THE MONUMENTAL CRISIS

 

The recent spate of monument toppling in America – which has just recently made its way up into Canada – has rendered a long-standing question in social and political philosophy just a tad more urgent. What are we to do with our heroes who, as it turns out, weren’t all that heroic after all? Well, let’s see.

It’s not that we didn’t know, back when these monuments were erected, that these men were racists or misogynists or homophobes or whatever. It’s that we didn’t care. Now we do. So whether we’re erecting monuments or toppling them, we’re not trying to change public perceptions of history. General So-and-So on horseback doesn’t tell you anything other than his name was General So-and-So and he may or may not have ever ridden a horse. If you want to know what happened, look to the bookshelves inside the library, not to the statue in front of it!

Think about who, among our erstwhile contemporaries, we’d want to memorialize. Nelson Mandela? Mother Teresa of Calcutta? And what will our grandchildren do with these monuments when it’s revealed that …? No, I dare not impugn the unimpugnable. Except to say that it’s quite the opposite of what Mark Anthony said of Caesar. It’s the good that men do that lives after them. The evil Is oft interred with their bones. But, apparently, not forever.

No, in erecting or toppling we’re making a statement of approval or disapproval. But not of what happened back then. What sense does it make to approve or disapprove of the roles of Harold or William in the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or of Napoleon or Blucher at Waterloo? Nature’s red in tooth and claw. And so is human history. If you win you get a statue. If you don’t you don’t. Unless you’re Robert E. Lee, or Silent Sam, or Louis Riel.

No, in erecting or toppling we’re expressing public approval or disapproval of what’s happening today. We approve of women’s equality, so up goes Nellie McClung. We disapprove of slavery, so down comes Silent Sam. Notwithstanding we hung him back in 1885, we now support the struggle of our Metis brothers and sisters, and so up goes Louis Riel. We’re all paying for the detritus from the treaties our First Nations signed with cannons trained on their villages, so down comes Sir John A. MacDonald. And so on.

If public statues were lessons in history, then by all means let’s have a bronze black man in chains, cuz maybe little Cindy-Lou didn’t know her black playmates were descended from slaves. Of course then we’d also have to put Silent Sam up again. But if the sculptor made sure the slave looks appropriately noble and Silent Sam slack-jawed – and he’d be sure to hear about it if he didn’t – we’re not doing history, we’re doing propaganda, not all that dissimilar to the cartoon renderings of Adonis-like Aryans and hook-nosed Jews under the watchful eye of Joseph Goebbels. Either you’re telling what happened or you’re telling what to think about it. In a book you can do both. In a statue you can’t.

That ‘we’ approve? That ‘we’ disapprove? Who is this ‘we’? More often than not it’s some committee of ‘engaged’ citizens. But no committee can ever reflect the full spectrum of our disparate judgments. So whatever some committee will put up today, someone can be counted on to vandalize it tomorrow. It’s just freedom of expression.

No it’s not. It’s silencing expression. It’s silencing the expression of those who put up the statue. It’s the same as crashing the hall to prevent a reviled speaker from speaking. Freedom of expression is not the freedom to prevent the expression of others. It’s the freedom to speak when it’s your turn. And, of course, to have your turn. It’s the freedom to erect your own statue.

And therein lies the rub.

A statue in the town square is a piece of public site art. Let’s put aside for the moment the distinction between public site art and public sight art. All that need be acknowledged for the moment is that display is an exclusion-conferring concept. That is, unless I can distinguish between what’s on display and what isn’t, it isn’t. So a statue set cheek-to-jowl with a thousand other statues in the public square is not being displayed.

It follows that a license to display is simultaneously a license to exclude others from displaying, at least in the same space and at the same time. That’s why municipalities have a duty, a duty not to vet would-be demonstrations – that would be censorship – but to coordinate them. For example, to confine the Alt-Right to this side of the street, and the Antifa to that side of it.

The problem, then, is not so much those who have a contrary opinion to that of the town councilors who’ve just erected a monument to Martin Luther King. The problem is those who’d deny these malcontents the right to be afforded another square in which to erect a monument to George Wallace.

