Irish Session Tune Tutorial

I play Irish-style fiddle—though I'm not really Irish to speak of, my Dad listened to this music and played it a bit when I was growing up, so I got to like it and was motivated to learn it when I was in grad school, and I've played ever since.

Anyway, while practicing recently, it occurred to me that I might just broadcast my practice sessions and some beginners might benefit. (I have taught fiddle, lo, about 20 years ago.) This ended up turning into some recordings of session tunes—and here you go.

I will be adding to this list as I make new videos. Single jigs/slides and slip jigs still to come, at least.

Reels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B565e3vj8O0
Sally Gardens - slow 1:31 faster 3:14 The Silver Spear - slow 5:02 faster 6:51 The Sligo Maid - slow 8:26 faster 10:10 The Merry Blacksmith - slow 11:48 faster 13:42 The Flowers of Edinburgh - slow 15:19 faster 17:13 The Wind that Shakes the Barley - slow 18:52 faster 19:48 Ships Are Sailing - slow 20:42 faster 21:54 Dick Gossip - slow 23:38 faster 25:10 The High Reel - slow 26:49 faster 28:40 St. Anne's Reel - slow 30:31 faster 32:03 O'Brien's - slow 33:52 faster 35:26

The strings were brand new so sounded a little weak I guess. The audio sometimes cut out, also, due to the bad streaming. Later videos in this series are recorded in advance so shouldn't have this problem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU2niw6tsfc
Father Kelly's #1 - slow 0:30 faster 3:22 The Musical Priest - slow 2:13 faster 4:40 Humors of Tulla - slow 6:06 faster 6:46 The Providence - slow 7:42 faster 9:01 The Wise Maid - slow 10:26 faster 11:49 The Maid Behind the Bar - slow 13:20 faster 14:35 The Banshee (a.k.a. McMahon's) - slow 16:12 faster 17:33 O'Rourke's (a.k.a. The Wild Irishman) - slow 19:00 faster 19:44 Jackie Coleman's - slow 20:38 faster 22:01 The Bucks of Oranmore - slow 23:54 faster 26:03

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L5WYwxsV-Q
The Ash Plant - slow 0:09 faster 1:34 John Brennan - slow 3:10 faster 4:44 Down the Broom - slow 6:29 faster 8:04 Stony Steps - slow 9:34 faster 10:36 Gravel Walks - slow 11:59 faster 13:57 The Foxhunter's Reel - slow 15:48 faster 17:52

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HziWa6FlFVA
The Green Fields of America - slow 0:19 fast 1:33 The Star of Munster - slow 3:02 fast 4:40 The High Road to Linton - slow 6:28 fast 7:55 Julia Delaney - slow 9:29 fast 10:51 The Drunken Landlady - slow 12:25 fast 13:45 Gregg's Pipes - slow 15:10 fast 16:16 Cooley's Reel - slow 17:28 fast 18:49 The Mountain Road - slow 20:18 fast 21:46

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOeB8WtKIiU
The Silver Spire - slow 0:18 fast 1:54 Martin Wynne's #1 - slow 3:29 fast 4:47 The Pigeon on the Gate - slow 6:32 fast 7:49 The Chicago Reel - slow 9:24 fast 10:43 The Golden Keyboard - slow 12:11 fast 13:28 Martin Wynne's #2 - slow 15:10 fast 16:24 Jenny's Chickens - slow 18:15 fast 19:43

Hornpipes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JIsNmKZVL0
Walsh's Hornpipe - slow 0:33 fast 1:45 The Rights of Man - slow 3:38 fast 5:18 Tim the Turncoat - slow 8:01 fast 9:03 The Liverpool Hornpipe - slow 11:06 fast 12:15 The Home Ruler - slow 14:16 fast 16:59 Kitty's Wedding - slow 15:37 fast 19:07 Harvest Home - slow 21:13 fast The Boys of Bluehill - slow 23:12 fast 24:57 The Cuckoo's Nest - slow 29:30 fast 31:07

Polkas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je_BntF5J_c
The Ballydesmond Polka - slow 0:41 fast 5:50 Denis Murphy's - slow 2:38 fast 6:51 John Ryan's - slow 4:15 fast 7:48 Egan's - slow 9:17 fast 13:32 Peggy Ryan's Fancy - slow 10:36 fast 14:22 Bill Sullivan's - slow 11:46 fast 15:13 Denis Murphy's (a different one) - slow 16:21 fast 17:19

Double Jigs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlN9C7lYFjI
Tripping Up the Stairs - slow 0:42 fast 3:39 Father O'Flynn - slow 2:17 fast 4:42 The Kesh Jig - slow 6:23 fast 10:09 Morrison's - slow 7:41 fast 11:12 The Banshee - slow 8:57 fast 12:11 The Maid at the Spinning Reel - slow 13:56 fast 15:56 The Frost Is All Over - slow 18:33 fast 19:34 Smash the Windows - slow 21:08 fast 22:05 Haste to the Wedding - slow 23:13 fast 24:32 The Cliffs of Moher - slow 26:04 fast 27:17

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvasHsvWdAI
Langstrom's Pony - slow 0:36 fast 3:10 The Lark in the Morning - slow 5:42 fast 8:09 The Old Favorite - slow 10:48 fast 12:02 Willie Coleman's - slow 14:14 fast 15:16 The Shores of Lough Gowna - slow 16:49 fast 17:52 The Humors of Glendart - slow 19:05 fast 19:54 Sixpenny Money - slow 21:22 fast 22:10

https://youtu.be/3uq50G-rg94
Behind the Haystack - slow 0:37 fast 4:48 Merrily Kiss the Quaker - slow 2:47 fast 6:15 Out on the Ocean (The Portroe Jig) - slow 8:01 fast 9:06 The Ship in Full Sail - slow 10:35 fast 11:40 The Hag with the Money - slow 13:14 fast 14:54 The Connaughtman's Rambles - slow 16:37 fast 18:51 Paddy Clancy's - slow 17:46 fast 19:50 Sorry, I think my tuning was off a bit.


How I'm Reading the Bible in 90 Days

The Bible is easily the most influential book of Western literature. If you haven't read any part of it at all, you aren't educated, period. But, for that matter, if you haven't read it all the way through, then again you still have a massive hole in your education. That's what I told myself last month, deciding once and for all to fill in that hole.

I guess I'm still an agnostic, but let's just say I'm newly curious. I might explain why later on, but for now suffice it to say that for many years I was not particularly curious about the possible truth of monotheism or Christianity in particular—and now I am.

So last month I decided to start reading the Bible all the way through. While I had read quite a bit of it when I was a kid, then a chunk (25%?) again to my boys over the last decade as part of their homeschooling, I never did read the entire thing cover to cover. Maybe more importantly, I never really did understand it. Now that I am reading it, I am understanding Christian (and Jewish) theology much better than I used to.

Even with great care, the big problem about reading the Bible is understanding it, because it is a difficult text. I don't care if you are super-smart and have read lots of difficult texts; if you haven't read the Bible in particular, then you won't understand it without a lot of help, period.

For such a truly ancient book, the Bible is actually quite an amazing piece of literature, history, theology, and philosophy, if you didn't know. Not for nothing has it dominated and shaped Western civilization. Not for nothing did most the greatest minds of Western civilization (most philosophers other great minds such as Sir Isaac Newton) admired it for millennia. It may be confusing and confounding, but it is not stupid. It makes a lot more sense and is much more consistent than many atheists and agnostics believe. I am not declaring here that it is the Truth, but I am declaring that it is far more coherent and intelligent—again, properly understood—than many people in our modern, secular culture know. They think it's stupid; the reason they think so is that they don't understand it. Period. The significance of the Bible text is complex, layered, and deep. But you can't understand that significance without reading it, studying it, and getting help (see below) with your study.

As I first post this, I've done 30 days of my Bible-in-90-days plan, and I've been clued in to some modern discoveries, ideas, and tricks for doing this. I thought I'd share them, if for no other reason than to memorialize this for myself in case I want to do it again sometime:

  • You don't have to use a printed book to read the Bible. I'm using several apps concurrently. This is lighter, easier, and comes with audio and multimedia built in.
  • Top Bible apps? I have reviewed a lot of Bible apps fairly closely. At present (this could easily change), there are five stand-outs, all iPhone apps since I don't use Android: YouVersion's Bible app, Tecarta Bible, Bible Hub, Logos, and BLB (Blue Letter). None of these is perfect (they should contact me and I'll tell them how to improve). What do these excel at?
    • YouVersion's "Bible" app: The plethora of great reading plans (see below), the audio versions, and good but not perfect UX (design/ease of use), especially when it comes to switching between translations. Unfortunately, no commentaries available.
    • Tecarta Bible: Excellent (still not absolutely perfect) UX, good audio versions, free built-in commentaries. You might want to buy a commentary, and if so, I'd recommend doing it through this one because of the design (and they have dozens available, pretty cheaply too).
      Note: As reading hubs, the above two are the best I've found so far.
    • Bible Hub: While the design (it's an app wrapper for a website) might be off-putting, they've got massive numbers of free commentaries that have become my go-to place for second opinions. The amount of free study/scholarly resources packed onto the website is amazing and as far as I can tell, superior to any other app's by far. Just for example, check out this array of free commentaries on one Bible verse. So, that's in the app. If only they would improve their appalling UX...
      Note: The above three are the ones I've been using on a daily basis for the last two weeks or so.
    • Logos: Lots of free resources, particularly the Faithlife Study Bible and online dictionary. The UX is "clever" but actually clunky, so I don't use it much; I can see how some might like it. Especially good for word study and serious Bible scholarship.
    • BLB (Blue Letter): tap a version, get a bunch of resources including, again, a bunch of commentaries. Bible Hub is probably better. Good for word study.
    • So in general, I am currently using YouVersion for the reading plan, actual reading, and audio; Tecarta Bible as my "go-to" commentary; and others for backup commentaries. I also use a Bible dictionary app and a backup Bible atlas map when the commentaries fail me.
  • Here, let me try. If anyone reading this wants to pay me to plan out an open source, collaborative Bible study app from the ground up, I am willing to do so for a fee (gotta eat). If well-coded and my UX/design recommendations were followed, it suspect would blow all others out of the water. Gee, that doesn't sound like Christian humility, does it? Well, let's just say I find these apps frustrating, as useful as they are, and that it is easy for me to imagine how to improve them by using the best ideas from all.
  • Listen to an audio version while you read. Maybe this is a matter of taste, but I find that if the text is coming in through the ears as well as the eyes, I'm able to focus and understand better. But be sure you pick a decent audio version. There are a lot of clunkers, it seems to me. A lot of "dramatizations" in which the voice actors actually try to act out different parts leave much to be desired. I ended up preferring the deep British voice (free) that goes with the KJV in the YouVersion. No nonsense, no strenuous attempt to interpret the text or "do voices." But it does read expressively, and not blandly, as many other (free) audio Bibles do.
  • Play with app reading settings. Your overall experience may be changed significantly, maybe even profoundly, by changing any one of these variables in your app, so play around with these:
    • Bible version/translation: KJV for literality and purism, NASB for (maybe) scholarly accuracy, ERV ("Easy-to-Read Version") for ease of reading, etc.
    • Go-to reading app. You might prefer one I haven't listed. Go with the one that's easiest for you to use.
    • Go-to commentary. Do try several. Some are free, and some other feature-rich ones are quite cheap (less than $10) if you purchase through the app.
    • Go-to sets of reference (maps and Bible dictionary). Super important if you actually want to understand what's going on, which you should, because your commentaries won't always answer your questions properly. Keep trying until you get a set of reference materials that always answer your questions satisfactorily.
    • The speaking voice. I keep coming back to that deep-voiced British guy after trying out others. Frankly, I can't stand the ones who lamely try to act out parts and get them totally wrong.
    • Reading plan, if you use one, which I recommend (see below).
    • Font style, font size, and background (white or black). Yeah, those things make a difference too.
  • Making sense, important. But back to strategies I'm following. In general, do make a real effort to understand the hard vocabulary as well as the person, tribe, and placenames. If you don't, then yeah, it's going to be merely puzzling and look like ancient nonsense to you. If you do, a lot of things start falling into place. Individually it may not matter whether Og or Abimelech was a king, priest, or general, or whether he came from came from Shechem, Moab, or Bashan, but attention to the full set of these details will help the whole to come together much more coherently.
  • Translation switching: for vocabulary. Pick a literal translation (I use the KJV) and stick with it. This can be harder to read but it will get you closer to the original thoughts than versions that are basically just rewritings. I gathered from a few different reliable sources that Bible scholars also like the NASB (North American Standard Bible). Still, I look at other, easier versions when I have trouble with the actual vocabulary of a verse (YouVersion's Bible app is great for this: just tap on a verse, then tap "Compare"). This can be faster than consulting a commentary, if your issue is just about vocabulary.
  • Study Bible: for proper nouns. While switching back and forth between versions can help you puzzle out some archaic vocabulary, the person, tribe, and placenames require other kinds of resources to make sense of. The most efficient way to make sense of this is to use a study Bible (that's what I do, anyway), especially one that comes with many detailed maps integrated just where they are needed (ESV Study Bible is what I use in no small part for the maps). But no study Bible seems to be complete, so the more the better. A Bible dictionary/encyclopedia will often help answer more general questions the commentaries don't cover (like "Who was Abimelech again?").
  • Intros: background for theology, culture, history, archaeology, etc. If you're not familiar with the Good Book, you can't just read the thing straight through. Especially if it's your first time reading the Bible, you definitely will not understand it if you don't have the assistance of not just commentaries, but also introductions or lectures. Book introductions (e.g., an introduction to the book of Genesis) or video lectures (which cover similar information) are essential to understanding the theology of the Bible above all, which is kind of the whole point, but also the narrative structure, which is important if you want to make sense of what you're reading. I've been reading my study Bible's text introductions sometimes, and always also watching short YouTube videos.
  • Study the general concepts. Sometimes you'll notice certain concepts coming up again and again without much introduction or explanation, things like covenant, sacrifice, various angelic beings, redemption, forgiveness, etc. When you come across these and you really have no idea what they really mean, look them up and read several paragraphs about them, at least. If you don't have at least some rough understanding of those (and quite a few other) concepts it is absolutely certain that you will not understand the Bible. Many of those concepts are very unfamiliar to modern, largely amoral, secular minds, and require special explanation.
  • Reading the Bible in 90 days is doable and is a good idea. There are lots of "reading plans" built into several Bible apps, including the top two listed above. Again, YouVersion's Bible app has the biggest selection that I found and their reading plan feature is very well designed. Now, most whole-Bible reading plans are for 365 days, but that struck me as being too slow. For one thing, as with any body of knowledge (think especially of foreign languages), the more you jam it all in together in a relatively short space of time, the more mental connections you will make and the better understanding you will have. So I experimentally tried out the 90 day plan, and worked my way up to doing all of a day's work in one day. I think requires something like 90-120 minutes per day—maybe sometimes more. This includes consulting resources such as commentaries.
  • On "The Bible Project." So a seminary professor and a writer got together with a team of dozens to produce some quite well-made, opinionated, extremely informative videos about not just every book of the Bible, but how to read it and various Biblical concepts. These videos are part of a daily orienting "devotional" that goes along with the reading plan I chose. I'm not 100% sure I trust the theology of these videos (er, so do they really think the seraphim are flying snakes, like the pagan Egyptian critters?), but they sure are handy in how they encapsulate a lot of information briefly. I'm checking out other video series as well, anyway.
  • Do searches on critical questions. Naturally, if you're the least bit curious, you'll have hard and critical questions. Why does God seem to be so, um, harsh in the Old Testament? What really do the Israelites have to atone for? What's the point of all the sacrifices? Is there any real reason to take the history of the Gospel story seriously? Etc. Use your search engine of choice to look up the answers. You might or might not be convinced by the answers (I'm afraid I'm not, in some cases), but if you don't know how intelligent, well-informed, and committed believers answer such questions—and especially if you assume that they have no answers to such questions, because they're not smart enough to think of the questions or take them seriously—then again, I guarantee you simply won't understand what's going on when you read the Bible.
  • Do not zone out and let the words wash over you. Look, maybe you don't need to understand everything in the greatest detail, as a serious scholar does, but if you let a verse pass you by and you can say to yourself, "Wait, what did I just read, and what did it mean?" and you don't know, then you're not really reading. You're sort of pretending to read. Don't do that. If you let whole sections, chapters, or books go past you when you're on autopilot, I guarantee you'll miss something important. The only time when you can safely skip something is when you're going through "the begats," the repetitive details of sacrificing (but going through one of the repetitions seems necessary), the word descriptions of boundaries of the territories of the twelve tribes, and other such things that are best regarded as reference information inserted into what is otherwise a narrative.
  • I walk and read. I happen to pace through my whole house as I read, getting my hourly walking minutes in (something I do for health) and my reading time in. By the end of the day I've finished my day's reading. If not, I do another half-hour's reading after the kids are in bed, no problem. Maybe you can read while on the train, or while on the treadmill, or whatever.

There are of course many other things I am not doing (or, not so much) and that at a future date I might recommend: Bible study groups, both online and in face-to-face; getting help from an actual human being (always a good idea); doing a course on the whole Bible concurrently with reading (something I started on The Great Courses Plus, since we have a subscription, but found was too much of a commitment to do along with 60-90 minutes of daily reading).

Anyway, there you have a catalog of strategies I've followed the last few weeks. Since I'm far from being an expert on any of these subjects, I submit these just as ideas, and maybe more experienced people will be able to give me more ideas as well.

UPDATE: I finished in 100 days, and then immediately started re-reading it in 365 days.


Launching Sanger Consulting

I'm announcing an Internet consulting business. Learn more at a new website:

> sanger.io <

I've consulted briefly with many companies over the years. Nobody seems disappointed.

The thing that I can do possibly better than anyone is to give a complete analytical review of your site(s) and app(s), identifying issues and areas of improvement, put in my recommended priority order to fix. I am very fast at producing pages and pages of such feedback—high density, high impact.

I am also quite interested in conceiving and architecting new websites from the ground up, something I have a lot of experience doing.

There are many different types of projects I could get interested in. Generally speaking, I accept jobs that I think will potentially have an important benefit to humanity. Life is too short for anything else.


Bold Predictions for the 2020s

Yeah, who knows what will really happen? But here are my predictions (i.e., wild guesses).

  • The Jeffrey Epstein estate and Ghislaine Maxwell cases, as well as the Biden Ukraine case, and some as-yet-lesser-known cases, will rock the entire Western world for several years. Donald Trump will not be among those indicted, but he will continue to be smack dab in the middle of it all. The Clintons and the Bidens will be among those indicted. We will discover that the world has largely been run by literal, not figurative, criminal cartels of one kind or another.
  • Several of the people ultimately punished in these cases will be Democratic politicians and celebrities, as well as once-respected Establishment Republicans. This will cause a crisis in American politics as we find that "Americanism" was maligned as "populism" and that we actually like Americanism. But exactly how that will play out remains to be seen. The country will not break up. Democracy and what has been called the "American civil religion" will be renewed, as we will look back on 1992-2020 (at least) with horror and as a near-miss at a second civil war.
  • As more and more people learn about the utter decadence of certain of our "elites," and that our mass media has been systematically manipulated by cultural architects (so to speak) for decades, there will be a massive exodus away from traditional media and a massive resurgence of traditional Christianity in the West.
  • Donald Trump will be re-elected in 2020. Sorry. Hard to see past 2020, because the political situation in the country will probably look very different by 2024.
  • The massive recent revelations about Facebook, Google, and others are a slow-moving avalanche threatening to bury these companies. A few will not survive the decade. Even bigger revelations (not least of which are the associations with Epstein and Epstein-style networks) and massive new movements will overwhelm their economic power base.
  • New Internet companies, more committed to privacy and free speech, will offer open source solutions integrated tightly with old-fashioned decentralized networks and open data standards. We will see, just for example, a massive new decentralized encyclopedia network that connects all existing encyclopedias in a centerless, leaderless way, and makes it easy for people to go head-to-head with existing offerings via their own blogs.
  • The popularity of personal servers (like my Synology NAS) will grow steadily, until even grandma knows about them as a better alternative to Dropbox. The software these servers run will become every bit as good as cloud-based apps offered by, e.g., Google (such as Docs, Sheets, and Drive). "Rolling your own" will happen a lot more by the decade's end, because the software for doing so will be much more powerful.
  • We will probably not see general AI this decade, unless this has been developed secretly—i.e., unless giant corporations and, more likely, military programs have made much more progress than we knew about. We will likely see some massive new technological breakthrough on the order of the invention of the personal compute. Possibly a medical breakthrough. Of course, some technologies that are already well-developed but not in mass use will come into mass use, such as commercial space travel and ever-more integrated "smart" devices (that will be run via your own NAS rather than via a cloud server).
  • We will all get ten years older. Both of my boys will become adults. I will start enjoying more free time. I might actually publish a book sometime this decade, but don't hold your breath.


On the "God of the Gaps"

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

If God exists, he knows all the physical explanations of all the phenomena. From his point of view, there is no "God of the gaps."

Hence our inability to explain something about the world is no reason to infer that God makes human-style arbitrary choices. In other words, for example, God's mechanism for creating life would be evolution, of course. Where there are inexplicable-seeming leaps, surely God would know of the explanation. But our ignorance is no argument for theism in itself, of course, any more than any scientific fillings-in of erstwhile gaps in our knowledge is an argument for atheism or scientific materialism.

Even if we had a perfect scientific explanation of everything from the Big Bang, to the universal constants, to the origin of life, to every last evolutionary gap, one might still feel impelled to the conclusion that the explanations themselves seem to be guided by purposes. It is not the random-seeming things in the universe that might reveal divinity, but the awe-inspiringly ordered and comprehensible things.

It is not the random-seeming things in the universe that might reveal divinity, but the awe-inspiringly ordered and comprehensible things.

If we could not state what these purposes were, then this would seem to be mere superstition. But scientists become theists because God's purposes seem clear: the universal constants permit the existence of spacetime and the coalescence of matter, and in particular stars and planets; certain unlikely chemical facts (we don't understand them all) are absolutely necessary in order for life to exist; certain incredible evolutionary leaps seem designed to lead life on earth ever onward to greater awareness and knowledge, culminating in man.

It is not the gaps in explanation that would lead one to infer God from the cosmos, if one were inclined to make that inference. It is the fact that the insanely particular natural laws and constants we have discovered indeed have resulted in such a splendid cosmos.

It seems indeed so splendid that the specific laws and constants that explain it all appear to reveal a mind with purposes. That, surely, is the thought that has driven so many people to accept the design argument—not that divine intervention is necessary to fill in the current gaps in our explanations.

The Ancient of Days by William Blake


On the Burning of an LGBTQ Flag

Last summer, Adolfo Martinez, 30, of Ames, Iowa, stole the LGBTQ pride flag hung above the entrance to the Ames United Church of Christ, and burned it in front of the nearby Dangerous Curves Gentleman's Club. He pled guilty to the crime—for which he was sentenced to 16 years in the state penitentiary.

This surprising sentence will be infamously controversial. Of course, stealing and destroying property is very wrong. But when the property is a flag, 16 years in prison is ridiculously and obviously excessive.

