Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ephebophilia and Evolving Morality:

Some people distinguish between pedophilia -- the attraction to and/or behavior with prepubescent children, and ephebophilia -- which involves post-pubescent but underaged actors. Personally, I'm of the mind that both activities are wrong for the same reason: They harm, or have the potential to greatly harm, the underaged actor involved. And that the younger the actor, the wronger it gets (and vice versa) and that our laws and social mores should reflect this.

On a related note, check out this interesting article by John Derbyshire, no social liberal, which contradicts the current moral sentiment of the National Review and Weekly Standard crowd in which Derb hangs. He seems to argue that ephebophilia (unlike pedophilia) is deeply rooted in human nature, that it is as natural and normal as natural and normal can be for adults to lust after post pubescent but underaged teens.

When a woman gets past her mid twenties, in fact, her probability of being raped drops off like a continental shelf. If you histogram the figures, you get a peak around ages 12-14… which is precisely the age Lolita was at the time of her affair with Humbert Humbert. As Razib noted, my own “15-20” estimate was slightly off. An upper limit of 24 would be more reasonable. The lower limit really doesn’t bear thinking about. (I have a 13-year-old daughter.)

Behind such sad numbers, and in the works of literary geniuses like Vladimir Nabokov, does the reality of human nature lie. It is all too much for our prim, sissified, feminized, swooning, emoting, mealy mouthed, litigation-whipped, “diversity”-terrorized, race-and-“gender”-panicked society. We shudder and turn away, or write an angry email. The America of 1958, with all its shortcomings, was saltier, wiser, closer to the flesh and the bone and the wet earth, less fearful of itself. (It was also, according to at least one scholarly study, happier.)

One of the first media sensations ever to impinge upon my consciousness was the visit to Britain by rock star Jerry Lee Lewis in May 1958, four months before Lolita’s American debut. This was supposed to be a concert tour, but 22-year-old Jerry had brought his wife Myra along, and the British press got wind of the fact that Myra was only 13. This wasn’t an unusual thing in the south of that time; Jerry himself had first been wed at 15 (when he already had a drinking problem). Myra was his third wife, and also his second cousin once removed. Back then country people grew up fast and close to their kin. Neither Jerry nor Myra could understand what the fuss was about. He: “I plumb married the girl, didn’t I?” She: “Back home you can marry at 10, if you can find a husband.” (This was not true, even in the south, though Myra likely believed it. She also, according to the British press, believed in Santa Claus.) It didn’t help that Jerry’s new record was titled High School Confidential.

How long ago it seems! Nowadays our kids are financially dependent on us into their mid-twenties, and can’t afford to leave home till they are 35. Marriage at 13? Good grief! And so, while Lolita met with a fair share of disapproval in 1958, and was denounced from many pulpits, I believe its reception would have been much more hostile if it appeared now.

On the issues of history and morality. My own understanding of the facts are (and please correct me if I am wrong), throughout most cultures including the West, and up until recently, no distinction was made between ephebophilia and pedophilia. Cultures followed the line nature draws between adult and child, which is puberty. After puberty, you are an adult ready for sex (provided it takes place within whatever social arrangements the society deems necessary for sex to occur, i.e., a marriage). The Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvahs clearly remind us of this.

Yet, in our evolutionary state and for most of recorded history, people tended to die much younger and enter their vocational life much earlier. Back then, you really could be a young adult in your early teens and middle aged by your twenties.

Now people are living longer and longer; we don't graduate high school until we are 18 and most of us don't really start our adult lives, with all of its inherent responsibilities, until we are in our twenties.

