Discover more from Richard Hanania's Newsletter
Hitler, Demi Moore, and Other "Pedophiles"
How blank slatism led to the demonization of heterosexuality
There’s a lot of stupidity in public discourse, and most of it is not worth paying attention to. But once in a while, there is a kind of stupidity that is so grotesque that its very existence to any substantive degree tells us something about our culture.
In late December, a right-wing account with nearly 16,000 followers posted a video of a young adult Demi Moore making out with a 15-year-old boy. It went viral, with as of this writing over 8,000 likes and nearly 4,000 retweets. The account followed up the next day with a poll over whether there was something wrong with what the actress did, with two-thirds of 38,000 participants saying that there was. Many of the replies and the quote tweets refer to Moore as a “pedophile,” which shocked me into doing a long rambling thread in which I said this kind of attitude managed to combine “the stupidest fascist impulses of the right with the stupidest feminist arguments that exist on the left.”
If this was just one stupid Twitter account with a lot of stupid followers, it would be one thing. But in 2017, Bill Maher was accused of “defending pedophilia” for in the 1990s speaking out against a teacher going to jail after having been impregnated by one of her students. In another demonstration of how weird we’ve gotten about age gaps, this time involving consenting adults, it’s become a recurring theme in entertainment coverage to talk about how strange it is for Leonardo DiCaprio to keep dating younger woman.
There’s been a cultural shift over the last two decades in how we think about human sexuality, one in which we’ve simply lost touch with biological realities. The idea that teenage boys can be victimized by older women, like the demand that men only be attracted to women of their own age, can only exist in a culture in which many aspects of heterosexuality are repressed, if not demonized. Blank slatism is the common thread here, and it’s warped the culture in ways that I suspect are tied to the sex recession, the decline of marriage, falling birthrates, and general misery among young people.
The Fascist-Feminist Synthesis on Victimized Teen Boys
When there’s a synthesis between a right-wing position and a left-wing position, there’s a tendency to believe that the end result is something better than either view was on its own. Sometimes, though, a synthesis ends up taking the worst of each side and combining the pieces into a new monstrosity. Something like this has happened on the issue of “pedophilia.”
The left dislikes age disparities, at least when the man is older, which is in part rooted in the feminist denial of human nature, and in part based on the fact that a lot of female journalists are getting older and less attractive, if they were ever attractive in the first place, and think that this is some great injustice that culture and the law need to correct. Modern liberals also deny any significant differences between men and women in terms of the psychological consequences of sex. The right, meanwhile, is paranoid about elites and tends to buy into moral panics involving children, and believes in severely punishing those who break the law. Hence, we’ve converged on a synthesis in which adult women who have sex with teen boys are “pedophiles” who need to go to jail for several decades.
In the 1990s, female teachers who had sex with their students were considered criminals, but it was at least possible for a public figure like Maher to stand up and say this was absurd. Even though we were three decades into the civil rights era, the culture was still healthy enough to understand that men and women are different, no matter what the law says. It wasn’t just relatively edgy types like Maher, as I remember Jay Leno on the Tonight Show joking about what’s going on these days with all these teachers having sex with their male students and how funny it is. Now, the idea that teen boys who have sex with adult women are not victims is at most a sort of right-wing troll position. The Daily Caller would, at least until a few years ago, run articles with headlines like “Twentysomething Christian School Math Teacher Busted For Victimizing Teen Boy With Sex Trauma.” With the QAnonization of the right, I don’t know if we would see a headline like that today. Q hasn’t taken over the conservative movement, but it’s at least become “Q adjacent,” naively gobbling up stories from crazy grifters as long as they tell them what they want to hear about innocents being abused by shadowy elites. Most conservatives I talk to don’t think adult women can rape teen boys, but seem much less willing to say so now that Q and Q-adjacency are part of their coalition and broadly defined “pedophilia” is basically the only thing that movement is about.
One thing to note about this development is that, as I argue happened in the area of civil rights, culture was shaped by the law. The government has spent decades forcing institutions to censor speech that upsets members of protected classes and treat racial disparities as necessarily resulting from discrimination. After a few decades, people started to internalize the idea that it was normatively desirable to have equality of results and remove all offensive speech from public discourse. Likewise, to many people, “pedophilia” is no longer a word that refers to sexual attraction towards prepubescent children, but to any kind of sex that is illegal. People even transfer modern American age of consent standards to foreign countries and previous eras, which we see in the “Hitler was a pedophile” discourse. And as with wokeness, a few people seek status by going beyond internalizing legal standards and follow things to their logical conclusion, thus declaring that all major age gaps are either a form of pedophilia or pedophilia-adjacent.
