Who would keep an old version of a post when posting a new one? Maybe a pack rat. Maybe I figure if I got two comments I ought to keep them with the version they were replying to. Maybe a blockchain mentality has infected me. Anyway, here is what I hope is an improved, more carefully thought-out version of "Accepting Law-abiding Pedophiles".
In the classic formulation, there are five stages a person goes through in adjusting to a painful loss:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. But the stages are equally applicable to any painful change, including a painful change in one's thinking.
Pedophiles must go through their own path in accepting their attraction to children, and their families and friends have their own. Those are topics for another day.
Here I want to look at the process that a typical non-pedophile might go through when wrestling with facts suggesting realistic and tolerant treatment of pedophiles. I have gotten to see how people react a great many times -- notably in online discussions.
The starting position is that child abuse is a terrible crime. Those who abuse children are pedophiles. Who ever hears of a pedophile except after they break the law? It must be because they all do. The sexual urge of pedophiles is to harm innocent children, and all have molested children or will shortly. How does pedophilia start? There are good people and bad people, and the badness of bad people emerges in different ways. Badness in pedophiles shows up as a sexual attraction to children. It is fundamentally a form of sadism -- a desire to cause pain. Pedophiles are foreign, devious, and evil. They are enemies, pure and simple, and no further thought about their nature is required. There are no holds barred in combating enemies. Although feelings run high, the structure of the situation is simple. All pedophiles are 100% bad.
On the other hand, for most people of good will there is a desire to not classify anyone as an enemy, to understand that people's less pleasant attributes are typically due to factors beyond their control. There is even some measure of compassion for criminals -- though less so for sex criminals such as rapists.
Now that we live in an age where any group can find each other online while remaining anonymous, a great many pedophiles have done so. They claim they have never molested children and never will. Perhaps some are lying, but some surely are not. They have an attraction they did not choose and cannot change. However, they can resist molesting any children, and argue that if they do they are as good as anyone else and deserve all the same compassion and understanding. If you accept that description, those pedophiles don't meet the "enemy" criterion any more. They are in the category of well-meaning individuals suffering from factors beyond their control.
Pedophilia is not simply the emergence of an innate "badness" -- a little thought would show this was never really justified, but it fit well with the "enemy" narrative. Most pedophiles as children were as lovable as any other child. They find out around puberty that they are attracted to children. This sounds familiar -- that's typically when gays and lesbians realize that they have unusual attractions as well.
The logic is leading in the direction of accepting people who feel sexual attraction to children. The horror of child sex abuse is still present, and these attractions that could lead to child sex abuse inherit some of this horror, even if never acted upon. Feelings are at war with some uncomfortable facts. And so the adjustment process begins.
We start with denial. "You should just shut up and go away!" One way to deal with a conflict of feelings and facts is to not have to think about it.
If they don't go away... they might just be trolls. Or they might be the result of a more sophisticated illusion as produced by Russian bot farms. Perhaps there really are a few people like that, but they are so few that they can be ignored. And yet... on a little investigation, there seem to be large numbers of non-offending pedophiles, with convincing personal stories to tell.
Perhaps these online messages come from real pedophiles, but their message is just a devious fabrication in the service of normalizing and legalizing adult-child sex. In their plan, the first step is to get you to accept their sick attractions, and the second step will be to accept the actions. Some might have that plan, but for social liberals, you accept what people are asking for right now, which is to be treated like anyone else. You cannot in good conscience condemn the group for some longer-term hopes of a subgroup. You evaluate them based on what they ask for right now.
When denial runs short, another reaction is anger. Child sex abuse makes people very angry, and there is an obvious connection between sexual fantasies about children and sexual abuse. Since the fantasies are linked to the child sex abuse, the anger at the one transfers easily to the other. Tolerance is at war with rage, even if the connection comes from the emotional association of the two topics rather than logic. Fueled by rage is the idea that pedophiles have an obligation to kill themselves to make sure they never harm children -- innocent children are infinitely more important than strange people with disgusting desires. A standard meme in discussions of pedophilia online is a picture of bullets or a noose, noting that these are cures for pedophilia. But when anger subsides or is temporarily held at bay, you don't have to be a liberal to understand you can't actually execute people who have done nothing wrong.
We get to bargaining. OK, maybe such pedophiles exist in significant numbers.
"Why would anyone want to advertise such a disgusting reality? Keep it to yourself!" Uncomfortable fact: denying the existence of a problem is never good, especially when failure to deal with it appropriately can lead to harm to others.