It would be sound, but I think spurious, to object that there’s not enough park space in the city to accommodate all the statues deserving of erection, including the one to my own sacred mother. (Okay, she was no Martin Luther King, but she did make great dill pickles.) The problem is that communities want the right to approve of some things and disapprove of others, and to do so as a community. They want to be able to say that this is what we stand for, where by ‘we’ is meant an exclusion-eschewing concept.

Public dissention on a community-defining value betokens that we’re not a community. As things stand, if there’s been a terrible tragedy, the mayor can express his condolences to the families on behalf of all of us. But not if some of us are publicly celebrating. How would it have been received if on 9/11 Rudi Giuliani had to preface his outrage with, “On behalf of only some New Yorkers …”? He’d have been better off saying nothing at all!

Similarly, then, a statue of George Wallace at one end of the park defeats the purpose of the Martin Luther King statue at the other. It announces that we’re not one community but two. And that the two are hostile to each other.

So one of the core questions in social and political philosophy is whether, among the rights an individual acquires by entering into civil society, is the right to a social identity, an identity that can only be afforded by her belonging to a particular community, a community stable and homogenous enough in its values to offer its members a social identity. I need to be able to tell myself that I belong to that community that honors the memory of Martin Luther King, and if anything dishonors that of George Wallace. But I can’t say that if King and Wallace are being given equal time, or in this case equal space.

The existence or nonexistence of this right sits at the core of the debate over what’s come to be called identity politics, be it the identity politics in Europe and America that’s driving the resistance to immigration, or the identity politics of blacks or Jews or homosexuals, each playing their own special victim card with a view to guilt-ing concessions out of white male heterosexuals, who are just now cottoning on to how to play this game themselves.

Identity politics isn’t about the right to be who we are. It’s about the right to be who we think we are. And, of course, to be ‘respected’ for it. There’s a Seinfeld episode in which another comedian converts so he can be funnier. Jerry is rightly outraged.

We Jews can’t cook. Italians can but they’re not funny. Germans? Neither. These properties only replicate if present in both parents. Hence Italian Jews are as kitchen-challenged and dour as Germans. I know all this because I took biology in high school.

In Political Science 100 we’re taught that a nation is a people, a government, and a territory. No it’s not. Unless we all believe some of the same things, we’re not a nation. The question is always what beliefs need these be? We signal these minimal commonalities by our creeds, or our pledges of allegiance, be it to the flag or to the Queen. I can’t stop myself snickering when I hear an American trying to sing his national anthem, or a Canadian drone through hers like a Gregorian chant. But even if I can’t engage in these rituals myself, even if I wouldn’t fight for my country, I’m glad, though proudly ungrateful, that there are people who would. And I know that these rituals are important to them.

If you take a knee you’re not putting your hand on your heart. If you don’t doff your hat on Remembrance Day you’re saying they didn’t die for you. And that means you wouldn’t die for the rest of us. These gestures are not trivial. They matter. Trump’s outrage may be a performance, but the outrage of the people who elected him is genuine. And as just argued, it needs to be.

Most Canadians, myself included, regard America as a nation of five year olds. But for that very reason especially dangerous, as evidenced by its current courtship with fascism. Fascism cannot abide dissent because it can’t survive it. Neither can virtually any ism, be it on the so-called right or the so-called left. The social justice warrior is no more tolerant than the racist or homophobe she takes such self-righteous pains to silence. The only ism that may be exempt is liberalism.

Why only maybe? Because the only way liberalism can be exempt is if it’s become, and if it can remain, definitive of our national identity. But can it? Not much more than four score and seven years ago our fathers [sic] brought forth on both sides of the 49th Parallel two new nations, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that neither Congress nor Parliament shall make any law establishing any doctrine. Now we are engaged in a great culture war, testing whether these nations, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

On its own, the fight over monuments is trivial. But it’s as good a stand-in as any for the struggle between those defenders of liberalism who are hanging on by their fingernails, and the ever-recurrent forces of communitarianism. And then within the latter, whether it’s to be a fascist communitarianism or a Soviet one. So if finding a solution to the monument crisis is the test of whether liberalism can long endure, then we liberals better get cracking and find one.

