Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

‘After The Ball’, Before The Next Campaign

Guarding against an emotivist propaganda campaign for sexualized children

Some commenters got their dander up about my posting what is almost certainly a fake “Pedophile Manifesto” — a cultural and political strategy to normalize adult sexual desire for children. It is true that I read it too quickly to pick up what in retrospect are obvious “tells,” and for that I’m sorry. Though I did say in the original piece that I had doubts that it was real, I should have been even stronger in saying so, and would have done had I read it more closely.

I still would probably have posted a link to these Protocols of the Learned Elders of NAMBLA, though, because the document is worth reading to understand how the taboo we have erected against the sexualization of children can be worn away through strategies that work within the norms of our post-Christian, post-Sexual Revolution, therapeutic culture.

And by the way, I get why some readers were offended that the document implied the pedophilia smear against gays. I said in yesterday’s post, and I repeat here, that it is untrue, and WRONG to slander gays that way, because it’s not true. Nevertheless, just because some people who hate gays use that tactic to stigmatize them — a tactic that might have been somewhat effective in 2008, but which, happily, is impotent now — does not mean that we cannot learn from this document. Decent people — gay and straight alike — who want to keep the taboo firmly in place are going to have to come up with arguments and strategies to counter libertines who will attempt to normalize sexual desire among children and adolescents. Because the day is coming. As Mary Eberstadt wrote a few years back, our culture regained some of its sanity on the question in the wake (in part) of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and for that we should be grateful. Still, a culture as given over to unrestrained eros as our own will never be free of what is, alas, part of the disordered nature of a certain number of humans in all times and in all places.

Look, for example, at what is now on the website at Reason, the libertarian magazine. Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes about an effort in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, to get it banned. Check out this excerpt:

Both the Nye petitioners and those in Lyon County are working with lawyer Jason Guinasso and activist Kimberly Mull of the “No Little Girl” campaign, funded through something called the End Trafficking and Prostitution Political Action Committee. Guinasso, a resident of Reno, has been practicing law in Nevada since 2003 and made a failed bid for the state assembly in 2016. He has said that similar anti-brothel campaigns could be coming in Nevada’s Lander and Storey counties.

No Little Girl asserts that all paid sex constitutes violence against women. The women working at Nevada’s brothels tend to disagree.

On the No Little Girl website, “they grossly proclaim that ‘no little girl grows up wanting to be a prostitute,'” Christina Parreira, a sex worker and Ph.D student, tells me in an email. “Of course the voices of actual sex workers are nowhere to be found.”

To be clear, I’m not saying that Brown endorses this view (though she might; just because a writer quotes someone does not imply endorsement). Still, how is it that a little girl might aspire to be a prostitute, if that desire is not inculcated in her by her culture? Strictly speaking, Parreira is not saying that children should desire to be child prostitutes, but rather that it is a respectable profession that a child should aspire to. Do we really want a culture in which children are encouraged to foresee a future for themselves in which they sell their bodies for sex?

If we do have that kind of culture, how exactly is it that we tell children it’s okay to dream of being a whore, but don’t actually do it until you’re 18? Do we tell boys who aspire to be professional athletes not to pick up the ball until they’re adults? You have to groom them. Christina Parreira unavoidably believes that grooming little girls to prepare themselves for lives as adult prostitutes is acceptable, because there’s nothing wrong with “sex work.”

If we come to agree, as a culture, that there is nothing wrong with “sex work,” then on what grounds do we tell our children that they should not aspire to do it? Most parents don’t have to think about this. Their instincts tell them that this is morally insane. But we can be taught to ignore our instincts by cultural conditioning. This is what moral education is — and it is possible to be immorally educated, for sure.

It is commonly reported today that young men who have been saturated in pornography since their adolescence have trouble relating to normal women, given that they have been formed by the standards of porn stars. You don’t think that all that polymorphous perversity available via the Internet to kids and teenagers is going to erode taboos? That the taboo against eroticizing children is unquestionably going to hold in the face of this flood of perversion?