The Facts and Disposition of the Case

Adolfo Martinez

By his own admission, as you can see in a video, Martinez tore down the flag from the church, took it in front of a local dive, and burned it. That was the whole extent of the crime.

Aggravating circumstances made it worse than just that. Martinez is not a pleasant character, to hear Cmdr. Jason Tuttle of the Ames Police tell it. Martinez was a "regular patron" of the bar—where he had been kicked out, after causing a disturbance—in front of which he burned the flag:

He came back [to the bar] at some point and told the bar, the people in the bar, that he was going to burn the place [presumably, the church, not the bar] down, and at that point made a reference to burning "their flag."

The case files((To access the case files, click here, then input (exactly) "Martinez" for "Last/Firm Name", "Adolfo" (with an "f") for "First Name", set County to Story.)) indicate that the charges against Martinez were: arson in the third degree (by itself, in Iowa, an aggravated misdemeanor), considered by the court a hate crime; harassment in the third degree (a simple misdemeanor); and reckless use of fire.

Martinez represented himself. Clearly, that was a bad idea.

Judge Steve Van Marel

Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said Judge Steve Van Marel "agreed to the 17-year sentence because Martinez has a long history of harassment and is a habitual offender and never showed any remorse." Maybe he has a long history of serious crime elsewhere, but not in Iowa. According to Iowa court records, the worst he has done in the last four years in Iowa is one count of drunk driving.

Reynolds, the prosecuting attorney, also claimed, "The defendant stated that there was nothing the judge could [do] to stop him from continuing this behavior and that he would continue to do this no matter what."

Not Actually a Nice Guy, But...

Martinez is shamelessly outspoken against the pieties of the Ames United Church of Christ. "It was an honor to [burn the LGBTQ flag]. It was a blessing from the Lord," Martinez declared to a KCCI reporter on camera. My view is that this sentence is an official state repudiation of that religious view, and so it violates Martinez' First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion.

Ames United Church of Christ

"But given the threatening things he has said, why think so?" you might ask. "Surely it's not so clear-cut." That is true. Let me spend some time explaining why it is not, in fact, quite as clear cut as it might appear at first.

Martinez stole and burned a symbolic piece of cloth. He was clearly making a statement that was doubtless obnoxious to everyone in the courtroom. The statement itself is not the crime, but stealing and burning someone else's property is. He was charged with arson, but of course it was only misdemeanor arson since the burned property was just a flag. Still, his crime was aggravated since it was a hate crime, and as the law is written, this label seems credible.

It is credible, in fairness, maybe not just because of the flag burning but especially because of what he said after the flag burning. See Iowa Code sect. 729A.2: “...committed against a person’s...property because of the person’s...sexual orientation...” He did say some pretty threatening things about the church. Not only did he reportedly (though this is hearsay) threaten to burn the church down, he said on camera: "It is a judgment and is written, to execute vengeance on a heathen and punishments upon the people." You can easily imagine how ominous such Biblical-sounding language would sound to the worshipers at the Ames United Church of Christ.

Not a popular Bible verse at the Ames United Church of Christ

So if we are going to be quite fair, we must admit that Martinez's own statements make it clear that he lacked remorse, and he no doubt continues to believe that the church—and its LGBTQ community—deserved what he gave them. Moreover, if you can credit the prosecutor (I would need to see a direct quote), Martinez threatened to do the crime again.

But let us look even more closely.

The Sentence Represents a Violation of Martinez's Free Speech

Martinez was not prosecuted or convicted for a barroom threat or invocations of divine justice. That was not his crime. Presumably, if he were imprisoned for a while, that might make him think twice about carrying out any such threats; prevention is a prime purpose of punishment, after all. But it is decidedly not a principle of Anglo-American jurisprudence that criminals should be punished in order to prevent them from committing crimes they have not committed, even if they have threatened to do so. Yet if we take the prosecutor, Reynolds, at her word, that seems to be what she and the judge did.

This is, however, not even why Martinez was punished. It is a fig leaf covering a shameful sentence. Let us concede that Martinez stole and burned a flag, was a reckless and drunk driver who smoked pot, issued barroom arson threats, and was wholly unrepentant—and he even implied that he might do it again.

Even if all that is the case, does it deserve 16 years? Of course not. If he were to do the same crime two or three more times, surely he still wouldn't deserve 16 years, regardless of any sentencing guidelines. In this case, the maximum sentence for third degree arson as a hate crime was five years. Martinez was given 16 years in total just because he had priors. But what was his worst prior in Iowa? Drunk driving. Did you know that the average sentence for rape was about 12 years (in 2006)? So this man, who burned a flag—a gay pride flag—had a more severe sentence than most rapists receive.

Clearly, the real explanation for Martinez's excessive sentence must be that he expressed something deeply offensive and hateful to the LGBTQ community, period.

Protected free speech, say the Supremes. Only if it is your flag?

Moreover, and importantly, the defendant's right to free expression by the burning of a flag, upheld by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, seems not to have been considered in sentencing. After all, national origin is a protected class. But if someone were to steal and burn an American flag, making imprecations and calling for divine vengeance against (say) the outrageously immoral American way of life, would that be a hate crime? Of course not.

Martinez was certainly expressing his religious point of view by burning the flag. He is not free to burn other people's things; I do not deny that, of course. But neither was the judge free to pretend that the presence of a "hate crime" made it possible to punish the content of Martinez's speech, and to ignore his freedoms of speech and religion.

Stealing the flag and burning it are punishable misdemeanors, certainly. We can even concede that they should be punished harshly, because Martinez expressed no remorse and made threatening statements. But none of that removes the fact that expressing a religious statement by burning somebody else's flag is protected free speech. The question is not whether you have a right to burn someone’s property to express your opinion. You absolutely do not. The question is whether the court has the right to mete out more severe punishments for offensive opinions. It absolutely does not, and yet that is precisely what happened in this case. Just because Martinez committed a misdemeanor, it does not follow that the court can regulate the content of Martinez's speech by sentencing him more harshly for what he had to say.

When hate crime legislation was first introduced, I remember being disturbed and worried about the implications for free speech. This case perfectly illustrates that worry. What can we expect next? Doubtless, certain speech being outlawed on grounds of being the hate crime of harassment directed at a protected class.

Punishing the misdemeanor of third degree arson (flag burning) more severely than a serious felony, like rape, means the court had essentially treated a minor hate crime as hate speech—which, no matter how obnoxious it might have been to the court, is protected by the First Amendment.

Again, it was obnoxious, wrong, and deserving of punishment to steal and destroy the church's flag. A fine was certainly warranted, and perhaps a bit of jail time. But 16 years for this misdemeanor is such an outrageously imbalanced response that the sentence itself should be made an example of.

- fin -


A Response to Jack Dorsey on Decentralizing Social Media

Jack,

Let me begin by telling you (and my blog readers) a personal history of decentralizing social media and content generally.

Decentralizing social media

It began in January when I decided to lock down my cyber-life. Among the items on my "to do" list was: "Quit social media, or at least nail down a sensible social media use policy." I rather quickly decided to get rid of Facebook and a number of others. I grudgingly conceded that I would keep using Twitter for career purposes.

By February, I was still not satisfied with how I was using social media, basically because I did not have control over my own data. When trying to download my own contributed content from Facebook, Medium, and Quora (which did not even offer a tool for downloading my answers), I got seriously frustrated. "This is my data," I thought, "and they act like it's theirs."

I got to thinking. My data was not easy to download. It wasn't even easy to search—almost all Big Social Media platforms have minimal search tools. And there was no standard, as is there is for address books, blogs, and email, that would enable me to move this data to a competitor.

The latter is probably what gave me the idea, which of course is not a new idea at all, that what we really need to do is to decentralize social media. I wrote a blog post about that, which TheNextWeb printed. The idea was wildly popular on Twitter and in a few speeches I gave last spring and summer.

In one of these speeches, at South by Southwest in March—in a shortened version of this Wired article—I said there desperately need to be open standards for a new system of decentralized social media, and that we should have a social media strike to raise awareness of this.

Decentralizing Twitter?

In the speech, I asked you, Jack, three questions. I reiterated them on Twitter, and you answered "yes" to all three:

  1. Once the standards for microposts are properly settled on, will you, Jack, enable Twitter users to incorporate Twitter-style microposts that are hosted elsewhere inline in their Twitter feeds? [Q] [A]
  2. Will you create tools to let people export and sync their tweets with microposts from outside of Twitter? [Q] [A]
  3. And will you give users a lot more control over their feeds? [Q] [A]

Shortly thereafter, you DM'd me and offered to chat on the phone about Twitter's plans. Since you are now, nine months later, coming out publicly with your plans, I'm now going to share the notes I took then:


My piece in Wired [i.e., this] is “spot-on”

They’ve had
discussions about similar plans for last six months

Run some ideas past
you: problems we’re trying to solve; then solutions

CR2019, execute 2020

Pressure testing the
ideas now.

Want to encourage
greater amounts of healthy conversations

Four leading
indicators of health of corpus of conversation: shared attention,
shared reality, variety, receptivity. MIT lab is measuring these
against talk radio.

Six problems with
the poor health of conversation on Twitter: (1) focus on following
accounts rather than topics; problems with variety and shared
reality. (2) Attention problems, is dissipating. (3) Global enforced
policy is not scalable. (4) Burden of moderation is placed on the
victim. (5) Permanent bans and takedown do not promote health. (6)
Tech trends challenge content hosting.

Principles going
forward that address the problem:

  1. An account or
    tweet can only be deleted by the account owner.
  2. Anyone can
    follow any account, topic, keyword/question.
  3. Anyone can
    mute any account, topic, keyword, question.
  4. By default,
    we’ll only promote “healthy” accounts/tweets.
  5. Everyone can
    quickly switch off to see all accounts and all tweets in all
    conversations.
  6. Everyone will
    have incentive to participate in healthy conversations.

You could use a
different recommendation engine purposes of filtering feed.

CTO is working on how to implement principles.


I was cautiously optimistic in March. But now, I don't think you were sincere. I still don't after your recent announcement.

We were going to circle back after a month. We never did. I said in my speech that I wanted to organize a social media strike, and I suggested July 4-5 as the date.

Still, Twitter finally gave me a blue checkmark in May, I suppose in an attempt to appease me. (Didn't work.)

The social media strike

I organized a social media strike and asked strikers to sign this Declaration of Digital Independence. I'm pretty sure Twitter noticed, because it was then that my tweets, ironically, started being throttled as "sensitive content," which has happened dozens of times since, and when the content was nowhere near being "sensitive"—unless it's Twitter being quite sensitive about the idea of a social media strike. Throttling. Kind of pisses me off, Jack.

The strike got quite a bit of news coverage, even though it was quickly and informally organized, with no backing organization, no PR firm, no nothin'. By July 6, it was not clear how successful the strike was, because of course the social media companies were not going to supply data. It is possible the strike might have had something to do with outages at Facebook and Instagram, but I heard nothing specific about that.

I'm not terribly surprised that no one at Twitter (or any other social media giant) contacted me about the strike. I'm sure it didn't help that I went on Fox to talk about the strike:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK6BHGu9SD4

Or CNN:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8m-F8C2lrU

Consequences: traffic decline and throttling?

The strike did have one very clear and beneficial effect: it spread the idea that there was something wrong about social media companies having exclusive control over our social media data. I speculate—and saw a fair bit of anecdotal support of this—that people started abandoning social media in general more last summer. I started tracking to the Alexa Rank of various social media sites, as an imperfect way to check up on this.