To that end, let’s thinkfor a moment about public sight art. Let it be granted that I can’t run a swastika up a public flag pole. But what about in my own picture window? Germany had good reason not to allow this. It was occupied by those who had good reason to fear the resurgence that might have coalesced around that symbol. And in Germany that’s still the rationale for the ban on Nazi symbols. But in North America the official worry is incitement, and incitement is actionable under Mill’s Harm Principle. (Though it’s unclear who’s more likely to be incited, the neo-Nazis or the Jews.)

I say the ‘official’ worry because I suspect that incitement is really just a beard. The swastika doesn’t incite. Certainly no more than does the crescent. It doesn’t undermine national identity any more than the Confederate flag, or the Cross, or the Star of David. No, it’s that the swastika offends. Public sight art, if it’s to be actionable, is actionable not on Mill’s Harm Principle, but on Joel Feinbergs’ Offense Principle.

But freedom from offense is not a communitarian value. What could it mean to say a community is offended? And so citing offense escapes the charge of courting communitarianism’s tyranny of the majority. Freedom from offense is only of value to an individual, and so making offense actionable need not do violence to our liberal commitments.

Thus what remains to be shown – and this is no small task – is that a) freedom from offense is one of the reasons we enter civil society in the first place, and b) this freedom can be protected without doing violence to another reason we enter civil society, namely to provide some protection to freedom of expression.

I can’t presume to answer either of these questions here, except to point out that defenders of the Offense Principle argue that offense is provocation – usually but not exclusively to anger – and that provocation is not expression. This is because I can piss you off without in any wise expressing myself, for example by cutting you off in traffic. Fair enough. But what about inadvertent provocation, i.e. provocation which is the autonomous effect of some expression? For surely there’s a difference between my saying something that offends you and my saying something to offend you

Thus the argument is that since the only reason I could be displaying my swastika in my picture window is to offend you, if it succeeds it may therefore be actionable. I say “if it succeeds” because if no one’s offended it’s unlikely an information will be made. (That is, we can safely rule out the charge of attempted offense,. Surely failure to offend should be punishment enough.) But if I paint my house lime green because I like the color, then, on my account, even if I anticipate it’s likely to offend the neighbors, it’s not actionable.

So on my account actionability hangs on intent. Establishing intent is often a challenge for the law. But the law is no stranger to this challenge.

Do I like this solution? Not one whit. But I think it’s the best we can do. And, as it happens, it’s by and large what we do do.

Are there people who would like to express their admiration for George Wallace? Certainly. And they have plenty of mediums by which to do so. But erecting a statue to him is not among them. Erecting a statue to him could only be an attempt to offend. By contrast, the statue to Sir John A. was never intended to offend, neither when it was erecting, nor today. The fact that it does offend doesn’t cut the mustard. So he stays. And the same goes for Silent Sam. Are there people who would like to express their admiration for the Confederacy? So a Confederate flag in the window stays. And so on.

Are there people who would genuinely like to express their admiration for Osama bin Laden? I know there are, because I’m one of them. So a portrait of him in my picture window stays. But now comes the distinction between public sight art and public site art. What argument can be given for why those of us who admire bin Laden can’t put a statue of him in a public park? I can think of only one. It wouldn’t last the night. But given the way I’ve reluctantly parsed the issue, as a liberal I couldn’t countenance the town prohibiting it.

That’s the problem with liberalism. It’s easy to preach. It’s not so easy to practice.

 

 

AN ANALYSIS BOTH COMICAL AND SERIOUS OF THE CHILD SEX DOLL DEBATE

It had to happen. It was just a matter of time. In fact it’s been happening incrementally, probably since before we came down from the trees. When there was nothing around we just shut our eyes and masturbated to what we imagined. For some it was adults, for others children, and for still others sometimes adults and sometimes children. In what proportions we don’t know because there was no Kinsey Report back then, no Masters and Johnson with clipboards at the mouth of our caves. And we still don’t know, because lusting after children has become something of a thought-crime of late, if not legally then certainly socially.

When there was something around – something we might associate with a token of the type for whom we lusted – we used it as a masturbatory aid. The smell of a piece of clothing, a lock of hair, a shoe, a handbag … Association has no limits.

