A Pagan's Blog

A Pagan's Blog

The Pope’s excuses for pedophilia and what it means

F. A. Hayek, a famous but little understood economist sheds light on one of the scandals of our time.  There is a well
deserved outrage
 building over the current Pope’s blaming “the 1970s” for
rampant pedophilia and child molestation by Vatican employees.    Some of us remember that time, and the Pope’s statement is at
best an attempt to distort the truth and shift blame away from the guilty.  As we know beyond reasonable doubt
these actions were at least covered up , by Bishops including the current Bishop of Rome.  To this we add the weasel words of prominent lay Catholics who have taken it upon themselves to
speak for the Church.  To my mind
that these men are moral degenerates posing as spiritual teachers goes without
saying, but I want to focus on something I think is much more interesting.  


The Catholic
Church consists of many millions of people who are not moral degenerates.  They way outnumber those who are.  Many of these people, lay people,
priests, and nuns, engage in devoted service to others and seek to walk their
talk as best they can.  How then is
it that moral degenerates or those who cover for them make it to the top or near the top so often? For this pedophilia issue has gone on for decades and probably millennia.

Within a
spiritual context the answer to this question is important for several


First, religious organizations have a long history of encouraging and even
participating in widespread violence against peaceful people.  Off the top of my head Christians,
Muslims, and Hindus all come to mind, and I am sure that list is a partial

Second, the current crop of aggressive atheists use these acts to attack the
argument that a super-human and meaningful ethical context even exists.

Third, most religions seek to make the world a better place, and figuring out
how the worst get on top so often is a key to any such endeavor.


Finally, as a
political scientist I have always been interested in how often the same
phenomena occurs in government, and indeed in large and powerful organizations
where ever they can be found.

Organized Amorality

I think Nobel
Laureate F. A. Hayek hit on the answer but did not see its full
implications.  In the chapter “Why
the worst get on top” in his Road to Serfdom, (recommended but not even remotely understood by Glenn Beck), Hayek
discussed why such monsters as Hitler and Stalin could rise to the top of
powerful organizations.  He argued
it was a result of “collectivist” ideology and politics.  But in fact the implications of Hayek’s
argument went far beyond Nazism, Communism, and similar movements. It holds for
any organization with all-
embracing goals for humanity, and to a more limited extent for any organization
at all.


Modern society
was so complex that any strong sense of community between all people
presupposes “a greater similarity of outlook and thought than exists” between
people.  If the community -race,
class (or Church) – exists in some sense independently of its members then only
those people who work to advance its goals can be good members. 

People in all
their diversity can be united around a goal if it is sufficiently abstract,
such as the “all power to the working class,” the “German Volk,” (or the
“Kingdom of God”). This abstract goal “enables everyone to project their hopes
and dreams into what will happen once it has been achieved.”  We have seen this recently with Obama’s
campaign for president, where each of us who supported him projected our own
version of “Hope and Change” into him, while he was careful to keep it all


When we all
unite around vague, abstract and compelling goals, a powerful sense of unity and
self-sacrifice arises rooted in a superficial but  intensely felt
level of agreement.

When the group
is finally in a position to implement this dream this unity begins to fall apart
as concrete disagreements about specific ends, their proper priorities, and
specific means to achieve those ends all cause dissension to arise.  Different interpretations of doctrine, be it Marx or the Bible, emerge.  Different priorities arise.  The organization’s unity is threatened with schism. Addressing this problem unleashes a fatal logic.


Hayek argued
that every “collectivist” system “has two central features . . . the need for a
commonly accepted system of ends of the group and the all-overriding desire to
give to the group the maximum of power to achieve these ends. . . .”  While he did not mention it, his description applies to more than collectivism
communist or Nazi style.  He
described the basic orientation of any organization’s towards its members and
its goals.  Churches, corporations,
political parties, and unions all share these two attributes. Their strength varies with the importance of organizational goals.


Hayek added that
“To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral
restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.”  War demonstrates more profoundly than any other activity, but
the same attitude arises in sports, and any other group activity where we share
a strong sense of ourselves as a group against an outside world.  The result is that members tend to
treat those outside their group as real or potential allies, real or potential
opponents, or as irrelevant.  The
more important the goals to the members, the more powerful this tendency
becomes.  Political utopianism,
war, and religion are among the most powerful motivators for people.