Note well that the Manifesto is based on the anonymous author’s reading of After the Ball, a 1989 book (favorably reviewed by the Los Angeles Times and by the mainstream gay magazine Christopher Street) by two gay rights advocates — including a Harvard communications professor — who proposed what they forthrightly admitted was a “propaganda” campaign to overcome Americans’ prejudices against gays and lesbians. Here’s a link to a capsule review from Publishers Weekly

In 2004, Al Mohler, the conservative Southern Baptist theologian and cultural commentator, said the book’s authors had been brilliant and effective:

Give them credit: they really did understand the operation of the public mind. Kirk and Madsen called for homosexuals to talk incessantly about homosexuality in public. “Open, frank talk makes gayness seem less furtive, alien, and sinful; more above board,” they asserted. “Constant talk builds the impression that public opinion is at least divided on the subject, and that a sizeable bloc–the most modern, up-to-date citizens–accept or even practice homosexuality.”

Nevertheless, not all talk about homosexuality is helpful. “And when we say talk about homosexuality, we mean just that. In the early stages of the campaign, the public should not be shocked and repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself. Instead, the imagery of sex per se should be downplayed, and the issue of gay rights reduced, as far as possible, to an abstract social question.”

Portraying homosexuals as victims was essential to their strategy. Offering several principles for tactical advance in their cause, the authors called upon homosexuals to “portray gays as victims of circumstance and depression, not as aggressive challengers.” This would be necessary, they argued, because “gays must be portrayed as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to adopt the role of protector.”

Such a strategy could, they asserted, lead to something like a “conversion” of the public mind on the question of homosexuality. “The purpose of victim imagery is to make straights feel very uncomfortable; that is, to jam with shame the self-righteous pride that would ordinarily accompany and reward their antigay belligerence, and to lay groundwork for the process of conversion by helping straights identify with gays and sympathize with their underdog status.”

Obviously, this would mean marginalizing some members of the homosexual community. Kirk and Madsen were bold to advise a mainstreaming of the homosexual image. “In practical terms, this means that cocky mustachioed leather-men, drag queens, and bull dykes would not appear in gay commercials and other public presentations. Conventional young people, middle-age women, and older folks of all races would be featured, not to mention the parents and straight friends of gays.” Furthermore, “It cannot go without saying, incidentally, that groups on the farthest margins of acceptability, such as NAMBLA [North American Man-Boy Love Association], must play no part at all in such a campaign. Suspected child molesters will never look like victims.”

What about the origin of sexual orientation? The success of the homosexual movement can be largely traced to the very idea of “orientation” itself. More precisely, homosexuals advanced their cause by arguing that they were born that way. Madsen and Kirk offer this as candid public relations advice. “We argue that, for all practical purposes, gays should be considered to have been born gay–even though sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be the product of a complex interaction between innate predispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.” Alas, “To suggest in public that homosexuality might be chosen is to open the can of worms labeled ‘moral choices and sin’ and give the religious intransigents a stick to beat us with. Straights must be taught that it is as natural for some persons to be homosexual as it is for others to be heterosexual: wickedness and seduction have nothing to do with it.”

Note well that Mohler is quoting the actual book. Mohler continues:

The real tragedy of After the Ball is that the great result of this is not a party, but the complete rejection of the very moral foundations which made this society possible. In order to address the most fundamental problems, we must understand the shape of the American mind. Looking back at After the Ball after fifteen years, it all comes into frightening focus.

That was written in 2004. Mohler conceded then what would not be obvious to many Christians for at least a decade: that the culture war had been decisively lost by social and religious conservatives. I have not read After The Ball — I would like to, but it’s out of print, and expensive — but based on the quotes from the book, and on personal observation as one who was involved on the losing side of this battle in the public square, it seems like an absolutely brilliant strategy manual, right up there with Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals. 

So, what useful lessons can we learn from what we might call the Protocols of the Learned Elders of NAMBLA?

In an emotivist culture, appeal to the heart, not to the head. We should by no means dismiss the role that passionate, well-reasoned arguments for same-sex marriage by people like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch played in changing the culture. But the truth — and it’s a truth that intellectuals hate to admit — is that in an emotivist culture like ours, one driven by mass media, reason plays a greatly subordinate role to appeals to emotion. Pathos > logos. The real battlefield is emotional. This is true for every issue. 

It’s like this. I am about to start writing a book about religious faith in a post-religious, materialist culture. The book begins with the premise voiced by Pope Benedict XVI: that the most effective arguments for the Christian faith are not formal arguments at all, but the evidence of the culture Christians produce and the kind of people Christianity forms. Being in the presence of something like the Chartres cathedral, or someone like Mother Teresa (to use to extreme examples), does not convince one that the faith is true, but for many people, it opens their minds to the possibility. This happened to me. In fact, I don’t think I know any Christian converts who embraced the faith solely because they were presented with syllogisms. Most people who read their way into the faith did so by first encountering the presence of God in another Christian person, or in a cultural manifestation of Christian faith.

