Friday, 12 November 2010

Why I feel sorry for paedophiles

Paedophilia is a modern day moral absolute. I believe our judgement of paedophilia is due for a revision. I will try and use logic to analyse questions surrounding paedophilia and attitudes towards it. (I won't use references, but stick to what ordinary people know to be true self-evidently.)


(1) What is a paedophile?

A paedophile is an adult who (for one reason or another) is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. We can distinguish paedophiles from non-paedophiles, which include adults who are sexually attracted to other adults. There are different categories of non-paedophiles: they include heterosexuals (adults sexually attracted to adults of a different gender) and homosexuals (adults sexually attracted to adults of the same gender). While I'm being deliberately simplistic here, I think all right-thinking people can broadly agree with me.

(2) What are the causes of paedophilia?

I don't think there is a self-evident answer to this question and I think different people disagree on this. Some would say that (x) nature is the cause, i.e. because of their genetic make-up, certain people are born that way; others would say that (y) nurture is the cause, i.e. because of their environment and up-bringing, certain people become that way. Of course (x) and (y) are are not mutually exclusive, it might be the case that they both, to greater or lesser extents, are causes.

This article is not an analysis of the causes of paedophilia and I won't consider this question further. Right-thinking people can agree that paedophiles (with perhaps a small minority of exceptions) do not, generally, cause their own paedophilia and therefore they cannot be blamed for their condition. Just as it is not the fault of the heterosexual that he is a heterosexual, so it is not the fault of the homosexual that he is a homosexual and this principle logically extends to the paedophile.

(3) What do paedophiles do?

Self-evidently much of what paedophiles do is the same as what non-paedophiles do: they wake up in the morning and breakfast, they commute to the office and work, they have the usual array of hobbies and interests and leisure activities that the rest of us have, they go about their daily lives. And thus, we cannot tell, simply by looking at someone, whether or not he is a paedophile. So far, so good.

Differently from non-paedophiles, paedophiles (by definition) have sexual impulses towards pre-pubescent children. And here we can of course distinguish between two classes of paedophiles: (i) those who choose to act on these impulses; and (ii) those who choose not to act on these impulses. (We know, from our own sexual experiences, whether we are heterosexuals or whether we are homosexuals, that we sometimes choose to act on our sexual impulses and we sometimes choose not to, and this principle applies equally to paedophiles.)

Unfortunately words and concepts do not always perfectly coincide. Here, (i) paedophiles who act on their impulses and (ii) paedophiles who don't are two quite different concepts but the one word paedophile describes them both. I think this should be remembered when the word is used. And of course, our attitudes towards (i) and (ii) should be very different.

(3) What harm is caused by those paedophiles choosing to act on their sexual impulses?

There are a range of different actions to look at here. On the one hand, some paedophiles choose to engage in sex with pre-pubescent children, while on the other hand some paedophiles choose to fantasize/masturbate about engaging in sex with pre-pubescent children, without actually involving real children. Also, there are those paedophiles who might look at pornography involving pre-pubescent children.

(A) Most people seem to agree that paedophiles who choose to engage in sex with pre-pubescent children cause those children direct harm and for this reason these actions are illegal in the UK today (s10 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003). (Parenthetically, notions of "harm" tend to be cultural and change over time and usually some people dissent. There are problems with the idea of an objective, absolute definition of harm, but that is a question for another day.)

(B) Most people seem to agree that paedophiles who choose to fantasize/masturbate about engaging in sex with pre-pubescent children, without actually involving real children do not cause harm to others. That is why this activity is not illegal in the UK today.

(C) Pornography involving pre-pubescent children is more nuanced. Here we can distinguish between (p)indecent photographs involving real children, (q) indecent pseudo-photographs which don't involve real children and (r) indecent drawings of children. Making either (p) or (q) is illegal in the UK today (s1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978) whereas (r) is legal. While (p) should obvioulsy be illegal, how about (q)? It doesn't directly harm any children. Is there evidence that it indirectly harms children? How strong is that evidence? (In my mind that question seems to be fairly analogous to whether pornography involving women, which is legal, indirectly harms women.)

(4) How should paedophiles live?

The general rule of current conventional liberal wisdom is that we should all be able to live just as we please as long as we don't harm others. This general rule also applies to paedophiles: so this means, for our purposes either choosing not to act on their sexual impulses or acting in a way so as to ensure nobody is harmed. In this sense their lives should be quite different from non-paedophiles: the range of sexual acts available to them is extremely limited, which must be a personal tragedy for them.

(Judging by what I have observed of society, admission of this personal tragedy will require a collosal leap of faith for many. But empathy is an important game: try for a moment and imagine yourself as paedophile.)

(5) How should non-paedophiles treat paedophiles?