This is why the
inner logic of any instrumental organization  denies the equality of those over whom it or its leaders have power.  These people necessarily serve as resources for attaining the organization’s goals. The only limitation
here is how important the goal is for the members.  Other points of view tend to be seen as challenges to the
dominant group, as sometimes they are. 
Alternative views within the group tend to be seen as disloyal  regardless of the motives behind them. 

The implications
are profound.  Most fundamentally,
to the degree the organization’s goals are important to its members, they
subordinate their individual conscience to those goals.  While individual morality can make absolute or near absolute
prohibitions on certain kinds of behavior, the goals
of organizations demanding and receiving intense loyalty override these limitations.  As Hayek put the point, “This makes collectivist morals so
different from what we have known as morals that we find it difficult to
discover any principle in them . . . .” The basic
principle of collectivist organizations is, as Lenin observed, that “the end
justifies the means.”


When I was
teaching college and these issues arose I would ask my students how many played team
sports.  Most raised their
hands.  I would then ask how many
saw team mates cheat at some point. 
Again most hands were raised. 
I finally asked how many reported on the cheating.  As I remember no hands ever went up.

Their behavior
was a mundane example of this process. 
The cheating was easily rationalized as acceptable (the other side does
it) and reporting on it would weaken the team and create divisions and resentments.  The cheating that was tolerated was kept in bounds primarily
by players’ commitment to the rules and to how important winning that particular
game was in their lives. We are ALL caught up in this dynamic when we are
members of a group with a goal.
What keeps
things under tolerable control is our willingness to subordinate our goals to
an over arching set of ethics and values. 
The more important the goal the stronger these limits have to be.


Distorting the Goal

Over time an
organization established to achieve a goal comes to identify the goal with the
well being of the organization itself. 
Not only is the over arching goal important, members have all kinds of
personal goals that get caught up and identified with the organization’s
well-being.  This is particularly
true for people who make serving the organization a career or calling. 

To the degree
the well-being of the organization becomes identified with the organization’s
goal, the next step in its degeneration sets in.  The organization becomes its own reason for existence, and
even (always ‘temporarily’) setting aside its initial goals can be rationalized as a
necessary if regrettable step.  The
classless society never comes, but the Party abides.  The Nazis did not have such a long time in power for this to
happen, but it would have. 


The current
Catholic hierarchy’s behavior is a perfect example of this process.  Many Catholic officials likely personally disapproved of pedophilia.  I certainly hope so. But they believed it would hurt the Church if
these activities were exposed to a unsympathetic larger world.  Because they saw the Church as doing
God’s work on a fallen earth, this was a serious threat.  Best then to handle the matter internally, and as quietly as
possible.  That its weakest members
were sacrificed to the Church’s well-being was a regrettable necessity.

It is at this
point that a common human virtue, loyalty, becomes a human vice.  Insofar as people strongly identify with a group’s
goals,  there can be no recognition
of other people’s intrinsic value when such recognition threatens the
organization. Collectivism then must
elevate power over ethics because ethics in human society primarily applies to
individuals.  Ethical individuals
automatically limit the group’s ability to act.  Since ethics is the limitation of power, this means that
collectivist groups cannot truly be ethical.


In Hayek’s view,
a collectivist political system would not attract men and women whom we would
regard as good.  Good people would
be repelled by it.  I think here he
is off the mark.  Once they believe
a noble goal is truly good, many people will subordinate themselves to it.  This in itself is not
collectivistic.  But when they see
a particular group as essential to the
attainment of that goal, and so come to equate the good of the group with the
goal that initially animated them, they are corrupted.  


The moral energy that enabled them to
devote their life to a noble goal is turned to devoting their life to the
service of the power of a group that identifies with the goal.  They may have started out good, but
they end up doing bad.  Here, I
believe, is the key to the question of why so many self-sacrificing communists
turned into brutal rulers. It is why so many good Catholics excuse inexcusable
conduct by their hierarchy.

