Daily Archives: September 25, 2005

Scholarship, pederasty and moral panic

Over on Reason’s Hit & Run blog (where I myself have posted occasionally), my friend Julian Sanchez writes:

WorldNetDaily is crowing about having pressured a publisher to drop a book on same-sex relationships in ancient Greece and Rome with this hysterical reaction to, as far as I can tell, nothing more than the abstract of this chapter. …. WND apparently regarded the chapter in question as propaganda for pedophiles because it suggested that hybrid lover/mentor relationships between ancient Greek adults and adolescents might not have been horrifically scarring to the latter.



Julian believes that WND is whipping up hysteria about child sex abuse in order to suppress legitimate discussion (and throw red meat to its base). I don’t particularly like publishers being intimidated into dropping books, even objectionable books. I also think WND is a right-wing hack site of the worst kind (the “makes Ann Coulter look like George Will” kind). And I agree that there’s been too much hysteria in our culture about child sexual abuse, often with disastrous consequences (from the sex-abuse witch-hunts of the 1980s to teachers being afraid to hug a crying child). But, having read the abstract of the controversial chapter, penned by Dr. Bruce Rind, I have to say that it makes me rather queasy. Here it is:

Pederasty, or sexual relations between men and adolescent boys, is condemned in our society as an unqualified evil that maims and destroys. In ancient Greece, samurai Japan, and numerous other cultures, pederasty was seen as the noblest of human relations, conducive if not essential to nurturing the adolescent’s successful intellectual and physical maturation.

Current psychological and psychiatric theorizing have pronounced and promoted the former view, while ignoring the vast array of cross-cultural data related to the latter view. Mental health opinion has also ignored a wealth of cross-species data with important parallels. Instead, this opinion is based on feminist models of rape and incest, which are backed up by clinical research on child sexual abuse.

The current article examines empirical rather than clinical data on pederasty, and supplements this with cross-cultural and cross-species perspectives. The empirical data show that pederasty is not only not predestined to injure, but can benefit the adolescent when practiced according to the ancient Greek form. Cross-cultural and cross-species data show the extensiveness of pederasty in the natural world, as well as its functional rather than pathological nature in these societies and species.

An evolutionary model that synthesizes the empirical, cross-cultural, and cross-species data is proposed as an alternative to the highly inadequate feminist and psychiatric models. The animal data suggest that the seeds for pederasty were planted at the dawn of humanity. The human data suggest that pederasty came to serve a mentoring function.

For me at least, the summary sets off certain alarm bells. I have no problem with an objective examination of man/boy relationships in ancient Greece, and I’m not saying that any such examination has to be accompanied by self-righteous hand-wringing and tongue-clucking. (A good summary of available information on the subject can be found at Wikipedia. From some of the things I’ve read, the reality was often less idyllic than the ideal; it’s also worth noting that in some societies that encouraged mentoring pederastic relationships — notably Sparta and Samurai Japan — they were a way of inducting the younger partner into an extremely militaristic, hierarchical male culture.) However, as outlined here, the article sounds like advocacy more than scholarship. (What are “cross-species data” doing in an essay on ancient Greece and Rome, anyway?)

You really don’t need to be a right-wing moralist to have misgivings about attempts to normalize sexual relations between adult men and underage boys. And I do think that Haworth Press (the publisher) used poor judgment in approving this particular essay, as outlined, for inclusion in the book.

Julian Sanchez points out that in many societies, sex between adult men and young girls was condoned too, as long as it was legalized in marriage. Quite true; but today, in civilized societies, such marriages are rightly viewed as exploitative. This shouldn’t be a gay vs straight issue: I doubt that an essay drawing on the history of marriages between adult men and nubile girls to argue that adult male/adolscent girl sex needn’t be damaging would find a very welcoming reception. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that such literature be suppressed by the government, or even by intimidation from morally outraged mobs. But better editorial judgment, it seems to me, is in order.

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