Newcastle — A frequently recurring theme in my thinking is “How did it get this complicated?” You name it: government, law, war, education, existence. The simple answer is that we have too much time on our hands. Perhaps you watched “60 Minutes” last week which featured the progress we’ve made in building robots. “A great deal,” it seems, the compelling conclusion being that clumsy, careless humans will be, in the not distant future, excluded from what we used to think of as real jobs. So we’ll have to make up non-real jobs to occupy ourselves. Much of this is already happening as we stare at our computer displays
Am I to rant again against computers? I’m certainly in the mood, having spent the last two days introducing myself to a new computer, transferring all my garbage from the old beast and upgrading to Office10 and Outlook10. There is nothing intrinsically productive in this task. But that is not the topic on my mind. I wish instead to comment on a report, peripherally associated with the computer, in the January 14 New Yorker by Rachel Aviv writing on “The Science of Sex Abuse.” Yes, you are correct in pointing out that all sex is some sort of abuse, but Ms. Aviv is concerned with the twilight zone of pedophilia.
Certainly nobody condones the physical sexual exploitation of children, but it’s not obvious to me that merely thinking about it should be a crime, as our laws appear to dictate. The subtitle of the New Yorker article asks, “Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?” Apparently yes; today you can be jailed for merely possessing pornographic pictures of children.
When we were busier we didn’t worry much about pedophilia. However, as Ms. Aviv writes, by 1982 the public seemed to have discovered child sex abuse, no doubt spurred by the problems of the Catholic Church and “improvements” in communication. Early efforts to suppress child porn were very successful, but then came the Internet. Now everyone can participate, and the suppression of sources is impossible.
The New Yorker article is largely a case study of John who, as a young soldier, began downloading child pornography. He also engaged in child pornography chat sessions, and this was his undoing as he drew the attention of undercover officers posing as sympathetic pedophiles. They arranged a tryst, and John was busted. Despite no proof of any physical pedophilia, only for possessing child pornography and using the Internet for solicitation, John was sentenced to fifty-three months in federal prison. This, the article suggests, was lenient. In the last fifteen years the terms have increased five hundred percent to an average of a hundred and nineteen months, about the same as for a physical sex crime. In my view this punishment does not fit the non-crime. The problem being, apparently, that no politician can ever say “no” to harsher treatment of supposed perverts.
After completing his term, John began a three-year probation, forbidden the Internet and association with children. After the first year the Internet interdiction was lifted, and John fell back into his old habits. His probation officer discovering this, he was sentenced to a further two years in prison. While there, in 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. This permits the federal Bureau of Prisons to keep inmates past their release date if they appear to have “serious difficulty in refraining from violent conduct or child molestation.” (So much for habeas corpus; is this beginning to sound a bit like Guantanamo?) But who’s to decide?
Enter the shrinks, the bane of the twentieth century; purveyors of the pseudo-science of psychiatry which, abetted by severe judicial myopia, has done more to stomp out reason than any other fetish of our frenzied modern society. Recall what Freud is purported to have said to Jung as they entered New York harbor: "They don't realize that we're bringing them the plague". Would that they hadn’t.
In order to decide if John, who had never molested anyone, was to be permanently removed from society, a Certification Review Panel comprised of prison psychologists was established. According to the New Yorker article, this action was (weakly) justified by a (questionable) ruling of the Supreme Court in 1997. A therapist was assigned who decided to use an actuarial instrument, the Static-99 (more pseudo-science) to assess the risk of returning John to the outside world. The test was brought up at John’s civil commitment hearing, delayed four years past the end of his sentence (because of eminently reasonable constitutional challenges to the Adam Walsh act). According to the prosecution’s expert, forensic psychologist, John had a roughly 25.7 percent chance of reoffending within 5 years. (Roughly?)
I can’t do justice to this terrifyingly bizarre story in this short space. Read the article. Also read the Butner Study Redux. Justified by the latter, John was enrolled in the Commitment and Treatment Program for Sexually Dangerous Persons at Butner. In this program, according to Ms. Aviv’s article: “Improvements in their arousal patterns were assessed through phallometric testing: with a rubber gauge, which measures circumference around their penises.” I think we’ve moved from the bizarre to the occult.
Enough rambling; after 12 years of incarceration John was released, now immersed in the Society for Creative Anachronism. He plans to stay away from the Internet. He has convinced himself that the twenty-first century does not exist. I wish that were true, John, and good luck.
We really don’t have enough to do. Go out there and bust up some robots.