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Semiformalishmaybe

Why We Ban Pedophilia

In western society, pedophilia is widely banned, but the rationales behind that are rarely discussed. This occasionally leads to libertine intellectuals, not seeing much of an argument against it presented in society, and noting that other cultures had or have different mores on the topic, to push against social consensus.

As a philosopher, for a long time I've detached my positions from peer pressure; I am not bothered by having unorthodox views, and if people disagree strongly with me but don't provide a persuasive argument, I am unlikely to shift to their side. That's the way philosophers should be, I think; we don't do philosophy as an approval-seeking exercise (although approvval is not entirely unrelated to philosophy; Rawlsian reflective equilibrium uses it, sort of). Being a product of modern western culture, I feel a distaste at the idea of pedophilic acts actually happening, but I also distrust ideas of distaste, similar distastes being reported by some people at interracial couplings, some fetishes, and the like. Over the years I've gone back and forth on the issue, either feeling that as an unmapped area of philosophy I'll just go with the status quo and support laws against pedophilia barring further development, or feeling that lacking any good reason to bar the practice after considerable thought, it should be permitted. THat vacillation has stopped for long enough that I'm comfortable stating a definite position here. The things that shifted that gave me solid ground for the position were a change in how I see society; I have come to see the state as having an open mandate to serve the public good, and law as being a suitable tool for that.

I am comfortable with a ban on the practice of pedophilia. This is not about the innocence of children; children are not innocent. I remember my childhood, and some of the kinks I have now extended back into my teenage years. I remember the other children around me being less inhibited and being sexually active. These wern't "bad" kids, and they turned out well; the innocence (of that sort) of children is a myth. This also is not about an inherent disgustingness of the act of disparate-age coupling; as we know, other cultures have had differences on this point, and we permit a wide variety of kinks that we might be squicked by were we to see them in our face. The support for a ban comes from two, related factors.

The first is that there is necessarily greatly disparate power between a child and an adult; being under custody of another person (parents, usually) limits one's access to property, free movement and use of time, and other kinds of autonomy. The control of a guardian and the limited options of a child are a necessary feature of good upbringing, even as good parenting may provide structured means to acquire greater autonomy/funds/etc as rewards for trust-building. Having substantial, self-interested gifts from outside the family disrupts the ability to set up such systems and disrupts childrearing, and the tie of that to sexual favours essentially places the child in the position of giving up sexual autonomy in return for some of the perks of adulthood; the harm is on both sides of this. Note that the sexual favours don't need to be abusive on the same scale that they would be abusive between two adults; sexual access is part of adult-adult relationships but lacks the incentives (and the partial escaqpe from custody).

The second is that because children are not yet fully socialised, their ability to make decisions and to say no is not yet enabled by a feeling of completeness as an adult; the child-adult relationship (with corrisponding lack of ability to deny a "you must") can produce false consent. It can be difficult at times for adults to walk away from a relationship that has become domineering; for a child to do so, particularly if the child is in the same community as the adult and lacks the tools another adult would have in avoiding them, or lacks even a basic understanding of the legal resources available to them, or in some cases has some aspects of their lives/inculturation organised by the adult figure in a way that might fend off romantic/sexual competition from others, would often be nearly impossible.

For these reasons, while I don't think that the phrasing of "statutory rape" is appropriate either in law or culture, I am comfortable with legal bans and social shunning over the practice of pedophilia, provided:

  • It is not illegal for underage people to have sex with each other; these dynamics don't apply
  • Reasonable "window" provisions are included so as to avoid situations where, say a 16 and a 17 year old are in a sexual relationship, the 17 year old has a birthday, and suddenly there would be legal sanctions for their continued coupling
  • Imagery depicting the practice without actually enacting it in the production process should not be illegal
(I don't examine the occasional arguments you hear that sexual consent is special and requires age-of-majority to be real consent; this framework either replaces that intuition as not-holding-water or fleshes-it-out-differently, depending on how you'll choose to read it)

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