Why the Worst Get on Top

Hayek also
contended that collectivist groups will attract those who seek power and
authority over others.  A group
oriented towards power will be most effectively led by those who are themselves
devoted to power. Further, such people will be willing to do more in order to
rise.  They will be less bound by any personal ethical limits.  Competent
sociopaths will normally have the competitive edge in the internal politics of big


Consequently, in a
collectivist system, be it communist, Nazi, fascist, theocratic, or something
else, the worst will tend disproportionately to come out on top.  This
outcome is not a law without exceptions. 
Russian Communism gave us Mikhail Gorbachev.  The Catholic Church gave us John XXIII. But these men are
the exception and their efforts at reform either failed (John XXIII) or led to
the demise of the corrupted organization. (Gorbachev).  The current Pope with his lies and distortions is more the norm.

Throughout human
history organizations established in the name of service to a higher
all-encompassing good have reinterpreted their charge to provide their leaders
and key members with power and privilege.  The process proceeds as follows: 


First people subordinate their personal morality  to the organization and its goals.

Second, the initial goals are redefined as what is good for the organization.

Third, the organization’s leaders become increasingly dominated by sociopaths.

Such a long and consistently blemished record suggests that the usual
explanations that “the wrong people” got into positions of power, or that
“mistakes were made, but will now be rectified,” or even that “human nature” is
at fault, are inadequate.

More than anything else, this is why I love the fact that NeoPagans groups are so decentralized.  It is also why I so deeply suspect big organizations of any kind.

Comments read comments(20)
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Robert Mathiesen

posted December 31, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Bravo, Gus! I think you and Hayek have nailed it, though possibly you have not gone far enough.
One of the saddest things I ever had to witness in all my 40 years of being a professor took place on a very small scale, without any interference by the administration. An undergraduate woman (call her X) was part of a group of friends that had coalesced around an undergraduate man (call him Y). One evening, while drunk, Y raped X. The next morning Y realized what he had done, acknowledged his guilt to X, and left his fate in her hands. She was somewhat inclined to be magnanimous, and decided not to report the offense to the university administration; but she did talk about it with others in her group of friends, and eventually sought counseling.
The group immediately closed ranks around Y and shut X out entirely from all its activities. Though Y was still willing to acknowledge his offense and take his punishment, the group pressured him not to, and he was not strong enough to resist. X *was* strong enough to deal with almost anything: the rape itself, the counseling she got (which seemed to her to be more concerned with making the university look good than with helping her), stupid comments from her fellow students, etc.
What X could not deal with was ostracism by her group of close friends, who acknowledged that she had been raped and continued to call themselves her friends, but were unwilling to let the unity of the group and the group’s self-esteem be weakened by her. This was not “blaming the victim,” but something far more primal: “sacrificing a peripheral member of the group to keep the group’s center in place.” That nasty little aspect of human behavior was more than she could handle.
X left my university. She returned only when the last member of her old group had graduated, and she finished her degree then.
So that’s why I don’t think Hayek’s analysis is quite deep enough, though fundamentally sound.

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posted December 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Gus, this is fascinating, but does not go far enough. The first collectivity is the family. Almost all of us would do things for our family or various members of it that we would never do in our own self-interest. This is a pretty good argument for a celibate clergy (or a celibacy requirement for ANY kind of leadership position, I guess.)

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posted December 31, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Your analysis makes sense to me, Gus.

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posted December 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm

When reading this, I’m reminded of some of John Gall’s Laws of Systemantics. John was writing a bit of a spoof, along the lines of Parkinson’s Law or The Peter Principle, but some of it is what we Canadians call “kidding on the square.” For example:
19.Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
20.Intrasystem goals come first.
10.Systems attract systems-people. (For every human system, there is a type of person adapted to thrive on it or in it.)
Fits pretty well with every organization with which I’m familiar.

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posted December 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm

This is a main reason why I like decentralization and also refuse to recognize pagan leaders as a separate caste of “clergy.” There are plenty of high priest(ess) types who fancy themselves pastors, or worse, bishops, and I won’t have any of it. Even if I ever seek an ordination, it will be purely for purposes of being able to legally conduct marriages etc. To any beginners out there: If any prospective coven leader acts like they are your only real conduit to God and Goddess, run, don’t walk away from that group.

