THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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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.