Those are the historical facts; now onto the moral issues. Some argue that there are absolute transcendent moral facts, applicable to all times, everywhere (morality doesn't evolve). Others argue that morality is entirely determined by history (morality evolves). And there are variations in between. To crudely characterize these moral views in political terms, the transcendent moral order theory is more associated with social conservatism; morality is historically determined, more with social liberalism. Although, the reverse can be true; there are social conservatives who do believe that morality is entirely historically determined and thus evolves (many are Burkean traditionalists who want it to evolve as slowly as possible). And there are social liberals who believe their morality -- gay rights, equal treatment of women, etc. -- is objectively true, and applicable to all times, everywhere. (I know leftist who make the theoretical case for this are probably rare; but certainly many social liberals act as though their morality is part of a transcendent moral order. And they love to judge past illiberal Western times by these present day moral standards.)

Social conservatives who believe in a transcendent moral order may complain that present conventional morality, especially sexual morality, seems to be evolving in the socially liberal direction and these changes have been, by in large, malign. Indeed, previously things like fornication, missing the Sabbath, homosexuality, contraception, miscegenation all violated conventional morality, (which was supposed to be based on transcendent moral truths); but now they don't.

What's interesting about ephebophilia is that, even though generally sexual morality, over the past 50 years or so (especially since the sexual revolution) has evolved in a more socially liberal direction, with ephebophlia, sexual morality is evolving in a more socially conservative direction.

Again, correct me if I am wrong, but there is a marked upward drift in age of consent laws, which demonstrates that having consensual sex with underaged but post-pubescent teens is becoming less acceptable in our present, post-60s modern times. Anti-ephebophilia is truly novel and hence a "chic" notion.

And I personally support this change. As mentioned in the facts above, we are in a historically unique period of time where people are living and we are delaying childhood for much longer periods. Plus, recent studies I think have confirmed that brains continue to mature well after teen years and on into early twenties such that an adolescent seems to be a strange product of nature: fully biologically adult and yet still mentally and emotionally "kids."

As I've mentioned before, even though I don't approve of adults having sex with anyone under 18, I find it quite disturbing, Orwellian even, that we would call a consensual sex act between an adult and a post-pubescent mid or late teen "child rape" (which term connotes horrible evil). In a factual sense, this is not child rape; regardless of what "statutory rape" laws say, you cannot enact 2+2 = 5 into law. If we rather called adult/underaged teen sex, "improper sexual conduct with a minor," I think we would more soberly react to the crimes, and not become hysterical about it when we think it may be occuring.


Anonymous said...

You present the dilemma most of us don't face, and a problem without a face.

Taking advantage of others can be deplorable, and we often assume it's the adult who takes advantage of the underling. Such unequal "power" dynamics tear at our sense of justice.

While deplorable, I've met a few of these exceptional relations, and it's reformed my own views. Just as the "older" can befriend the "younger," the reciprocal also occurs. In many ways, it's the younger reaching out for rescue by a parent-figure lacking in his/her own life. Such relations are counter to my own values and aspirations, but I sense a "fit" in what appears to be "their" disconnect, an emormous inequality, among those who find rescue in each other.

Heretofore, I was condemnatory. I remain highly skeptical and averse. But I've seen "kids" redeemed by "father-figures," and old men rejuventated by "youth." It makes no sense to me, but it now feels less repugnant. In the Mystery of Life, a Mystery I confess to little knowledge, apparently the "dynamic" works. It sure does not "work" for me, but once I suspended my own apprehension and repugnance, and allowed "them" to inform me rather than me prejudge them, I am more accepting of the dynamic I certainly don't understand, remaining alien to me.

"Power" relations, especially between two inequals, can be disturbing. The Priest who molests a kid that wants nothing to do with it, still disgusts me. It's all about power to dominate another, by vice of vulnerability, by another vice of exploitation. But how many child-women became wives to older men in byegone years? Our histories are littered with them.

But in a perverse, yet "normative" manner, such power relations have always existed. Let's always err on the side of the less powerful, but not uncritically, anymore than we err in judging a situation we don't understand, and a dynamic we can't fathom. Yes, it cannot be a "default" position, because the innocent often become victims. But maybe many of the victims are those of power who fall into lairs that are set, and their "fall" is no less an injustice? Yes, they should know better, but shouldn't we all?