After Twitter's rank kept dropping throughout the summer, I looked at other sites in September, and I noticed their ranks, too, had precipitously and noticeably declined recently—and yet, strangely, nobody had reported this remarkable news. So I reported it myself here on this blog. A fair few opinionated techies follow me, but none of them told me this wasn't news; still, the tech press was entirely silent. And weirdly, within days, the Alexa Rank of my own blog plunged by around 500K places, and did not come back up for a few months, while the ranks of almost all of the sites I reported on slowed or stopped their decline, and started plateauing and even slowly climbing back. Could be a coincidence, of course. But the ranks have not yet climbed past where they were in late September.

Anyway, Jack, I confess that those notices of "sensitive content" slapped on my social media strike-related tweets began to bother me quite a bit. It especially bothered me when Twitter stopped me (for a day) from linking to my own blog. I wasn't the only one who noticed. Of course, I can't prove that my posts about the social media strike had anything to do with censoring links to my blog: it did turn out someone had been using my blog's password reset functionality in a simple spamming exploit. But if that was the reason, it was a frankly boneheaded excuse to block the domain; and there was no excuse to ignore my repeated requests for explanation.

So it has become personal for me, not that I wasn't already thoroughly pissed off about Big Tech encroachments on free speech and privacy.

Decentralizing Encyclopedias

When we last spoke, I was working for Everipedia, the blockchain encyclopedia. In September, I left in order to start a new, independent nonprofit project to define open standards for encyclopedia articles, which will, I hope, create a new encyclopedia network called the Encyclosphere (after the Blogosphere). This was the plan all along with Everipedia, but I figured I needed to develop the standards independently of any for-profit organization, or the standards would probably never enjoy mass adoption. You can learn about our new Knowledge Standards Foundation here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PrWGMyJgpI

The plan for the Encyclosphere is very similar to the plan I was proposing for social media. In both cases the proposal is:

  • Define open standards for sharing content.
  • Content is published in a feed; everyone controls their own feed.
  • Content aggregators bring many feeds together and make them available via an API or (probably decentralized) database (such as WebTorrent).
  • Reader apps (analogous to blog readers) make is possible to read (and contribute) the aggregated content.

Your announcement

So I'm going to be honest. When you say you're going to create "an open and decentralized standard for social media," I don't believe it. My reaction to this announcement is similar to my reaction to Mark Zuckerberg giving a speech in favor of free speech: to laugh.

Twitter used an open standard in its early days—then abandoned it. Twitter said they were the "free speech wing of the free speech party," then started banning and throttling people for political speech.

A lot of people are working on decentralizing content in reaction to your mishandling of social media.

We don't need Mark Zuckerberg's "help" to support free speech, and we don't need your "help" to make content decentralized.

Sincerely,
Larry Sanger


Why Pedophilia Is Evil

However it is defined, pedophilia is wrong; but beyond that, it is evil. In a deeply disturbing trend in the last few decades, pedophilia apologists have tried to soft-pedal the condemnation of this horrible crime and criminal ideation. They are very wrong. Here is why.

Prefatory notes, July 13, 2019—I wrote the first draft of the following essay about the horror of pedophilia in late 2016 or early 2017 and posted it on Medium and Quora, where it got quite a bit of attention. Since I deleted my accounts on those sites last winter, this essay (and a number of others) have been unavailable. But I want this and a number of other essays to keep circulating, so I will be posting them here on my blog. The following essay in particular seems important in light of the Jeffery Epstein imbroglio.

But it was not the Epstein case, or any particular case, that originally led me to write about pedophilia. It was, rather, a long-standing interest in applied ethics in general, together with the (to me) jaw-droppingly incredible fact that people defend pedophiles. (As was the case with philosopher G.E. Moore, a lot of my philosophical writing is basically in reaction to absurd positions that other people take.) When I first encountered this rhetorical phenomenon in 2002—that was when pedophiles first descended upon Wikipedia—I simply could not believe it. My naive incredulity disappeared through repeated encounters with pedophiles in connection with Wikipedia. In fact, I came to believe I had an obligation to do at least a little something about it, which is why I reported Wikimedia Commons' pedophilia pages to the FBI in 2010 (which took no action that I know of).

All that said, this is no more a pet cause than any others in applied ethics. I have also written about the evils of murder, racism, antivitism (a neologism of mine), censorship, violations of privacy, and other topics in applied ethics. I especially like my essay on "Our Moral Abyss."

I have rewritten the essay slightly, and follow it with some replies that I made to comments by real, live pedophiles (they are online and quite shameless, in fact) that I hope will clarify my arguments.

Updated again December 6, 2019.


The word “pedophilia” has two senses. I want defend the thesis that pedophilia in both senses is not just “bad” but deeply evil. This is not a thesis about either psychology or the law, but instead about morality.

Everyone seems to agree that the word can mean (a) sexual attraction to prepubescent children (or, sometimes, any children below the age of consent). This is the clinical definition. But we often more colloquially use the word to mean (b) actual sex with children, i.e., what is more correctly described as child sexual abuse or (these mean the same) child rape.((Pedophiles sometimes quibble, absurdly, that only sense (a), only the attraction to children, counts as pedophilia; but we hardly need consider the bizarre case in which an adult has sex with a child without feeling sexual attraction to the child. It is reasonable to assume that if sense (b) applies, so does sense (a).))

It is distressing how poorly the evil of pedophilia seems to be understood. When I first sat down to write this essay, I was shocked at how little was available online explaining why it is evil. So I wish to make this quite clear, beginning with (b) actual sex with children. The evil of the act is easier to explain, and the evil of the criminal ideation ultimately depends on the evil of the act.


The moral horror of child rape

The rape of children((I.e., any sex between adults and children. Since, as we will see below, children cannot consent, all such sex constitutes rape.)) is a horrific evil because it traumatizes the child for life. In this regard, it may be compared to torture and rape of adults; even after the act is over, it continues to wound. It fills the child with undeserved shame and low self-esteem for life. For some adult survivors, this pain becomes so unbearable that they take their own lives. It can permanently alter—pervert—the child’s understanding of sex. Some suffer, and that is the right word, from hypersexuality (sometimes called "nymphomania"), and some become completely closed off to all sexual relationships. Horrifyingly, it also makes victims more likely to become abusers when they grow up—perpetuating what has been called a "cycle of abuse."

Child sexual abuse is an act so damaging and degrading, and at the same time shockingly selfish, that it deserves to be called evil, if anything is evil: for some moments of pleasure, the adult causes the child life-long trauma.

So the immediate moral horror, the physical shock, and the pain of the act itself often give way to a lifetime of psychological suffering and dysfunction. The act of child sexual abuse is horrifyingly harmful. It is an act so damaging and degrading, and at the same time shockingly selfish, that it deserves to be called evil, if anything is evil: for some moments of pleasure, the adult causes the child life-long trauma.((As I put it in my essay on this blog, "A Theory of Evil," "Evil is contempt for the humanity, the human life, of others." Child rape is not merely cruel, it evinces contempt for the very humanity of children. Therefore it is a textbook example of evil by my definition.))

I want to assert very clearly and forcefully that anyone who presumes to evaluate the morality of child sexual abuse without discussing the horrible facts about these consequences is, by that omission, perpetuating the evil. The proper moral evaluation of child rape absolutely requires confronting its appalling consequences. That is why we must condemn those pedophile advocates who want to speak only about positive experiences with children—as if such were really possible—and who do not discuss the more typical and probable trauma the act causes. Even if the probability of trauma were relatively slight, the severity of the harm can be so extreme that the act is simply not justifiable.

Indeed, one of the most shocking indications of just how extreme the trauma caused to children by rape is the fact that it can result in dissociative identity disorder (once known as "multiple personality disorder").

Every discussion of the subject should make unequivocally clear that sex with underaged children is a horrific evil and is intolerable. Unfortunately, ignorance has meant that pedophilia is not understood widely enough to be the terrible evil that it is. But, however defined, shameless advocates of pedophilia really do exist and can be found all over the Internet, as I will explain below. So, for the sake of those who might be at all confused on this point, it is incumbent on the rest of us make it quite clear.

Another shockingly incorrect stance on this topic is that sex with prepubescent children is wrong only when the child “does not consent.” We may reply that legally, children cannot consent, of course. Sex with prepubescent children is always rape. This is for good reason: children are not capable of consenting, because they do not understand the nature of the sex act or its consequences. But I think a stronger reply is this: the trauma described above will happen whether or not “consent” seems to be given by the child. Anyone using such phrases as “if the child consents” is using the language of pedophilia apology and is very highly suspect. It is, after all, the design of many confirmed, repeat pedophiles to groom children to win their "consent." No one ought to credit what a child says in such a sickening situation; blame falls every bit as much with the raping adult as in the case in which if a child says "no" and resists.

There are other reasons why sex with children is wrong. Children can be physically injured by sex—there are cases in which small children died of injuries sustained from abuse. It can result in pregnancy among pubescent girls as young as 11 or 12. STDs can be contracted by both boys and girls, which only compounds the horror. Child rape is one of the most egregious violations of the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. It deeply damages families and family life. And of course it is against the law, and age of consent laws exist for very good reasons, as I hope I have explained.

But it gets worse. There is a dimension of the evil of child rape that bears special mention: as with young women, children can be and are enslaved and sold for sex throughout the world. It is estimated that perhaps hundreds of thousands of children—many young teens—are sold into sexual slavery, incorrectly described as "prostitution," every year in the U.S., and two million globally.

Child sex trafficking pedophiles: the wealthy Jeffrey Epstein and the famous Jimmy Savile.

The normalization of pedophilia, therefore, supports not only individual instances of child rape, but an entire $99 billion-per-year sex trafficking industry in the U.S. alone; compare the movie industry, which earned $43 billion in 2017. We are battling not just an individual crime, but organized crime. Certain evil men and women do not merely rape children; they form organizations to buy and sell children for sex. That of course compounds what is already an unthinkable horror.

But it gets even worse. There are multiple instances of child sex trafficking rings not just among the lower classes, but among the richest and most powerful eschelons as well. One needs only to investigate the cases of Jeffrey Epstein, Jimmy Savile, the NXIVM cult, the DEN pedophile ring, and many more.

When I first drafted this essay, I thought pedophilia was mainly a criminal and moral issue. But I now understand it to be one of the most pressing civic issues of our age. It is crucial that we make no excuses for pedophilia. We must come to understand it for the horrific evil that it is.

One sometimes hears that the word "pedophilia" applies only to desire for sex with pre-pubescent children, and that sex with older children is better called "hebephilia" and "ephebophilia" depending on the age. One can draw this distinction, but narrowing the scope of the term has little moral import. That is precisely why the word "pedophilia" continues to be popularly used as a general term. It applies to the crime of sex with the too-young in general. Let us be quite clear. The moral horror can attach just as much—or nearly as much, anyway—to sex with teens as with small children. One ex-offender confessed, in response to this blog, to the profound damage that he had done to the life of a 16-year-old girl. Plenty of women bravely revealed the great harm done to them, when they were teen girls, by Jeffrey Epstein and his elite cadre of rapists. The suggestion that what happened to them is not bad enough to be tarred with the brush of "pedophilia" is beneath contempt.

Illustration by Winsor McCay: let us agree that sex trafficking is "the shame of civilization."


An evil mental disorder

Some writers demand that everyone use the words “pedophilia” and “pedophile” according to senses defined by psychiatrists. But, just as we may opt not to extend our everyday use of “fruit” to tomatoes, even though biologists tell us they are fruit, so we may opt to continue to use these words in their popular senses.

As a philosopher, i.e., someone trained in the definition of concepts and argumentation over how to apply words, I want to advise the opposite: you may and should continue to use these words as you always have, at least in most contexts. A pedophile, in this popular sense, is someone who sexually abuses children, or who tries to do so, or who wants to. To be clear, I am not saying that these ought to be the scientific or clinical uses of the terms. I am saying that the everyday use, which I am discussing here and which is catalogued in many dictionary definitions, need not mirror the clinical use.