(Or perhaps, like the poet W.H. Auden, they were so shocked by an extraordinary manifestation of evil that they ran to, or back to, Christianity; a friend of mine who was deeply involved for years with the occult told me recently that based on painful personal experience, the only power greater than the evil with which he trafficked in Jesus Christ’s. But I digress.)

The anonymous writer of the Manifesto says:

We will not hide the fact that this is a feels-based advertising campaign. You cannot use logic to reason someone out of an emotional belief, only more emotion. Prejudice is not rational- it’s a “gut feeling”. Poignant pleas for understanding will fall on deaf ears. Some of the most hateful among us will never change and must instead be isolated from polite society. Arguments from emotion cannot be falsified in the same way rational arguments can, and although we have both emotional arguments are more effective.

In another context: what chance did rational analysis and critique of the first Reagan administration stand against “It’s Morning In America”?:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU-IBF8nwSY]

The fake Pedophile Manifesto appears to follow the propaganda strategies of gay rights advocates, especially in After The Ball, but apply them to another sexual minority, one that is truly (and rightly) loathed. Again, in 2018, I think it’s ridiculous to interpret it as “gays and lesbians are just like pedophiles!”, though for all I know, the person who wrote it intended it that way. Very few people today believe that gays and lesbians are akin to pedophiles — and I suppose I can’t say it enough, that is a good thing.

However, how can we be so sure that the strategy that worked so fell for gays and lesbians (and that is working for transgenders, though I don’t believe transgenders are in the same category as gays and lesbians) can’t and won’t be put to the service of truly horrible people? You may say: “Because pedophiles are different!” OK, but that’s not really an argument.

“Children aren’t capable of consent” is not much stronger of an argument, given that the age of consent to sexual relations varies from culture to culture, and from era to era. In the US, the age of consent varies from 16 to 18 by state. And look at this:

In some areas, most prominently in less developed countries, the age of consent can be a very gray area, and violations may not taken seriously. Some locations do not site a specific age of consent, leaving it more open to interpretation than the countries with more concrete laws.

The highest Age of Consent in the world is 21 in Bahrain. The second-highest age of consent is 20 in South Korea, while the majority of other countries have an Age of Consent between 16 and 18.

The lowest Age of Consent in the world is 11, in Nigeria. The age of consent is 12 in the Philippines and Angola, and 13 in Burkina FasoComorosNiger, and Japan. Japan often stands out as the only developed country on the list of lowest ages of consent, but local prefecture statutes in most areas of the country raise the effective age to 16-18.

Additionally, several Middle Eastern and African countries have no legal age of consent, but ban all sexual relations outside of marriage. This has raised concerns by many international organizations, especially in some countries where girls are married at as young as 9 or 10 years old. Countries with marriage-based ages of consent include Afghanistan, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the UAE.

France doesn’t have a formal age of consent, though it is more or less 15 (read more about that controversy here).

The point is, it is by no means universally acknowledged that the age of consent is a fixed thing. Instead, it is culturally variable. If a culture comes to believe that children are capable of consenting to sex, then it will change the laws to reflect that belief. What we should be aware of is the process of manufacturing consent to “consent.”

This may be hard for people who don’t remember what things were like in the culture about which the authors of After The Ball were writing. An older Baby Boomer friend of mine, very much a liberal on sexual matters, told me after Obergefell that in her lifetime, nothing she had seen was more revolutionary than how quickly American culture flipped on the question of homosexuality. Though straight, she was very glad of it, but was acknowledging how radical, and how swift, the change had been.

According to Gallup, in 1990, around 40 percent of Americans didn’t even think gay sex should be legal. Not gay marriage, but gay sex. Think about that. Today it’s 23 percent, a number that I find high, but it’s Gallup, so I believe it. Gallup didn’t even start polling on gay marriage until around 1997, because it was so outside the mainstream. That year, only 27 percent of Americans favored gay marriage. Today, with gay marriage a fact, it’s 64 percent — a number that will continue to climb as older people die off.

That revolution happened for a number of reasons. Most generally, American society grew more liberal about sex and sexuality. And, people came to believe that sexual desire was more constitutive of one’s personal identity (that is, it wasn’t something one felt as much as it was something one was). All these things happened without the involvement of gays and lesbians.

