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How things work

By Peter B., Ipce member.

The perception of many gays is that the social changes that happened for them, where their social status improved, was a logical outcome of their efforts as a group to force society to change. However, this point of view is simplistic.

It is certainly flattering to believe that, along with others in a sexual minority, you have been able to bring about social change. In a sense, this is valid. However, on other levels explanations of the mechanisms of social change are complex.

The theme of liberation or emancipation is still a meaningful discourse for Western cultures. Asian cultures are endeavouring to develop discourses on democracy that fit their situation. What is noticeable is that the discourse is specific to their cultures and the politics of their region. A lot of the tension between the West and the East rests in an ignorance of how the discourses for each are both similar and yet different.

I am saying that there are rules for how any discourse functions at any given time and in any given place. Inside Western culture there was a time when the rules locked out the homosexual from a discourse on emancipation. Currently a different set of rules lock paedophiles out. They are not permitted to talk of themselves as an emergent sexual minority. If they do, such talk is marginalized and related discourses on child safety, compulsive behaviour and social dangers kick in and dominate all talk of sex and social action.

The question I am interested in is understanding the current set of rules for the discourse of emancipation as it functions now. It especially interest me how other discourses maintain any given configuration (e.g. the discourse on children currently locks out talk of emancipation for paedophiles). I see various discourses as forming a kind of matrix and that this matrix is in a constant state of change.

Theories of social change, how that changes happens and can be explained, is extensive - they include communism, capitalism, liberalism, various feminisms, as well as religious worldviews such as Christianity (God's plan for humanity) Islamic worldviews and so on. My view is that who is right is not the right question to ask. I think there is, however, a need to be aware these different sets of worldviews exist. A pluralistic approach will hopefully keep at a distance dogmatism and social rigidity.

My point is this: Simple explanations are useful to encourage people and perhaps support them in maintaining a struggle for increased liberty, but this simplicity can be misleading. We can, validly, see our efforts as leading to social change. At the same time, I think we can take ourselves too seriously. I believe our situation will change. I don't think what we have is permanent. If we over estimate our role in the change process and under estimate the role of other factors then we run the risk of being dogmatic and rigid. Gay pride, I believe, is moving into a kind of rigidity and dogmatism. It's hostility to our talk of emancipation and a re-assertion of its history purified of any talk of boylove I think is a warning to gay culture it could implode on itself, losing much of what it has won.

What other factors?

A central idea in what I wrote regarding my preference for complex explanations over simple ones regarding social change was the idea that by focusing on one factor, even one that is flattering to us, we generate a perception which is more than mere interpretation - it is distorted.

The next point I make in this text relies on a philosophical point - when talking about what we know I am using the metaphor of vision. I acknowledge the use of the metaphor of vision, "seeing things", has been attacked by some. Authors have argued this is one of the wrong turns of Western thought. So why am I using it here? Our perception involves more than mere choosing, it actually shapes what one sees.

The argument I refer to involves what can be called the subject-object relationship. Is what I see really out there or do I make what I see? What is the mix of object and subject - if you like. When we see things, when we think we perceive something, understand something, how much is us (the subject), how much is other (the object). What is more important, sensation or the concepts we use to talk about the world.

Do any of us have to be involved in such philosophical discussions? No, but I think there is a real value in at least knowing the discussion is taking place. How this talk comes to us may be quite unconventional. For example, a movie I saw this year was a good example of the kinds of ideas I am talking about here. The movie was called the Matrix. It might make good sense to see the movie to get a feel for what I'm talking about. I think that art is a great way of accessing difficult ideas and I suspect art may be a kind of vanguard for future discussion of intergenerational issues.

Back to my main point. Understanding and perception can be said to be shaped by the model of the world you use to interpret things by. The Christian talks of God's plan, the Marxist talks of the means of production and labours' relationship to what it produces, capitalism talks of a market and the control of goods for sale. If you look at each of these "ways of seeing things" the workings of change is not chaotic, but guided by some hidden structure, which when understood, will allow you to interpret the world accurately, truthfully if you like.

I don't wish to promote any of these world views as better, superior, certainly not necessary ways of seeing social change. However, all of them guide a person to look for factors of change.

My point is that as pedo activist we are in a sense developing our own set of notions regarding how things work. Often this involves the importance of the sexual in Western culture. In our current setting we may come to believe that a key factor in understanding why things have unfolded the way they are now in society is linked to attitudes to children and sex. We might state it negatively as a the effects of Puritanism or a fear of sex. Is that how things work now? I'm saying, maybe, but lets be careful how much weight we give this factor.

A second point is I think we often incorporate one or more of the models listed above, and then give primacy to sexuality or adult/child relations. We can be a kind of mental and emotional "soup", if you like. Perhaps we are Christian, perhaps liberals, perhaps capitalists, perhaps Marxists. When we talk with each other, in one sense we might agree and yet in another we find ourselves disagreeing. The tensions can, in part, be governed by underlying differences we have in how we interpret the world.

In talk of what factors govern change I wanted to argue against allowing the focus to be "too narrow" or over stating one factor. We can over state the sexual or over state the role of the child in Western culture. If we do this, I believe it will lead to negative effects - rigidity and dogmatism. I believe, for our own future as a group and as individuals, there are strong reasons to encourage us to be pluralist in approach.

To the question "What are the other factors," the answer is linked to what you see as the hidden structure that guides things, or for that matter if such a structure can be talked about at all. You could decide all talk of a hidden structure is false - what you see is what you get. This point of view is gaining a lot of support now.

If you go for the flat world idea - not hidden structures, then there is no struggle for emancipation, no hidden structures of oppression or exclusion, no Marxist framework, no divine plan (Christianity goes out the window), no capitalist theory of markets determining social conditions, humanism dies as well. What you have is what you see, it's that simple.

I've ended what I write with what are lose descriptions of what maybe, for our generation, a modern way of seeing things. Conspiracy theories don't go far in this world view and we might have a hard time getting people to see there is much of a problem to be solved, unless you argue there are thousands of peds out there wanting to jump your children, which is what the abuse industry is pushing for all it's worth.


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