The medicalization of a condition clearly does not preclude its moral evaluation, and the broader category is morally relevant, which is why it stays in currency.

But now let us discuss the clinical sense: the desire to have sex with children. This, too, is a moral evil.

Some will bristle at the mere claim that this "clinical condition" is evil. They act as if the fact that psychologists write about, and treat, pedophilia means that, since pedophilia is just a medical condition, it is off-limits for moral evaluation. This argument is so obviously fallacious that it actually serves better as a reductio of the premise; in other words, the medicalization of a condition clearly does not preclude its moral evaluation. Just because psychiatrists, who do whatever is necessary to eliminate a condition, adopt what sounds like a nonjudgmental stance, it hardly follows that we need do so as well.

After all, consider what we are talking about here: desiring and fantasizing about sex with children, also called child rape. The word for such thoughts is criminal ideation, as psychiatrists often speak of homicidal ideation.

Others will say that mere desires obviously cannot be morally evaluated. Among the people who write about this subject, it is a less popular stance to say the desire and not just the act is evil. But in fact most of us are perfectly willing to place the label "evil" on it. No polls are available, but doubtless a large majority would find pedophilic ideation to be "evil."

I do not, of course, present this as an argument for the claim that desire for sex with children is evil. But it does put into a sobering context the practice of some—which is frankly bizarre and disturbing—to treat pedophilia as merely a psychiatric disorder, as if it were not a very deeply serious problem for other people as well. Let us grant that pedophilia, in the sense of desire for sex with children, is indeed a psychiatric disorder; indeed, there seems nothing well-ordered about it. But most of us simply could not care in the slightest that it is a psychiatric disorder, i.e., we do not care that there is something wrong with the brains of pedophiles, except insofar as such people pose a threat to our children. Pedophilia as a disorder per se rightly strikes us as a threat, and such a monstrous threat that it is evil.

So, yes, well spotted, pedophilia is a disorder. But that is not incompatible with our condemning it as something quite evil, and not just a clinical condition like, say, high blood pressure. I do so condemn it, and so should we all.

Why are we talking about sympathy, again?

I do not mean to say I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for the psychological condition of a person who wakes up one day finding himself wanting to violate little boys and girls. It is, rather, that I prioritize the health of families and communities far above whatever pain an illicit desire might cause such a person. In fact, the priority of the former is so much greater that I can say that the only significant reason that most of us need care about the mental health of a pedophile is that, through caring, we might perhaps prevent child sexual abuse. There is no other important reason. It might well turn out in some cases that strong moral condemnation, rather than sympathy, would motivate pedophiles to rid themselves of their desire more effectively.

We may draw an analogy with people who want very badly to rape women. They fantasize about it, they watch rape porn, they might have come close at times. Some have actually done it, although others have never done it. Call such a person a rapeophile. That is a label we might place under an extreme form of a DSM-5 category, sexual sadism disorder. Now, if pedophilia is a mental disorder, I think it is safe to say that rapeophilia is one too. To be sure, being a rapeophile might cause a person great mental anguish; it certainly should. But in this situation, whom do I care more about: the rapeophile, or women who might possibly be in danger from the rapeophile? Obviously, the latter — even if the rapeophile has never acted on his desires. And rapeophilia constitutes criminal ideation, of course: would we not, in an age in which the Establishment fights against "rape culture," deem it to be profoundly evil?

Do we care about the violation of innocent children less than we care about the violation of grown women? Surely not.


How can pedophilia be evil if is beyond a person’s control?

But, some critics will say smugly, you are missing an obvious objection: how can pedophilia be evil if is beyond a person’s control? The short answer is that it is not entirely beyond a person’s control. But first I want to back up a bit.

As a philosophy instructor for many years, I taught undergraduates the common maxim that "ought implies can": if you ought to do something, you should be able to do it. That in turn means that one cannot be responsible if one has no ability to do something, if one lacks freedom; if we ought to do something then it must be the case that we are free to do it. How can we be obligated to do something that is not in our power?

When psychiatrists inform us that pedophilia is a mental disorder and when certain (I think quite contemptible) activists insist that pedophiles cannot control their desires, these claims are sometimes used draw the definitely false conclusion that pedophilia, in the psychiatric sense, is not bad.

So I deny the premise. I claim that pedophilia, or the desire to have sex with children, can be controlled.

Another mental disorder

Alcoholism too is a mental disorder and it can be controlled, albeit with great difficulty. That is why I maintain that alcoholism can be quite morally bad, in the following sense. (By the way, many recovering alcoholics agree wholeheartedly with me on this.) All acknowledge that alcoholism is an addiction, and I can concede that it exhibits features of a disease. But this does not absolve anyone caught in the grip of this addiction of any moral obligations. Few would object to the good advice that we should not allow ourselves to sink into that awful swamp in the first place, before the addiction gets that bad. Indeed, we bear a huge obligation to ourselves to avoid it, especially if others in our family were alcoholics. Even if we cannot easily stop ourselves from drinking once we are addicted, we can stop ourselves from overindulging if we are not addicted.

Desires and compulsions are not unalterable facts of nature. This is a profound feature of our lives as moral beings with free will.

Admittedly, once we are addicted, it becomes more understandable if we do not suddenly and heroically de-addict ourselves. Still, even then we bear a very heavy burden—and it is a moral burden, what else?—to lift ourselves out of addiction as well as we can, and, after the fact, we can still be blamed for allowing ourselves to become addicted. Perhaps we are less to be blamed if we are genetically predisposed to such addiction; but there are people with that genetic predisposition who never touch alcohol for that very reason. We have free will. As we exit addiction, we will bear this burden until the addiction no longer afflicts us. Then we will still bear the burden of not letting ourselves sink back into it. To deny these platitudes is to deny both common experience and the reality of free will.

Desires and compulsions are not unalterable facts of nature. This fact is a profound feature of our lives as moral beings with free will; it must not be passed over lightly, much less dismissed. It is entirely unrealistic—as well as cynical and corrupting—to deny the malleability of desire. After all, a great deal of morality and psychiatry both, as well as rehabilitation in criminal justice, are concerned with changing unwelcome desires. To treat desires and compulsions as unchangeable forces of nature is essentially to give up on moral improvement, psychiatric recovery, and criminal rehabilitation.

Universal experience teaches that intense desires rarely arrive full-blown in our heads. They creep in, as it were, experienced as mere possibilities. We consider them, perhaps briefly, musing. If something is quite taboo — for example, murder, incest, or uttering certain forbidden words and thoughts — then most of us will drop the idea immediately, and the desire has little chance to germinate.

Let us suppose there is a person who, for whatever reason, has unusually weak self-control. If this person finds himself with a desire, he has no filters to rein it in; it does not occurs to him that he should not reject it. Instead, he nurses his desire. He thinks about it. He considers and discusses with himself; he imagines; he plans, but without acting on the plans.

Suppose that person is a pedophile.

The pedophile then, finally, decides that he has a problem, that it might be wrong for him to have these desires. Is such a person not morally culpable, foolish at least if not actually evil, for allowing such desires to fester unchecked? Why would he not be? Think about any illicit or undesirable desire you might have had in the past — for cigarettes, too much porn, dessert, alcohol, drugs, game time, or whatever your vice might be. It can be hard to stop yourself from indulging in bad habits, especially if they are quite addictive. But do you not also remember when you developed those bad habits, and when you could have much more easily reined them in?

Why should the desire for sex with children be any different? Do not just claim that it is different; explain very carefully how and why it is different. It is not.

Someone might argue that I am comparing bad habits like overeating or drinking too much alcohol — and those are actions — with an undesirable desire, which a pedophile does not act on. If he or she never indulges the desire, why think the mere desire is bad?

The desire is horrific, because it might lead to a horrific action. Would we not also be horrified by a big man with poor self-control who confessed that he had recently started thinking, constantly, about raping women?

This is a fair question, but there is a clear answer. The thoughts are bad, of course, because people who lack the self-control to order their thoughts often lack the self-control to restrain the behavior that the desire would lead to. We do not leave children alone with people who confess that they have pedophilic desires, because desires might lead to action.

The desire is horrific, because it might lead to a horrific action. Would we not also be horrified by a big man with poor self-control who confessed that he had recently started thinking, constantly, about raping women? I certainly would be. And why? Because he might start actually acting on his thoughts. Should we ignore his desires because they are “just desires”?

This is the main reason, then, that pedophilia in the clinical sense is horrifically evil: it can, and sometimes does, lead to a horrifically evil action. It is idle and sophomoric to insist that, after all, it might not lead to that action. A person who lets such an evil desire fester and grow strong has for that very reason demonstrated a lack of self-control. The risk is significant, and it is a risk of a great evil.

Let me consider one final reply. What if someone claims to have this desire but that it is fully under control — that he would never rape a child, and would only ever fantasize. Putting aside worries about the risk, surely mere fantasizing hurts no one.

Well, no; it is not fantasizing per se that makes pedophilia so evil. It is, first and foremost, the risk. Anyone who is so out-of-control as to permit these feelings to fester in himself is a risk, so far as the rest of us know, no matter what he may say. And while the fantasizing considered just by itself (without regard to its consequences) might not hurt anyone, it certainly does increase the risk.

Pedophilic feelings have other ill effects. They can cause someone to go looking for child pornography, which creates a market for actual child rape. Even drawn child molestation can increase the chances of a desire for the real thing, thereby creating a market. After all, if a pedophile enjoys looking at drawn pictures of children being molested, surely he or she might get even more excitement from actual photographs.

It is also an undesirable desire because the pedophile must never act on it. It is, for that reason, in addition to be horrifically evil, also pointless.

Let me clarify one last point. In this section I have been arguing that pedophilia, considered simply as a desire for sex with children, is appallingly evil. But I am not saying that psychiatrists or clergy or others who are working directly with pedophiles should be highly judgmental. I have no opinion on that; I suppose psychiatrists should do whatever in their clinical experience reduces the disorder most efficiently and permanently, while remaining humane, of course.((It is interesting to me, in this connection, that a pedophile wrote a whiny reply to this essay, to which I wrote a scathing answer; he then responded by saying that this harsh judgment was exactly what he needed. Of course, this one case proves little in itself regarding a proper course of treatment.))


Sophistry

Stop the pedophilia apology

Online discussions of pedophilia should always clarify how evil child sexual abuse is. So, do they? All too often, they do not. The more typical narrative is that pedophilia is just a feeling, and feelings cannot be controlled, so non-offending pedophiles—"virtuous pedophiles," in their Orwellian self-description—are not bad. The horrors of abuse, and the fact that "just a feeling" can and too often does lead to abuse, are often not mentioned or quickly passed over. This popular narrative is not only wrong, for reasons I have already explained, it is also quite dangerous.

Even those who acknowledge that child rape is a great evil can unwittingly contribute to this problematic narrative, when they speak as if pedophilic desires were unalterable facts of nature. When a behavior seems to spring from a desire, maybe especially when it is a psychiatric diagnosis, modern commentators and even psychiatrists are in the unfortunate habit of treating the desire or diagnosis as a morally neutral medical condition for which the "patient" is not quite responsible.

To debunk this narrative, the services not of a doctor but of a philosopher are in order. There is a funny thing about free will: the more we believe that something is in our control, the more control we have over it. By contrast, the more we believe that something is out of our control, the less we will be inclined to do anything about it. It is as if a belief in free will gives us free will—more precisely, though, the belief in the thing gives us the willingness to exercise it. And inversely, abandonment of the belief in free will saps your motivation to act contrary to your present inclinations.