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posted December 31, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Kenneth: Hear, hear.
Gus: I largely agree with you.
Have you ever read Bertrand Russell’s essay “On Catholic and Protestant Atheists”? He argues that ex-Catholics retain a need to join powerful organisations, and sees a lot of Fascism and Communism in those terms. Admittedly, he was writing in the 1940s, when the historically-Catholic countries looked to be much worse places than historically-Protestant countries, which isn’t really the case today.
I think there’s another issue as well, which is that people often assume that those who are “ideologically good”, i.e. on the same side of an ideological divide as oneself, are also personally good. It’s easy to ridicule the church-lady saying “I don’t believe he really did those things; he’s a priest and a conservative; it must be some liberal lle”. However, the opposite side does the same sort of thing – look at all the excuses that have been made for Polanski, for example. Also, there was a case in England a year or so ago, of a gay couple who fostered dozens of boys, and systematically raped them, but they had become poster-boys for gay fostering, and social workers who raised concerns were silenced or dismissed. One has to be aware that people with whom one agrees about important issues are capable of horrible actions.

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Troy Camplin

posted January 1, 2011 at 1:28 am

Sounds right to me. Hayek’s analysis should be further extended this way, as it does make sense. Consider the story in Freakonomics about the bagel seller who observed that cheating increases as one moved up the managerial hierarchy. The people at the top of most organizations — but most especially those in which power is primary, such as political parties — are contemptable for the very reasons Hayek gives (notwithstanding my agreement with you on your observation about the corrupting element of groups themselves). It’s important that we keep our eyes open to such things, even with those groups we ourselves associate with.

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posted January 1, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Wow those comments by the Catholic church were disgusting. The religion I was raised with never ceases to amaze me. I just can’t believe they’d call the rape of little boys “homosexuality” when they were going after children. Those Roman anarchists have been going after the wrong targets.

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Deborah Bender

posted January 2, 2011 at 2:10 am

I agree with most of your analysis of organizations, but I don’t entirely agree with your characterization of some of the statements that prompted your outrage. Since this is the Internet and most of you don’t know me, I’ll preface my comments by saying that sexual harassment by someone with greater power or authority against someone weaker is always wrong, and covering it up is also wrong, regardless of the age, sex, or occupation of the people involved.
The Pope’s statement about sexual morality in the 1970s is not utterly without factual basis. I read a lot of the gay press in the late 70s through the 80s. There was some serious discussion of the possibility of consensual sexual relations between minors and adult men. I remember reading letters by a couple of gay men who said that they recognized their own sexual orientation while they were boys, sought out men they knew for sex, and didn’t regret it. Their reasons for choosing adult partners may have been that in that period, the boys had no way of knowing whether any of the other boys they knew were also gay, and didn’t want to risk exposure or beatings trying to find out.
Many of us are angry that so often when a child or adolescent says that he or she was coerced into sex by an adult, other adults accuse the minor of lying or of having led the adult on. It seems to me that if a young person whose sexual drive has awakened has sexual relations with an older person, and says that he or she wanted the sex and enjoyed it, telling the minor that that didn’t happen and that there is something wrong with them for saying or believing that they consented is equally disrespectful of the personhood of the minor.
The vast majority of the cases of priest-minor sex appear not to have been consensual and I am not suggesting that they were. I’m only saying that the sole fact of a large age difference does not automatically constitute rape or molestation (in fact; it often does in law), if the younger partner is physically mature enough to experience desire. And that is the point the guy on the news talk show may have been trying to make.
Finally, in Western civilization, the age of consent for marriage has varied a great deal over time, and in most places and times was the early teens. There have been places and periods where the cultural norm was for a man in his thirties to marry a girl barely on the edge of puberty. Ancient Greece was one of those times and places. If we are not going to be hypocrites, I think we should pay more attention to the issue of relative equality and autonomy of the sexual partners, and less about their respective ages.

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posted January 2, 2011 at 5:27 am

