I don’t think I’d heard of Brad Spangler before today, when this popped up in my feed reader:
The following message was posted on Facebook, allegedly from Brad Spangler, and I find it difficult to believe. If someone out there is trying to malign him or malign libertarianism through him, then it is a viciously sick joke. I’m suspending judgment until more is known, and I hope everyone else does the same. I am not providing the FB link because the commentary thread has been reduced to spewing hatred.
The message (purportedly) from Brad Spangler:
“…During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested [a young relative]. I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.
“While I believe justice ought to be handled as a matter of restitution to the victim rather than punishment, my declining physical health, apparently from myotonic dystrophy, means I probably don’t have many years left to live in which attempts could be made at restitution. With the laptop going in for warranty exchange, worries about discovery of which web sites I had visited and further questions that might raise convinced me that facing the currently dominant accountability process, regardless of what’s right or wrong with it, is the best thing I can do for my [relative].”
In case my formatting isn’t clear, the first two paragraphs are my excerpt of Wendy McElroy’s words. The last two paragraphs (in quotes) are my excerpt of Brad Spangler’s purported message, which McElroy quoted in full.
Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.
Spangler was an anarchist philosopher, one of the founders of the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS).
A search for Spangler’s name this morning turned up the Wikipedia entry on Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism.
I’ll get to the content of Knapp’s posts, C4SS’s response to Spangler’s post, and the Wikipedia entry. I want to start, though, with the content of Spangler’s Facebook post.
Spangler writes, “During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested [a young relative].” I think we can assume that by “molested” he means sexual misconduct of some sort. We don’t know the circumstances, the age of the child, or anything else other than Spangler’s characterization.
I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.
If Spangler was unsure that it had happened, how can we be sure now that it happened? If Spangler had convinced himself that he had never done such a thing, then perhaps his relative had convinced herself of the same, or had otherwise found ways to deal with it without major public drama.
“Potential emotional fallout for her” implies that the emotional fallout had not, at the time that he wrote this message, yet materialized. Emotional fallout will surely materialize now, though his now-teenage or young-adult relative might very well deny that anything had ever happened, both for her father’s sake and for her own.
Spangler is coming clean now for the sake of his conscience. It is not politically correct to say so, so I’ll say it: he is wrong. Publicly confessing, forcing her to revisit the memories, replay them in her mind, and answer the questions of authorities, may be a greater betrayal than molesting her in the first place.
Outcomes for children abused by relatives (as, if we credit Spangler’s confession, happened here) are on average worse than for children abused by non-relatives. But child sexual abuse does not necessarily lead to long-term harm. While childhood sexual abuse is associated with harm, family environment is a confounding factor that may be responsible for the association. This was a finding of the peer-reviewed 1998 Rind meta-analysis, which was suppressed because it wasn’t politically correct. 2006 research by Heather Ulrich supported the proposition: “child sexual abuse was found to account for 1% of the variance in later psychological outcomes, whereas family environment accounted for 5.9% of the variance.”
Child sexual abuse causes an almost-universal moral panic. It’s an easy target because nobody wants to be accused of favoring child sexual abuse. The moral panic causes the suppression of any scientific research that would counteract the moral panic. But the panic may be worse for the child than the sexual abuse. The adverse effects of child sexual abuse are magnified by people freaking out about child sexual abuse. A 1979 study by David Finkelhor found that children who disclosed their sexual abuse experiences reported that the reaction of their parents and authorities upon their disclosure caused chaos in their lives, and overrode the actual abuse experience. The better approach for those who love the sexually abused child is to give him a safe space to talk about it, and to take their cue from him. By contrast, revealing publicly on Facebook that a relative was sexually abused as a child is a horrid, nasty, narcissistic thing to do.