The sexes are different in ways so obvious that most societies have felt no need to spell them out. But since we live in very dumb times, I guess I have to. Just as with the human body, the mind of each sex has been optimized for survival and reproduction. This is why men have greater upper body strength, while women have wider hips to assist with childbearing. The human mind is likewise shaped by evolution. The fact that women are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of pregnancy means that promiscuity can be psychologically healthy for one sex and damaging to another. Having had birth control for a few generations has not changed our evolutionary wiring — even if one can take precautions and avoid pregnancy today, our minds were shaped under completely different circumstances. Thus, in most cultures throughout history, maybe all of them, people would feel less concerned about their teenage son having sex with an adult woman than their teenage daughter having sex with an adult man. Furthermore, a teenage boy can usually beat up an adult woman, thus making it much less likely that an age gap in this case involves an explicit or implicit threat of violence.
Despite the best efforts of feminists, these understandings are still reflected throughout our culture. Hence we have memes like fathers taking pictures with guns as they send their daughters off to prom (which liberals of course find problematic), while it would be puzzling if they did this with their sons. It’s why women call other women “sluts” in order to shame them, but men admire other men who are able to attract a large number of sexual partners. I consider any discomfort with such double standards or desire to overcome them to be a form of deep misanthropy. When instincts are this deeply embedded in human nature, it requires totalitarian methods to stamp them out, which is probably why there is such a strong connection between belief in blank slate ideology and support for speech controls.
A sane legal system would recognize all of this. And a sane culture wouldn’t even need to explain male-female differences.
This isn’t worth worrying about simply because it’s a great injustice that women who have sex with underage boys go to jail, even though of course it is. If you think teen boys can be victimized by adult women, it’s a sign that your views about human sexuality are so disordered that it’s bound to affect other areas of life. For example, women find assertiveness in men attractive, and this involves an implicit recognition that males pursue and women choose. This is contrary to what we can call the emerging “pedophile ideology,” which says it is the age more than the sex of each party that determines their relevant role in the relationship. It’s not a coincidence that so many of the “Hitler was a pedophile” crowd are pronoun people who seem to have psychological problems — their agreement with QAnon types on these matters reveals a kind of horseshoe theory for the mentally disturbed. A 16-year-old boy who becomes convinced to be on the lookout for 20-year-old hot pedophiles isn’t on the road to becoming the kind of man that any woman finds attractive. Similarly, women are often in denial about how much youth and beauty matter for the opposite sex, and finding it weird that Leonardo DiCaprio likes younger women means you’re going to be constantly surprised when trying to attract high-quality men. Young people today are gayer than ever, and there seems to be some, if far from conclusive, evidence that young people are having less hetero sex. We know for sure they’re getting married less. Women raised in this new morality appear to be increasingly miserable, and I would be surprised if the disconnect between human nature and what we tell people they’re supposed to want doesn’t have a role to play in all of this.
The Meaning of Fifty Shades of Grey
Shortly after being elected, Trump announced that he was appointing Andy Pudzer as his Labor Secretary. The nominee was at the time CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains. One of the most controversial issues to surface after the appointment was a series of supposedly “sexist” ads his company had run years earlier, which involved women in bikinis eating burgers. This enraged the left, with the usual suspects like Vox and Vice denouncing Pudzer’s misogynistic past and his refusal to apologize for it. His nomination was eventually withdrawn, although it had more to do with comments he had made on the minimum wage and allegations based on his decades-old divorce becoming public than the commercials controversy.
In 1996, Christian conservatives would’ve been the only people outraged by Kate Upton’s breasts. In 2006, or perhaps a few years after, maybe you would’ve seen a thinkpiece in a liberal publication as to why women in bikinis is sexist. A decade later, readers of these websites didn’t need it explained to them that men letting you know that they are attracted to women is wrong. According to Vox, Trump “talks about his admiration for ‘beautiful’ women so often, it’s almost a verbal tic” and has “demonstrated his own fondness for women in bikinis (outside of beach settings).” This appears to have been a particular sore spot for a certain kind of female journalist. As a Slate headline put it, “Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Is a Gross Misogynist, Really Into Hot Women in Bikinis.”
The tone of the coverage makes one wonder if it’s the attraction to women itself that is the problem or whether talking about it is. I suspect that deep down, it’s a matter of “sexist” commercials producing second-order knowledge, with men understanding that other men are attracted to the same kind of women they are, thus leading to dangerous ideas like there are objective beauty standards that models can meet but Slate journalists who are bothered by such ads can’t.
