaborate safeguards, such as never being alone with a child and never touching them in any way - even with a pat on the head - are painstakingly delineated by safety committees and vetted by attorneys for the slightest vulnerability to lawsuit.
Any displays of affection expressed towards a child or adolescent are now fraught with peril and condemned as “inappropriate” when exercised by non-parental, particularly male, adults.
“Inappropriate” is the preferred term employed by the earnest defenders of childhood “innocence” and which has been perhaps most exquisitely articulated by such high-profile, cultural “surrogate mothers” as Oprah Winfrey who exemplify the modern, redefined woman unafraid to demonstrate aggression or to impose upon society their vision of childhood “innocence”.
As with other attempts at social engineering initiated by popular movements, such as Prohibition of alcohol in the U.S., these efforts achieve a critical mass of public support through continuous reiteration of their narrative in the near-absence of competing messages, as ensured by an obliging media.
Beginning first with men, those expressing an interest in the growth and well being of children and adolescents through Scouting, Boy's Clubs, as teachers, coaches or religious clerics are now viewed with suspicion where once they were regarded with admiration.
As a result, men are today far less inclined towards activities or professions which bring them into contact with kids. The gender of those working with kids has shifted dramatically, with far fewer men now willing to assume the risks which accompany such professions or avocations.
This is not to say that women are immune from such scrutiny. Perhaps as a result of so many fewer men in contact with kids today, women have, in recent years, been themselves increasingly subject to exposure as “sexual predators” of children and adolescents, undoubtedly a consequence unforeseen by some of the moral panics' original authors.
In a remarkably short period of time, those entrusted with teaching, mentoring and caring for unrelated minors has dramatically transformed into something much colder, more indifferent and far less spontaneous. They are now tightly regulated by communities possessing obsessive levels of fear.
States continuously add entire professions to the lists of “Mandatory Reporters”, those who are legally compelled to report to police any suspicion that laws governing sexual behavior are being broken and which forcibly conscript thousands into the service of the modern police state.
States have been in an arms race with their neighbors to impose the harshest conceivable punishments upon sex offenders and to afford judges the least discretion in determining appropriate prison sentences.
Not content with “sex” convictions alone; they first imposed, and then continuously escalated, severe additional restrictions on those who had served the entirety of their sentences. Residency, professional, and now, recreational restrictions have taken hold in criminal and civil law to restrict every aspect of life upon those whose debt to society is now seen never to be fully paid.
Libraries, parks, beaches, swimming pools, schools – even shopping malls – are, increasingly “no-go” zones for those on the sex offender registries.
Those convicted of sex offenses who have, typically, spent many years behind bars, now often find themselves released, not to freedom, but to another form of indefinite incarceration which can stretch into infinity: “civil” commitment in state “hospitals” as “sexual predators”, where, we are assured, they are not being “punished” but merely “detained” for the protection of society. Amongst those being “detained” are 90 year old paraplegics whose only crimes were fondling and in which force or coercion were entirely absent. Commitments under these regulatory schemes do not require findings of mental illness and the burden of proof is placed entirely on the “patients” to prove they are not at risk for reoffending. This, despite the fact that they have served the entirety of their prison sentences which, in most cases, were plea deals negotiated in good faith decades earlier.
Chemical or surgical castration are options sometimes extended to those desperate to get out but, perversely, some of those having undergone these procedures are still denied release.
Not to be outdone by the states, the U.S. government has, in recent years, continuously federalized sex crimes and placed further civil restrictions on sex offenders through the creative application of the “Commerce Clause” and with an obliging pretense of justice provided by the Supreme Court. It, too, has implemented “lifetime civil commitment” of sex offenders when they are eventually released from federal prisons, having been convicted of federal crimes, such as possession of child pornography.
We might derive some hope from subtle, nuanced signals that not all in power are as uniformly “on board” with the furthest extents to which hysteria can be put as others. The Department of Justice recently issued a shockingly public criticism of its own F.B.I.'s obsessive preoccupation with hunting down child pornography at the expense of letting terrorist suspects go uninvestigated [DOJ: FBI digital counterintelligence weakened by focus on child porn]. This provided a fascinating insight into debates which, one could hope, might be occurring with greater frequency behind closed doors in the halls of power.
Nevertheless, at a time when the U.S. is on the brink of fiscal disaster, American taxpayers are still funding entrapment schemes such as the “Precious Treasure Holiday Company” to ensnare individuals who, although lacking the common sense they were born with, are very likely not a threat to anyone but themselves.
Child pornography, as a legal designation, has evolved into something so difficult to identify by sight that many photographers and filmmakers are now inclined to avoid child subjects altogether. Child pornography has been defined so broadly that highly stylized Japanese “manga” comics and Photo-shopped cartoons of Bart and Lisa appearing to engage in fellatio have resulted in criminal convictions.
As if that were not enough, children have been arrested for creating child porn of themselves with web cams and mobile phones; videos intended only for their friends.
This fact, by itself, best supports a suspicion which many of us share: that the crusade of child protection has less to do with protecting children than in giving cover to angry, distorted personalities who wish to propagate their hatred outward into the world.
In a culture with such an extraordinary disparity in attitudes towards sex and violence, finding the latter infinitely more tolerable than the former, we, as a society, are in critical need of rebalancing our priorities and in accurately assessing real world risks to children and adolescents.
As Jacob Sullum, columnist for the libertarian magazine, Reason, put it: “Sex offender laws represent the triumph of outrage over reason”.
The once-frequent rejoinder “it's a free country” which each of us growing up in 1960's' America heard thousands of times, is now only rarely heard, curiously absent in a nation which was once liberty's greatest champion.
Perhaps that is because it is no longer true, as we have since traded our freedom for the perception of security.
Soft Science, Hard Time:The Expanding Sexual Regulatory State As Facilitated By Science-Light