Eppur Si Muove!

 
Judith Levine has written on many subjects with candor and incisive analysis.  When she ventured into the ideologically charged realm of youthful sexual experience, she found that candor was not appreciated and any thoughtful analysis would be considered subversive.

When political science professor Harris Mirkin observed a trend in sexual politics, he found some politicians were more than happy to illustrate his point.

 

Due at least in part to the on-going brouhaha over sex scandals in the Catholic church, both an article and a recent book have attracted extra attention by elected officials and morality doyens who argue that works such as these and the Rind report give aid and comfort to "pedophiles" and therefore must be vilified and suppressed regardless of truth.

The recent book is Judith Levine’s Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, which argues that young Americans, though bombarded with sexual images from the mass media, are often deprived of realistic advice about sex.

Writes Levine in her introduction, “In America today, it is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children and teenagers can have sexual pleasure and be safe too.”

Levine argues that abstinence-only sex education is misguided.  She also suggests the threat of molestation by strangers is exaggerated by adults who want to deny young people the opportunity for positive sexual experiences.

“Squeamish or ignorant about the facts, parents appear willing to accept the pundits’ worst conjectures about their children’s sexual motives,” Levine writes.  “It’s as if they cannot imagine that their kids seek sex for the same reasons they do.”

Publisher after publisher rejected the book -- one called its contents “radioactive” — before the University of Minnesota Press accepted the manuscript a year ago.

“What’s happening to me is a perfect example of the very hysteria that my book is about,” the New York-based author said.

Several conservative media commentators and activists have accused Levine of condoning child abuse.

The furor over Harmful to Minors began when conservative radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger denounced the book on air.  An associate of Schlessinger’s, Judith Reisman (the infamous pornography “expert” from the Meese Commission anti-porn hearings of 1986, whose qualifications at the time were that she had written songs for the Captain Kangaroo show), had brought the book to Schlessinger’s attention, claiming that Levine was another in a long line of “academic pedophiles,” who were trying to make pedophilia more acceptable.

Reisman also alerted Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America (which takes its guidance from God and the Bible.) He called the book “very evil,” and launched a campaign on the CWFA Web site, asking Minnesota Gov.  Jesse Ventura to halt publication of the book because it had been published under the auspices of the University of Minnesota and asking the University to fire the university press officials who decided to publish the book.

“The action is so grievous and so irresponsible that I felt they relinquished their right to academic freedom,” said Knight.  “The book makes a case for pedophilia.” “I have not read it cover to cover, but I am familiar with its themes.  She is drawing on quack science.  It gives a scientific gloss to the arguments that child molesters use.”

“There’s nothing new here,” said Judith Reisman.  “This has been on the back burner for quite some time.  The Kinsey Institute is preparing to release a series of documents on child sexuality, a whole new look from not a negative but from a positive perspective.” (In Ms.  Reisman’s world any academic material which contradicts her viewpoint is somehow tied into the vast conspiracy of the Kinsey Institute)

According to occasional Time correspondent John Leo, Harmful to Minors is a classic example of how disorder (read: disobedience) in the intellectual world leaks into the popular culture.  In this case, he believes the leak started with the so-called Rind study, which caused a national furor after it appeared in 1998 in the Psychological Bulletin, a publication of the American Psychological Association.  According to Leo, the Rind study is the new bible of pedophiles and their groups.  He quotes Paul Fink, past president of the American Psychiatric Association, as saying: “Our major task is trying to figure out how to stop this nonsense, this justifying and encouraging adult-child sexual behavior.”

In fact, nothing in Levine’s book suggests that the author condones pedophilia.  (“No sane person would advocate pedophilia,” she said in her interview with Salon.) And, as it turns out, Reisman and Knight have both admitted that they hadn’t actually read much of Levine’s book before they decided to campaign against it.  (Reisman told the New York Times, “It doesn’t take a great deal to understand the position of the writer.  I didn’t read ‘Mein Kampf’ for many years, but I knew the position of the author,” while Knight told the same reporter that he had “thumbed through” the book.)