Karen McL said...

I think this *unequal power dyanmic* goes a long ways to the underlying issues here. But the situations I find most disturbing are those that seek to ignore the developments mind v. body aspects of human pre-teen, teens and adults and *normalize* sertain behavior - which may codify the uneven power structure.

The kinds of situations I'm referring to are the fundamentalist polygamous marraiges of post-pubescent but very "young" women (who may or MAY NOT be allowed to be execising any meaningful *choice* in these arrangements.)

Yet the entire societal group they live in accepts, endorses and promotes these situations...which I do view as abusive and less than acts of real *consent* under these circumstances.

This is distinctly different from the "Lolita" fictional model with the obsessive Humbert. And different to in a power equation that posits a need on both sides from an unequal position that satisfies both partners.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"In many ways, it's the younger reaching out for rescue by a parent-figure lacking in his/her own life."

That's certainly true. I don't doubt that underaged folks can and do seduce older people. Though I never read the novel or saw the movie, isn't that what Lolita is all about?

The bottom line is sometimes you have to resist such seduction.

Anonymous said...

Nabokov is a favorite author, and I don't think the claim that "Lolita" is one of the best 20th C. novels. Its complexity resists reductionism, but certainly Humbert's arrested adolescent development and Lolita's seduction and manipulation are obvious themes. Nabokov was hardly a moralist in the traditional sense, but power relations figure predominantly in most of his works. So too, seduction, even in his more "political" works, where individuals are seduced by power only to be consumed by others' power (e.g., "Invitation to a Beheading"). One can interpret the Bolshevist Seduction into these works, working in a similar dynamic to the interpersonal dynamic. Wouldn't it be great if we just "resisted" all seductions? But power and sex are two types of seductions many cannot resist, even if their instincts forewarn them that they are headed for certain destruction. Look at the seduction of Libertarianism or Marxism or Christianity or Freudism or even Foucault, the ultimate anti-power person preoccupied with seduction in his own life. Resistance, like just saying, "No," is often easier than one thinks. While I fundamentally agree that adult-adolescent sexual relations should be discouraged, precisely because of unequal seductions, it's that very nature which makes it attractive to the young-mature dynamic. How many young (at least adult) women becomes spouses of much older men? Again, none of this speaks to me personally, but I've become less condemnatory if only because the dynamics involved "work" for some ineluctable reasons. Pedophilia, however, is distinct, usually involving a para-pubescent child and adult. No excuse is acceptable for this perversion and power grab, whatever the pscyhodynamics may or may not be. Just as incest is a societal taboo, so too is pedophilia, for different reasons, but on the same magnitude. Frankly, I think we are not harsh enough on this perversity. I have no qualms about castration (in males) or something comparable (in females). That almost 90% of these freaks involve a step-father & step-daughter affair, its repugnance must not just be shunned, but must literally ostracised. While it might have been tolerated in more primitive societies, it has no place in a civilized one. None. Not for the biological, power, and psychological abuse alone, but because it violates a person, but because it violates the person's sense of self. Like rape, a near cousin, it cannot be allowed without significant consequences to the social fabric as well as to the victim.

Karen McL said...

"In many ways, it's the younger reaching out for rescue by a parent-figure lacking in his/her own life."

That's certainly true. I don't doubt that underaged folks can and do seduce older people. Though I never read the novel or saw the movie, isn't that what Lolita is all about?"

My memory is that it's not so much about her seduction of his obssession with her and image of her *innocence*. She is neither an *innocent* nor a seductress, but has her own obession with a dif older man. What she does do is utilize her budding sexual prowess to trade Humbert for teenaged girl accoutrements - but only because she is *trapped* as he is her *parent* (after the mother dies) and she's unable to escape him.

Seaearth pony said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't agree with your ages. 18 & 19 year olds are adults. People mature at different ages. But it's more like 12-16. People who are in, around and after puberty but below the age of consent.