THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Fair dealing?
So far, so good

Toleration -vs- Approval

I have been pondering a comment I received on my post of 18 days ago. Quoting my passing remark that;

I even feel sorry for paedophiles, who have no more control over their sexual preferences than other sexual minorities, but who cannot be tolerated because their desires - by definition- can never be acted on consensually. I think that VR and computer graphics may help them find a way to act out without harming children

TDK commented;

Your contention relies upon the assumption that a paedophile has a fixed amount of desire which can be sated by the use of VR. Let me suggest two counter propositions:

1. Might desire increase through the use of such stimulants?
2. I'm a great believer that civil society is achieved more by the use of social norms such as disapproval, stigma and shame than by legal means. Might giving signals of acceptability in VR have a deleterious impact?

There are important points here. There is no force in human society more powerful than sexuality. If you doubt that, just consider the risks people take with their families, their careers, their health and their very lives to satisfy their sexual desires. TDK's theory that illicit desires should be denied stimulation seems to underlie current thinking. Parents are forbidden to video their children at school events or the swimming pool, lest the films find their way into the hands of paedophiles. Parents are reluctant to allow children out to play.

There is no evidence that this has reduced paedophilia. I would be surprised if it had. The incidence of most sexual aberrations seems to be fairly constant and highly resistant to legal and social controls. That is why the Thatcher Government's concerns about schools "promoting" homosexuality  were so absurd. These are matters not susceptible to evangelism. In any case, denied overt sexual stimulation, people will be stimulated by very little. The nicely turned ankles that gave our great-grandfathers such a frisson have little effect now. Could even the burgeoning New Cromwellian State suppress everything that might turn on a frustrated paedophile?

TDK's second point is even more important. I agree entirely (as I said in my original post) that social mores are more powerful than mere laws. The suggestion, however, that in tolerating something we might be said to have approved it quite startled me. That is what has given me such a long pause for thought. In fairness, it is also an idea behind much current thinking. If TDK is wrong, it is in a highly conventional way.

I am a man of strong views. There are many things that I hate. Golf and skiing, for example, turn decent people into bores unfit for civilised company. People who drive Smart cars richly deserve to be shot at dawn. I avoid such specimens like the plague but never dreamt that, in not demanding they be banned (or shot), I was approving their life choices. The bizarre sexual enthusiasms of Mark Oaten are utterly repulsive to me. I squirm in thinking of them even for long enough to write this paragraph. Can it really be said that, in -as it were - not giving a shit about his activities, I have endorsed them? It makes no sense to me. Yet whenever a liberalising measure is proposed (rarely enough under the New Puritanism of New Labour), the pundits roar that we cannot be seen to approve of cannabis, drinking after 2230 at night, or whatever. As if societal norms were binary. 1=Approved and 0=Forbidden.

This dangerous logical fallacy will lead us ever further from freedom. It must be fought. I doubt TDK is any more or less repelled by paedophilia than me. But I would only ban specific aspects of any behaviour, however repellent, which cause direct, verifiable and serious harm to others without their consent. Laws are not a means of expressing opinions. They are - or should be - there to prevent specific, identifiable harms. As Montesquieu wisely said;

"If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary NOT to make a law"

If we targeted our laws on serious harms and enforced them rigorously, we would do far more good than with our present blunderbuss approach. The idea that society "approves" of all lawful activities is a bar to such targeting.


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Sorry I didn’t get back earlier, but I work away from home.

I am fairly confident that there are no more homosexuals now than there were in the 1950's, but they are - happily - able to be open now. So much so that my father is convinced they are a recent invention. Some of what you perceive to be greater sexual licence, may actually be greater sexual openness.

The first thought that occurred to me when I read your response is that yours echoes the leftist response that incidence of crime and social order have not changed. For years I believed this and recited it when required to challenge “moral panic”, but then I faced up to reality.

Sex is an area where we are unlikely to see value free research in our lifetimes. We know now that Kinsey’s research was fundamentally flawed, yet today the results are still quoted by sexual campaigners, particularly the gay rights lobby. To challenge their figures has become a moral argument rather than a technical one. Nonetheless I tend to agree with you that there has been no change in the number of homosexuals merely a change in openness.

