08 October 2006

Hakim Bey

Bloody hell. I didn’t know.

I just found out that anarchist philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson, a.k.a. Hakim Bey, is a pedophile. I’ve written about his long essay Temporary Autonomous Zone on this blog. I feel that it’s my responsibility to my readers, many of whom are acquainted with Wilson’s writing, to inform them about this aspect of his character.

Having brought it up, I want to be very clear and specific.

In America, pedophilia is a magic word that leads to panic, making me a little wary. I don’t want to be making a hysterical condemnation of Wilson. I want to condemn Wilson in as serious and clearhead a way as possible.

This starts with being very clear about the sexual mores in play. In my experience many social conservatives have a hard time understanding this stuff, so let me be a little long-winded.

Consent is the centerpoint of my whole conception of sexual morality. It doesn't matter to me who’s getting it on with whom, or how. The configuration of bodies is neither moral nor immoral. A man kissing his boyfriend on the lips, a professional dominatrix working over a client with a flogger, four drag queens in a whipped cream orgy ... whether or not I or anyone other than the participants think the act is good (or appealing, or tasteful) is not the moral question. Nor is desire itself moral or immoral. What does matter, morally, is that everyone involved an exchange is consenting to do it: they know what they’re getting into, they've agreed to it, there was no coercion, they’re mentally capable of consent.

And that last absolutely excludes children, who simply cannot sexually consent with an adult. The differences in power and understanding are too great for the relationship to not be fundamentally coercive.

I also think it’s important to distinguish thoughts and acts. The best evidence is that the fundamental shape of one's sexual desire is deep, immutable, and not subject to personal choice. The sexual desire for children — the desire itself — is beyond choice and has no consequences for others. I would not see people punished for having that desire, which is not a sin but a curse.

Yes, that's a touch of sympathy for pedophiles you’re hearing. To desire partners who cannot consent to your embrace? Who will, in fact, likely be severely harmed by your embrace, by even the knowledge of your desire? To have a sexuality that can never be morally expressed? A nightmare. I don't have it in my heart to condemn a person for feeling a desire which taunts and tortures them.


Violation of sexual consent is rape, in the first rank of moral crimes. To do this violation with a child, who is profoundly vulnerable and likely to be severely harmed, is truly monsterous. A pedophile who acts on their desires has committed one of the worst imaginable crimes. And making an effort to justify pedophilic acts is perhaps not monsterous, but is certainly repulsive.

Which brings us back to Wilson.

In a long and troubling article from anarchist Robert P. Helms, I see him make clear that Wilson is undoubtedly not only a pedophile in desire, but in unforgivable words and actions.

First, Helms argues that Wilson's anarchism is of a piece with his pedophilia, and serves as a justification for it.

Beginning with the July-August 1985 issue, the [NAMBLA Bulletin] carried a long series of items by Hakim Bey, who was already a distinctly anarchist writer. Most of them were discussions of the paedophile obsession with a clear anarchist slant. Anarchist ideology was the mode of justification, the method of persuading children to have sex and to keep it secret.

Helms provides a poem by Wilson, published in the NAMBLA Bulletin, as an example. Here's the damning bit.

The touch of his wet, bath-wrinkled fingers in my hand... but then...
one of his parents clumps down the hall... I suppose to make sure neither of us is raping the other...
[chorus of groans] Ohhh! for a
Buster-Keaton-bomb all spherical & black as coaldust with sweet sparkling with sweet sparkling fuse a mindbomb to
Drop on the Idea of the Family! O for a libertarian isle of runaways! O goodnight Moon, I am lost, actually lost without him
But I didn't want this to be
Just another poem about hopeless love. Pretend it’s a manifesto instead. Down with School! Boy Rule OK! In the land of dreams
No governance exists
But that of anarchs and kings, for dreamers have not yet learned to vote or think past the unfurling of the moment. He touches my cheek, runs delicate fingers through the hairs on my arm.
My liege shatters all Law for a triple kiss.

This makes it very clear — especially if you've read some of his more directly anarchist writing —that his anarchist vision is thoroughly entangled with his pursuit of the embrace of young boys.

Further, Helms provides evidence that Wilson has apparently used anarchist circles as an unwholesome way of getting access to children.

