The Moralist (book)
THE MORALIST by Rod Downey
Fifty-year-old "spin doctor" Red Rover volunteers for a creative writing mentoring program and falls in love with his twelve-year-old protege Jonathan. Over the next year and a half, as their relationship and the boy matures, Red becomes outraged by the witch-hunt hysteria gripping the nation. When his best friend's house is burned, he decides to act, even if it means threatening his love for Jonathan.
- 392 pages, paper #19.95 U.S., $26.00 CAN.
- ISBN: 1-887650-40-7
- Order from FACTOR PRESS, P.O. Box 222, Salisbury MD 21803
- (410) 334-6111 email@example.com
- To view the book cover: https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1181919031l/1211657.jpg
About the Author
- Rod Downey is an author, playwright, journalist, and communications consultant. His plays include Dirty Pictures, The Boy Lover, and The Black Orange. His short stories have appeared in Gayme magazine. He has also written articles and critical reviews for numerous newspapers and magazines.
Dallas author Rod Downey treads shaky ground with new novel about older man and young boy
BOOKS - The dangerous topic of pederasty
By Arnold Wayne Jones, Features Writer, 2002
As I read about the ideas espoused by Rod Downey in preparation for our interview, I felt an increasing sense of discomfort about the areas we would certainly be discussing. Downey has written an independently published book, The Moralist, that tracks the “loving and nurturing” relationship (his words) between Red, a 50-year-old pederast, and Jonathan, a 12-year-old grammar school student. This is not easy stuff to talk about.
Although he backs away from the label pedophile — “That word is completely corrupted and has almost no meaning whatsoever. It is usually used in the context of name-calling” he says — Downey defends what he believes to be the moral rightness of a sexual relationship between older men and younger boys, though, he says, “I don’t feel the need to label it.”
It seems that society has done that for him, and the judgment has been a harsh one. Downey acknowledges the unpopularity of his beliefs, but whatever epithets you could throw his way wouldn’t surprise or discourage him. Even outraged characters in his own book ask the protagonist whether he considers himself a child molester and worry whether he may be arrested. But Downey, like his alter ego, says they are just on a witch-hunt.
- “[There’s a] hysteria that’s taking place about relationships between older gay men and younger gay youth,” Downey says. “It’s become a taboo, and there’s a lot of misinformation going on. [Right wing conservatives trample our] civil liberties and freedom of expression as protected by the First Amendment, as well as due process and right of privacy — what is done in one’s home.”
As much as a work of fiction, he admits, The Moralist is also his personal manifesto. As such, it necessarily follows a certain pattern of propaganda. Like-minded proponents of any belief, cause or activity tend to toe the company line, and the arguments and defenses become familiar if not outright stale.
The “blurbists” quoted on Downey’s book jacket, and on his Web site, are a who’s who of international pedophiles, dressed up with words like “educator” and “doctor.” On talk shows and in monographs, they beat the same drum:
“Many adolescent boys are already having sex — why not with me?”
“Any sexual relationship can be destructive, so why single us out?”
“This is our heritage, dating back to the ancient Greeks.”
Downey endorses many of these as by rote. “The cultural cross-referencing could be Greek, but it could also be medieval Japan, it could be Persia. Referencing those makes the point that [what in our society] is presented as an absolute is not an absolute. It has been seen as valuable in other cultures in the present and in the past,” he says.
From Downey’s point of view, Red is not an abuser but a mentor. He notes that the relationship between the two primary characters remains non-sexual for the first year-and-a-half and only progresses once, as he puts it, the boy makes the conscious decision to go further. But how well informed can the decision by a 13-year-old be?
- “I think the idea of drawing a line is approaching it wrong, because it is more a question of individual cases. What kind of relationship are you talking about?” Downey asks. “Is it really okay, for example, [for an adult man] to have a relationship with someone who’s 10 years older?”
He refers to a Dutch perspective that has allowed the child’s family to decide whether the relationship was in the best interests of the boy and not marking all such intimacies as a crime.
- (When pressed, he agrees that such a relationship between heterosexual couples — say, a 45-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl, would be appropriate as well.)
He also propounds the idea that there is a perverse kind of morality to be discovered in pedophilia.