Deborah: It’s brave of you to make these comments, which are extremely unfashionable and/or dangerous.
In principle, I cannot see how one could possibly defend an adult having sex with someone below puberty. Having said that, lots of cultures have disagreed with me on this. In Shariah, for example, the female age of consent is nine.
With respect to post-pubescents, I do really agree that, morally, the issue is to do with autonomy, dignity, etc. However, those sorts of things are very difficult to legislate about, and I think, on balance, it’s better to have a defined age of consent, and that 16 (the age in England) is probably about right – I could see it being 14 or 18, say, but not much further either way.
Having said that, I think that most heterosexual men, if honest, find early-teenage girls sexually attractive, at least in a purely physical sense, and I guess the same applies to gay men and early-teenage boys. There are all sorts of moral, social and legal reasons why an adult should not have sex with a 13-year-old, but that does not make the desire perverted. I think it would be a good idea for people to acknowledge this, and be less willing to throw around the word “paedophilia”.
Even in the case of genuine and obligate paedophiles, I think it would be more helpful to help them to live lives of celibacy, finding fulfilment in ways other than sex, rather than the current approach. After all, many of us have to live lives of sexual sub-satisfaction, eg. I’m an average-looking, middle-income, middle-aged man, so if it were crucial for me to have sex with gorgeous 22-year-olds (probably most men’s ideal), I would have to resort to either rape or prostitutes. I can actually see some common ground with the Catholic view of sexuality here.

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posted January 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

“The 1970s” made them/us/me do it? What a shoddy rationalization and lame excuse. And how insulting to any and all mistreated by the Catholic hierarchy before that decade!
I think that we who value Neo-Paganism and decentralized movements must be exceptionally careful that we do not assume that the dynamic you describe will not come to bear somehow.
New communications technologies and innovative ways that we put such technologies to use enable decentralized aggregates and ad hoc flash mobs to accomplish virtual lynchings and e-violence in ways we have not yet understood all that well. Over very short periods of time. We find ourselves mobilized by new and different sorts of organization that are different from what we are accustomed to.
Strong and well-exercised moral values and ethical intuitions–which Neo-Pagan practice may invigorate and sustain–strike me as crucial here.
While Deborah Bender’s observations deserve consideration, I think that we must tether discussions of institutional attitudes and actions about pedophilia to the laws in force. Those laws generally presume that minors cannot consent.

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Gus diZerega

posted January 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Two points. First, even if man/boy or man/girl relations were legal, they are not allowed in Catholic clergy, who are pledged to celibacy. (Not to mention the Church’s public position about homosexuality, stupid as it is.) So my point about why the Church is a corrupt organization remains. The issue is why institutionalized hypocrisy and cover-ups happen and why leaders rend to be worse than members.
Second, in defense of my term “moral degenerates,” I was NOT referring to sexuality. Human sexuality is enormously complex, and I, for one, would NOT term a genuinely caring relationship between an adult and a young person “morally degenerate.” People are complex and I’ve long since learned one size (or age) in anything does not fit all. Someone who can only have a loving relations with a much younger person, a person who is not an adult, to my mind has problems. Also, to my mind genuine intimate love in a relationship requires a relation of peers. But that is me. I suspect there are relations that are long lasting, genuinely caring, and leave the younger person glad they happened even after they have ended, and I will not condemn them. There is precious little love in this world and people are fortunate to get it when they do.
However, these ecclesiastical predators did not simply fall in love with one boy or girl, they manipulated and molested many, sometimes hundreds. In such a case there can be NO sane and ethical defense of their actions, at least to my mind. This is moral degeneracy, not because of the ages involved so much as because of the power differentials and their abuse to manipulate or coerce others. The issue of what is an appropriate age for partners in sexual relations is not at issue here.
Someone might reply that self-centeredness and even manipulation is common in sexuality. True enough, but when it is among peers the playing field is level, so to speak. Two ten year olds or two forty year olds can be responsible for their relationships with one another as relative equals in a way that a forty year old and a ten year old can not.
These churchmen had the opportunity to sexually abuse children because they held positions of trust in communities where this behavior, Ratzinger’s lies to the contrary, was UNAMBIGUOUSLY detested. They acted as they did after presenting themselves as spiritual advisors and teachers to the young. They dissembled to their parents. This is to me about as clear an instance of moral degeneracy as I can imagine.
That Church leaders cared more for these people than the children and young people they took advantage of – and I have met some who certainly did not see themselves as benefitting from their experiences – tells me that the hierarchy was also often morally degenerate.
(Interestingly, the captcha is “subject scused” )