Fast forward to modern times. You can’t tell me no man ever masturbated gazing into the sultry eyes of his daughter’s Barbie doll, or that no one ever bought a bigger baby doll rather than a smaller one so he could improvise a hole between its legs and line it with something soft and warm. So let’s not get too excited. Child sex dolls, commercially produced, distributed and consumed, have been with us for centuries.

Zealous defenders of the common good have burned books ever since there have been books to burn. But people tell each other stories, those stories are written in our minds, and as soon as the Torquemadas aren’t looking, they’re committed once again to paper. Zealous crusaders for the penitent silence God demands of us have smashed cd’s ever since there’s been cd’s to smash. But people hum and tap their fingers anyhow. And soon enough they find other media by which to invite others with them into perdition. So I’m not terribly concerned that people who want these dolls may have to improvise a little, or spend a little more for the contraband dropped just offshore to be retrieved in the dead of night by brave men in fisherman’s knits and blackened faces.

Eventually all this enforcement will just seem either couterproductive  or silly, as it did with Prohibition, prohibitive taxes on cigarettes, hardcore porn, and yes, someday soon – or so I predict – child porn. The civil liberties issue is there, of course. And I don’t mean to minimize it. But at the end of the day the customer is always right. And apparently there are more customers in the queue for sex dolls, both adult and child, than for the new Tesla.

But that doesn’t settle the issue. Which issue? The issue of whether our disapproval of these dolls, adult or child, is justified.

Look, there are all kinds of malfeasance the criminalization of which will never do away with completely. Think of murder, think of theft, think of tax evasion. But that hardly means we shouldn’t criminalize these things, provided criminalization reduces the frequency of this malfeasance. Even supposing, however implausibly, that consumption of alcohol and abortion were both wrong, their criminalization failed to reduce their frequencies. Hence their decriminalization. But one could hope that criminalization of child sex dolls will, if not reduce their frequency, then at least retard the increase in their frequency.

So as I say, the debate need not focus, at least not up front, on enforceability. If there’s no justification for interfering with their production, distribution and consumption, then the enforceability issue doesn’t arise. If and when it does arise we can then talk about the balance between the need for criminalization and the invasiveness of enforcing it. In short, then, we need to know what if anything is wrong with the production, distribution and consumption of child sex dolls.

In the case of child pornography, one could argue that the harm lies in its production. But that argument is getting weaker and weaker as animation gets more and more sophisticated. Very soon now, if not already, animation will outperform live action pornography, both adult and child, both economically and aesthetically.

Inadvertent production is another story. A trusted uncle posts unstaged but nonetheless provocative photos of his young nephew or niece on a child porn site. Since few very small children are recognizable from one year to the next, the right to privacy is probably not being all that seriously violated. And besides, this is one area where what counts as provocative really is in the eye, or loins, of the beholder.

In any event, mens rea isn’t enough. There has to be actus reus. So to convict the judge must himself confess to being stimulated, or pretend he’s not but the man on the Clapham omnibus would be. Either that or the actus reus must be met by the venue in which the images are being shown. The baby Jesus in the manger is one thing. The identical baby Larry in the identical manger is something else. The law has to try not to make a laughing stock of itself. But the juxtaposition at the front of the courtroom of these two images would be just a tad risible.

Then what about some third party – one incapable of interfering with the interference – filming the sexual interference with the child? Then what we have, it seems, is something jurisprudentially indistinguishable from the photo-journalist filming, for example, an ISIS execution. Here the public’s right to know what’s going on in the world – or so it’s standardly argued – trumps the victim’s right to privacy. Fair enough. But then why should small children be afforded greater such rights than an equally innocent adult?

So here the issue must come down to seemliness. It’s unseemly to expose the public to ugliness. That’s why newscasts do tend to cut away from the uglier scenes of man’s inhumanity to man. Or to child. But the pedophile doesn’t find the scene ugly. Quite the contrary. That’s what makes him a pedophile. Come to think of it, by definition. So since no one’s forcing you to look, neither should anyone force him not to.

