Friday, August 03, 2007

Blogging about pedophilia

No, not me. I refer instead to Jack McClellan, a blogger in LA who writes about his sexual attraction to children and where he goes to look and photograph them. The NY Times ran this fascinating-and-disturbing profile of McClellan last week.

An outrage, right? Surely we all agree: He must be stopped, at any cost! But wait -- there's a problem. You see, it's not a crime to lust after children. Nor is it a crime to write about your lust for children. Nor is it even a crime to photograph children in public you lust after (provided you don't do so in a stalking, obsessive fashion). Acting on your sexual attraction for kids is very much a crime, of course, but as far as anyone knows, McClellan has never done so.

Despite that being so, a court in Los Angeles just issued a restraining order that prohibits McClellan from basically getting anywhere near children again, or writing about children he'd like to have sex with. Over to you, Prof. Volokh (who first alerted me to this story):

You can't restrict people's movement, and their ability to take photographs in public places (even of children, something that is routinely done by the media and others and that is presumptively protected by the First Amendment), simply because of their ideology and expressed sexual desire, even when one understandably worries that at some point this ideology plus desire will turn into actual molestation. The premise of our legal system is that restraints on where you can go on in public (and broader freedom, including the freedom to photograph and to post photographs) can only be instituted after some showing of concrete evidence that someone has committed or is planning to commit a crime.

This is one of those interesting examples that makes think about the normative, behavior-shaping function that "law" serves in liberal society. Virtually everyone agrees that sex with minors is wrong, but punishing the desire to have sex with minors raises problems of a philosophic and pragmatic sort. Jack McClellan is treated as an outcast, a leper -- yet Britney Spears made hundreds of millions of dollars marketing to that same "disgusting" urge that McClellan blogs openly about. He is now being punished for his thoughtcrime in ways that are almost certainly unconstitutional. It will be interesting to see how his appeal plays out (ACLU?)


Anonymous Nic said...

That article was fascinating. Jane has a lot to say about government and society’s treatment of pedophiles can actually make them more dangerous. Pedophiles are so scared to seek help that they are forced ‘underground’ and their urges repressed that can one day lead to an awful incident (see catholic church for example of dangers of sexual repression). I think he does have the right to post about being a pedophile and I am willing to believe he has not and will not assault children. The part that troubles me about his website is he directs other pedophiles to events and places where children tended to gather, pedophiles who may not adhere to McClellan’s no touch policy.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t disagree with what you’ve written (Jon Benet is perhaps a better example than Brittany Spears though both clearly indicate some latent cultural pathology) but I think this kind of case goes beyond law and the response is understandable.

Anthropologists generally agree that there are three “universal” (meaning “almost without exception” except for special circumstances) taboos in human societies: cannibalism (non-ritual), incest, and pedophilia. These taboos are so strong and universal that they may well represent an evolutionary adaptation.

Anyone who openly rejects these taboos and is indifferent to society’s response is “Outlaw” in the broadest sense – not just legally but self-identifies as someone who rejects something fundamental identified as “what it means to be human.”

For example, suppose someone creates a website about cannibalism because they truly (not just playing with peoples’ heads) have an obsession and desire to be a cannibal but state that they would never kill anyone to “indulge” but go on to post “recipes and procedures” or whatever. The literal threat is almost beside the point; this person has self-defined him/herself as “non-human” by the standards of the tribe.

In addition, the view of such a mind is alien to most of us (fortunately) so it’s difficult to assess what the danger is; a defensive reaction is understandable.

Tricky stuff.

-- Big Daddy

11:21 AM  
Blogger John said...

The spotlight he puts upon himself makes him unlikely to actually commit a crime. There has GOT to be someone keeping an eye on this guy. And that might actually be the best thing for society.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Two quick points in response to Big Daddy's post:

1. While I agree that the taboos you describe are universal, realize that they are taboos for a reason: the behaviors punished are as widespread as the taboos. This does not excuse the behavior -- far from it -- but it does suggest that it exists universally. (To use a disgusting counterexample, there is no "taboo" against eating feces -- none is needed, and those who choose to engage in such activity do so in the weird privacy of their weird worlds.)

2. More fundamentally, I disagree that pedophilia, incest and cannuibalism are so heinous as to be "non human" and thus deserving of some unique treatment slash punishment by society for thoughtcrime. By way of counterfactual: consider the person who advocates Nazism and the extermination of Jews. Abhorrent? Less than human, surely? Yes and yes, yet we nonetheless allow this person to hold such views -- and even advocate them publicly! -- because we don't punish thoughtcrime in America. And I hope it stays that way.

6:06 PM  

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