"I didn't think about this until you wrote about it? Why would anyone else? You're recruiting pedophiles by putting the idea in their heads!" Uncomfortable fact: Pedophilia comes from within. It is not an edgy choice made by a rebellious youth. We all know how well hushing it up worked with gays and lesbians. In this respect -- origins -- pedophilia is the same.
"Maybe pedophiles who don't offend are tolerable as long as they realize they have a sickness and are willing to undergo therapy to get cured." Uncomfortable fact: many are willing if not desperate to find a cure. But unfortunately, the top experts all agree that they can't be cured -- the pedophiles are stuck with the attraction.
"What about chemical castration -- that should fix them!" Uncomfortable fact: we never make any other group take heavy-duty drugs if they haven't done anything wrong yet. What's more, it isn't any foolproof cure. It does help some people control their actions by reducing desire, but the common report is that they are still aware of being attracted to children.
"Maybe I could live with the idea of pedophiles continuing to hold their attractions as long as they hate themselves thoroughly and unconditionally, and recognize that their entire purpose in life is to make sure they do not offend against children... Maybe I could accept pedophiles if they never go anywhere near children, even absenting themselves from family gatherings where children might be present. Uncomfortable fact: A pedophile's life is just as important to them as yours is to you. Steps to keep children safe? Absolutely. Snuffing out family connections, friendships, and any other life hopes? Inhumane. (Aside: a great many do hate themselves thoroughly and unconditionally).
"Maybe I could accept pedophiles who agree to admit their attraction to everyone around them, so that the others can be vigilant against any developing child abuse." This is a topic for another day, but uncomfortable fact: prejudice against pedophiles is so strong in today's society that a public admission of attraction to children risks loss of employment, loss of all friendships, a demand to move if children live nearby, overt hostility, and even deadly violence.
Bargaining... Even if they manage to dismiss the uncomfortable facts, people who are willing to accept these bargains have come some distance in accepting pedophiles. Pedophiles are much better off living among people with this sort of conditional acceptance than the anger and denial that most people start with.
But a "live and let live" liberal can't really stop there and still be true to their principles. Uncomfortable facts, summarized: Nowhere else in society do we ask people who have done nothing wrong to limit their activities so severely. In a world where prejudice against pedophiles is still so strong, admitting their attraction to everyone is a very dangerous step.
Denial, anger, and bargaining. Depression is next.
When we evaluate people's emotional reactions over the web, we do it based entirely on what they type. When dealing with depression, you imagine the most likely expression would be to stay silent, engaging on the web only with other topics. But I have read a few reactions online that directly suggest depression, or at least sadness.
What do we know about pedophiles? They can never know romance or satisfying sex without harming someone else. Most people in society misunderstand them and hate them. Pedophiles typically remain hidden because of the severe consequences. The need to keep the secret limits the depth of their friendships. Some do have some attraction to adults, but the need to keep a secret makes it especially hard to develop the openness that most people would like in a marriage.
What kind of God would create people like that? It is just so sad.
The final stage is of course acceptance.
Some non-pedophiles can skip this whole process. They have never thought about or heard about non-offending pedophiles. But as soon as they do, they are on board and accepting at once. They resolve the conflict of feelings and facts by quickly adjusting their feelings. I associate them with those who would say, "Thoughts and fantasies are free, and anything you do without harming anyone else is just fine!" and apply this to a wide range of unusual or peculiar fantasies. (But note: Such people are typically no more accepting of child sex abuse than anyone else).
But for the others, here's one sketch of what final acceptance might look like. I'd rather not have to know it, but non-offending pedophiles exist. Denial of the existence of any group of humans is bad for them and bad for the rest of us. Child sex abuse still makes me angry, and it is associated in my mind with pedophilia. The anger still sometimes slips from one to the other, but my thoughts tell me there is no necessary connection. Fairness requires me to assume the best about people until proven otherwise. While limitations are tempting, I realize that you can't justify telling someone to severely restrict what they can do if they've never done anything wrong. Pedophiles have been handed an unfortunate condition, and I feel bad for them.
In the five stages of grief, the loss is often unavoidable. If you have a fatal illness, you will die. When it comes to accepting non-offending pedophiles, there is nothing inevitable about the transformation. People can stay at any level along the path or indeed never even start, continuing to believe that the only good pedophile is a dead pedophile.
And yet most people strive to be fair. They figure that if they condemn others, they ought to have a very good reason for it. Their conscience pulls them along the path of grief towards acceptance of non-offending pedophiles. Maybe recognizing the stages of emotional resistance will help move them along the path more comfortably.