Also under attack is an article published in 1999 by professor Harris Mirkin.  The article, “The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and Pedophilia,”  was published in the Journal of Homosexuality, vol.  37, no. 2, 1999, p.  1-24.   The abstract is as follows:
 

Until recently sex and gender issues were thought to be biological or natural rather than political.  The feminist movement largely changed perceptions of gender, and the gay and lesbian movements significantly altered conceptions of sex, so that what were once seen as permanent moral standards are now viewed as historical and political constructions.  As views of these groups have moved towards social constructionism, perceptions of child sexuality have become more absolutist.  Current attitudes towards child sexuality and representations of it resemble historical attitudes towards women and homosexuals.  This article argues that there is a two-phase pattern of sexual politics.  The first is a battle to prevent the battle, to keep the issue from being seen as political and negotiable.  Psychological and moral categories are used to justify ridicule and preclude any discussions of the issue, and standard Constitutional guarantees are seen as irrelevant.  The second phase more closely resembles traditional politics as different groups argue over rights and privileges.  Feminist and gay/lesbian politics have recently entered the second phase, while pedophilia is in the first.


According to the Kansas City Star, the University of Missouri-Kansas City political scientist’s scribblings cost his college $100,000 during April’s state budget process, after it received negative publicity in the wake of the controversey over Levine’s book.  The symbolic $100,000 was part of an $8 million reduction in the University’s annual budget.

Mirkin is unfazed by such legislative symbolism, telling The New York Times that his article in the Journal of Homosexuality was “meant to be subversive...to make people think”; among other things, the article notes that, “Though Americans consider intergenerational sex to be evil, it has been permissible or obligatory in many cultures and periods of history.” Further on in the interview, the 65-year-old grandfather insists that incest and rape are always wrong and that priests and teachers “who touched children were abusing their authority.” But he worries that the current “panic over pedophilia fit[s] a pattern of public response to female sexuality and homosexuality, both of which were once considered deviant.”

In the article, an 18-page essay with 38 footnotes, Dr.  Mirkin argued that the notion of the innocent child was a social construct, that all intergenerational sex should not be lumped “into one ugly pile.”

Early in April the State House of Representatives voted 102 to 29 to cut an additional $100,000 from the Kansas City campus’s $78 million appropriation.  Later the State Senate did the same, 19 to 12.  The office of Gov.  Bob Holden said he had not yet taken a position on the cut as of the end of April.

“The goal is that the taxpayers not subsidize this guy’s attempt to legitimize a despicable behavior and a dangerous behavior,” said State Senator John Loudon, a Republican from the St.  Louis suburbs.  “We all respect academic freedom.  Legitimizing molestation doesn’t fall under academic freedom.”

In the legislative debate, Representative Don Lograsso, a Republican, said Dr. Mirkin should be reprimanded or fired.  “Sex between adults and children is not acceptable.”

Take note of the recurring, aggressive dishonesty in these criticisms: claiming that some things are simply beyond discussion, confusing a challenge to preconceptions with a wholesale endorsement of pedophilia, attacking something (usually the Rind report) other than the work under discussion, talking about feelings of disgust & revulsion with nary an objective fact in sight, and criticizing a work you have not even read.  These are not techniques designed to get to the truth.  They are clever ways to stifle dissent.  The problem is that they never really work.

Centuries ago, the scientist Galileo was tried for heresy by the church and forced to recant his belief in the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe.  To hold such beliefs was to challenge the bible and the teachings of Aristotle – two important pillars of the church’s authority.  As he left the proceedings he was said to have muttered “Eppur si muove!” – It still moves.  No matter how hard the church tried it failed to prevent the universal rejection of geocentrism.  Let us pray that the ideologues of today will be equally as successful.

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