Thursday, May 03, 2007


August's post about repressing abhorrent urges (e.g. pedophilia) raises a number of issues.

One is the notion that in order for a feeling or urge to be effectively dealt with, it must be brought out to the light and examined. A corollary is that we shouldn't judge someone's urges unless they are acted on, and indeed someone who experiences a strong temptation and resists it is worth of praise(addressed by JTF and Ender)

There are obvious counter-examples. A military leader (or even a grunt) who is scared to death of being killed in battle is probably better off repressing that urge rather than prattling on about it and realizing that it comes from being scared of his alcoholic father.

But of course, that's a short term. A soldier is only going to be in battle for a short time, wherein repression might be feasible. The assumption is that some with abhorrent urges will have them the rest of his life, so that repression may not be an effective long term strategy.

If I may offer a tangential note on Catholic morality -- it teaches that temptation itself is not a sin -- Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert. At the same time, Jesus also taught that a married man who fantasizes about having sex with another woman has already committed adultery in his heart. So, there seems to be a line between getting that initial tug of temptations (hey -- that's a good looking woman) and following it, even if we don't follow it all the way. We have a responsibility to "avoid the near occasion of sin."

It seems to me that de-stigmatizing abhorrent urges would have two effects:

  • Those with those urges may be better positioned to effectively confront them, not it will not manifest itself in actual abuse.
  • The increased tolerance for the urges will slip into increased tolerance of acting on those urges, resulting in more actual abuse.

My suspicion is that the second effect outweighs the first effect, and thus our current norm of stigmatizing the urge is appropriate. But I can't prove it, and I don't even know how I would go about proving it. The only empirical proof I can offer is that I cannot think of an instance where de-stigmatizing a desire for something resulted in less acting out of that urge. But I could be wrong.