Here’s a puzzle for you. When I went to school the social barriers for lesbians were just as apparent as for homosexuals. Yet if we are to believe the surveys within woman’s monthly magazines, we live in a world where many young women are prepared to sleep with another woman in front of their boyfriends. Lesbian sex is now de-rigeur in porn films but wasn’t, when I was in my twenties. Either we live in a world where the underlying incidence of lesbian hasn’t changed but the mass media now overstate the case, whereas previously they understated it, or, we really do have more women prepared to sleep with other women for kicks today than fifty years ago.

I think it worth drawing a distinction between preparedness to sleep with a partner of the same sex and preparedness to experiment in other ways like buying a dildo. I doubt the former is as susceptible to change as the latter. Summing up, I doubt there is more sex today but I think it fairly likely that there is more experimentation than before.


When we think about PP and how it might be worse, I can think of three ways
1. There are more PPs
2. Each PP attacks more victims
3. Each individual attack is more vicious.

I’m inclined to think that PP is caused by events in childhood. There is some evidence that victims of PP often become PP themselves, but there are other factors. A sixteen year old sleeping with a fourteen year old merely raises eyebrows. A thirty year old sleeping with a fourteen year old is a PP. Somewhere between lies a grey area. If we give the wrong signals to someone within that grey area, will they adjust their behaviour to conform to social expectations? There is evidence that some PP react favourably to treatment. Confronted with the reality that their victims are not sexual they may change their behaviour.

If we assume that the ratio of PP individuals changes little over time, that says little about the relative harm that each PP does. Can we assume that each PP does not experiment sexually?

You ask what I think about a German case

Your argument, I guess, would be that these are two consenting adults and no one else is harmed. You would start from the principle that “we should be free to do what we like as long as it harms no-one else”. Superficially that is achieved in this case, but let’s consider some possibilities in the general case.

I joined this thread because of your unsupported assertion may help them find a way to act out without harming children. We know that PP groom children for sex and that this activity exposes them to risk – that’s where they are caught. Giving PP a practice environment would reduce their risk. Is that a wise move? That thought makes me far more uncomfortable than the actual VR incident you recount.


You frequently compare the debate to that of drugs. Well, I’ve changed my opinions on drugs several times. There is a case that legalising drugs will eliminate the illegal supply market and the criminality that goes in hand with that. But there are other deleterious social consequences besides, including other kinds of criminality. First, there is the criminality that occurs to obtain the money to buy the drugs. Whilst, legal drug supply would tend to reduce the cost, it wouldn’t eliminate it. Second, we live in a welfare era where we do not hold people responsible for their incontinent behaviour. I do not object to people taking drugs so much as being asked to pay to clear up the mess. In the Victorian era, support for drug addicts was supplied only by agencies like religious charities that held the victim responsible for their own behaviour. In contrast we not only blame everyone but the addict for their failure but eulogise the supposed creativity induced through taking drugs. The removal of social controls that existed in Victorian times makes me uncomfortable with removing legal controls today.

One of the problems I have with Libertarianism is that frequently it is denied such a social element exists or when it is accepted it is denied that it can be a force for good.

TDK, thanks for the clarification on the second point. The truth is that neither of us know about the first one. In such matters, a lot depends on when you start your comparison and whose statistics you believe. Is drug use actually higher now than 100, 50 or 25 years ago, or simply more obvious because people are less ashamed of it? Queen Victoria was a user, as were many of her contemporaries, but not so many of them as to suggest that - in the absence of legal controls - drug use would run wild. Is gun-related crime (and I don't mean the crime of owning a gun) less or more now that guns are so comprehensively banned? Opinions vary. I am fairly confident that there are no more homosexuals now than there were in the 1950's, but they are - happily - able to be open now. So much so that my father is convinced they are a recent invention. Some of what you perceive to be greater sexual licence, may actually be greater sexual openness. Certainly none of the phenomena you mention were unknown in the 1950's. They were a bit more difficult to organise, I imagine. The internet has had all kinds of interesting effects.

I am no Guardianista, and no fan of Grayling neither. I believe in criminalising only demonstrably genuine, serious harms and then holding people fully responsible for their actions. I believe that Law itself has been trivialised and its effects weakened by the way in which it has been used to try to mould opinions.

What do you say to the reported actions of German police in prosecuting two adults who indulged in simulating P activity in Second Life? Both were adults, acting freely. Only adults are permitted to be in Second Life. One was guiding a character in the game in the form of a child. If the P in question was able to get his kicks in that way, was it not better than having him go look for a real child? I would be as disgusted as you to happen upon it, but surely it's not to be compared with the traffic in abducted children to make non-VR PP? As to your question of how I would feel if VR PP could be demonstrated to stimulate P activity, surely the answer is obvious? It would then be a cause of demonstrable, serious harm and should be unlawful.

