I hate paedophilia, and that is the name for the human practice of adults having sex with children. I know a bunch of victims, some very close to me. When I say something like “sex is nicer than violence,” I don’t mean for human children, and if I say “sex is nicer than violence for children,” then I am talking about bonobos and chimpanzees, or about our own deep, deep past, barely more recently the time when we and the chimpanzees were the same creature. This is about origins. I have a certain insight, that we do what we do for biological reasons, but that the way we understand those reasons, and the way we talk about why we do what we do is upside down and backwards in some very important ways. In fact, I think we are subject to a kind of ‘false national narrative’ at the species level and our origin story needs a closer look. I imagine there are some smart scientists who are far ahead of me here, but generally, humanity at large speaks with a single voice.
I followed a train of thought about punishment. I wasn’t really looking to analyze child sexual abuse, kind of the opposite! I was running from thinking about that for personal childhood reasons, pleased to meet you.
The theory I came up with seems to explain a lot, though, antisocialization theory, or AST. For one, it gives a new angle from which to view our taboo regarding paedophilia. With it’s focus on punishment and abuse in human life, AST considers humanism to be new and only making a faltering start so that the safety and protection of children only works as the driver of the taboo if the taboo is also new in the world. If the taboo has deeper roots, then humanism is not likely to be the reason for it. If the biologist’s explanation about genetic addition of disease risks is the main reason, then our biology can find other answers too, and doesn’t require that we talk about it, but we do. Of course, our biology doesn’t require that we know everything about our behaviour, only that we do it – but society’s a different story. That’s where what we think about our biology matters also, what we think about our behaviour affects our choices, our policies, public and private.
I think our origin story has us at an impasse on both huge issues, the physical punishment and abuse of children and child sexual abuse, and AST can break us out of it. A brief definition is coming up soon.
I think probably AST and the associated book is the place to say that humans fuck their kids just like the chimps and bonobos do – I mean, a lot of them – sorry, us, I mean, a lot of us (I’m still running). Enough of us do that if we saw that that percentage of elephants were fucking their kids, there would be no debate, it would simply be listed as an elephant behaviour. Of course, it’s not acceptable human behaviour – but it’s human behaviour. That is not to excuse anything, quite the opposite: if it is not a human behaviour then it may follow that there aren’t victims. It absolutely is and there absolutely are, way too many, so to all the victims yes, this is a human behaviour, this happened and this happens. To make it clear for everyone else: paedophilia and incest are not nearly rare enough to be outside of the ‘normal’ fields of study and they’re not rare enough to be only a ‘personal’ issue. This is a human behaviour, a human problem, and one that we have not yet addressed in such a way as to change much about it.
That is true, and true things require some logic to drive them, so there will be some logic to work out here, what effect our modern situation has had on that, how we have somehow turned an act of monkey love into a powerful antisocializing force. Wait for it . . . the definition:
Antisocialization theory has it that abuse contributes in a powerful way to the antisocial side of our socialization, that the pain, confusion, and powerlessness associated with abuse and punishment create antisocial feelings and ideation to some degree in those who experience them. AST postulates that a more antisocial member of the troop is a more effective soldier, self motivated and tough, and that perhaps human or proto human troops that did not go to lengths to antisocialize their children were out-competed in battle. This article is not intended to be anyone’s introduction to AST, but this short version is what’s important in AST regarding child sexual abuse: punishment, violence and abuse are antisocializing factors, designed to make us crazy, angry, and violent beyond perhaps what we may have been without them.
Perhaps if at some point if we knew, if we were aware that we were perhaps easily killing off the less antisocial apes, or perhaps the more prosocial apes around us, and so if we had instituted a program of abuse for its effects (if we were beating our children to toughen them up and make better troop soldiers), if we were all in for making war and not love so much, then it makes sense that we would certainly also probably put the kibosh on much of our prosocializing.