In the letters column of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (#20/21, Nov-Dec 1989, p. 42), a letter announced a new a zine for contributors 17 and under. Wild Children, as the zine was called, solicited articles on “anarchy (of course!), sci-fi, sexuality & love, spiritual paths (or lack thereof), and anything else kids would like to submit.” The letter gave Hakim Bey as the editor, at a Brooklyn PO Box.

In another essay, Helms argues persuasively that this agenda poisons Bey/Wilsons anarchist writing sufficiently that anyone reading his work should be informed of the connection.

In this writer’s opinion, the pedophile writings of Hakim Bey indicate a general deceit in his philosophy, and are evidence that his concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone is inspired by opportunism, not by good will. He presents arguments for human freedom while actually wishing to create situations where he is free to put his deranged sexuality into practice. This is an abuse of anarchism, and new readers of Hakim Bey should take the pedophilia into consideration before being led “down the garden path.”

And last, and worst, back in the first article Helms quotes Wilson making what sounds like a roundabout admission to consummating his pedophilic desires.

“I admit to a philosophical preference for Mackay's position...” [which means the] “giving up of all false chivalry and self-denying dandyism in favour of more ‘pagan’ and convivial modes of love.” He closes the essay with his clearest anarcho-paedophile statement: “it has taken on a tantalising reality and filtered into my life in certain Temporary Autonomous Zones an impossible time and space and on this brief hint, all my theory is based.” What he means by this is that he really has sex with children, rather than leaving the matter to fantasy, and that this is his purpose when he preaches anarchism.

This, of course, is cause for the most vigorous condemnation. I’ll be linking this essay everywhere I mention Bey/Wilson.


Robert P. Helms further underlines how entangled Bey's pedophilia is with his anarchism.

In this writer’s opinion, the pedophile writings of Hakim Bey indicate a general deceit in his philosophy, and are evidence that his concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone is inspired by opportunism, not by good will. He presents arguments for human freedom while actually wishing to create situations where he is free to put his deranged sexuality into practice. This is an abuse of anarchism, and new readers of Hakim Bey should take the pedophilia into consideration before being led “down the garden path.” Once the awkwardness has been overcome and we look at pedophilia as an item for discussion, we will make very short work of it. All attempts to justify the practice are morally idiotic, and the TAZ is no more than a “Neverland” on the anarchist landscape.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I was not happy to have read this in Cadmus' journal. Mostly because no adult should be having sex with children and of lesser importance, because I quote him in Evolutionary Witchcraft and put his books in my bibliography. Shit.

Al said...

I'm not convinced that he has actually acted on his fantasie but, otherwise, we are in agreement.


Jonathan Korman said...

Mr Billings, I concur. Helms' information makes it sound most likely that Wilson has acted out his fantasy, but it is not certain.

My original post was phrased a touch too strongly where I introduced the last quote from Helms. I've added “what sounds like,” indicated in bold, for clarity.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, Jonathan, had you absolute power, where would you put the age of consent?

Al said...

How about "after puberty"?

Jonathan Korman said...

Aye, puberty is the important principle.

There's something wrong with an older person sexually approaching a 17-year-old, because of the power imbalance in the interaction. But it is not the same thing as pædophilia, which is properly speaking desire for prepubecents. Sex with a 17-year-old and sex with a 9-year-old may both be wrong, but there is a huge difference in how seriously wrong they are.

Wilson was a pædophile, attracted to childen, not teens. Mark Foley, on the other hand, is guilty of hypocracy, sexual harassment, and abuse of power, but he is apparently not a pædophile, and it's irresponsible of the papers to say he is.

It's hard to draw a bright line. Puberty doesn't strike instantly, nor does it strike at the same time for all, nor is a person emotionally ready to engage with sex as soon as the hormones are flowing. There's no exact moment of transition.

Certaintly the current legal strictures, in which it's against the law to turn 18 the day before your sweetheart, are quite absurd. The simple age-based rule is ultimately wrongheaded because people mature physically and emotionally on different timetables. I can think of 15-year-olds I've known who were clearly capable of consent, and 20-year-olds who were not. But lacking a magic maturity testing machine I think we're stuck with an age-based principle in the eyes of the law, with all of its problems.

