The half-truth weighed in the scales of abuse is always found wanting……
Were the events of the last week to have appeared in a Dicken’s novel there would have been a greater chance of a more meaningful public response. Dickens would have pricked our consciences. We would not have been permitted helplessly to shake our heads in disbelief. Yet the Victorian society where things like this happened had no welfare systems; universal education provision; no universal health provisions.
Yet we have all these things and yet we still have an underclass at least now as large as the one which shocked Victorian society into action
We are all against sexual and physical abuse. The inappropriate exercise of power over another for personal gratification – most commonly sexual gratification – but there are other motives – is morally wrong. It is abhorrent to our sense of right and wrong. It happens also to be illegal. The physical and sexual abuse of children – as opposed to adults or adolescents – however,is another thing altogether and it has long had its own word – peadophilia.
This is not a preface to making the argument that one is less serious or more or less wrong than the other. However, it needs to be said that the one is not necessarily the other. They’re both palpably wrong but for reason’s sake underage sex should not be elided into the same category as sex with prepubescent children. Nor should it be presumed that the one naturally leads on to the other or that they are interchangeable terms for the same thing. Nor is a relative matter of one being particularly more or less heinous than the other true in some absolute moral sense. It is important to understand that there is a distinction and that it is an important one. Without this understanding we may confuse two different things for the sake of making an easy argument. That confusion may lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about causes and effects in both cases.
This cool distinction runs against what we are inclined to do in the heat of argument. The reason to elide is as old as mankind – it makes things easy for us. It is most convenient for us to consider one wrong – the sexual and physical abuse of one person by another – as self evidently the same as another wrong – in this case paedophilia – particularly as it holds – like incest – a particular taboo and for particularly good reason.That elision, however, is in the nature of populist moral debates which always seek to draw easy conclusions based on easy answers to the wrong questions.
Child sex, child abuse and child murder – were commonly used as an accusatory ruse against foreigners in city communities in classical times – these techniques of demonising by association were revived by the Romans and used against both Jews and later much more widely against Christians – and then they were used by Christians against Muslims – and later against Jews – and they had used by Jews against Christians after the diaspora – and were used by Muslims against Christians – they were employed by the Chinese against Christians and the Japanese against Christians in the sixteenth century and by Christians against the indigenous American peoples in the same century.They are emotive arguments and rightly stir up a strong reaction in us.
Such crude argument has abounded in all times and in all societies and most often been used against all sorts of minorities – a more recent example can be found in the upheaval now known as the Great European Witch Hunt and of which the Salem trials in Massachusetts were perhaps the outermost ripple. The anti-Jewish pogroms and the philosophy of National Socialism are steeped in this prejudicial argument. The slavery and post emancipation Southern states of the USA legally embodied this dialectic as did apartheid South Africa. The argument in kind echoes down into the Stalinist witch hunts of the 1930’s; the Mccarthyite witch hunts of the 1940’s and 1950’s and the cultural Revolution in China of the 1960’s and on through Rwanda and on into the former Yugoslavia. They are there in Syria and Iraq today before our eyes.
Demonise those you hate and hate those the have first demonised. Admittedly over time if the rationale has remained the reasoning has dressed itself in something intellectually more respectable. Rather than lynching these enemies within we separate them from ourselves – we make of them social lepers – for their own good – we put them in care homes or asylums or townships or ghettos – or even better they will ghettoise themselves – like gay men in the twentieth century – and as we shun their company so they shun ours. The trouble is that separate development never quite deals with the irrationality of our the fear that drives it.
By Victorian times the irrational shibboleths of fear had evolved with Darwin into a form of intellectual gradualism. The slippery-slope argument beloved of quack social theorists of the nineteenth century dressed prejudice up in the language of science. Old prejudices and gut-feelings suitably doctored and repackaged can then be dispensed by a suitably uniformed authority figure as a respectable idea. It has triumphed time and again: these pseudo-scientific arguments were used to support the case for the war on drugs as they had been used first to criminalise the use of addictive narcotics. In the swirl of tobacco filled rooms the notion was hatched that the use one lesser addictive opiate lead-on to an ever greater more addictive evil. Our wizards of industry promptly then manufactured pure heroin and morphine to test the theory. The argument ran that disinhibited by addictions the users were themselves then led-on to theft and sexual abandon and even murder. The little film short Marijuana Madness was an exemplar of this simple childish notion passing muster as a proper respectable idea. Needless to say the crimes in question – that fill our prisons to this day – are largely of our own manufacture since we have created both the more addictive drugs and criminalised their use.
The same bizarre notions of right and wrong led to Prohibition in the USA – which created more organised crime than any other event in history – and was the spawn of the well meaning Temperance movements in the USA and Europe. These same arguments supported the case of the Jews and non-white ethnicities not inter-marrying with superior whites – as thereby they endangered the pure white genes of ours – an idea patently so ludicrously unscientific it is shocking that it might still be the intellectual love child of the father of Silicon Valley, nobel prize-winner, William Shockley. It has infected the internet which exploded into life larelgy on the back of pornongraphy – the nacotic of our times. The internet promised safe sex and we were drawn by its anonymity – the anonymity of perhaps finding anything we desire to see. When we look we do not think about how the images are placed before us – we are invited instead to subscribe and by our covert glances we do subscribe. Later, to make ourselves feel better we make laws against looking for its worse excesses – never once questioning the degrading naked commercialism that has driven the whole parade. Relativists to a man or woman we’d rather not be challenged to remove the mote from our eye; we’d rather point at the splinters in those of our debased neighbours.