Therefore, I am afraid that those who characterize pedophilia as an unchangeable desire are contributing to the very problem of pedophilia. It would be like telling alcoholics that they are not responsible for becoming alcoholics and cannot ever free themselves of their hankering for alcohol, as if their compulsion were doomed to be as strong as it is at its strongest. If they believed that, then why would they even try to beat their addiction? If the rest of us believed that, why would we try to resist the slide into alcoholism in the first place? Just imagine saying something similar aloud to, again, those "rapeophiles": "It is a shame that you find yourself with a strong compulsion to rape women. But it is not your fault, because it's just a desire and desires are out of your control. Still, now that you have it, make sure you never act on it." We cannot imagine anyone with such a complacent attitude in the #MeToo age. Why countenance such an attitude toward those who desire to rape children? Again, are children less worthy of protection than women?

If your illicit desires are absolutely unalterable, you bear no responsibility for them—and then why fight them? This morally enfeebling message is repeated throughout those parts of our decadent culture that reject personal responsibility. Addicts everywhere hear and obey.

Heeding this message too,  many pedophiles regard their condition as just “another sexual orientation” that may be responsibly indulged (i.e., only in fantasy). One can find a sympathetic group for practically anything online, including pedophilia. I am sorry to report that pedophilia propagandists are online, active, and emboldened.

The logo of the "North American Man-Boy Love Association."

Propaganda produced by pedophiles—and on their behalf—is disturbing. Consider:

  • Media discussions of pedophilia are dominated by pleas that we should “understand” pedophiles first and foremost. Somehow, this will make children safer. Such articles rarely give much attention to the risk of abuse, and they of course never take the position that pedophilia is evil.
  • Establishment sources have tried, over the years, to normalize pedophilia via organizations. Everyone has heard of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, which still exists and is actually online. NAMBLA's perhaps most famous member is its co-founder, the lauded poet Allen Ginsberg, and the organization was defended by the ACLU. Incredibly, such "activists" have argued for decades for “age of consent reform,” as if advocacy to abolish one of the most horrific crimes imaginable were somehow “progressive.” Other groups online include "Virtuous Pedophiles" and "Celibate Pedophiles," who make it their business to defend non-offending pedophiles online. Pedophiles merely have another "sexual orientation”—a position that has been discussed in at least one college course.
  • There are aggressive demands of tolerance of drawn depictions of child molestation , which are  created by and for pedophiles , because it is a “victimless crime." Never mind that what is depicted is, for all decent people, one of the most heinous of crimes, worse than ordinary rape because it is the rape of children. Never mind that the consumers of such depictions are pedophiles derive great pleasure from fantasies of committing this crime, and that they must restrain themselves from that crime. Wikipedia documents in remarkable detail the state of the law on this in various places in the world.((I reported the Wikimedia Foundation to the FBI over such illustrations in 2010, and many people on the group blog Slashdot, for example, roundly condemned my position.))
  • Then there is the tone. The tone taken is always high-minded, as if the defenders of pedophiles were better and smarter than you and I. Writers condescendingly chide society for failing to consider that non-offending, long-suffering pedophiles really are a thing. One German program treats pedophiles as "victims, not offenders." They seem to sneer that we are ignorant of the science, due to our hatred of what is a deep moral evil and societal cancer; the implication is that pedophilia a matter of clinical study and treatment, never moral evaluation, which would be somehow unscientific and reactionary. (Of course, my response to this is to laugh in disdain at this tone-deaf propaganda.)

Such propaganda seeks to normalize pedophilia.

If there is one reason that we as as society should insist that pedophilia constitutes criminal ideation as well as a disorder, and that it is horrifically evil, it is that we must take a firm stand against those who would, quite deliberately, try to normalize it. If it is normalized, this state of affairs will embolden all too many of the weak and the malevolent to indulge their desires. Indeed, to the extent that it has already been normalized, the weak and malevolent have already indulged their desires—and they do so with devastating frequency.

Pedophilia must never be normalized. Have no compunctions about calling it evil; it is important that we do call it evil; we prevent this evil from spreading by identifying it as such.

Perhaps, indeed, we do have less to fear from those who are strong-willed enough not to act on their desires. That is all very well, but no one is going to admit to being weak-willed, and malevolence always wears a mask of lies—criminal pedophiles are no different on this score. Faced with criminal charges, most offending pedophiles will pretend to be "virtuous." For all their talk of virtuous pedophilia, many of the activists and activist scientists writing on this subject seem curiously reluctant mention of vicious pedophiles. In this regard they strike me as being, ironically, both unrealistic and irrational. A more realistic and rational view acknowledges that the world is filled with weak and malevolent people who only too readily indulge their desires when the opportunity arises, and indeed who go out of their way to give themselves opportunities.

There is no social or individual benefit to be gained from normalizing pedophilia. If there is one thing that deserves to remain taboo, it is this. Pedophilia must never be normalized. Have no compunctions about calling it evil; it is important that we do call it evil; we prevent this evil from spreading by identifying it as such.

- fin -

One personification of evil


Note: what follows are some replies I made to some real-life pedophiles, who commented on the Medium copy of the above article. I'm not including the pedophiles' replies because I did not save copies of what they wrote when I left Medium.

Reply #1

This is a reply to a teenage self-confessed pedophile who said he'd never acted on his feelings and that I was very mean for lacking empathy for his plight.

I’m writing so that unformed minds, who might be confused by the likes of you, won’t be. I have absolutely no desire to have “empathy” for pedophiles, any more than I want to have empathy for rapists. Frankly, I think child molestation is considerably worse than rape of adults; it is a truly horrific crime. “Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons” is no more legitimate than, and no more deserving of empathy, than “Men Who Want to Violently Rape Women But Restrain Themselves.” The only reason to empathize with such a person’s pedophilia is to prevent crime; and the way that crime might be prevented by empathy is not by making the criminal (or would-be criminal) feel better about their criminal ideation but by coming to understand their patterns, motivations, and other things that allow us to (a) catch and punish criminals and (b) aggressively prevent actual child abuse.

If any teen of mine confessed to being sexually attracted to little children, I would (a) explain in great detail why pedophilia is not just a little bit wrong, but horrifically evil (and probably make them read the essay I wrote, and demonstrate excellent understanding of it) and (b) immediately seek professional help from a therapist who agreed with me that pedophilic desires must be treated as criminal ideation, with a goal of eliminating them as much as possible.

It’s silly and absurd to be accused of having a “look-how-morally-upstanding-I-am” tone as I patiently explain how evil pedophilia is. I have also carefully and patiently explained why murder is wrong, and nobody accused me of being self-righteous. That’s because normal people don’t think they’re particularly great because they don’t commit crime. For normal people, that’s just the baseline.

But I will, of course, show no compunctions about telling pedophiles directly and without regret that you are not just “sick,” but deeply morally corrupt, and I don’t mean a little bit or in a hip and edgy way (like, e.g., drug abuse seems to some people), but in a straightforward your-heart-is-black way. Pedophiles are evil. They don’t need empathy. They need therapy in the way that muggers could use rehabilitation — not because we feel sorry for the pedophiles (or muggers), but because society desperately needs them to refrain from their evil behavior. And the notion that pedophilia is a sexual orientation that needs to be normalized is horrifying and beyond obscene.


Reply #2

This is a reply to someone describing himself as a European graduate student in the humanities, who thought he was being clever by making sophistical replies to the arguments in my essay. These are my rebuttals.

Matt, as you are speaking as a pedophilia apologist, and as you are speaking to someone who believes pedophilia (in both senses defined in my original essay) is evil, you have no credibility or authority. So when you adopt a tone of condescension, you merely come across as ridiculous. I’m still laughing at you; you deserve derision and contempt. And this is why I’m not going to reply to your stupid attempts at zingers; they just make you look creepier.

Here are a few replies:

I wrote: “ 'Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons' is no more legitimate than, and no more deserving of empathy, than 'Men Who Want to Violently Rape Women But Restrain Themselves.”

You responded, irrelevantly: “Exactly how is it not legitimate? Are you suggesting that it is impossible for a pedophile to control their actions? You’ve already argued that they can in your previous article.”

“Rapeophilia” — defined, say, as the exclusive or predominant desire to rape women — is about as legitimate as pedophilia, defined similarly but with regard to children. So imagine someone came up with “Non-Offending Rape Attracted Persons,” or NORAP, and said the various sorts of things about their desire to rape women that you say with regard to attraction to children. They just need help; they shouldn’t be ostracized; they should be “understood”; don’t judge them as a potential rapists because most of them don’t rape; etc. Well, it’s pretty damn obvious that saying these things in defense of a fictional NORAP category is no different from saying similar things in defense of NOMAPs (i.e., pedophiles). Considering that defense of rapeophilia is utterly illegitimate, we can also say that defense of pedophilia is utterly illegitimate.

Now, I’m glad that you at least pay lip service to the notion that pedophiles can control themselves. But I say more than that they can stop themselves from raping children. I say, furthermore, that they bear a heavy burden to deny and rid themselves of their desire to rape children, which they should have denied and repressed the moment it appeared. Instead, they went with it. It is playing with fire to indulge potential criminals by saying that their desire to rape children is a “sexual orientation” on a par with heterosexuality or homosexuality, by saying that there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing, etc. Imagine a group of people, the worst of whom are regular rapists, who say, “There’s nothing morally wrong with people who can only get off on rape fantasies. They can’t control themselves. We should understand them. Some women actually secretly want to be raped, you know — but of course, we believe rape is very, very wrong. (Except, of course, for the people who think it’s just fine, right?)”

You’re not even nearly as clever as you think you are. You’re an idiot. Your bias in favor of people who commit horrific crimes has made you unable to understand basic reasoning. I don’t have many opinions about the best way to rehabilitate pedophiles. I know I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t generally opine about such things. But I do have an opinion about social mores: it should never be an acceptable part of society to encourage adults to accept within themselves their attraction to children. That is, and should remain, one of the strongest taboos we live by. I don’t know or particularly care what therapists say to pedophiles in their therapy sessions.

I also have an opinion about the goal of therapy is the same as the goal of therapy with rapists or alcoholics or drug addicts: to rid themselves of the desire. In this regard, it’s very, very different than the goal of therapy for homosexuals. Most people think we shouldn’t try to “cure” homosexuals; I’m one who thinks we shouldn’t. In that regard, homosexuality can be regarded as a sexual orientation whereas pedophilia and rapeophilia cannot. Similarly, wine tasting and being a whisky connoisseur can be regarded as more or less healthy pastimes; alcoholism isn’t, and alcoholics bear the heavy burden to rid themselves of their compulsion.


A Celebration of Winsor McCay

My favorite illustrator ever, Winsor McCay (1869-1934), worked for decades as a newspaper political cartoonist, illustrator, and animator.

I learned about McCay while browsing through books in the 1990s, I think it was, in a shop in Seattle's Fish Market, and I just stumbled upon a collection of his work titled Daydreams and Nightmares, which has many (not all) of the items below.

What has always struck me about McCay, aside from his sheer skill as an illustrator, is his ability to express important values in a striking and beautiful way.

I found that most if not all of his values were my values, and indeed, the words are right in the images: things like thought, knowledge, truth, hard work, duty, wisdom, books. And many more, too: his political cartoons show that he was deeply opposed to war on principle, a view I tend to support; he hated drugs (and mind you, he was illustrating from the late 1800s to the 1930s); he was serious about Christianity, a theme that came up now and then in his work; there's one that shows he was deeply disturbed about "The White Slaver," with a caption reading, "The most sinister and degraded member of the race! The shame of civilization!"; he has illustrations on the importance of taking life seriously in the face of death; at least two about women's rights; several visions of a fascinating (often incorrect) future; and one against "technocracy," portrayed as a futuristic machine-monster, which seems newly relevant in the age of Big Tech. I saved one of the best for last, "The Children of Ignorance," which I have used several times online throughout the years.


