Jesse Bering, the evolutionary psychologist, has decided to play Agony Aunt and has penned a collection of suggestions to reader questions. The gorge rises; one struggles to avoid flinging the laptop across the room. Take his answer to a “Deep-thinking Hebephile” who thinks we ought to reconsider age of consent laws, to make it easier for him to have sex with the objects of his desire.
Whenever society screams about some demon or another, it’s probably just caught an especially alarming sight of itself in the mirror. Given the historical flux in age-of-consent laws, there are few among us who aren’t the direct descendents of those who’d be incarcerated as sex offenders today.
This is true. We probably all have rapists in our pedigrees, too, and thieves and murderers, and even priests. That does not imply that we should accept these behaviors because they just are; even if you are doing your best to be the dispassionate observer of an evolving group of animals, you should also wonder whether rapists/pedophiles, even the ones who manage to reproduce, are actually selectively better at reproducing than individuals who favor consenting, willing, cooperative partners. This is not part of Bering’s perspective, strangely enough.
And then he tells this bizarre, disturbing story.
Rind points out that it’s foolish and manipulative to demand that all teens frame their consensual trysts with all adults as inherently negative. He tells of a 14-year-old Jewish boy who lost his virginity to a prostitute in her 20s on the eve of the Holocaust only to soon perish at a concentration camp. On learning after the war from his son’s friend that the boy died a “man,” the boy’s father smiled and wept with pride. The irony, of course, is that today’s moral panic dictates that this teenager should be called a “survivor” of sex abuse had he actually escaped Auschwitz.
Holy crap. I’d think he was a survivor of sex abuse if he escaped that warped old deviant he called a father. I would find no consolation in the idea that a child of mine suffered stress and torment leading to death, but managed to put a penis in a vagina. I also wonder, if it were a daughter, would he have wept with pride at learning she’d managed to protect her virginity before death? The irony here is that this strange old man attached so much importance to virginity.
So Bering is deep into boring pedant mode and pretending to be the objective observer, but he really exposes his own biases. The other thing completely missing from his discussion is a recognition of the fact that sex involves at least two people — to Bering and his correspondents, the targets of their passions really are just objects, and consideration of their interests and desires is simply off the radar. It’s a bit like eavesdropping on psychopaths talking about their next victim, and it’s distressingly creepy.
I won’t even touch the letter from the obese anti-feminist looking to improve his social relationships (Bering’s advice: testosterone supplements), or the woman who finds teenage girls infuriatingly shallow (Bering notes that at 29, she’s “a young, reproductively viable female with diminishing mate value in the throes of intense intrasexual competition with potential rivals for a desirable mate.”) Allow me to suggest that if what you really want is a completely non-judgmental referee to provide biological rationalizations for any behavior you exhibit, Chris Clarke has the routine down cold.