Given that, eighteen seems a touch high to me. Who are we kidding about teenage sexuality? I suppose that if I were king I'd probably nudge the age of consent down a bit from there. But I don't have an exact figure that I'm happy with.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this thoughtful essay. It expressed my own views on this topic very well, and you really got to the meat of the matter.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I'm posting duplicates, but I can't tell if its posting.
I guess I ASSumed that everyone who read him knew that... I shoulda said something I guess.

This is why I recommend taking full advantage of his "anti-copyright" instead of paying him. After all, his money is probably NAMBLAS money.

This is why I like Laws, because people can rationalize/justify anything, particularly in an age of moral relativism.

Incidently, you might be pleased to know that the law has rules about having sex with a minor "under 18*" when you are slightly over 18. I forget how it all works out, but I think if you are under 25 and they are over a certain age, it is not a crime.

Your views on consent are spot on, as far as I am concerned. Thanks for writing this, pedophiles make my blood boil.

But so does preying on teenagers. Reading the replies here, I feel compelled to point out that consent laws are not a question of teenage sexuality. Consent laws are designed to protect non-adults from adults pressuring/encouraging them into adult situations they are not prepared for. Theoretically, adults should have perspectives on sex, love and the responsibilities/obligations/results that attend such acts that people of a young age do not have the life experience to understand.
It is simply to easy for a 30 year old man to use sex and emotion to manipulate and psychologically abuse a teenage girl. A sixteen year old girl simply does not have a 50 year long perspective the way someone twice her age does.

And regardless of if he performed the act or not, he clearly romanticises it, which as a public figure is debatably worse (or at least more harmful).


*Except in Washington D.C., where you can sleep with anyone old enough to have a drivers license. Party on you shameful old fogies!

Anonymous said...

Yep. I haven't read any biographical essays about him, but having read his writings it's clear enough if you are paying attention, and I suspected as much.

I have no tolerance for child sexual abuse. When I sussed out what Hakim Bey was on about, I wondered if I should toss out his books and quit recommending them. But I find I have not felt compelled to do that. I think that to some rational extent (emphasis on the "rational" part) one can and should regard the works apart from the artist or author; because there is no human being who doesn't have a demon of some kind hiding inside them. Gandhi is said to have had sex with young girls because it kept him youthful, or some such. But clearly this fault of character did not prevent him from founding a movement which undeniably was a gift to humanity. And, to tell you the truth, Hakim Bey's works are just radical enough in just the right ways that I never endorse his point of view without reservation anyway. I think the main value of his work is a poetic or psychedelic one - traveling the paths of his thought expand the territory of what one *can* think. But that doesn't mean those are places one would want to dwell.

So I still quote and recommend him, but I often do it with a caveat.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this important piece, especially in such a clear-headed, non-hysterical manner. This is a difficult subject to talk about, and it's also difficult, for many people, to criticize someone they've looked up to as a cultural icon. In spite of the difficulties, I think a respect for Truth and total disclosure are the most important concerns.

Oli said...

I know it's a little late in the game but I wasn't aware of this; thanks for the information. I am curious as to whether or not Bey acted on these desires and with whom.

Anonymous said...

Age of consent in the US is all over the map. 16 in many states, 17 or 18 in others. A bunch of places also have "close in age" exceptions so that as long as you're within a few years in age of your partner, it's no problem. This seems like a pretty sensible approach (except that it's jurisdiction by jurisdiction).

Jay said...

Even sadder situation involved interacting with him personally in creative/institutional capacity and finding him to be generous and thoughtful person, THEN learning of this. He was good friends with Allen Ginsberg and their mutual interests tarnish Ginsberg's legacy as well. (Other otherwise respected artists are part of this unfortunate circle. as well.)

Unknown said...

I used to read "Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed" back in the 80s and 90s, but damned if every single issue didn't include a cringe inducing article extolling the virtues of sexual adult/children relations...

J'Carlin said...

As a respected but convicted pedophile remarked the great thing about being old is they are now morally and technically legal.
Absolute age seems to be less important than relative age and power imbalance in terms of informed consent. Consentual erotic behavior is probably the norm for post pubescent people and probably even for pre-pubescent children since "playing doctor" is part of the vocabulary. Hence the critical importance of teaching sexuality as a part of our whole lives even before puberty h/t UU and UCC Our Whole Lives OWL curriculum in which respect, consent, and awareness of consequences, physical and emotional are more important than who does what and with with which and to whom. (From the infamous limmerick.)