Innocence is freedom to be oneself without shame. It is the spontaneous love and acceptance of oneself as something good.
“Conscience” – at its purest or most innocent – does not come from the sense of “right” or “wrong” which is pushed into a child’s head by his keepers. True or pure conscience is grounded in the sense of caring and concern-for-the-other that comes from empathy, which is a part of unspoiled human nature. Conscience in its most innocent form is empathy. It is the innate recognition that there is a link between ourselves and others, that we are at some level one and the same, that we share the same feelings and the same world, that what causes you pain causes me pain, and that what makes you feel happy and good and whole makes me feel happy and good and whole. This sort of empathy – or mindful feeling-with – cannot be imposed on the child or beaten into him; rather it is something that the child is born with, that comes naturally, that springs from eons of the evolution of humanity as a social, gregarious, mutually sustaining species. A sense of conscience that is imposed on a child and associated with “I ought to!” rather than “I want to” is in fact the opposite of both empathy and true innocence.
Sexuality when it is innocent is not naughty or bad. Rather it comes from the same recognition of and desire for oneness that empathy comes from. It is a natural and spontaneous urge for merger and connection that begins with the departure from the womb, if not before, and develops when the baby takes its mother’s nipple in its mouth and experiences that warm, life-giving flow, that loving passage of one into the other, that sameness, that love! It is all beautiful and it is all natural. It is pure innocence. And it is pure sexuality.
That innocence – at least in part – is quickly lost, quickly tarnished, quickly dissipated. The child is taught that innocence is naughty, that some of his innermost feelings are unacceptable, and parts of his or her* own body are dirty, bad, untouchable. The more healthy child, that is the one who manages to retain part of his own integrity/conscience/empathy/innocence, soon learns to live in two worlds: 1) the inner, more intrinsically truthful, more natural one, and 2) the outer, less trusting, more pretentious, more law-abiding one. The less healthy, more gullible child -- that is, the one who believes and ingests without question or resistance what he is told -- accepts the imposed morality of dos and don’ts. He begins to believe that some parts of his body and some of his desires are nasty, and thereby he embarks on a lifelong journey dominated by self-doubt and self hatred.
Because self-doubt and self-hatred are so hard to live with, the child as he grows begins to project it outward, toward others. He becomes competitive, and aggressive. Because he sees fault in himself he finds fault in others – and does so compulsively. To project his own “shadow” side onto others in a hateful manner becomes “second nature,” which is to say it is not part of his intrinsic (loving, innocent) nature, but rather of an artificial nature that has been thrust upon him. Because he has been taught from infancy that there are bad or unacceptable parts of himself that he must learn to control and dominate, he develops an almost insatiable need for control and domination-- of himself, of others, and of the world in general. By this route we end up with the world we have -- one where the purity of nature is trampled underfoot by those who keep trying to prove to themselves that they are better than others. Too often those who rise to the top of the stack are those who are most aggressive, those who put their imposed and imposing morality above their conscience, those who – distrustful of their hearts – live by the rules. In this way we get our ten commandments, and thousands more. We live by the book, not the heart. And because we are secretly at war with ourselves, we declare war on others. We attack others who see or feel things differently. We pay more attention to our differences than what we have common. We unite to divide. We worship our acquisitiveness rather than nurture our innate capacity to love.
A loss of innocence/empathy/sense-of-inner-wholeness leads men and women to fear and revile those who have still managed to retain it, especially the rule-breakers. A loss of one's true innocence leads to a love of war and to the creation of a myriad of hated and demonized enemies: homosexuals, those who condone premarital sex, people who are “odd,” foreigners, and anyone who steps out of line.
Many people are committed to denying the painful loss of their true innocence caused by the sexual repression in their own childhoods. These people become livid when anyone suggests that children are naturally sexual. Others, who cannot simply forget, attempt to justify the early attacks on their sexuality, and they are likely to declare war on anyone suggests that there can be anything positive or liberating about a consensually sexual relationship with a child. They even deny that a child could ever want or chose it. And anyone who suggests the child might actually initiate it is immediately classified as a child molester.
