Pedophilia, Preemptive Imprisonment, and the Ethics of Predisposition

Pedophilia as a “sexual orientation” has been in the news again recently, and everyone is angry. Kyle Edwards at Practical Ethics examines the implications of contending that some people are born with a predisposition to be sexually attracted to children:

Rush Limbaugh and some members of the religious right have argued that recognizing pedophilia as a sexual orientation will have the same result as the relatively recent recognition of homosexuality as a sexual orientation: it will become more acceptable to act upon those sexual desires. This logic seems obviously confused. The reason we think that homosexual intercourse is morally acceptable (and was before society “recognized” it as so) seems primarily to do with the understanding that it is a consensual act, not because it follows from an innate orientation rather than an acquired desire. Similarly, it would be strange to say that we think having sex with a child is wrong because pedophilia is an acquired rather than an innate attraction; we think it is wrong because children are not capable of consenting to sex due largely to their underdeveloped reasoning and decision-making capacities.

The backlash against the concept of pedophilia as a sexual orientation seems to revolve around two points: firstly, that the term “sexual orientation” associates pedophilia in the minds of the public with homosexuality (the most talked-about “sexual orientation”), thereby threatening to contaminate gay and queer people with the taint of deviancy they have so long striven to shake off; secondly—and, seemingly, more subconsciously—that describing pedophiles as immutably attracted to minors co-opts one of the arguments that people have long employed in seeking public acceptance for homosexuality: that gay people are born that way and cannot choose to be otherwise.

The first of these points is a real concern, but only for PR purposes. As Edwards points out, consent—not “orientation”—is what makes a sexual act acceptable from a legal (and to some people, moral) standpoint. The second point does seem more thorny because the argument from genetics has been such a tentpole of the gay-rights platform, but I think the libertarian argument could serve us well in distinguishing between the morality of public acceptance of homosexuality and that of child molestation. That is, the real reason homosexuality should be permitted by a truly free society is not that gay people were born that way but that all people should be allowed to do whatever they want, provided they are not infringing on the rights of anyone else.

If you noticed that the response to both of these points revolves around consent… well, then.

Targeting the Wrong People for the Wrong Reasons

Yesterday the people of California passed Proposition 35, a ballot initiative intended to combat sex trafficking. As nice as that sounds, this article by Melissa Gira Grant explains why Prop 35 spells big civil rights trouble:

There is little evidence that strengthening criminal penalties and relying primarily on law enforcement are strategies to end forced labor; in fact, advocates who work with survivors of trafficking, as well as people involved in the sex trade and sex worker rights’ advocates, have documented the limitations and dangers of a “tough on crime” approach on trafficking.

How Team Obama Justifies the Killing of a 16-Year-Old American

It baffles me that more people—like roughly everyone—aren’t angry about this.

“When You Do the Thing That Makes Babies…”

Libby Anne responds to a common argument against abortion: that pregnancy is just one of the risks of unprotected (and some times even protected) sexual intercourse. She uses the analogy of safety features in cars: traffic lights and driver’s education are like contraception—safety features designed to prevent accidents from happening. Seat belts and airbags are like abortion—emergency measures to prevent harm if an accident happens anyway.

Saying that we should do away with plan B or abortion because they enable people to engage in risky sex without having to face the natural consequences (i.e. pregnancy) is like saying that we should embed knife-like spikes into cars’ steering wheels in order to cut down on risky driving behavior (because a driver being slammed forward would be automatically impaled).** After all, things like seat belts and air bags decrease the risk of injury when getting in a wreck and thus lead to more risky driving. Even so, things like plan B and abortion (which, let me point out, are not identical) decrease the potential harm suffered by an accidental pregnancy and thus, it could be argued, lead to more risky sex.

That’s nonsense. It would be an apt analogy if anyone thought that automobile safety features had a moral component to them—that putting on a seat belt is harming another person, for example. But no one does. Plenty of people, though, believe that abortion causes harm to another person, which is why we are even having this discussion in the first place.

There certainly are people who are concerned that abortion enables risky sex, but that’s a flawed argument as well. The best argument against abortion is that it may be the killing of a human being. I couldn’t care less whether people engage in risky sex, but if they do it and a woman conceives, telling her that she knew the risks and is now obliged to carry the pregnancy to term is nothing at all like embedding stabbing devices onto steering wheels.

Inside the Cold, Calculating Libertarian Mind

When libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use “cold” calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed “effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks” more than others do.

Is this supposed to make us sound bad?