Just as how homosexuals were once taught by mainstream society that their deepest desires were sinful, today men who just want a nice body and women who want to be dominated by a stronger will are told that there is something terribly wrong with them, and they probably need therapy. The messages the culture sends demonizing heterosexuality aren’t as consistent as they once were on homosexuality, since you can only bend human nature so far. This means that blockbuster movies that are subjected to a market test are not going to be as woke on sexual matters as women’s studies departments or public education. Still, those most finely attuned to elite messaging seem to today accept many damaging and maladaptive views about human relationships.
It’s funny to read the Wikipedia page for Fifty Shades of Grey.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It became the first instalment in the Fifty Shades novel series that follows the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism). Originally self-published as an ebook and print-on-demand in June 2011, the publishing rights to the novel were acquired by Vintage Books in March 2012.
Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world. It has been translated into 52 languages and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. Critical reception of the book, however, has tended towards the negative, with the quality of its prose generally seen as poor, while its portrayal of BDSM has been targeted for criticism from a variety of perspectives. Universal Pictures and Focus Features produced an American film adaptation, which was released on 13 February 2015, and was also panned upon release, though it was a box office success….
There has also been criticism against the fact that BDSM is a part of the book. Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati said in an early February 2015 letter, “The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable.” The feminist anti-pornography organization Stop Porn Culture called for a boycott of the movie based on the book because of its sex scenes involving bondage and violence….
Several critics and scientists have expressed concern that the nature of the main couple's relationship is not BDSM at all, but rather is characteristic of an abusive relationship. In 2013, social scientist Professor Amy E. Bonomi published a study wherein multiple professionals read and assessed the books for characteristics of intimate partner violence, or IPV, using the CDC's standards for emotional abuse and sexual violence. The study found that nearly every interaction between Ana and Christian was emotionally abusive in nature, including stalking, intimidation, and isolation. The study group also observed pervasive sexual violence within the CDC's definition, including Christian’s use of alcohol to circumvent Ana's ability to consent, and that Ana exhibits classic signs of an abused woman, including constant perceived threat, stressful managing, and altered identity.
So basically, a female author wrote a book about how exciting it is to be dominated by a handsome and wealthy man. It had to be self-published, but then started setting all kinds of records for literary success. But critics don’t like it, and Catholic bishops, feminists, and “experts” have all come together to explain to you that what women actually want is problematic. It’s ironic that around the same time elites were becoming hypersensitive to age gaps and instituting tougher MeToo standards, Western women rose up with one voice to make as clear as possible they desired something different. Men of course vote with their wallets too, and it was amusing to see the “sex worker community” recently get mad at Aella for her survey showing that fatter escorts made a lot less money.
Just because Fifty Shades of Grey is a best seller doesn’t mean that we should accept conduct practically everyone would consider abuse. And, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t reflect the deepest desires of all women. But it clearly reflects an idealized version of what many of them want, and MeToo morality makes it much more difficult for them to get it. And the book has similarities with a lot of other popular fiction — women who read romance novels must be one of the most underrepresented demographics in elite discourse. Maybe destroying the sex lives of millions of men and women and reducing the birthrate are worth it to make other women more comfortable going to an office, but we should be honest about that being the tradeoff we face, since we’re never going to get a government intelligent enough to competently micromanage people’s personal relationships.
Smarter liberals struggle to apply their principles to the realm of human sexuality. The most entertaining example of this is Ezra Klein’s 2014 article, “‘Yes Means Yes’ is a terrible law, and I completely support it.”
The Yes Means Yes law could also be called the You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure law. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she said yes. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she meant to say yes, and wasn't consenting because she was scared, or high, or too tired of fighting. If you're one half of a loving, committed relationship, then you probably can Be Pretty Damn Sure. If you're not, then you better fucking ask…
The Yes Means Yes law is trying to change a culture of sexual entitlement. That culture of sexual entitlement is built on fear; fear that the word “no” will lead to violence, or that the complaint you bring to the authorities will be be (sic) ignored, or that the hearing will become a venue for your humiliation, as the man who assaulted you details all the ways you were asking for it. “No Means No” has created a world where women are afraid. To work, “Yes Means Yes” needs to create a world where men are afraid.
For that reason, the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics' fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that's necessary for the law’s success. It's those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.
As you can probably guess, women are not going to be ditching their romance novels for Ezra Klein essays any time soon.
This is one of those cases where the argument made in the article isn’t nearly as absurd as the title suggests. And in fact, like much of liberalism, it makes sense if you first accept blank slatism. Women don’t want to have sex they later regret or feel pressured to do things they don’t want to do. Thus, the least we can ask is that men be damn, perhaps even “fucking,” sure that women are ready and willing. This worldview has no model of female desire, or how women are different from men. Klein treats issues of sex and romance like he’s analyzing a used car market in which a seller must be required to accurately inform the buyer about how many miles per gallon the vehicle gets, assuming that they’ll be able to follow his detailed regulations without fundamentally changing the nature of the transaction.