When those committed to either justifying and denying the repression of childhood sexuality gain ascendancy, they become pre-occupied with “outing” those who might be harboring wrong thoughts. They aggressively condemn free speech if it pertains to childhood sexuality and they repress all balanced or thoughtful discussions on such “taboo” subjects. They obstruct, prohibit, falsify, and refute objective scientific studies on the subject, and openly condemn those who are so “self-interested” or misguided to suggest them.
Because human nature is hard to suppress, at least in those who still retain vestiges of innocence, the forces of sexual repression push through laws that are more and more draconian. “Cruel and excessive punishment” has become the plat‘d jour for convicted “pedophiles.” Some states in the USA have now have passed laws mandating the death sentence for second offenders.
An offender can be a normal, healthy 18 year old youth who was asked by a normal healthy 14-year-old to give him oral sex. These happen to be things that normal healthy young people often do. And rather than cause any “permanent psychological harm” which is claimed to be inevitable, often such mutually desired intimacy brings the two partners closer together and makes them more loving and considerate, not only toward one another, but also toward their neighbors and the world. That is, of course, provided they are not caught. If the repressive class of people – the controllers -- find out about the sexual transgression, there is indeed a grave danger that severe and lasting harm may result. But that harm is by no means intrinsic to the sexual encounter between an older and younger person. Rather it comes from the fear and vindictiveness of the controllers, and the blind vengeance with which they inflict their condemnation and draconian punishment.
If we are ever to achieve a peaceful and sustainable world, this situation of the repression of innocence must change. If adults and world leaders are to act less pompously and aggressively, children as they grow up, from a very early age through adolescence, must be allowed to maintain their sexual innocence. They must be allowed their innocent experimenting and the development of their own sexuality, in whatever direction it leads them, as long as they do not impose their will on others. When young people learn to accept and rejoice in their own bodies, feelings, and desires to connect and to love, then they are more likely to become loving, caring, open-hearted adults. Perhaps some day enough of the common people will become such undamaged, loving, caring, open-hearted adults that they will be able to empathize more with others, even those who are different from themselves or live in far away lands. Maybe then people will wake up to the fact that the world is run by the aggressors and controllers who have been permitted to dehumanize society. When they realize that they themselves, for a combination of reasons, have put these people into office, they will rise up and demand a fairer, more loving world. Toward this end they will rally to elect local, national, and global leaders who are motivated more by empathy and compassion, and less by the desire to dominate, punish, and control.
Those who by their very proclivity -- not nature, for there is nothing natural or instinctive about it – for telling others what they can or cannot do often end up in positions of collective decision-making and control. These rulers are interested in getting people to respond more to mass morality and less to individual conscience, for the former is easier to control and legislate than the other.
Every despotic, grossly unequal and unjust society needs a convenient scapegoat to divert the public’s attention from the real causes of their hardships and frustrations, to a person, group, race, or social class that can be blamed and collectively persecuted. Today the “controllers” in the United States have steered public opinion and wrath toward two primary demons. First are the “terrorists.” Next are the “pedophiles.” The “pedophiles” are the so-called child molesters -- the “predators” who have been branded as the root of all evil. They are the enemy that is already within our borders. It is very easy to blame the insecurity, mental confusion, and personal or social inadequacies of members of an inequitable and in many ways dysfunctional society on a bogeyman, a monster -- someone possessed by demonic urges who prays on innocent children and damages them for life.
Far from the empathy-based guidance to “let those who have not sinned throw the first stone,” the mass hysteria engendered by scapegoating leads to stoning the person who has dared love outside the rules. This strategy of scapegoating helps those who have truly lost their innocence endure their own lovelessness and submit to increasingly loveless policies and rules. How completely the “controllers” have succeeded converting Christian love and compassion into Christian hate and self-righteousness!
To fan the fires of mass hysteria, the definitions of “terrorist” and “pedophile” are kept ill-defined and sweepingly inclusive. The fact that a handful of Arabs or Moslems indiscriminately killed 3000 “innocent” people in the 9/11 attack has been used as a pretext to hold all Arabs and Moslems guilty, or at least suspicious, and to declare preemptive war on nations that the “controllers” already planned to attack for reasons of controlling more people and resources. The costs to humanity and the ecological sustainability of the planet have been horrendous. But enough of the public – at least in the US – is either so sadly misinformed or has such an underdeveloped social conscience that the “controllers” can get away with it. After all, it’s all done in the name of “fighting terrorism” and “protecting our children.” In fear and trembling, the people – or at least the conservative media and the majority of the voting public – stand behind their leaders.