- “The operative word is moral obligation,” Downey says. “What the book is really looking at as is aesthetics in terms of impulse rather than a moral principle. Behind moral principle is the idea of authority. [If you consider the morality of] impulse, what you are really looking at are things like love and beauty.
- “Red thinks [he] has an obligation to show his love for this young man — that to reject him would be hurtful. [His] decision does not follow a fixed principle, but a sense of love and beauty.”
Up to and including sex with young boys.
One obvious danger involved with defending such relationships is the stigma gay men continue to fight whereby the general public equates homosexuality with pedophilia. Does Downey feel his vocal stance can do more harm than good?
- “No, just the opposite. Portraying this kind of relationship is healing a serious wound in the gay community inflicted by the conservative right, [which presented] us with a choice,” he says. “You can have your place at the table, as long as you don’t allow anyone to belong to your group that is not under a certain arbitrary age. That has turned a lot of gay people into isolators or perpetrators. It has isolated gay youth, and hurt the gay movement because we have bought into the lies of our enemies.”
Downey is not a member of NAMBLA, the controversial North American Man-Boy Love Association.
- “I don’t know much about their philosophy, but they seem like well-meaning people who got caught in this witch-hunt hysteria, [and] that has evacuated their credibility, which is too bad,” he says.
And Downey jokes about his political affiliations.
- “I’m not a member of any organized party, I’m a Democrat,” he laughs, quoting Will Rogers.
Society, it seems, simply has no convenient place for people like Downey, which is fine with him.
- “I guess you could say my perspective is uniquely my own.”
From the publisher
Not since Lolita has a book so boldly explored intergenerational eros. Rod Downey’s provocative new novel The Moralist is a literary nuclear device that explodes at ground zero of our most deeply held beliefs.
The plot is torn from the headlines of the child abuse witch-hunt gripping America today. It tells the story of a 50-year-old man and his 13-year-old student. As a communications "spin doctor," Red Rover advises boy-love activists how to survive in an environment of hostile press and fire-breathing hysterics. As he pursues the boy, he becomes increasingly outraged by the injustices that demonize a love that for Red is the very definition of beauty.
Red’s own moral development and improbable life story serve as a springboard for a radical ethical and aesthetic perspective that corrodes conventional notions of moral principle.
For all its anger and profundity, the touch of THE MORALIST is light and humorous. In an epigrammatic, ironic style, Downey dances through sophisticated thickets of ethical philosophy and literary allusion with a wink and a grin. But make no mistake; THE MORALIST is in deadly earnest.
Whether you love Red Rover or hate him, one thing’s for sure: You’ll not forget him.
"…this voice needs to be heard in these new dark ages for civil liberties." —Frontiers Newsmagazine
"Read it if you dare. THE MORALIST is brilliant and outrageous. It is about things that matter: art, philosophy, politics, science, religion. Above all, it is a love story, and one like no other. But be warned: Your settled notions of right and proper conduct could be blown sky high by this controversial oeuvre." —Tom O’Carroll, author, Pedophilia: The Radical Case.
Review by Tom O'Carroll
Source for the following: https://www.ipce.info/library_2/files/tom_rod.htm
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? NO, IT'S SUPER PED!
A review by Tom O'Carroll
As solipsistic books go, this is as glabrous as it gets.
Stick with it, it gets easier. Let me put it another way. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Super Ped! Or Super Red, seeing as how the hero is a guy rejoicing in the name of Red Rover – like the children's game – who is publicly a boy lover, privately a pederast, but just don't mention the other "p" word.
Red, fighting fit at fifty, is a man with a mission. He is a moral revolutionary playing for high stakes, putting his high-flying career in public relations on the line in a bold bid to capture the ear of his native America. Some see him as a Quixotic figure, a knight-all-too-errant on a mission impossible. But even that understates his task. Don Quixote's craziness was to tilt at windmills, whereas Red's enemies are real giants: rabid media figures and cops – people who seriously think it is better to be dead than Red; powerful people who can inflict serious harm.
Yet, amazingly, armed with courage, media skills, high culture and low cunning, Red makes his mark on US television and – once taken up in Europe, where the sophisticates know literary talent when they see it – becomes a celebrated writer. The irony is that it is arguably a Pyrrhic victory. Red's mission is to oppose "moral principle", with its wretched downside of love-killing rules imposed by authority. Instead of rules, he says, we should be ruled only by our hearts. There is no higher law than the love we feel – including the love of a beautiful boy. Yet the very act of proclaiming this gospel of beauty and love (and the truth of our existential condition that binds the two together), precipitates the "outing" of Red's deepest relationship with a boy. A tragedy then?