So confining ourselves, as we have so far, to Mill’s harm principle, there seems to be no good reason, or soon won’t be, to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of child pornography, and so by parity of reasoning, no good reason to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of child sex dolls.

But this might be too quick. In addition to Mill’s harm principle there’s Joel Feinberg’s offense principle. No one’s being asked to watch the consumer having his way with his doll, but apparently the very knowledge that he is is deeply offensive to some people.

But it hardly needs saying that this argument proves too much. We fought wars to assuage our outrage at how others worship, and in the wake of that slaughter we decided to live and let live rather than kill and let kill. Anyone who wants to reprise those wars we should kill right now, to save us the bother of having to do it later. This applies to both the recent surge in Islamicism in the Moslem world and of the Christian right in America. No, Fatima, no Virginia, what I do in the privacy of my bedroom is none of your fucking business!

Still too quick. Neither the harm principle nor the offense principle captures what’s come to be called the symbolic harms argument. It’s been most rigourously articulated by Melinda Vadas in a 1987 Journal of Philosophy paper entitled “Could Pornography be the Subordination of Women?”, but it’s since been ratified by the Supreme Court of Canada in its dicta in Butler (1992).

Suppose a female student comes to my office to discuss a paper. I’m looking at her over my glasses, as I’m wont to do when I’m listening intently. But behind me is one of those tacky Mexican velvet paintings of a nude woman. The question is not whether I’m looking at her the same way I’d be looking at a male student. It’s whether she feels herself being looked at the same way I’d be looking at a male student. And that painting has a great deal to do with that. So, argues Vadas, insofar as pornography represents women as meat, and women know they’re being represented that way, such representation needn’t cause the subordination of women because it just is the subordination of women.

I think Vadas is right. But does the argument transfer, first to child porn, and thence to child sex dolls? It’s hard to see how. Child porn doesn’t subordinate children. Children just are subordinate to adults. That’s just what we mean by their being children and our being adults. And so how does a child sex doll subordinate them further? By representing them as acceptable objects of lust? But why wouldn’t they be? Surely that’s what has to be established. And however that is established, it can’t, on pain of circularity, invoke the symbolic harms argument.

And there’s something odd – is there not? – about saying some object, animate or not, ought not to be an object of lust. In what sense of ‘ought’? God has made it clear that a man ought not to lay with a man as with a woman. Well, okay, no one’s asking Him to. But what makes Him think He’s entitled to impose His heterosexuality on the rest of us?

Leaving aside for the moment what does and doesn’t count as an infant, a child, a statutory child, and so on – and so what would count as pedophilia – I’d guess that pedophilia plays a much bigger role in male sexual fantasy than homosexuality. The latter, or so I’m told, runs about 7%. The former must be well over 50%. By which I don’t mean 50% of us are pedophiles. I just mean that for 50% of us pedophilia is included in our fantasy repertoire. If having a sexual response to children is ‘an abomination in the eyes of God’, He’s going to have a whole lot of retooling to do come the Rapture.

Okay, so the unacceptability of lusting after children can’t lie in either the lusting, nor on their being children, but rather in one’s acting on that lust. Is masturbating with a child in mind acting on one’s pedophilia? Presumably not. Is masturbating with a child-associated masturbatory aid acting on it? Hard to see the distinction. So it must be that masturbating with a child-associated masturbatory aid, like a picture or a doll, is thought to increase the likelihood of acting on one’s pedophilia with an actual child.

There’s a preponderance of evidence that those who have acted on their pedophilia entertained pedophile fantasies before doing so. But that’s just a duh. The question is whether these fantasies upped the frequency of the actual interference. Common sense might tell us they must. But common sense is often wrong. Hard to prove it wrong, of course, since it’s hard to imagine how research into it would pass muster with any ethics board.

Nor can we invoke what’s called the precautionary principle, which counsels us, when operating under two or even one-dimensional uncertainty, to take the safer route. But since it’s as much common sense that access to child sex dolls would actually be cathartic rather than provocative, we’re not sure which route is in fact the safer one.