There are persons who rape and kill innocent children. Fortunately such people are rare. Still, such a horrendous crime, even if rare, is a very real problem for society, and especially for those affected and their families. But these child rapists and killers are not “pedophiles,” at least in the original sense of the word. Pedophile means “child lover,” and it is highly unlikely that someone who loves children would rape or kill them. However, the term with its current meaning of “would be child rapist” is applied to the older person in any relationship between and older person and a “child” – with a child being generally defined as any one under 18. Just as all Arabs and Moslems are branded as terrorists, so all adults attracted to minors, and especially older males attracted to younger ones are branded as “sexual predators.” An eighteen year old boy who has a loving mutually desired relationship with a 15 or 16 year old sexually active boy can be jailed for “statutory rape.”
Often the “perpetrator” in cases of consensual sexual activities may get a more severe sentence than a murderer. Yet the only thing abusive about such relationship is the way it handled by the controllers. To them what is important control, not love, and love that dares step outside the lines they draw is a threat to their dominance. For love has more to do with freedom and equality than control.
The relationship between love, freedom, and equality is fundamental. The “controllers” often say that a sexual encounter between a man and a boy ( a male under 18) is “by definition” abusive because of the inevitable power imbalance. The older person can easily coerce or manipulate the younger, and therefore any true “consent” by the younger person is impossible. What they fail to take into account is the love is the great equalizer. In nearly all interaction between adults and minors, there is a significant power imbalance, and the adults, especially parents, teachers, and law enforcers have extensive and often legislated decision-making control. The old rule of “the child should be seen but not heard,” in many matters concerning the child’s well-being, is still in full force.
However children and adolescents growing up are looking not only for safety and security, but meaning, direction and a sense of self-worth and self-determination. Some adults more than others help young people gain these essential personal attributes. Regardless of all the indoctrinated beliefs that any sexual activity between an older and younger person – and specifically between a man and a boy or adolescent – is necessarily abusive and damaging, in real life, just the opposite is often true. If the sexuality is a part of a loving relationship, not only can it be intrinsically harmless, but it can be enabling and beneficial for both partners, and most notably the younger. If the man is erotically attracted the boy, he tends to be especially responsive and appreciative of the boy’s feeling and needs. He listens to the boy, and responds to the boy’s wishes and desires. In short, he has more genuine interest in the boy’s well-being, and psycho-spiritual development than most adults do. Rather than using his greater power to take advantage of the boy, he tends to treat the boy in many ways as his equal. And because the boy knows that the man desires him, he knows – or soon discovers – that he has a certain power, or let us say decision-making influence, over the man. Each has a certain kind of power, and because there is affection between the two, and heartfelt concern for the other, neither uses his relative power to overpower the other. A healthy balance is achieved, a kind of equality, even though in some ways there are great differences.
I am, of course, describing an ideal relationship between an adult and a minor, or a man and a boy. Ideals are never fully reached. Despite the affection that forms between them, either the man or the boy may sometimes act selfishly or foolishly, and hurt the other – just as happens in loving relationships between men and women. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of thousands of loving relationships between men and boys with an erotic component where, if the younger partners were allowed to speak for themselves, either during the relationship or later in life, they would say that the relationship was a positive and formative experience in their lives, and that they are better, kinder, more understanding, and more self-determined persons because of it.
The world needs more kind, understanding, self-determined people. The reins are in the hands of controllers who have no idea about the real meaning of innocence. Unless persons who place love and understanding before greed, aggression and control gain a louder collective voice, the very survival if humanity is in peril.
* Throughout this essay I use the pronoun “he” to refer to the child. My own gender as a male has opened me to the experiences of men and boy more than to those of girls and women. My assumption is, however, that the points I am making are applicable equally to both females and males.