So Michael Jackson died. I personally never liked him nor his music, but he was supposedly one of the greater artists of the previous century. He also did things for race relations in the USA that not many could do. Without Michael Jackson there would probably not have been a President Obama. But all some people can think to say about MJ is that he was a pedo.
I don’t know about that. More importantly, neither do you. He was not judged by a jury of his peers (how many peers did he even have?) but by the press and the rumor mill. And so heinous was his crime that allegations were enough â€“ no need for a fair trial, no innocence until found guilty.
More importantly, pedophilia is such a heinous crime that we are willing to perforate the Constitution and put in place technical systems that can, at the flip of a switch, be used to track down and silence political dissidents when that becomes expedient.
Given the gravity of the crime, you’d expect it to be found prominently among the Ten Commandments, but actually there is no mention of it anywhere in the Law and the Prophets. Jesus does not mention it with a word. Muhammad the Prophet married a girl he would not have been allowed to look twice at today. It is as if the notion of pedophilia only decades ago descended into this world.
That is actually a pretty fair description. The word itself harks back to the 1950es. Even the notion of childhood itself did not appear until the Industrial Revolution. In earlier history, infants (babies and toddlers) were recognized as different from adults, but children were not. If you read any ancient text, you will find that the word “children” is not used about an age group, or if it is, refers to small children. Usually it simply means offspring. In the agrarian society, children would start farm work or apprenticeship from the age of 5 or so. The notion of childish innocence was absent, and not least: Consent was not really something people worried about. The person who was in a position of authority made all decisions, and that was that.
During the early years of the Industrial Revolution, children were an important part of the workforce. Geography is history to some extent: There are still countries where child labor is taken for granted. And returning to the topic of pedophilia, there are still countries where prepubescent girls are married off, although it is going underground more and more as the concept of childhood is still spreading around the world from its epicenter in France and Britain. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for all his faults and the pernicious rot his philosophy has introduced in the western world, may have been the first thinker to have a clear vision of childhood as a distinct life phase, or at least he was near that point in time and space. The industrial revolution itself made it possible, for the first time, to let children spend their days in school and play, as their labor was no longer needed on the farm . Yet it was only with Piaget that we finally realized the length and depth of each human’s growth and development. Or at the very least he deepened, formalized and popularized the topic like no one before him. By then we are squarely within living memory: I had recently got my job when Piaget passed from this world.
So the notion that children cannot consent to a sexual relationship is itself very new. It is also far from obvious. In fact, it requires a certain degree of faith from all involved, since children actively seek not only attention but intimacy. This makes things hard to see clearly, not only for the pedophile, but also for the victims.
Humans are unique in that our instinctual knowledge is extremely rudimentary, compared to what we need in life. Kittens may spend time playing, but they are mainly just unfolding their existing cat nature. In contrast, a small child cannot develop into a human being without downloading its human-ness from those who have gone before it. To accomplish this, children have a literal biological need for attention, just as for food and warmth. Experiences from early communist-era child-rearing centrals showed that children who were simply fed and sheltered but not given attention would soon sicken and die. Children need to bond with adults; if they cannot, then the conditions for life are not deemed to be present.
On the other hand, children are amazingly tolerant of their adults. They will cling to you even if you are a drunkard, a scoundrel, a thief and a liar. Or a pedophile. They do this because it is a necessary part of their programming, which has served their ancestors well through the millennia. (The definition of “served well” when it comes to evolution is the very fact that they became your ancestors.)
The pedophile who jumps out of the bushes, abducts a child, rapes it and kills it (or occasionally the other way around or both at the same time) is sure to get publicity, but this is exceedingly rare. Most pedophiles are extremely subtle and at least as much in control of their impulses as the average straight person. There is a sliding scale from bleeding-anus sodomy to cuddly behavior that is so perfectly normal that you would never know anything was going on unless you actually check the pedophile’s genitals for signs of reaction.
(We interrupt this scientific essay for an amazing WTF moment from the author’s personal life: In my late teens I actually had a 10-12 year old girl suddenly grope my groin, very obviously checking on the state of my male member while I was playing with her younger siblings. I guess that makes sense, but it is rather impolite. It also made me kind of wary about the internal workings of that family for a time. Now, back to our regular programming.)
By sheer synchronicity, I read an article some hours before the Jackson incident: “Not unusual to forget childhood sexual abuse“, by Harvard Science. The somewhat startling conclusion is that to most children, sexual abuse – even when physically painful â€“ was not seen as extraordinary, traumatic or seriously threatening at the time. As such, it was forgotten, or at least ignored for many years, not because of some desperate attempt to shield the fragile self, but because children generally don’t go around remembering things that are not reinforced through repetition or conversation. So temporary sexual abuse was not seen for what it was until later, when their own sexuality had developed and they realized what had been done to them. That’s when the trauma set in.
And a big part of the horror of being a victim of this crime is the feeling of being an accomplice to it. Or so I’ve heard. This is why it is so important to realize that the instincts of children are different from the instincts of adults, even when they sometimes seem to meet halfway. Cuddling up to a molester is a perfectly normal, healthy behavior for a child. This applies EVEN IF the molester has already done something secret or humiliating or even painful to you. You should NOT have known better. You were NOT leading them on. The child’s need for adult contact takes priority. It may look very differently when that instinct is pruned from your brain by puberty and replaced by the adult sex drive. But you cannot rewrite the past. Neurotypicals have this unfortunate tendency to always try to do just that, because they believe in consensus reality: That the things people agree on are true, and the things they don’t agree on are not. But this is exactly the power behind child abuse, the power of well-placed silence, closed doors and things only hinted at.
And this is of course also why you cannot defend yourself from accusations, even if you are Michael Jackson and have the best lawyers money can buy. Because the things you would do if you were a pedophile and the things you would do if you just loved children are largely identical, at least as long as there are witnesses present and sometimes even if not.