Spangler goes on to write:
While I believe justice ought to be handled as a matter of restitution to the victim rather than punishment, my declining physical health, apparently from myotonic dystrophy, means I probably don’t have many years left to live in which attempts could be made at restitution. With the laptop going in for warranty exchange, worries about discovery of which web sites I had visited and further questions that might raise convinced me that facing the currently dominant accountability process, regardless of what’s right or wrong with it, is the best thing I can do for my [relative].
He’s confessing because he’s sending his thousand-dollar laptop in for warranty exchange and people might discover which websites he had visited. That is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read a smart guy write. I mean, it’s really fucking stupid. Swap out the hard drive, send the laptop in for exchange and destroy the incriminating drive. Or just burn the whole damn laptop, take the thousand-dollar loss, and dedicate the rest of your short life to trying to improve the child’s life.
Instead, this smart guy plans to “peaceably turn[ himself] in to the Kansas City Police Department, confirm this confession, refus[e] any potential bond and fac[e] accountability in court.”
Even aside from the harm that Spangler may have done to his relative by publicly announcing that she was sexually abused as a child, turning himself in and giving the state its pound of flesh is going to make any restitution more difficult, and is not likely to do her any good at all. He’s choosing self-flagellation over what he acknowledges to be her best interest. Presumably she loves him and doesn’t want to see him in prison.
This is like society’s harmful handling of child sex abuse on a smaller scale. Just as our society does, Spangler chooses moral panic over science—refusing to acknowledge that child sex abuse does not necessarily have intense long-term adverse effects and treat it rationally in the best interest of the children. Society does it because it feels good to pretend we’re fighting absolute evil. Spangler does it to make himself feel better.
I am not a fan.
But I’m also not eager to erase Spangler from history. Which is what this Wikipedia editor would do:
The text that this editor would remove is not a lengthy paragraph on how Spangler is a terrific father. It is a paragraph about Spangler’s analysis of Murray Rothbard’s political philosophy. Why expunging this would be respectful to Spangler’s relative and wife, and why the editor thinks he knows this, is a mystery. Spangler’s admitted crime doesn’t make the text any less accurate. Here, the child-sex-abuse moral panic drives the editor toward revisionism.
Even the Center for a Stateless Society, which one would hope, based on its name alone, would not join in this moral panic that feeds authoritarianism, takes a revisionist stance:
C4SS has changed substantially over the years as we’ve grown and Spangler does not represent us. Rather than continue to host the writing of a child molester and to make clear our strenuous disassociation we’ve removed his historical posts from our site. At the same time we do not mean to disingenuously “memoryhole” Spangler’s unfortunate legacy and will be archiving his historical content on another site, the Spangler Pensieve.
As Knapp writes:
The content he wrote in that role either had value or it didn’t. If it did have value, it still does and should be kept published in situ where it has resided — and been linked to externally from — for years. If it doesn’t have value, it never did and the Center itself, being in non-trivial measure built on that content, is a sham.
C4SS and the Wikipedia editor compound their revisionism with a true ad hominem fallacy: it’s not that they seek to erase his ideas because those ideas are now disfavored, but that they seek to do so because he is now disfavored.
In his earlier post Knapp writes:
Naturally, my counsel/position of “wait and see, this may not be what it seems” as opposed to “throw the bastard under the bus, NOW!” elicited reactions from some quarters along the lines of “you rotten son of a bitch, I bet you’re a pedophile yourself and I am going to give your name to the police.” For the record, I have never molested a child, nor would I ever dream of defending such actions. I suspect the people making such threats are typical keyboard war heroes who are too lazy to actually research my name, location, etc. and make a phone call to file a false report, but if it happens, consider yourself forewarned that that is what is happening.
…”[M]ake no mistake, I strongly condemn the actions described in the post….”
No response is required to the “I’ll bet you’re a pedophile yourself” reaction to a call for rational behavior. If it goes without saying, don’t say it. By treating the accusation seriously, you perpetuate the reaction and feed the moral panic. If you must respond to the suggestion that your procedural caution means you support the substance, “go fuck yourself,” or some other flavor of the same message will suffice.