Looking at the bonobos as a view perhaps beyond our early human past, we do indeed see that sex is a powerful prosocializing force in their lives, and as ubiquitous for them as perhaps authority, hierarchy and punishment are in ours, and the young are not left out of the never-ending orgy. It appears that adult bonobos are not antisocialized from their experience, that, in their primate life, sex exists on the positive side of the social ledger.
This is one way in which AST makes our previous understanding so clearly backwards: the taboo regarding sex with children, if it is as old as humankind, isn’t any sort of harm reduction strategy at all. The bonobos, they say, have very little violence and pleasure seems to be their social currency; their sex with their children looks like regular sex albeit with bonobos of all size and shape, voluntary and pleasurable. AST says human beings spend far more time punishing their children than pleasuring them (just saying, not arguing), at least today, and it’s my guess that we have made a choice.
We didn’t make a taboo of sex with children because sex hurts them – again, unless we only decided this recently. We did it for military reasons, because loving touch spoils soldiers. According to antisocialization theory, I mean. To put it another way, how long do we think there have been advocates for child abuse victims? Do we imagine the protection of children from sex was a cause that took over the world sometime in ancient history or prehistory when protecting them from violence remains a remote and unlikely goal today?
Our social injunction regarding incest is only part of the bigger, antisocialist injunction, not the proscription of harmful child rape, or of shallow gene pools, but rather the proscription of a prosocializing behaviour.
Of course, it didn’t stop child sexual abuse, and it’s something we will battle forever, probably, especially within the existing narrative about it. It’s a trauma for us, so how can we imagine we stopped it when it wasn’t a trauma, let alone because it wasn’t one? Despite that it looks nice when bonobos do it, when a human adult fucks a child, it is a bad scene, violent, criminal, abusive, ostracizing, all of it, so it’s hard to see the connection, but it’s there, buried somewhere in our past.
Trauma is not why we outlawed it in the first place, is all I’m saying, all antisocialization theory is saying. We can’t imagine ourselves making that sort of choice, but if we can look at the bonobos and imagine them making the choice to outlaw sex with their kids . . . then maybe for them, we can see that it would be an antisocial move. Just in case: I’m not advocating for humans to start living the bonobo life, I ain’t advocating for sex with children. My heart’s in the right place and my wick’s dry on this. I am not advocating and I ain’t asking for sex with kids. It’s just that I have a theory and it makes sense of things, that’s all, and that theory has brought me to where our outrage regarding paedophilia seems to be part and parcel of our love of violence. These are emotional, dangerous topics and perhaps that is in part because we don’t quite understand them yet – but AST can help.
Right, wrong, prosocial, antisocial, we outlawed child sexual abuse for antisocial reasons, not for prosocial ones, not to protect kids and not to avoid birth defects. At some point, we’ll have to tether ourselves to that reality, because this misunderstanding – that sexual activity, rather than violence, is somehow the greatest cause of evil in the world - simply fails to generate any real progress on either issue. To repeat: do we really think someone was advocating for the children and against child sexual abuse by adults for as long as we’ve been human, or for as long as we’ve been writing? Hardly! But we have been beating our children and so socially engineering ourselves for conflict and war that whole time. Humans have things to do, destinies to achieve, battles to fight, and we don’t really approve of those lazy bonobos just laying around playing swallow the leader all day. That’s the context in which that taboo came into existence and remains with us, as a part of the warrior code.
That’s the secret: sex makes you happy and peaceful, and we worry that we’re not mean enough to deal with the neighbors already, so it’s out, except for procreative sex. After all, the army needs soldiers.
That’s how taboos work. You’re not allowed to pick it up and turn it over, not allowed to see what’s underneath it. What’s under this one – surprise! – is violence, and our deep love of and identification with it. Not to minimize child sexual abuse, but the exposed core belief was the secret here, the thing that we have an opportunity to learn: our core belief is not a prosocial one. The truth, eventually, will set us free.
Feb. 27th., 2017