To All the Girls Who Envy My Life

An escort theorizes about why so many young women find her career alluring:

Girls aren’t bombarded with messages telling them that their mental power is urgently needed to address issues like global warming or infectious diseases, or that their athleticism could be parlayed into a life as a professional athlete or coach. Instead, we’re told over and over again that we earn a place at the table—any table—by being polished and well-dressed, with glossy hair and a slim figure. The girls who e-mail me are not lacking internal resources. They’re educated, sensitive, observant, and they have the complex sentences and insightful wording to prove it. But they are living in a world where a woman’s worth is constantly equated with her sex appeal. Is it any wonder that many women might find it compelling to take that equation to its logical end?

You don’t need to a be a libertarian to find her thoughts intriguing and challenging.

♀ Jesus & Venus & Paul Ryan


Since the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s choice for vice-presidential candidate, feminist websites have spewed considerable vitriol in Ryan’s direction, potraying him as anti-woman, anti-poor/pro-rich, anti-environment, and anti-immigrant.

All these things may be true. I have no idea.

The evidence offered is weak, though. I’ll give two examples.

On Monday, Feministing reported the announcement of Romney’s pick by listing reasons “Why Paul Ryan is bad news for women (and everyone else). Among them:

He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.[1] This isn’t a controversial issue, y’all. It simply protects women from being denied equal pay for equal work. I think we can all agree this is a no-brainer. (Except Paul Ryan.)

Then, earlier today, The Daily Beast covered Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a lobby advocating for the poor:

[Ryan] proposes reducing the federal budget deficit through substantial cuts in spending, which Sister Simone believes would hit low-income people hard. “In order to do what he says he is going to do, it takes drastic cuts,” she says, adding that Ryan does not generally go into detail about the specific programs for the poor that would be affected. “He’s trying to avoid enumerating them,” she says. “The truth is, there’s a shift of money to the top—tax cuts for the wealthy.” (Via Jezebel)

The clear intent of much of this coverage is to imply that Ryan wants women to receive discriminatory pay and poor people to continue suffering. Lest you think this exaggeration, the Feministing article precedes its list with this statement:

Paul Ryan is a potential Veep who has no interest except to disenfranchise most women — and basically everyone else except the super wealthy — in pretty astounding ways.

Now, to clarify: I will not be voting for Mitt Romney, so I don’t have to care whether Paul Ryan’s views align with my own. From the little I know of Ryan’s budget it seems at least somewhat misguided, and in his position I probably would have voted for the Ledbetter Act, but I object to the increasing tendency, even among journalists, to equate disagreement about methodology with hatred for a cause.

I’m a libertarian, and therefore not much of a fan of either major party; I can find something to disagree with about nearly everything done by our current Congress and President. I attribute no ill motives to our politicians, though. By and large, I think they are probably patriotic, well-motivated individuals who want the best for our country but disagree about the right way to achieve their mostly-laudable goals. Lacking evidence to the contrary, I’m going to assume that Paul Ryan voted against the Ledbetter Act because he thought it outside the scope of the federal government’s powers and drafted his budget proposal using principles he thought would secure the greatest properity possible for everyone. Anyone may think him incorrect, but only the small-minded assume that those who disagree with them about the best way to govern a country are selfish, hateful, or evil.

With regard to many core feminist issues I find myself in a difficult position, caught between my human, civil, and political ideals. I want employers to treat women and men equally, but I am unwilling to legislate a quota for female executives. I think women should be able to easily access contraception so they have control over their own fertility, but I don’t like federally-funded social services, even the ones that provide free birth control. Even on more peripheral issues that most feminists care about I don’t fit in. For example, I want immigrating to the United States to be easy and therefore believe we need immigration policy reform, but because I also believe in the rule of law I have no problem with deporting people who didn’t follow the correct procedure. I also opposed the Affordable Care Act, partly because I believe that everyone would be better off if we went in the direction of less regulation, not more, but also because I don’t believe health care is a basic human right the government should provide, no matter what Jesus said.

And now we circle back around to Sister Simone. Despite her contention that Ryan’s budget doesn’t fit with Catholic principles, Jesus has nothing to say about how to govern a country. He lived and spoke in a period of extensive disenfranchisement, so his audience had no paradigm for representative government. Many Christians believe that if Jesus were alive today he would, for example, tell us to enact universal health care because he cared about the fate of the poor. But Jesus was non-political, and his sermons were delivered to individuals, not legislators. Personally, I believe that even if he were walking the earth today Jesus would be almost totally uninterested in the business of running our country, preferring to spend his energy and limited resources directly on people.

For this reason, the best way our faith can inform our governance is by saying that we should exercise wisdom in everything we do. And the tricky thing about that is: everyone’s version of wisdom looks different.

  1. The Act clarifies that the statute of limitations for equal-pay discrimination lawsuits resets with each discriminatory paycheck. (Wikipedia)  ↩