Against Anti-Natalism

The anti-natalist's bête noir.

Anti-natalism is the view that that human beings should not have children, because it is unethical to do so. Different reasons can be offered for this startling position, but the position I discuss in this essay specifies that life has negative value for those burdened by it. It is more bad than good, or the bad that there is in life is somehow more significant or weighty than the good.

Better Never to Have Been—published.

Perhaps the best-known anti-natalist, David Benatar, maintains that since life includes suffering and nonexistence does not, and since nonexistence has nothing bad about it—he is much impressed by this "asymmetry," i.e., that suffering only occurs for life—it follows that nonexistence is preferable to life. But since it is impossible for parents to obtain consent from their future children for their coming into life (this looks like nonsense, as I will explain), we are imposing that pain onto our children without their consent. Anti-natalists can often be found blaming parents for all the suffering that their children ever have.

I will be honest: it is hard for me to take this view seriously. Moreover, I have little taste for pretending to take it seriously. On my view, any more elaborate or precise versions of the foregoing arguments do not make them any more plausible. The arguments are simply awful, and their social consequences strike me as deeply pernicious. Still, a few people reading this might disagree with me: maybe you think anti-natalism needs a hearing; maybe, even, it sounds plausible. If that is your reaction, after reading the previous paragraph, then I suspect it is not because of the excellent quality of the arguments. It is probably because it appeals to your more basic pessimism—perhaps a pathological condition. After all, we are talking about about a view according to which no one should ever have children because life is just that terrible.

In this brief essay, I will try to refute anti-natalism in the sense defined above. It is very possible that my arguments will not address or refute versions or arguments that some people have come up with. But they will, I hope, address some common versions. In any case, bear in mind this just an essay, an attempt, not a carefully-formulated position paper giving my final word on the subject. I might update this if conditions warrant.

Pain, ergo a worthless life?

As I understand it, there are two main parts to the case for anti-natalism. First, there is the part that says that it is morally wrong to foist a life of suffering onto children without their consent. Second, there is the premise that the suffering inherent in human life makes it indeed worthless, or worse than worthless. Both parts seem necessary. If human life were a good thing, then it would not be so objectionable to give life to new people. And simply claiming that human life is worthless does not clinch the case unless you draw the further conclusion that parents are doing wrong by creating worthless life (or life with negative value).

So I will take these two parts separately, beginning with:

The Question of Consent

The very idea that unconceived children have a right to consent whether or not they wish to be born is, of course, strictly nonsense. If something does not exist, it has no rights, no wishes, and no way to assert rights or wishes. Indeed, it makes no sense to speak of "it" at all; the pronoun stands for a posited individual which does not exist yet. Some people (who do very much exist today) point a finger of blame at their own parents: "I had no say in this life; I was not consulted," they say. The answer is straightforward: "You could not have been consulted, because you did not exist yet."

My answer leaves anti-natalists unimpressed. They are determined to blame their parents for making the bad choice of birthing them: there seems to be real resentment there. "You did decide to give birth, and the person you gave birth to happened to be me. This was a bad move and I resent it. You took this action, and it resulted in a life, which just happens to be my terrible life."

This genius sued his parents because they did not get his consent to be born. Here, he may be indicating the value he places on his life.

If this is to be the line, then it is pointing toward a slightly different argument. After all, the original argument was supposed to be that parents did not obtain consent from their as-yet unconceived children, and parents have no right to consent on their children's behalf. But that argument really is nonsense. "Ought" implies "can": if I ought to obtain consent from my future children, then I should be able to obtain consent from them. But as this is a metaphysical impossibility, it is not the case that I ought to obtain consent. At the time, there is no one to obtain consent from.

But if the argument is, instead, that parents make a poor choice generally by bringing a sad new life into this vale of tears, then no mention of (impossible) consent need be made. Then the idea is that the parents are doing something that has bad effects; the anti-natalist has, essentially, a consequentialist argument, i.e., one about the goodness or badness of consequences. People experiencing existential anger at their parents feel personally affronted because they are the recipients of these purportedly bad consequences.

But then the strength of the blame we assign to parents depends on the strength of the argument that life is worthless; on that, see the next section.

Whether he wants to or not.

Even if, contrary to fact, some sense could be made of the notion that parents are making a decision for their children which they have no right to make, we can simply deny the latter: parents decide things for their children all the time, after all. Parents raise children in a particular place, teach them a particular language, send them to a particular school, raise them in a certain religion, punish them for doing wrong and reward them for doing right, and so forth, all without consulting the children. The law recognizes this right. Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about specific cases; parents do not own their children, and they do not have unlimited authority over them. But one particular area of authority rests in the basic right to have children in the first place. The law certainly recognizes procreation as a basic, fundamental human right.

Admittedly, this is just a legal right, however; if to be born is to be harmed, then perhaps a moral right has been violated. That remains to be hashed out in the next section.

I want to make one further point on this head: the argument (again, that we should not have children because doing so does not respect their autonomy) proves too much, as philosophers are wont to say. Consistency on the point has some decidedly unpleasant consequences that could make anti-natalists look like monsters.

Let us agree, just for the sake of argument, that adults should never have children. But life sometimes throws us a curveball: suppose a gal gets knocked up. What is she to do? Well, if she decides to have an abortion, is she not making a decision on behalf of her child, just as much as if she were to bring it to term? It is misplaced to insist on the word "fetus" in this case, by the way: anti-natalists go far beyond pro-lifers, who talk about the rights of unborn persons, to claim that nonexistent persons have rights, or at least the right to consent to come into existence.

Too late.

Let us suppose the anti-natalist advises her to get an abortion. After all, that baby has not given consent. Very well. But if, before conception, there is a hypothetical person there with a right to consent, surely after conception there is a person there with a right to life. Which right—the right to deny consent to exist, or the right to live—should prevail? The anti-natalist is faced with a dilemma. Either there is a person with rights there, and hence a right to life that must not be violated, or there is not. It will not do to say, "Well, that mother should not have conceived." Let us suppose she has conceived; that is just a sad fact. This dilemma must not be ignored. Its existence does not imply that anti-natalism is wrong, but it does make it hard to be a consistent anti-natalist, for abortion rights advocates anyway.

The problem is this. If you (i.e., an anti-natalist) think a child has a right to consent, then immediately after conception at least it certainly is capable of having other rights. If, in that case, the you conclude that abortion is justifiable, then you are in effect denying that this growing human life has a right to life. One way out of the dilemma is to bite the bullet and find some reason to deny that this person, who has at least one other right, has no right to life. And, come to think of it, the anti-natalist does have a reason ready to hand: if life really is worthless, perhaps we should reconsider the very idea that there is a right to live, at least for the very young.

In that case, the dilemma is not over. Suppose the mother decides to have the baby after all, and now it is one year old. The baby still has not given consent, of course, and the usual human suffering has already started (e.g., colic). By the anti-natalist's lights, is the mother perpetrating an ongoing harm to her baby, by continuing to support it? It certainly seems she is. After all, if bringing a child into existence harms the child, then surely continuing to care for the child does as well. Should she not, in that case, snuff out this nonconsensual life? Why not?

Possibly an anti-natalist.

The idea fills us with moral horror, of course, or it should. But what resources can the anti-natalist bring to bear to avoid the consequence? From the point of view of a philosopher considering that life is worthless, and that the child has not consented to live, there really is not much difference between a newly conceived child and a one-year-old child. Both are lives that should not have been, according to the anti-natalist. If you could abort a newly-conceived fetus because (despite having other rights) it lacks a right to life, then why would it have gained a right to live by the very tender age of one?

The anti-natalist might say, "But there are other reasons we would not commit infanticide. Obviously we cannot have people going around killing babies." Yes indeed, well spotted. There are other reasons. But the anti-natalist cannot help himself to those reasons, because they generally presuppose the value of human life, and human life, especially the life of the very young, has no value—remember?

You cannot rest on the comforting practices and beliefs of civilized society as it is now constituted to escape these moral horrors—not without abandoning the premises of your position. If you begin to tell me about the comfort the baby feels in her mother's arms, or the joy the mother feels in her baby, I will remind you that none of that seemed to matter when you were advocating against birth in the first place. Such maternal joys were, after all, perfectly predictable.

Maybe not actual anti-natalists, but hippies on an island commune.

To bring out this point, I imagine a secret anti-natalist cult—a colony on a desert island, say. Everyone there is an anti-natalist, all planning to die childless. But some of these are young people and, of course, nature will sometimes take its course. The mother (nature intruding, again) opts not to have an abortion, and to the horror of the island cult's anti-natalists, a child is born.

In such a society, "enlightened" as it is by anti-natalist sentiments, I imagine there would be an immediate demand to kill the child—humanely, of course. After all, that child did not choose to live; its mental capacity is unequal to a dog's. On what grounds would the anti-natalists—far from the "corrupting" and "unenlightened" influence of broader society—choose to preserve the life of the child? Perhaps a right to life; but most anti-natalists will be fine with abortion, of course, so that theoretical expedient seems unavailable. No one who understands the issues wants the baby to endure a life of suffering. The baby can die peacefully and painlessly—and so, one imagines the anti-natalist cult concluding, in its "enlightened" wisdom, the baby should die.

But then, one wonders why they, themselves, would choose to continue living, but that is another question, to consider below.

The Value of Life

Experiencing intrinsic value.

In another essay I argued that the value of life is intrinsic, i.e., human life itself just is that in virtue of which everything else is evaluated. I am not going to argue this claim much further here, except to point something out: the reason pleasure is good, when it is, is that it is the natural biological response to a life well lived. But sometimes, pleasure is very bad indeed, as when we are motivated to gain pleasure from activities that will kill us (as for example in drug addiction). Similarly, there is a reason suffering is bad, namely, it is the natural biological response to harm to the organism. Sometimes, however, the painfulness of suffering means no such thing. The suffering we endure from exercise is often a sign of a healthy activity. The suffering a rescuer endures from saving lives belies the notion that all suffering is bad: enduring it can be courageous and heroic.

The point is that pleasure and pain are imperfect qua signals of whether life is lived well or not. But ultimately the thing our pleasures and pains—and our bodily and cognitive systems, needs, desires, and in short the operation and flourishing of our entire human nature—aim at is the preservation of our lives and more generally of life wherever it is found. (I add the "more general" point because sometimes, arguably, we have biological urges to preserve someone else's life, as when a parent risks all to save a child.)

I have gone into a bit of detail about this in order to clarify why, as I will now maintain, the anti-natalists' notion of the value of human life frequently seems desiccated.

Your future.

"We live only to be faced with an often painful death, and typically after a whole lifetime of suffering," these pessimists intone. "Suffering is always much more awful than pleasure is pleasant. Pleasure really can be understood as the satisfaction of needs, i.e., the filling of a void. What is the significance of the mere absence of a negative in the face of profound suffering?"

Now, if this line of thinking is supposed to justify the conclusion that it is wrong to have children, it can only be through an intermediate conclusion, because it certainly does not follow immediately. Let us concede that life is a 100% fatal condition, that death is often painful, that suffering is often more intense than pleasure (not always—there are "peak moments," after all, that people say they live for). Now, it seems to me that the needed intermediate conclusion is that life is worthless, or worse than worthless; or, to put it more simply, not living is preferable to living.

Benatar and many anti-natalists are constantly found assuming the truth of this claim, but it strikes me as not just (a) unsupported by the weak premises, but also (b) quite obviously false. Let us consider the latter first.

