The sage Confucius was once asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would “rectify the names” to make words correspond to reality. He understood what General Semantics teaches; if your linguistic map is sufficiently confused, you will misunderstand the territory. And be readily outmaneuvered by those who are less confused.
And that brings us to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. In particular, the widespread tagging of Epstein as a pedophile.
No, Jeffrey Epstein is not a pedophile. This is important. If conservatives keep misidentifying him as one, I fear some unfortunate consequences.
Pedophiles desire pre-pubertal children. This is not Epstein’s kink; he quite obviously likes his girls to be as young as possible but fully nubile. The correct term for this is “ephebophile”, and being clear about the distinction matters. I’ll explain why.
The Left has a long history of triggering conservatives into self-discrediting moral panics (“Rock and roll is the devil’s music”). It also has a strong internal contingent that would like to normalize pedophilia. I mean the real thing, not Epstein’s creepy ephebophilia.
Homosexual pedophiles have been biding their time in order to get adult-on-adult homosexuality fully normalized as battlespace prep, but you see a few trial balloons go up occasionally in places like Salon. The last round of this was interrupted by the need to take down Milo Yiannopolous, but the internal logic of left-wing sexual liberationism always demands new ways to freak out the normals, and the pedophiles are more than willing to be next up in satisfying that perpetual demand.
Liberals have proven themselves utterly useless at resisting the liberationist ratchet, so I’m not even bothering to address them. Conservatives, if you want to prevent the next turn, don’t give the pedophilia-normalizers maneuvering room. Rectify the names; make the distinctions that matter.
Epstein’s behavior is repulsive because we judge young postpubertal humans to be too psychologically immature to give adult consent, but it’s nowhere near the evil that is the sexual abuse of prepubertal children.
Part of the problem here is that our terminology for some of the distinctions is multivalent. Sometimes “child” refers to a legal status, sometimes to the developmental stage before sexual maturity, and sometimes to a less well defined stage of psychological development, with further confusion because these don’t happen on the same calendar-year schedule for all individuals.
Epstein recruited girls as young as 14. Yes, really icky and I think it is quite right he was prosecuted for statutory rape. But women that age who are not only nubile but psychologically adult do exist, even if they’re very very rare – in 60 years I think I’ve met exactly one. Alas, women a few years over the nominal age of consent who are still immature enough that they are not really competent to make sexual decisions are rather more common.
Until we have a rectification of names in this area, great care is warranted about who we call a “child”, and where we draw the line between creepily asymmetrical relationships and outright perversion. And this matters above the personal level.
There are real rings of pedophile monsters out there, notably in Hollywood where sexual abuse of child actors has a long and sordid history that has recently begun to resurface. Dammit, conservatives, don’t spend your credibility in an overheated fling at Epstein lest you find you’re out of rhetorical ammunition and allies when the real monsters need to be taken down.