The Marketing of Indignation

WorldNetDaily is crowing about having pressured a publisher to drop a book on same-sex relationships in ancient Greece and Rome with this hysterical reaction to, as far as I can tell, nothing more than the abstract of this chapter. The WND accounts use liberal helpings of scare quotes when referring to the "experts" who contributed "scholarly" essays to the book—though both adjectives are perfectly accurate. No such skepticism in this conspicuously un-bylined piece when it comes time to "interview" WND editor David Kupelian, just coincidentally author of a recent book (The Marketing of Evil) on our morally corrupt culture, though he doesn't appear to have any remotely relevant credentials. A cynic might even think this was a pseudo-controversy manufactured as an excuse to peddle a few copies of Kupelian's tongue-clucking tome.

As for the substance of the bruhaha: WND apparently regarded the chapter in question as propaganda for pedophiles because it suggested that hybrid lover/mentor relationships between ancient Greek adults and adolescents might not have been horrifically scarring to the latter.

First, even if that claim is totally without merit, it's troubling to see a publisher bullied into withdrawing a book because a scholar advances a controversial thesis. Wouldn't it be better to let it run and rebut the argument rigorously?

Second, the erastes/eromenos relationship was a relatively formalized one that (subject to the usual social restrictions) was understood by that culture as a normal part of the transition to adulthood. While that doesn't make it healthy, that's a sufficiently different context from a furtive bad touch from dirty Uncle Ernie that any comparison to pedophilia in the modern sense would be strained at best. Again, the only reason to elide that distinction is if you're counting on your readers' ignorance to gin up marketing buzz for your own book.

Finally, a touch of perspective here: Until a few centuries ago, the average girl in the West would've likely been married off by her parents by age 16. Most of our ancestors were "pedophiles." That's not meant as some kind of cultural-relativist endorsement of the practice: It was part and parcel of a culture that largely treated women as chattel, and is pretty clearly incompatible with our laudable liberal ideals of autonomy and informed consent. But it does mean that if you're asking whether the Greek erastes/eromenos relationship was damaging, you need to ask, "Damaging compared to what?" Relative to the modern practice where we encourage teens to hold back from sexual activity until they're emotionally mature enough, it probably was. In the context of an already-sexualized adolescence, where 14-year-olds weren't just watching Britney gyrate, but expected to be starting families? Not obviously.

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  • ||

    What a gutless publishing house.

    Oddly, the publisher wrote, "Readers have noted ... that one chapter of the book could be interpreted as advocating adult and adolescent sexuality. We thank the public for bringing this to our attention."

    Didn't the person who *edited* the book notice what that chapter was about?

  • The Anti-Puritan||

    Well put, Julian Sanchez. I anticipate that this post will be subject to the "Yes, but" syndrome, wherein commenters suddenly forget their libertarianism in a moment of (moral) panic.

  • ||

    In college I heard an excellent talk on this subject (probably by one of the "scholarly" "experts" who contributed to this work. It was in no way encouraging pedophilia, but rather, as Julian points out, putting the lover/mentor relationship into its proper cultural context.

    As a side note, I learned one fascinating fact: the mentor/lover relationship did not actually include intercourse of any kind. Frottage was acceptable, but TRUE homosexuality was actually looked down on by the Greeks as a weakness. (Another fact that our society seems not to want to recognize or put into context, since it doesn't agree with our current "laudable liberal ideals of autonomy and informed consent".)

  • ||

    ...so we shouldn't hold our collective breath for the bookend editorial defending long dead adolescent women?

  • ||

    And these idiots (Farah, et al) say they're against political correctness?!?

    Conservative, heal thyself.

  • ||

    I just lost a big post to this evil server. I'm not dealing with H&R anymore. This is just idiocy. I know, there's no truly great comment software out there, but this is crazy, guys.

  • ||

    Mr. Sanchez, Excellent post. Well argued, hence no need to put down the WND writer because "he doesn't appear to have any remotely relevant credentials." Credentials shmedentials. Stick to the issues. Again thanks for an excellent post.