Then try this. Sexual play is practice for the real thing. Practicing on children, even if only simulacra of children, is just poor sexual training. Children aren’t sex partners, and a fortiori neither are dolls. Real adult sex partners don’t act like either children or dolls, and certainly not like child sex dolls. And a fortiori real children don’t act like dolls. For one thing, they cry when you hurt them, and that, for most pedophiles of my acquaintance, is an immediate turn-off.

But the bad training argument hangs on the image of a young man prepping for his first ‘going all the way’, buying the doll, getting the hang of things with it, losing his virginity, and then selling it on Ebay. I’m not saying this couldn’t happen. I’m just saying it doesn’t. It doesn’t because that’s not what people buy these dolls for.

All right, let’s try again. Sex with a prostitute is cheating. Not on one’s wife, though certainly that too if one were married. No, it’s cheating because it’s getting sexual access without having to invest the time and energy the rest of us do. Sex with a sex doll is doubly cheating because it’s getting sexual access without having to pay the prostitute. And sex with a child sex doll is the ultimate cheat because it’s getting sexual access without even having to conjure the illusion of having to work for it. That is, with an adult sex doll one might run a conquest scenario in one’s head. But no such scenario would make sense with a child.

I’m not sure this is right. It seems to me the pedophile could imagine himself seducing the child, though I concede that a resistance scenario, available with the adult doll, would be a bit of stretch with the child one.

Still, I don’t think there’s much to this ‘authenticity argument. The authenticity objection to prostitution is that it puts the prostitute in a position of having to be inauthentic, not the john. Replacing her with a doll relieves the prostitute of that burden. But maybe that’s the problem. It’s yet another case of automation putting real breadwinners out of work. And that, I think, the proliferation of sex dolls will, especially when, with economy of scale, these products become affordable on pretty much any budget.

But it’s not just prostitutes who’ll now have to fend for themselves with more ‘honest’ toil. It’s also a lot of ordinary women who’ve been making their way in the world on the backs of their sexuality. The sex doll is the men’s movement’s revenge on the lesbian separatists. If you say you don’t need us, well neither do we need you!

But from feminists or others, the worry seems to be that these dolls, adult or child, are going to have a devastating impact on the fundamental nature of our social relations, relations which supervene in large measure on our interpersonal sexuality. When one’s buddy is having sex with his Angela Jolie simulacra, how long can the neo-Luddite keep up his claim to the moral high ground with his aging crone? Just as drones and google glasses are doing away with all pretense of privacy, so will sex dolls retire the sexual component of love. Philia will survive. And maybe, if God’s lucky, agape. But not eros. And with eros goes the lion’s share of all poetry, music, drama, and art.

But what does this really amount to, if not the same argument that your same-sex marriage devalues my heterosexual marriage. This is nonsense, on stilts. One could as readily argue that heterosexual marriage devalues same-sex marriage, which, since it doesn’t, neither does the opposite. So no, Virginia, you’re not going to be so special any more, at least not for your vagina. I guess you’re just going to have to find your self-esteem somewhere above your waist.

The argument for these dolls is predictable enough. It’s simply false that there’s a girl for every guy. And certainly false that there’s a child for every pedophile. Some guys just really are too ugly, or socially inept, or isolated in a fire tower, or whatever. To deprive these people of a fundamental human need is a violation of a fundamental human right. It’s not a positive right. No one has a correlative duty to provide these ‘losers’ with sex. But it’s a negative right, imposing a duty not to interfere with their pursuit of it.

My intuitions tell me that the human rights argument trumps. It wouldn’t if there were actionable costs to the exercise of this right. But so far as I can tell, there aren’t.

Of course I’ve been thinking about this entirely from the male perspective. Suppose it were women buying male dolls and so cutting me out of the action. That would be a very different story. Turnabout is not fair play. What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander. Then I’d have to rethink the issue from the ground up.

A dildo is one thing, and if it were attached to a doll in the image and likeness of me, I could probably live with that. But I have a sneaking suspicion the doll wouldn’t be in my image and likeness, because women are notoriously shallow. But I suppose I’ll just have to bite the bullet and concede that if automation renders me redundant, I shall walk off into the sunset knowing I was there when I was needed.

Note to self: Maybe not a line to recommend to post-menopausal women looking to console themselves for the loss of their husbands’ fidelity.