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Robert Mathiesen

posted January 2, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Having labored in the fields of academe for four decades and more, talking with students about all their concerns, I have come to appreciate just how very diverse human sexual tastes and needs are: one size definitely does not fit all.
One gay man in his late forties, the partner of a gay student of mine in his very early twenties, told me his own story, which was very much like the stories Deborah cited. He knew that he was gay before his own puberty was well underway, and he had — as he viewed it — the great good fortune to attract the interest of a much older, experienced gay man who slowly and gently helped him understand his own desires and how to satisfy them in a respectful and caring fashion. Nothing about their relationship, he said, harmed him or exploited him, and he always felt, even after decades of reflection on this first relationship of his, like his own maturity or lack of maturity had always been respected. Granted, this may have been an exceptional case — I do not know enough about gay life to say one way or the other –, but even exceptional cases deserve to be acknowledged while one thinks about the issues.
As for power imbalance, I cannot even remember how many times students at my university have told me that they enjoy sex most of all when they no longer have any ability to give or withhold consent to the advances of a partner whom they desire — whether due to their own drunkenness, to their partner’s superior strength, to physical restraints, or to something else. (Note, please, that this applies only to a sexual partner with whom they want to have sex. Otherwise they would regard the experience as rape.) It seems likely that this peculiarity is somewhat tangled up with feelings of guilt about sexual activity; but in most cases guilt is clearly not the main motive. Power imbalance seems to feel sexy in and of itself to a great many people — and the greater the imbalance, the more sexy it feels.
On another note: from my own family history I should mention that one of my great-great-great-grandmothers, in frontier Illinois, was married at age 13 to a man in his mid 30s. She had her first child a year later, and she had not quite finished playing with her dolls at the time. As she put it in her memoirs, this was not a problem, since they had servants to tend to her children’s needs when she did not want to. She was a strong-willed girl, the daughter of the sheriff of the county, and this marriage was very much her idea, for her intended husband — the only banker and lawyer in the town — was by far the best “catch” of all the available males, and there was some hidden mystery about him and why he had fled New York for Illinois. Also, if she hadn’t set her cap for him, any one of her girl friends might have beat her to him. As it turned out, he had a long and happy married life with this husband, and eight children, four of which lived long enough to have children of their own.
This happened in the early 1800s, well before Victorian prudery about sex had developed. I dare say — though it is not spelled out in her memoirs — that like any frontier girl of 13, great-great-great-grandmother had often seen farm animals mating, so that she already had a moderately good idea of the mechanics of copulation and giving birth, and she did not find it repellent to contemplate her own participation in such activities with her much older husband-to-be. Had she been repelled, no doubt she would not have married him — she was quite the strong-willed girl. Also, her father was very well off, and she could have waited to marry someone else, or not married at all. But she was eager to get started on her own life, and probably also to “score” over her girlfriends.
In all this, I am not seeking to defend either rape or pedophilia as such, or to challenge the laws we have now enacted against them. All I want to point out is that human life, and also human sexual life, is extremely complicated. It varies enormously from one person to the next, and also from one time and place to another. This being the case, no conceivable set of laws can be enacted to deal in full justice with every actual case of sexual expression for all times and places.
Of course, we must have laws. But we probably should remember that the best laws are always a political compromise between conflicting views on morals or ethics.

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Robert Mathiesen

posted January 2, 2011 at 4:44 pm

PS In what I just posted, I am not trying to defend the ecclesiastical predators or the Catholic Church, either. My views on them are the same as Gus’s. Rather, I am responding to Deborah and Rombald, and further discussing the issues they raised.

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Fire Girl

posted January 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Hey Gus, that’s a really interesting piece of research by Hayek. That idea in combination with the research of people like Milgram into people’s tendency to obey an authority figure even if that violated their own sense of morality, and studies focusing on alterations of people’s behaviour in response to various aspects of group dynamics (the stanford prison experiment, the tendency to ‘groupthink’) and the tendency of people to diffuse responsibility (e.g. Kitty Genovese scenario) do a lot to help explain how large organisations, even ones with apparently altruistic goals, can be used to perpetrate evil on a wide scale.
I’m intrigued by the idea of how to combat such evils though, as I’m not sure that shrinking the group size or decentralizing necessarily reduces that possibility, I think it may just alter the way such evils could manifest themselves. (as I think Robert Mathieson’s example demonstrated, and Pitch313’s comments about new technologies hint).