  • ||

    My point isn't so much the lack of credentials in itself--I don't have a degree in this area either, obviously--but that it's weird to sneeringly imply that a Temple professor who's made a career of studying this stuff isn't a real "scholar" or "expert", then rely on the authority of a journalist who's written a popular book on the subject. Also that I suspect the interview "subject" here is also the author of the piece.

  • ||

    Let me point out that there is a big difference between saying that a practice is or was common in a culture and approving of that practice. e.g. female genital mutilation is inarguably a common practice in many Muslim countries but one does not defend the pracice simply by acknowleging it.

    P.S. I'll bet the text will get snapped up by another publisher and sell even more copies due to the publicity.

  • ||

    Let me point out that there is a big difference between saying that a practice is or was common in a culture and approving of that practice. e.g. female genital mutilation is inarguably a common practice in many Muslim countries but one does not defend the pracice simply by acknowleging it.

    P.S. I'll bet the text will get snapped up by another publisher and sell even more copies due to the publicity.

  • ||

    test

  • ||

    What's a pederast?

  • ||

    Ironically, WND's slogan is 'a free press for a free people'- apparently not

  • ||

    dirty Uncle Ernie

    I'm glad you won't hear or see me
    As I fiddle about

  • ||

    Evan -
    Sorry about that problem. Please understand that our server host (Verio/NTT) was working on the server this afternoon when that happened. Their tech team is trying to fix the frequent congestion problems we've been experiencing. Thanks for your patience.

  • ||

    What's a pederast?

    Pedophilia involves a fixation on pre-pubescent children and pederasty on post-pubescent children. Some Catholic apologists made much of the distinction during the priest sex-abuse scandals.

  • ||

    Here for instance.

  • ||

    He wasn't actually asking what a pederast is; it's a line from The Big Lebowski.

  • ||

    In response to mediageek's question "what is a pederast?," I'd suggest looking it up in a dictionary...but if you'd like etymological information... ped- is a Greek root meaning "child" generally or more specifically "boy" and erast- is the Greek word "erastes" with the inflected ending chopped off. "Erastes" is literally Greek for "lover." In ancient Greece, the "erastes" was the older active male in the relationship and the "eromenos" (a passive participle of the verb to love) was the younger passive beloved or one who received the erotic attention of the erastes. So, a "pederast" is a literally a "lover of children or boys." The dictionary.com definition is "A man who has sexual relations, especially anal intercourse, with a boy."

  • ||

    Ok, sorry. My question was just a joke, like Julian said. Forget what a pederast is.

    I was dying for someone to tell me to "SHUT THE FUCK UP!".

  • ||

    In northwestern Europe and colonial period British America marriage age was usually older than 16, even for women. Usually 19-22.

  • ||

    Maddog: Yeah, I was thinking a few centuries earlier than the colonial period.

  • ||

    As nations have grown wealthier and life-expectancies have grown longer, the trend has been to try and extend childhood, sometimes into the mid-twenties and beyond. This leads to a long stretch where "kids" have functioning genitalia but are expected to let them wither on the vine. While this is good fodder for conservative talk radio (oral sex scare!!), it's sand in the gears of evolutionary biology.

  • ||

    " but one does not defend the pracice simply by acknowleging it."

    For WND's brand of conservatism, either you're bluntly and explicitly condemning the practice, or you're promoting it.

  • ||

    Actually, in much of early modern Europe, the average age for marriage was even higher than 19 to 22: it was more like 23 to 27, about the same as today. (19 to 22 is about right for the colonies.) I don't know about in the Middle Ages, but I doubt is was as young as sixteen. Teenage marriage has been the norm in many cultures, but not as ubiqutiously as many seem to think.

  • ||

    Also, puberty came later, not earlier, in days of yore; the average age of first period has been steadily decreasing over the last few centuries.

  • ||

    It was actually even younger than 16 in ancient Rome, and I've seen several sources give 16 as the average in the medieval period. See, e.g.: http://www.bartleby.com/67/511.html

  • ||

    Nice try--you are trying to bring reason and dispassion to subjects for which a sizeable portion of the population are just ape-shit crazy. They have no time for logic, nuance or history, just their assured self-righteousness.