I don't think I did accuse you of the things to which you take exception. I merely observed that even more radical measures to keep P's out of temptation than you propose didn't seem to have worked. However, I also take responsibility for expressing myself unclearly and apologise.

As for your point that our ancestors knew what they were doing when they made law, that is classic conservatism. I remember my grandfather saying almost exactly that. Unfortunately if our descendents think that we all knew what we were doing when we enacted the current crop of illiberal, nannying laws they will be sadly misguided. I think it's time to sweep the legal cupboard of every redundant, unenforceable or unnecessary law that is guilty, as it were, of wasting police time.


Oh dear! Try and keep an comment short and it's bound to be misinterpreted.

{Note: I will use the abbreviation of PP for both the perps and the activity - I hope that reduces the risk of web-crawlers highlighting your site}

When I asked Might desire increase through the use of such stimulants, I didn't pretend to know the answer. If it was incontrovertible that such a use for VR would increase assaults on minors, would you be so keen to have no controls? So I think the question is at least worth asking.

You have now made an attempt to answer that. You say, Parents are forbidden to video their children at school events or the swimming pool, lest the films find their way into the hands of paedophiles. Parents are reluctant to allow children out to play. There is no evidence that this has reduced paedophilia.

There are two problems with that response. First, I at least, can tell the difference between pornography and pictures of children in the the bath. I'm not saying you can't, but this distinction is important, and I don't think it credits you to accuse me of wanting to ban innocuous pictures, when the subject under discussion is VR PP. I doubt that in VR people will be bathing kids; so give me some credit.

Second, in the last fifty years there has been an explosion in the availability of pornography, initially in the print media but latterly in videos and on the internet. At the fringe this has increased the accessibility various illegal and semi-illegal materials. It is absurd to argue that PP is harder to obtain now because of suspicions about pictures of children at sporting events, when you have ignored the larger picture.

You discuss the banning of drugs. I assume it is not controversial to say that a change in attitude amongst the media elite in the post war era has led to a growth in drug usage, despite the absence of a corresponding change in the law (at least till recently). When social barriers were removed drugs came to be used by far more people. When cannabis was regraded that led to an increase.

This indicates that in at least some areas, changes in social attitudes can lead to changes in behaviour. Does this ever apply to sexual behaviour?

I don't know the absolute answer to that question but suggest that most people would support the idea that people today are more sexually adventurous than previous generations. That hasn't occurred spontaneously. Something must have triggered the change and I would suggest a change in social attitudes, a change in the law and a change in the availability of material that forms the basis of sexual experimentation. Sex toys, fetish wear, three in the bed etc, all would seem to be much more common.

So I think it reasonable to ask whether exposure to VR PP might act as a stimulant and therefore increase the amount of real attacks. I don't claim to know the answer but you seem remarkably confident.

Let's move on to my second point.

The suggestion, however, that in tolerating something we might be said to have approved it quite startled me.

You've misunderstood what I wrote (and I take responsibility for not writing more clearly). There are two actors in this scenario - you and the PP. It's a vital distinction. You may well disapprove but tolerate VR PP, but he may mistake your tolerance as approval. I presume you understand the idea of mixed signals. Our concern is with the impact upon the PP, and we need to consider whether his mistake will have harmful consequences. Given that this changes the meaning entirely, your response is moot.

Someone who I respect wrote

men like Grayling hack away at the bonds that make society work. The anti-social behaviour which is now such a scourge is the logical consequence.

Guardinistas tell us that criminals or ASBO'd thugs are not responsible for their actions because of poverty or exclusion. Read virtually any essay by Theodore Dalrymple and you realise the average criminal has learnt the lesson well. But Guardinistas would be horrified if you suggested that they supported the actions of those criminals - their honest intention is to eliminate crime, even though they refuse to accept that the world we live in is a consequence of their work. This is an example of mixed signals that I think the above writer would accept. Why is the case of PP so different that we don't even need to address the possibility?

I take the view that if we have an existing law, then we should start from the assumption that our ancestors thought they had good cause to make that law. They may well have been wrong, but we ought to examine why they passed that law and see if the arguments still hold up. PP porn is already illegal.

The status-quo ante is one of existing controls.