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Gus diZerega

posted January 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

i’m back to this thread because it is a particularly interesting one. When I wrote the post I was focused on organizational dynamics – something fascinating to me as a political scientist – and how they play out in a religious hierarchy. The thread did not stay there long, and entered into more edgy areas.
I think there are two dimensions to the issue of sex between adults and people much younger. First, the purely human one of two people entering into sexual intimacy. Second, the presence of sexual energy in situations where there are institutionalized power differentials.
It was cases like Robert Mathiesen’s discussions that convinced me no simple rule based on age can cover the complexities of human sexuality. And he is right about power as well- sometimes disparity of power is a turn on – in both directions. We know that people are manipulated all the time into sexual experiences, and that this is not necessarily harmful to anyone. On the other end, the line between coercion and manipulation can become so thin as to be invisible. In addition, age differentials can be used to take advantage of the young.
Certainly in our own Pagan community one of the ways disreputable people take advantage of beginners is sexually. Long ago I was a member of a coven that fell apart because the HPS’s boyfriend acted seriously inappropriately – and she was an excellent HPS. But we could not abide his bad behavior.
Consent is the absolute bottom line, but when one person is seriously weaker or younger than the initiator the issue of consent gets tricky. Manipulation can goes both ways. Monica Lewinsky apparently boasted to others that she wanted to get her “presidential knee pads.” Had she been uninterested perhaps the entire issue would not have arisen. Perhaps. And perhaps not.
Henry Kissinger, who is a terrible human being, once said that “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Women who came on to him may well have really been attracted to power, and women who might have reluctantly given in to him were surrendering to the threat implied in unequal power.
I have no firm answers to dealing with these issues, but I have two rules of thumb. The first is that the difference in age between the two partners is more important than their absolute age when one partner is quite young. Second, the older the youngest partner the less differences in their age matter. Sex between a boy of 16 and a girl of 14 is considered statutory rape in many places, which is insanely stupid. It is less insanely so if the man is 40. But as Robert and Deborah explain, even here the rule may have important exceptions. And sex between a 20 year old and a 70 year old is their business – maybe literally. 😉
Yet a rule probably needs to exist for the same reason ten year olds do not sign binding contracts. The sad fact is that whether there is a rule, no matter where it is set, there will be tragedies. At the same time, if there is no rule there will also be tragedies. However, and I think this is very important, the less uptight people get about sex, the fewer tragedies there will be.
Even so, because sex is usually not mutually impersonal (thank the Gods from my point of view) it will always be fraught with emotional risk. Even if feelings were hurt when it ended, looking back after emotions have healed may paint a far more benign picture. And sometimes not.
I think it IS legitimate to require people in relations of power over others to refrain from having sexual relations with those over whom they have power. But even here there will be exceptions where people are willing to risk a great deal for love. Abelard and Heloise is a story that will never grow dull.
But the complexities here are easier to handle. A serious affair will likely not lead to a student complaining, whereas frequent exploitation of students from a position of power may well backfire if the institution is managed by decent people. Years ago at a university I once taught at, a woman student complained about sexual demands from a professor I knew. He denied it. His word against hers. Shortly thereafter a number of women made the same complaint. His word against many. Even though he had a tenured endowed chair, he was on the job market soon thereafter.
I had a long relationship – and am still good friends – with a former student, but we waited until after she was no longer my student to begin going out. That is not that difficult to do, and makes things much simpler both between student and professor, and also between the student and other students.
No wonder relationships are the stuff of novels and even a great deal of history. Aristotle has a entire section of his Politics devoted to how leaders came to grief over sexual issues. Love of course is the best cure for these ails, but we as a species are not so good at loving. Sometimes I think of human life as a school for learning to love, and most get ‘Cs’.

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posted January 15, 2011 at 2:04 am

As a practicing Catholic I am disgusted with the way the Church has handled this abomination,especially the current Pope.He keeps making excuses instead of admitting to making horrendous mistakes dealing with not only the clergy that were guilty but also the demonization of the accusers.I don’t understand it to be honest with you.I realize that human beings make terrible mistakes and the guilty parties are human.But…..I’m at a loss.

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posted January 18, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for this analysis and sharing Hayek’s theoretical contribution.
I just wanted to share my thought that this dynamic is the underpinning for the plot of the “Great American Novel,” Moby Dick, with respect to Ahab’s personal vendetta and his hijacking the Pequod’s commercial voyage to it, the oath he persuaded the crew to swear, the crew’s perception of their oath as binding, and Starbuck’s personal, professional and moral failure as First Mate.
All very American, very collective and very corporate.

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