Is The Problem Persuasion Or Complicity?
We need moral character.
When you speak with those complicit in systemic pedophilia, many will acknowledge or agree with your position. There are doctors and nurses who acknowledge that circumcision is harmful and kept their own children intact, yet they still perform circumcisions. There are government school teachers and administrators who send their own children to private schools or homeschool. There are food industry executives who won’t let their children eat processed sugar, social media executives who won’t let their children online, and media executives who won’t let their children watch what they sell to other children. What is going on when people agree that there is a problem yet still participate in that problem?
When activists approach the problem of systemic pedophilia, they usually focus on persuasion. Often, the goal of activism is to convince others that there is a problem. However, many involved in systemic pedophilia already agree. Others continue to participate in the problem even once persuaded. It’s clear: Persuasion is not enough. The real problem is complicity. Whether or not those involved in systemic pedophilia agree with you is irrelevant. The goal of activism is not merely persuasion, but as the name suggests, action. It’s act-ivism, not persuad-visim. What people in the system believe is irrelevant to the degree it doesn’t affect their actions.
Those complicit in systemic pedophilia often do not see themselves as morally culpable for their actions. They will claim that they personally do not perform the most harmful step in the system they participate in, that they perform their role in a better less harmful way than others, or that parents have a choice as to whether or not they participate in their harmful system. All of these excuses are an attempt to shift moral responsibility elsewhere or minimize the harm they are complicit in. The Complicity Principle states that “one is accountable for what others do when one intentionally participates in a collective that causes the harm together.”1 In other words, by choosing to participate in a harmful system they are morally culpable for the harm that system causes.
Complicity can occur for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are fear and greed. Those complicit in harmful systems often fear losing their job or the social consequences that might come with taking a stand. Others personally gain from participating in that system and place their own greed ahead of others’ well-being. While persuasion focuses on the mind, the real issue is not the intellect of the complicit, but their moral character. In other words: they’re not stupid. They’re evil. If you want a more specific definition of evil, we could say: they are driven by moral vices to harm others. In this case, they are driven by fear and greed, and these vices cause them to participate in harming children. This applies not just to people at the top, but to everyone at every level of the system.
Complicity with agreement is worse than disagreement. If someone sincerely believes in a bad idea and stands up for it, they can be persuaded to change their mind. Once persuaded, they will fight courageously for a better idea. If someone already agrees but does not stand up, they are useless because they are a coward. No matter what they are persuaded of, they will not stand up for it. This is why Aristotle said that courage is the first of all virtues because without it no other virtues are possible. Until we address this underlying moral failing, no change is possible.
The solution to fear and greed is not persuasion. Fear and greed must be removed and replaced with virtue or controlled through punishment and rewards. The law uses control. If those complicit in the current system were punished for participating in that system, their fear would motivate them to act better. Capital is also a form of control. If the complicit were offered money or prestige to participate in a different system or betray the existing system, greed would motivate them to act better. However, the moment you cannot enforce punishments or run out of bribes, they would return to their previous vices and submit to the most fearsome system or the highest bidder. The control strategy only works as long as you maintain power. The good news is that this applies to the opposition as well. The loyalty of their system is conditional on its continued hegemony.
While control is a legitimate strategy, the higher solution is to cultivate virtue. You need people who will do the right thing even when they are afraid or it might cost them something. You need courage and temperance. The character of those involved in change is as important as any external factor, if not more important. If we want a better world, we must first become better people.
Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, pp. 123–124.