What the After The Ball writers prescribed accurately depicts what happened in the media. For years, there were endless sympathetic stories about gays and lesbians. In 2004, Daniel Okrent, the same year Al Mohler paid grudging tribute to the After The Ball writers, outgoing New York Times ombudsman, wrote a column talking about how very, very liberal the newspaper is. Excerpt:

The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example. Set aside the editorial page, the columnists or the lengthy article in the magazine (”Toward a More Perfect Union,” by David J. Garrow, May 9) that compared the lawyers who won the Massachusetts same-sex marriage lawsuit to Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King. That’s all fine, especially for those of us who believe that homosexual couples should have precisely the same civil rights as heterosexuals.

But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that ”For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy” (March 19); that the family of ”Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home” (Jan. 12) is a new archetype; and that ”Gay Couples Seek Unions in God’s Eyes” (Jan. 30). I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn’t appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (”Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,” by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.

On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning.

The Times was not a meaningful outlier. The same kind of thinking was ubiquitous in journalism. In this same time period, at The Dallas Morning News, where I worked, I talked with a colleague there once about how unbalanced our newspaper’s coverage of the gay marriage issue was. My colleague said, “Do you think we should have given equal coverage to the Klan during the civil rights movement?” He was serious. This was a common feeling throughout American journalism in the era. Journalists really did believe that they were involved in a moral crusade — and those on the other side of the crusade (e.g., religious conservatives) were not just wrong, but evil. And evil people didn’t deserve fairness.

Now the same strategy has been deployed for transgenders. In fact, the fake Manifesto came to me from a British feminist appalled at the attacks — some of them physical — that transgender militants are making against feminists, especially the despised TERFs (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists), who are demonized because they refuse to agree that men who call themselves women really are female. The strategy depends on these points:

  1. Affirmation of sexual autonomy.
  2. Construing sexual minorities as victims in need of sympathy and protection.
  3. Constant discussion of the issue in the media, to make it seem that there are valid positions on both sides.
  4. Affirming that liberalization on this issue is progressive and inevitable.
  5. Demonizing opponents by any means necessary.

Why, then, should we expect that the line will hold against the small minority of adults who desire sex with children? Just because it always has? Really, that’s all you have?

A reader of this blog who is a county prosecutor once told me that he was working a case in which an eight-year-old girl in the custody of her grandmother had been watching hard-core porn for two years on the smartphone her granny gave her — and the granny had been clueless. It came out when the child was involved in a sexual crime. A year or so ago, I was speaking at a prestigious, costly Christian school, and was told that some parents in that community were giving their first and second graders smart phones connected to the Internet, and hoping for the best. If this is what some of the most educated, best informed, and religious engaged parents are doing, what kind of experiment in desensitization are we running on the children of America, via online porn?

Smartphones came out in 2007. We are reaching very quickly the point at which no child in America will have been raised outside of smartphone culture, unless their parents deliberately kept the phone away from them. Are you really willing to bet that in 2037, the cultural consensus against the sexualization of children will be strong?

In 2011, writing in Psychology Today, Fred Kaeser, former healthy director of the New York City Department of Education said:

We are creating a generation of super-sexualized children. A significant number of children are actually demonstrating sexual interest and/or sexual behavior at earlier ages than ever before in our society. Kids are being exposed to sexual matters that were previously only in the purview of adults and the greater the exposure the greater the consequences can be. When parents fail to counter and buffer the plethora of sexual stimuli that confront children, they are left to their own devices to manage what they experience. Unfortunately, many will be confused and have difficulty making sense of and putting into proper perspective what they are exposed to. Some will actually try to act out or mimic what they have been exposed to. Others, who may be developing a bullying persona, will begin to incorporate sexual behavior into their bullying behavior and engage in hurtful or intrusive sexual behavior towards other children. Frankly, I am alarmed over the number of five, six, seven, and eight year old children that molest other children (I have NEVER received so many phone calls from school staff about this problem as I have the past ten to fifteen years).

The biggest impact however that the super-sexualization of children can have is its overall looming effect on the day-to-day existence of kids. Sexuality becomes much more of a player than it should, irrespective of the child’s age. It’s as if children’s normal curiosity towards sexuality gets ratcheted up a number of notches as if on steroids.

The taboo against sexualized children may very well be challenged by adults who grew up desensitized to explicit sexuality. If so, then all of us — even those who believe the After The Ball strategy was deployed in the service of a good and just cause — had better be ready for the propaganda campaign.





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