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 Volume 1.14  This View’s Guest Column May 13, 2002 

When You Have No Absolutes
    Susanna Cornett    

When you have no absolutes, nothing is absolutely wrong. In that type of setting, all it takes is continual exposure to an idea, apparently reasonable people espousing it, and a lack of moral standards based on absolutes for an idea to gain increasing purchase. The moral equivalence pervasive in our society continues to open the door to more and more behaviors once deemed inexcusable – such as pedophilia. That’s the social mood the NY Times tries to take advantage of, in this time of scandal over abusive Catholic priests, in this article offering implicit support for the views of a professor who supports sex between adults and children (it isn’t defined what age “child” covers):

[Prof. Harris] Mirkin argued that the notion of the innocent child was a social construct, that all intergenerational sex should not be lumped into one ugly pile and that the panic over pedophilia fit a pattern of public response to female sexuality and homosexuality, both of which were once considered deviant.

Mirkin claims his article is about opening “dialogue” about social taboos, and disconnecting “moral panic” from the cost/benefit analysis society makes of sex between teenagers/children and adults. He even tries to establish that “innocence” is neither a useful designation or a necessary one for children.

“Though Americans consider intergenerational sex to be evil, it has been permissible or obligatory in many cultures and periods of history,” he wrote.

So has slavery, abuse of women and murderous totalitarianism, but I don’t see many defending those constructs. The NY Times and others are conflating the good – freedom of speech, openness about sexuality and its impact on people and society – with the bad – sex between adults and children. And I don’t think Mirkin’s fantasy about making it as a 12 year old with a woman on his paper route is compelling evidence that sexual activity between adults and children could be a good thing.

The article is mainly about how the Missouri state legislature is punishing Mirkin’s university for his “ideas” by cutting its budget $100,000. It’s a gesture and everyone knows it. The legislature is making it clear they despise his stance on pedophilia; Mirkin and his supporters are making it a free speech issue complicated by people with closed minds. The NY Times is on Mirkin’s side.

The ability to explore the moral, social, physical and intellectual impact of ideas and behavior is a cornerstone of a free society. That doesn’t mean that disagreeing with a particular idea, and trying to show its moral bankruptcy, is the result of a closed mind. This article pulls out most of the stops used to engineer societal agreement in modern times in an effort to equate our moral disgust with closeminded puritanism – which our society has already identified as anathema. The cues are numerous (my interpretation follows each quotation):

Prof. Harris Mirkin could not have devised a better test for his controversial theory of sexual politics.

You nitwits are showing that he’s right.

In 1999, Dr. Mirkin published an article in an obscure academic journal likening the “moral panic” surrounding pedophilia to the outrage of previous generations over feminism and homosexuality.

This behavior is just the latest taboo to come out of the closet; it has the same legitimacy as these other, now accepted, behaviors.

As the expanding sexual abuse scandal engulfs the Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Mirkin has become an object of outrage.

The problem is really the church, not Mirkin; he’s a misunderstood innocent bystander.

Dr. Mirkin, 65, said through a sly smile: “The article is meant to be subversive; the article is meant to make people think....”

We’re sophisticated, we understand the truth here. It’s those brain-dead moral absolutists who are the problem – we know they don’t think.

Dr. Mirkin is being celebrated as a hero for academic freedom.

Or at least, should be. The article is strangely devoid of any true celebration other than other academics.

The chancellor here, Martha W. Gilliland, issued a strong statement supporting “the right to hold unpopular views”....

We’re attaching this construct to a known value, “free speech”, without passing judgment on its content. Of course, we would neither offer support or withhold judgment if the construct was, say, that feminism hurts society or that racial preferences harm minorities.

“Today’s heresy often becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy.”

We’re on the leading edge, here; too bad you’re in a “moral panic”. We’ll be seen as pioneers and morally brave when pedophilia is a normal part of society, sometime in the future.

For the record, Dr. Mirkin, who has grandchildren 2 and 7, said he had never had sexual contact with a child. Incest and rape, he said, are always wrong. He agreed that priests and teachers who touched children sexually were abusing their authority.

See? He’s a good guy, he’s managed to be around young children without molesting them, and he agrees with you pat pat that the priests are awful.

But he questioned whether some people accusing priests these days were making up stories in search of a payday....

The claims of harm from the intergenerational sex are just exploitation of the system for money; if we looked closer we’d see that in most cases the sexual activity was a healthy part of growing up.

.... he said he believed that much of what was called molestation was really harmless touching. He said he resented that teachers were leery of hugging children for fear they might be accused of abuse.

Let’s trot out the fears that everyone has, that expressing genuine and non-sexual affection for children will be mistaken for inappropriate advances with abusive intent. Let’s soften the edges of pedophilia by making it something any of us could be accused of, just for loving, physical contact.

“This particular issue is distasteful. I don’t even like to think about it,” said Gilliland.

Would that be pedophilia, ma’am?

“We got out of the Dark Ages when we said we can challenge belief, we can investigate.”

Ahhh… no, the distaste is reserved for those who would stifle debate, not those who would bugger or fondle children.

“I don’t think it’s something where we should just clamp our heads in horror,” he said of pedophilia. “In 1900, everybody assumed that masturbation had grave physical consequences; that didn’t make it true.”

That’s right, we’ll compare pedophilia with something we know everyone does, as a moral equivalent that is unrecognized as such just because we’re in a “moral panic” and unable to see clearly.

“These things that you’re sure of,” he added, “you really ought to check out and test.”

Because, obviously, if you check out and test pedophilia, you’ll find that it is in fact a good thing for society, for the 12 year old paper boy and who knows who else.

I don’t advocate shutting Mirkin down. But I do advocate mocking him at every turn, showing his efforts at taking child sex into the mainstream for what they are, and exposing his intellectualization and moral condescension as tools for accomplishing his goal. And I advocate castigating the New York Times for being willingly involved – either as a credulous sycophant at the altar of “science”, or a knowing conspirator with no moral compass.

cut on the bias
April 30, 2002

© Susanna Cornett 2002. Used with permission.

Webpage ELC 2002

 Volume 1.14 This View’s Guest Column May 13, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”