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Manhood

Not Typically a Vale of Tears

Take the latter point first: it seems obviously false to say that not living is preferable to living. Most of the time, most people find life to be life worth living, not a "vale of tears." Various surveys of "average happiness" have been conducted around the world, and with few exceptions, on average, people in most countries are more happy than not.

Older folks are, typically, filled with regrets about mistakes and missed opportunities; but rarely do you hear them regret having lived at all. If they say, "What has it all been for?" it is because they feel they have not been productive enough, or maybe because they have left no family behind. Sometimes it does enter into their calculus that their life was filled with physical and emotional suffering. But few lives are burdened by unremitting suffering. There are, of course, exceptions, i.e., people who are depressed or miserably schizophrenic their whole lives long, or whose bodies were never-ending sources of pain. But the portion of humanity that fits into those categories is small.

How do anti-natalists respond to this? There are two ways to respond. One is to look down upon all those small-minded happy people with contempt. Happy people are living a lie. This strikes me as arrogant and, in any case, unpersuasive. One common reason is for such arrogant pessimism is the observation that we will all obviously die eventually. It is supposed to follow from this that our lives are meaningless and pointless. That has never struck me as being a good argument. It is a stance some anti-natalists take, but, in short, I think there is no way to defend it. After all, the value experienced in a life clearly has a time limit, this is well-known to everyone but the young and foolish, and yet people continue to find meaning in that value. A mother might have only fifty years in which to love a child; but that love is certainly one of the things that gave her life meaning for those fifty years. Why not? Who is the anti-natalist to tell the mother that that love is meaningless just because it has an expiration date?

(There is, of course, more to say on this point.)

Anti-natalists are glass-half-empty kind of people.

A second type of response has the anti-natalist realistically acknowledge that some people are happy, but the problem is that there is no way for a parent to know, in advance, if a child will end up being one of them. There is massive risk inherent in life—the risk of having a life of misery.

To this I reply that indeed, it is true that life is risky, and that some (I think few) people might justifiably conclude, in their own cases, that it would have been better never to have been born. Given that, it seems parents must be courageous on behalf on their children, so to speak—a concept that I think will be perfectly familiar to parents. There is a kind of existential courage every new parent ought to muster: making the most of a new little life in the face of possible disasters is a very big responsibility. Then, a part of what it means for the child to grow up is to accept the mantle of that existential courage on one's own behalf. It is cowardly to reject that mantle. When we want to admonish a young person who seems to be cowardly in the face of this existential challenge, the usual thing to say is: "No one said life would be easy."

Leo anti-natalis

This is not to deny that, sometimes, the challenge is beyond a person's power. If you have a disease that leaves your body racked with pain, and there is no end in sight, no one will blame you terribly if you declare you want to give up. Fortunately, life is rarely so awful. If you have a typical life, with typical diseases and typical heartbreaks, you are better advised to get up the courage that a typical life requires.

In any event, to argue that parents should not have children because they might have a life of misery is to counsel the opposite: cowardice. And as far as I can see, the mere risk of disaster is by itself an obviously terrible argument in favor of such cowardice.

The Bad in Life Is Not More Profound than the Good

We were discussing the anti-natalists' key claim that not living is preferable to living. My first response is to point out that this is unpersuasive; indeed it simply seems false (and cowardly). My second response is that the anti-natalist is guilty of a rather obvious non-sequitur. Clearly it does not follow from the ancient platitude that life is a vale of tears (something poets, prophets, and philosophers have told us for millennia) that life is not worth living. It seems one hardly needs to say more than that. It simply does not follow from the patent and prosy fact that life kind of sucks sometimes that life is not worth living.

The fact that it is such an obvious non-sequitur is probably why David Benatar felt it necessary to bolster that patent and prosy fact with what sounds like a very logical, technical, and irrefutable argument. To wit—living and nonliving are asymmetrical, he correctly points out. Or rather, he is correct just insofar as the former features something decidedly bad (viz., suffering), while the latter has nothing either good or bad in it. Benatar also, curiously, wants to insist that nonliving lacks suffering, and that is good; but I will not admit this feature, because something nonexistent cannot have either good or bad features.

The problem is that the anti-natalist conclusion still does not follow, even given Benatar's observation about the living-nonliving asymmetry, and for a few different reasons.

First, the asymmetry goes both ways. It is true that whatever is nonliving lacks suffering and other bad things, and that is all very well. But life has value in itself, as I said above. This is a belief we have naturally, even despite ourselves; even animals of different species value the life they see in each other enough to be found rescuing each other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44iIJGDJlwQ

Even if you did not agree that life is valuable in itself, you must at least admit that life has all sorts of good aspects, and not just some vague unspecified pleasures, but love, beauty, truth (or knowledge or learning), productivity, worship (for religious people), and more. Only someone with an arid, hedonistic view of the value of life could possibly be intellectually impressed by Benatar's argument if it is couched only in terms of pleasure. And only a pessimist, or someone with clinical emotional difficulties, could actually be persuaded by it.

After all, we rightly congratulate people for their new babies. We celebrate birthdays. We honor the dead and their lives in funerals. When we do this, we are not saying, “Oh, this person had some pleasure and on balance avoided pain.”

Now, Benatar is at pains, sometimes, to point out that by "pleasure" and "pain" he really means "anything good" and "anything bad," and that he is happy to recast his argument in terms of most any value theory. The problem is that the asymmetry he insists on is really obvious only in the hedonistic version of the argument. In other words, we can agree with him that suffering is more intense and long-lasting than pleasure—i.e., when the goods are pleasures and pains. We cannot agree with him so easily that the bad in life (more generally) is more important or consequential than the good. After all, this is precisely why we undergo such painful sacrifice, sometimes, in our lives: in order to secure things that are more importantly good. Students will rack their brains and stay up many late nights in order to gain knowledge. New parents will go to great trouble for the well-being (not merely the pleasure) of a new baby. A soldier will sacrifice everything in a key battle, or undergo awful torture, for the sake of a cause he regards as much more important than himself, such as freedom. There is something rather shabby in the suggestion that these reasons we have for living and even dying are somehow less important or profound than the the various troubles that life throws at us.

Even those who are living with painful disease, the memories of abuse, or profound personal tragedy usually—with grim determination—admit that it is better for themselves and the rest of the world that they continue to struggle on. To dismiss such brave thinking is shabby. A few supposedly sober and serious philosophers do seem to dismiss it—such trials are a reason never to have children, they say. We more normally attribute such pessimism only to terminally depressed mental patients. Why should we expect there to be any good argument for it? Why should we be surprised when, upon examination, the arguments put forth are terrible?

Beauty, freedom, peace—among the things we live for.

There is a fact known to everyone facing life's challenges with grim determination: some deeply important values are worth upholding in a full, rich life. Again, we live for family, knowledge, beauty (e.g., music), freedom, security, and much more. These values, which together comprise the value of human life, are incredibly profound and worth living for. They are worth risking pain. Hence no person inspired by the vision of our limited, all-too-human, but still grand works can be persuaded by the anti-natalist conclusion.

Is Anti-Natalism a Death Cult in the Making?

So far I have merely been defending the value of new human life against attacks upon it by anti-natalists. Now I wish to take the offensive.

Anti-natalism is difficult to distinguish from terminal depression: its grim assessment of the value of life closely resembles that of a suicidal person. So one really has to wonder: why would a consistent anti-natalist not simply end it all? Death, or at least nonliving, is preferable to life, or so the anti-natalists maintain.

Some anti-natalists might disagree with Benatar.

Benatar's response is that killing yourself and dying are quite different from never coming into existence in the first place, which is easy to concede. To say that parents should not give birth to children is very different from the claim that you should commit suicide. True, acting on both will result in a person not living. But the difference is that killing yourself happens only after you have lived at least some of a life. Throwing that life away can be an awful thing, Benatar says—and, of course, he is very right about that—in a way that never creating a life is not awful at all.

Benatar is a bit too much impressed with this point, however, because it does not do the work he wants it to do. Before a new life begins, anti-natalists want to say, the suffering and risk to be expected in the new life are so awful that we cannot justify creating it. But if that observation is true, does it somehow change when a new person is born? Surely not. The suffering and risk we can anticipate in the life of a newborn is the same as that in a person who has never been born—or, for that matter, in a person who is 50 years old and facing declining health.

Very well. Benatar's suggestion must be that killing—whether we mean a baby being killed (out of "mercy"), or a 50-year-old committing suicide—has awful consequences. There are fear and pain associated with the killing itself; grieving; the loss of support to a family, or the loss of future generations if a young person dies.

But if human life is so worthless that we can confidently tell in advance that it is not worth living, then what, really, is the loss once life has begun? If nonliving is better than living, then an enlightened anti-natalist would not fear but welcome death. The pain of dying can be minimized with drugs. Anyone who cared about a person who has died would not grieve but celebrate that another person has left this vale of tears, if they take the anti-natalist assessment of the value of life seriously. And while loss of support to a family is unfortunate, this is bearable; those still remaining usually make do. As to the loss of "future generations," of course anti-natalists think that is a good thing, not a bad one.

The Jonestown Cult—and one way of expressing anti-natalist belief.

Let us return to the island with the secret anti-natalist cult. I speculated that cult would have no trouble with infanticide. But I would go farther to say that there is no reason to think they would, if consistent anti-natalists, all eventually commit suicide; perhaps it would be a mass suicide, like a real death cult. Why not? Nonliving is preferable to living, and the cult members are already surrounded by like-minded people who will understand and properly celebrate their passing.

If you are an anti-natalist, you might well find this to be an insulting and silly thought experiment. You've probably heard it all before. If that is your attitude, you must take your own view more seriously. After all, why should you be able to help yourself to the attitudes of ordinary natalists, and of a society constructed by natalists, in defending an anti-natalist philosophy? What, will you say the reason you abstain from killing yourself is that you are part of a society in which doing so is considered impolite, wrong, and shocking? But that is the view of natalists. Your view is that it would have been better if you had never been born. That means that, if we compare a possible world in which you exist to one in which you don't exist, the one in which you don't exist is better. Given that bold assumption, why not assume that a world in which you are dead tomorrow would be better than one in which you stay alive as long as possible?

Is it because you can anticipate that, probably, the rest of your life will be adequately happy? Well, most conscientious new parents may make a similar assumption behalf of their children, may they not? I just don't know how you can have it both ways. Either human life is worth living, or it is not.

The anti-natalists' preferred scenario.

In any event, one thing that anti-natalists can agree on is that humanity should die out. After all, if our lives are worthless and no new humans should be born, then if we followed that principle consistently, humanity would be extinct in about 100 years. Anti-natalists are committed, therefore, to the incredibly ugly and indefensible proposal that mankind as a whole, all our works, everything we have ever produced, fall into oblivion. This might not involve any killing, but it is worse than anything Hitler, Mao, or Stalin ever advocated for.

Let us not forget that it is not exactly a leap from Benatar's view to the view that we should all be put out of our misery. There are environmentalists and occultists who take exactly that view. They are not Benatar's "philanthropic" anti-natalists, but "misanthropic" ones; but they share with Benatar the key premise, the radical and dangerous premise, that human life is worthless or worse than worthless, and that it would be better if the human race were to die out entirely.

I hope this makes it clear why I view anti-natalism as a thoroughly evil philosophy, and I mean this quite literally. There are not many philosophical views one can say that about. But it should not be surprising if anti-natalism earns the label. After all, it is opposed to the very thing that gives life its value—the preservation and development human life itself—and it literally displays profound contempt for human lives individually and for the entire human race. That fits the very definition of "evil" that I formulated last week, before writing this essay: "Evil is contempt for the humanity, the human life, of others."

If you prefer this end result, we're going to have some words.