    Assuming the world lasts so long, it would interesting to know just what in 200 or 500 years will be the things we just accepted (e.g. large chunks of the world's population starving while many of us wasted every resource imaginable), that will be deemed the moral atrocities conclusively proving how "morally superior" our decendants have become.

  • ||

    I love it. People attacking knowledge. Supressing a past they can't bear to look at. Its why there are very few resources from ancient Rome, because European christianity and the barbarian hordes made sure to burn out every last scrap wisdom they could get their hands on. Nothing could exist that might compete with their beliefs. Nothing's changed, the war is the same, just a different battlefield.

  • raymond||

    Pedophilia involves a fixation on pre-pubescent children and pederasty on post-pubescent children. Some Catholic apologists made much of the distinction during the priest sex-abuse scandals.

    In my opinion, the distinction is an important - a basic - one. I don't think I've read of any cases of sacerdotal pedophilia.

    One doesn't need to be a "Catholic apologist" to be clear in one's use of language.

    btw, I enjoyed your use of the word "children" in the phrase "post-pubescent children". Did you know that some states of the US execute people who committed crimes while they were post-pubescent children? Many place post-pubescent children in prisons with hardened, horny, post-pubescent adults, who then abuse them.

    The State as Pimp.

  • ||

    Hey, don't malign me! The kid wanted me to do it to him in the garage after getting drunk on Thanksgiving wine. Underage male incest is entirely normal!

  • ||

    Raymond, I believe the Supreme Court recently put an end to executing even post-pubescent children in the case of Roper v. Simmons. The US was one of a handful of countries which had executed children since 1990; the others are China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Any time you're on a list with those guys, it's time to change your policy. It's frankly embarassing that it took the Supreme Court to put a stop to it.

    http://www.amnestyusa.org/children/document.do?id=80256DD400782B8480256FB7005AB5CE

    Ted

  • ||

    Dogzilla:

    "While this is good fodder for conservative talk radio (oral sex scare!!), it's sand in the gears of evolutionary biology."

    Well, then, all the better for the wingnuts at WND. After all, jebus made the world 6000 years ago, there's no such thing as natural selection, and "biology" is just a way to brainwash innocent young minds into forsaking christianity.

  • ||

    Julian: That could well be true; ancient Greece and Rome are not my areas of specialty.
    Lost in Translation: You don't know what the heck you're talking about. It was the Church that made the greatest effort to preserve that amount of classical learning that does survive. Many of the greatest works of antiquity survive only because they were copied down by monks.

  • raymond||

    ...Roper v. Simmons...

    I should have known that. (Or rather, I should have remembered it.)

    Now. Where are we on the mentally retarded?

    (Thanks for the correction.)

  • ||

    >Frottage was acceptable, but TRUE homosexuality >was actually looked down on by the Greeks as a >weakness

    Have you *ever* looked at those greek urns in museums? It's like a circuit party.

  • ||

    In my opinion, the distinction is an important - a basic - one. I don't think I've read of any cases of sacerdotal pedophilia.

    I never said it wasn't an important or basic distinction, although I'm sure the fineness of the point was lost on the 10, 11, and 12 year old victims. With puberty does not necessarily come such fastidiousness with the language.

    One doesn't need to be a "Catholic apologist" to be clear in one's use of language.

    I assume the scare quotes mean you don't like the phrase "Catholic apologist". How about "casuist"?

    btw, I enjoyed your use of the word "children" in the phrase "post-pubescent children". Did you know, etc?

    I consider a 12-year-old a "child" whether he's sitting in the electric chair or on a priest's lap.

  • ||

    Uhhh...I'd say that the Arabs did a better job at preserving the works of antiquity than the Church did. The appearance of translations from the Arabic of ancient Greek classics helped to spark the Renasissance.

    As far why these blokes are so het up on the subject: they believe in telling children to mindlessly obey some adults and one particular book; this makes them very afraid of the influence of other adults and other books, and perhaps rightly so.

  • ||

    I could never stand her "american" accent; it often sounded like a drag performer doing a bad John Wayne impression.

    And "Hercules:..." had much better and dependable cleavage.

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