For the record, as a libertarian, I want the bare minimum of laws, rigorously enforced.
So do I. And by this premise they will only be ones that exclude the extremes of any lifestyle. Simply expressed: "thou shalt not...".
Protecting the family. Not the pretend families, associations and 'communities' we fund today.


Because it is so difficult for anyone to control their sexual desires...
This is my point too. They and we have to control our own desires and see if our belief-behaviour system is really of our own volition, or that of imprint of culture and we are automated into reaction by appropriate stimulation. This is religion - our outer conformity replacing our wordless understanding. So surprise surprise if you come from the present UK you are a New Liberal with little understanding of consciousness. Always arguing the letter of equality rather than the meaning. This is your Media: newspapers, radio and TV, that incessant blaring speaker from morning to dusk. The type we riddicule when we see speakers blasting out from cars and building corners in Communist regimes.
It is not sympathy I have for a person screwed up, but the practical psychological therapy they so sorely need. Like therapist who help people out of cults. If not, they will change you and your society.


Kinderling, I don't think any such thing. Nor could anyone reasonably infer it from anything I have written.

I am learning that there are certain subjects it is dangerous to discuss, even with normally rational citizens of the blogosphere. Yet, if every debate becomes a contest as to who can emote the most movingly and/or propose the most aggressive solution, you end up with - well modern Britain.

For example, none of the restrictions to our civil liberties has made us one bit safer from terrorism. I defy anyone to produce evidence of this Government's new powers having saved a life. On the contrary, I can cite Jean Charles de Menezes' as a life lost to such powers. For that matter, there is a grieving family in Wigan today who can cite Home Office "Health & Safety" policies as having cost their son's life.

Yet if one demands that "reforms" be rolled back, or even that no further restrictions on liberty are introduced, the response is an hysterical assertion that one is "soft" on terrorism, crime or whatever. That is not how a civilised nation should be governed.

For the record, as a libertarian, I want the bare minimum of laws, rigorously enforced. If a paedophile molests a child, s/he should be punished. Because it is so difficult for anyone to control their sexual desires, the punishment must of necessity, be severe to have a deterrent effect. However, if a paedophile can content him or herself with imaginative fictions or VR representations made without the involvement of children, I think we should be grateful. It seems bizarre to me to restrict harmless (if disgusting) outlets at the risk of increasing the risk of real harm.

It is a dangerous thing to discuss the correct legal approach to dealing with the constant problem of paedophilia. In the Google era, one has to consider the danger of one's site becoming associated with the very idea just by mentioning it.

All comments are welcome and I am assuming that yours was well meant. However, I do not remotely comprehend the relationship you think it bears to anything I have written.


I am a great liberal when it comes to personal stupidity. By all means jerk off to whatever conman brings your way. It's the only excitement you know. And if on the internet your jerking catches the eye of another, by all means jerk off together. But be discrete. Don't stonewall me or my children into believing this is for public consumption.
This is why I am so irritated that Chris Langham went to prison. He saw, he was conquered, he came. On the other hand the BBC bring smut on the radio each morning and pornography, each evening on TV. Open channels for children to be exposed to. I know whom I would rather see in the dock.
As there is junk food there is junk depersonalized sex. If you don't know it... well Amsterdam awaits. And if you think paedophilia is bourne of a normally balanced mind... you are mixing with too many homosexuals.


...These are matters not susceptible to evangelism...

This is the old logical drift.

Perhaps not evangelism but certainly through constant exposure when a blind eye is turned.

Most boys, especially in single sex schools, go through an experimental stage, not of homosexuality per se because I don't think they think along those lines but certainly of a lack of fear of any negative consequences. Most grow out of it.

When a system does not define limits on a behaviour [and not through "thou shalt not" but through peer indifference to it or lack of further interest in it], the adolescent mind is affected.

It doesn't outgrow it. Now when there is some sort of "thou shalt not" less rigorously applied, I don't know the whole process but I've seen secondary boys come out of the phase and move on, especially if the macho modelling becomes pre-eminent.

But where the close association places no constraints and the mores are more acceptably homosensual [not necessarily sexual], a different path of development occurs and I've seen this too.

So you're right about evangelism but there is definitely something in continued "atmosphere and mores" from which the boy does not emerge.

Dave Petterson

Good post. Fits along withmy current beliefs. maybe why I think it is Good :)

Things are so bad now that everyones first thought is to ban something. It looks to me that far from driving these people away the current laws are making more of them. Turning innocent people into one by name if not by deed.

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