Asking men to suppress aggressive instincts in courtship is like asking women to try to find a high-quality partner while behind a burka. You’re taking away the very thing that women are attracted to in the name of safety. It’s similar to how liberals complain about sexual relationships that involve “asymmetries in power,” when that itself is part of what draws women to certain men. Of course many relationships form on that basis, just as women are able to attract men due to things like “asymmetries in breast size.”
Klein is right that letting men fully indulge their instincts can have negative consequences for women. This is what traditionalists have realized, and society has organically arrived at norms to deal with the problems he highlights. Instead of thinking of ways to use the law in order to protect women who publicly get blackout drunk from themselves, as if this is the most important goal a nation can have, societies have usually had norms that women should exercise common sense precautions like not getting too inebriated around men they don’t know or not going to their rooms at night unless they do in fact want to have sex. We now call this “blaming the victim,” but that is a much better option than the best Klein can come up with, which is to support a law that he recognizes gives the state totalitarian power over the most intimate parts of people’s lives, something he grants before even thinking about how the new norms he’s calling for would kill all romantic passion. The traditional family itself is a way to channel the need that many women have to submit to a man into socially productive ends, while also locking in men so those of them with options don’t leave when the value of their mate inevitably declines, and standards of female chastity acknowledge the reality that women who have sex outside of committed relationships very often regret it. One can complain about traditionalists, but they at least have solutions to inevitable problems that arise in this area of life, while liberals have been flailing away at human nature, seemingly getting angrier with each victory upon noticing that reality won’t bend to their will.
When to Be a Traditionalist
Conservatives often have extremely paranoid theories about who liberals are and what they’re doing. To me, as mentioned above, much of liberalism seems understandable if you accept blank slatism. Unfortunately, the opposition to blank slate ideology over the last half century has often come in the form of Christian conservatism, which defends traditional norms regarding sexual matters as a matter of religious dogma rather than pragmatic adaptations through which to navigate inherently difficult issues. Christian conservatives unfortunately can’t take a consistent stand against blank slatism because they are uncomfortable with evolutionary psychology and have often found gene-denial useful for their own purposes, like when arguing that homosexuality is a choice or has completely environmental causes. Sometimes, the right finds that it has the same goal as feminists and therefore finds no need to push back on their model of sex differences, or lack thereof. The norm that says powerful men shouldn’t leave their wives for younger women helps preserve marriages, which conservatives find good for their own reasons, without thinking much about the broader consequences of denying human nature.
My view of traditionalism is that we should pay long-existing values and norms some respect when they are the products of cultural evolution selected to deal with consistent aspects of human nature in circumstances that haven’t changed all that much throughout history. I see no reason to defer to traditionalist instincts when it comes to IVF or mRNA vaccines. For these things, we can reason based on first principles and empirical evidence, as religious dogma and gut instinct have little to tell us about how to address novel technological developments. Thinking about the euthanasia issue, it seems possible that the discomfort many people feel with the practice was adaptive in earlier time periods when you never knew when pain was temporary or someone might unexpectedly recover from an illness. Today, when modern medicine can leave hospital patients in a vegetative state indefinitely while we have MRI machines that tell us beyond doubt that their brains are completely gone, opposition to euthanasia becomes grotesque.
In the realm of sex, the one major technological development that must be taken into account is birth control. It would be strange to have the same opinion about ideal social arrangements for both before and after the pill was invented — obviously, the consequences of sex have changed, and norms and laws should take that into account. That being said, no scientific advancement has fundamentally changed male or female nature, and certain tensions inherent in the human condition, particularly related to what individuals find attractive in the opposite sex, remain with us. Men desire to monopolize sexual access to a committed partner, but only when she’s young and ideally would like to be free to find other women themselves. Women want to somehow have their own autonomy respected, and also to find men who are able to take control and make them forget they ever thought in such silly terms in the first place. Not all men, and not all women, of course. I’m sure there are at least a few members of each sex that conform to Ezra Klein’s expectations of being evolved to the point that they can have rational, safe, and HR compliant sex lives. But enough don’t that his framework probably isn’t the one we should be using.
Human relationships are complicated, which is why there seems to be a tendency to either revert to religious dogma or to try to reason about them in a way that ignores unpleasant truths and inherent contradictions in what men and women actually want. These questions aren’t easy, and arriving at just laws and healthy norms involves factoring in questions that involve balancing respect for individual rights, protecting people from harm, and the interests of future generations. But one thing I’m confident of is that aggressively lying to ourselves about some of the most fundamental aspects of human nature hasn’t made things any easier.
Richard Hanania's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.