The strongest argument for criminalising homosexuality was first to tar gay men in particular with the brush of being nascent child-abusers – the notion that one perversion leading inevitably to another more debased, until ultimately willy-nilly it led to every deviance imaginable, has a long pedigree as a quack prescription for the world’s many evils. It also haunts the gothic story of Dorian Grey and his picture.
This slippery slope idea had its concomitant political twin – the so-called domino theory whose insanity took hold of policy-making post World War II and led on to Korea and Vietnam. Today, its viral stupidities still infect the body politic and haunt the killing fields of Iraq and Syria; Libya and Afghanistan.
There are always those who will clothe unthinking prejudice in the thoughtful white coats of science; always those whose notion of evidence is an airy wave of the hand together with some commonplace such as – it stands to reason – or it speaks for itself. – or you can see for yourselves – or, you don’t need to be an expert to see the facts. The evidence of the self-evident is is usually supplemented by a forced march semi-factual non-sequiturs across the parade grounds of debate. Dissenting views are shouted down by blaring brass bands of abusive catcalls and trumpeting here-here’s.
This is the common sense we now need to sensibly avoid.
We have long lulled ourselves into the security that this systemic abuse within our culture is to do with rogue institutions be they religious or secular. And once more, the Media witch hunt for a fall guy – Shaun Wright – and maybe a handful more – is now well underway in the case of 1400 cases of abused young people in a small northern town called Rotherham.
Yet the fact there’s been 1400 cases of serious sexual and physical abuse in one medium sized town in the UK over 15 years passes us by as if it couldn’t happen to us or in any place we know. Yet, this statistic alone must or should give us pause. We have no evidence that people in Rotherham are particularly wicked. We have no evidence the South Yorkshire police are particularly wicked. We have no evidence that the councillors in Rotherham or the civil servants in Rotherham’s local government are particularly wicked. There have not been 1400 arrests for rape or assault. Rotherham’s crime profile is not out of line with the rest of the UK.There are no hints that gathering of crimes statistics is less accurate in Rotherham than elsewhere. We have no evidence that those institutions involved are more feckless than elsewhere. There is nothing to make Rotherham more or less than typical of any town in modern Britain..
In recent times in the Catholic Church there has been a similar problem with clerical abuse. This now is catalogued back well into the 1960’s. it seems sensible to suppose its pedigree was older. Once again a similar series of questions might be posed – were priests in the 1960’s more wicked; was the church from that time more likely to find itself recruiting or attracting those intent upon abuse; did no one know? The witch hunt is well underway and it has cost the Church much treasure but most catastrophically it has cost the church its good name. A priest is no longer a person whose word you can trust.
This abuse did go on and may well still be going on somewhere. It was part and parcel of the Ireland of De Valera with the Magdalene laundries and so much else. The recent resignation of Cardinal O’Brien demonstrates that the problem may be on-going. Until now, it has been possible for this largely secular society of ours to persuade itself it need look no further than the Roman Church and in particular its self-serving clerical caste.Covers-up and shouts of guilty – deserved of themselves – have echoed even in the Vatican’s marble halls. Who can resist that most popular of sports whose name does not come to mind – but you will know it – we’ve all played it sometime or other – you know the one – in order to play it only requires you’ve a finger and the capacity to point it at someone else .
More recently, first the Saville case and then a string of others have made it apparent that in the same time-frame – from the 1960’s – other institutions were also plagued by a problem. The NHS too got itself embroiled in these matters as Saville worked freely from Leeds General Infirmary; then Broadmoor brought in the Home Office and ministers of the crown. Finally, Rochdale and its former MP Cyril Smith has brought into the public domain the scandal of the serial sexual and physical abuse of mainly adolescent boys – but some prepubescent – by any definition still children – in care homes. This was again an abuse going on all over the UK including here in my London Borough of Lambeth where an established brothel hosted entertainments furnished to the the great and good. The victims from care homes and borstals all over Greater London were transported there in the back if white vans to serve as partners in sexual and sado masochistic shenanigans.
Everyone gets wrapped up in the blame game and it appears – rather like in Nazi Germany in the times of the Holocaust – no one knew what was going on and no one saw anything.
I make this shocking comparison not to exculpate the perpetrators of these acts – Nazis; clergy or Pakistani gangs; celebrity buddies working together or alone; or fathers or mothers; uncles or aunts; or brothers and sisters; or nieghbours; or even teachers and pupils.Let’s be honest there have been any number of examples of such cases reported on in chilling detail in the Media over the in past two decades. They are all inexcusable. The question is, why we did not see any hint of any of this in the hinterland of our society?
The answer is we did see it but like street beggars we just did not wish to look it in the eye. The victims were poor and because they were poor and desperate and difficult we did not want to trouble ourselves. Poverty – be it material or aspirational or a combination of the two – makes children and young adults and older adults vulnerable to exploitation. It is not a new problem. That we should have large numbers of children in care or semi-fostered speaks very much to our socio-economic and religious culture. It speaks to the wider cultural breakdown in family life and the dislocation caused by social change and commercial sexualisation of in our society.
This abuse – like all abuse is set in a wider context. That is the truth. The trouble with this truth is that this wider context is where where we are sit, passing judgement on everyone and everything around us but responsible for nothing that goes on. When it comes to trouble – we’d rather not be involved – we’d rather leave to the experts – that’s after all what they’re paid for – we’d rather pass by on the other side. That is why this is a truth we will not see and will always refuse to believe.
There’ s play An inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly. In the play there’s this exchange –
BIRLING: You’ll apologize at once … I’m a public man –
INSPECTOR: Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.
As we demand others’ resignations It seems in its quiet way to say all that needs saying.