Here I'm referring to those paedophiles that don't cause harm to others. We should of course treat these people with the respect and dignity that all humans who don't cause harm to others should be afforded. Liberals among us should, on meeting someone new at a party who happened to tell us that he was sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children, act just as would act if met someone let us know that he was heterosexual or homosexual. If you don't think this is within you, you should query whether or not you really are a liberal.

In the real world nobody knows when they meet someone who is a paedophile who doesn't cause harm to others, because nobody admits it. And the reason they don't admit it can't really be guilt (guilt makes no sense if you have done nothing wrong) but is instead because of the reaction of a society, which considers them the final pariah. The way society speaks about (or doesn't acknowledge the existence of) these people compounds their personal tragedy: it is the salt in the wound of the personal tragedy mentioned in (4).


And that is why I feel sorry for paedophiles. Please correct errors of logic.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The climate change debate

This is my attempt to analyse what a logical climate change debate should look like. I'm not going to use any references, but try to stick to what ordinary people know to be true self-evidently.

(1) Is climate change happening?

I don't have an informed opinion on whether or not climate change is happening: from my own experience as a normal person I don't have evidence either way. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the facts. I'm fairly sure that the climate is changing, because from what I know of history and geology the climate has always changed. There have been warmer and cooler periods in the past (before humans existed even). The climate always will change until I guess the sun burns out. It seems odd to dispute this.

(2) Are humans causing climate change?

Chaos theory and the butterfly effect tell us that small actions can have big consequences. (I often see this in my own life.) So of course humans do have some influence on climate change. All actions have reactions and all causes have consequences. Humans have always influenced the climate, just by simply existing. We always will do, there is no way we can stop it. Again, this one doesn't seem controversial to me.

(3) What is the extent of human influence on the climate?

Paragraphs (1) and (2) show that we can divide the causes of climate change into two: (x) non-human causes; and (y) human causes. The climate tends to be treated as a single complex system, as no part of it can really be completely removed from the other parts: all parts are interlinked. We can denote this single system as (z).

In summary, (x) and (y) both change (z), and on this all right-thinking people can agree.
There is much argument and debate, though, about the relative reasons for the change: is (x) the main cause or is it (y)? (I don't propose to address this question: I have nothing to add to to that debate. For me it isn't really the most important question.)

(4) In what ways are humans affected by climate change?

This question is important. For most humans consequences of climate change are hugely more interesting and relevant than causes. (Of course, it is important whether we think that the main cause of climate change is (y) humans or whether we think that the main cause of climate change is (x) other things.) 

Climate change may be for the better, it may benefit all humans. Conversely it may be for the worse, it may harm all humans; or perhaps it may be neutral. Or perhaps, like a lot of changes, it may be more mixed than that: beneficial in some respects to some humans, but harmful in other respects to other humans. And if this last possibility is correct it might be worth doing an audit and a balancing act, a sort of utilitarian exercise, just so that we have this information. It will be difficult to do this exercise and different people will no doubt have different conclusions. I'm not sure this exercise has been done to any satisfaction and I don't have the answer myself.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that this exercise has been done to satisfaction and that we have quantified the net harm to humans as a result of climate change and denoted it as (H).

(5) What should we do about climate change?

We can take action and there are a range of possible actions available to us. Possible actions include:

(A) carrying on as we are doing at the moment, better known as "in-action" (this might be sensible if humans are mainly benefitted by climate change);

(B) taking action so as to alter the way we impact climate change, by adjusting (y) above, which we can call "mitigating action". (There are many alternatives available to us here, such as emitting more carbon, emitting less carbon etc, although of course unless we get rid of all humans we can't get rid of (y) completely.); and

(C) taking action to alleviate the harm that climate change causes, which we can call "adaptation action". (Again, there are many alternatives to us available to us here, we could move populations from one part of the globe to another so they were further away from the harm or we could build walls and change our living circumstances where we currently live.)

All actions of course have both costs and opportunity costs and because we don't have infinite amounts of money these costs should be added up, to ensure that costs aren't incurred unnecessarily. This is another audit exercise and balancing act that needs to be undertaken. After doing the balancing act we may conclude that the cost of reducing carbon emissions meant lower economic growth, causing millions of people in the developing world to remain in poverty. (Perhaps (B) > (H).) Or we might conclude that the cost of adapting to climate change was lower than the cost of mitigating our effects on climate change. (Perhaps (C) < (B).) Or we might even conclude that the harm caused by climate change was actually less than other harm which humans already suffer (for example from malaria) and so it would make more sense to put our money towards those causes rather than taking action against harm caused by climate change.

(6) To conclude

Mostly I hear (1), (2) and (3) being debated and while those things are interesting they are academic. The bigger and more important debates are the balancing acts in (4) and (5) and the role of scientists in those debates is limited, because those questions are much more political in nature than they are scientific. It is senseless to incur costs without doing the balancing acts first. I've not yet been convinced that they have been done.

To the extent that my logic is wrong, please use logic to correct me.