Readers may judge for themselves. All I should say is that Red's love for Jonathan, a gifted child he "mentors" in a programme to develop young literary talent, is a thread skillfully woven throughout a book with a well paced plot, a goodly seasoning of philosophical discourse and some dramatically lively lessons on communicating in a hostile media environment.
Notice I say "book", not "novel". One day, if the author achieves as much literary celebrity as his hero Red, there could be an exam question for college kids: "Is Downey's The Moralist a novel?" Well, we know it is not a bird, or a plane, but what sort of book is it? The question arises because Downey teases his readers as to whether it is indeed a novel, a work of fiction, or whether it is near as damn it pure autobiography. If the latter, its author and his young lover will be damned themselves unless an element of deniability is built in.
In Downey's capable hands the resultant collision of life with art produces a stunning hall of mirrors effect: the author, Rod, is himself a PR guru who has tackled the media on boy love; so is his hero Red; and Red is also writing an "autobiographical" (maybe) novel called The Moralist! It is teasing, tantalizing, post-modern in its self-referential aspects, and utterly queer in the "queer theory" sense that it confounds categorisation. Red is even depicted as reading reviews of this other The Moralist that eerily anticipate the observations I am keying in at this very moment. Red is a benign sorcerer in Jonathan's eyes. And Rod? Has he bewitched me into writing what he wants? Jeez, this is making me dizzy!
In a more straightforward way, Downey is good with dialogue too. The gripping scenes in which Jonathan valiantly battles to thwart a good cop/bad cop routine when interrogated over his friendship with Red, reminded me of John Grisham's The Client. And while the subject matter of The Moralist (to say nothing of the title) invites comparison with Gide, I found the dialectical handling of the philosophical issues reminiscent of Gore Vidal. As for the evocation of Red's "sorcery" with Jonathan, it is a triumph with few parallels this side of the ancient classics. Some may chafe at what may seem the author's self-congratulatory tone, given that we could be talking of autobiography. But that tone comes in a balanced context. Earlier in life, he confesses, "he had not a clue how to bag his prey. He was Aschenbach at twenty-six."
Nor is this glancing reference to Mann's Death In Venice the only example I could give of many subtle ways in which Downey seems to anticipate every conceivable line of criticism. The clearest chink in this Quixote's armour lies not in his skills as a writer or advocate, nor in his "predatory" love life, if that is what is being related. His often thinly disguised shadowing of real life BL political activism is likewise not a problem: the fact that I could identify no fewer than 17 real characters depicted under changed names just added to my interest. No, the vulnerability is philosophical.
While one cannot have too much "glabrous" youth in a book, what are we to make of one grounded in "solipsistic" moral philosophy? If only Red's ideas are at stake, not Rod's, then Rod has no problem. In this scenario, the literary character's ideas can be as off the wall as the author pleases: the character's living out of those ideas on the page may be just as illuminating as if his stance is rock solid. But what if Red is Rod, period? What if Rod is not looking for deniability in this area but is keen to nail his own colours to the mast?
In that case, he'd better make sure his ground is defensible against all comers. Red's/Rod's key perception was that "Good and evil were simply window dressing to justify whatever we want. 'Good' was what we wanted. 'Evil' was what we didn't." It is a view that seems to vaporise existentialism ("the philosophy of choice in the 20th century" as Red wittily put it). Each of us has no choice but to have a subjective position, comprising our own wants and preferences. We cannot choose what we "want to want," so to speak. And what we want is inevitably what we choose, if we can get it.
It is no new perception. Hume argued long ago that the distinction between good and evil must derive from our feelings, not from our reason. Kant took the completely opposite view. His privileging of abstract reason in the search for moral principles looks unrealistic these days but the debate is by no means over. Kant was full of cant – in his private life too – but philosophers to this day, such as Thomas Nagel and Michael Smith, are finding ingenious ways to reinstate objectivity in moral debate.
Red is more a Nietzsche man, though not afraid to tilt at that giant either. Our reasoned choices are just "a second-generation copy of desire", he insists. He is full of flashy aphorisms like this, another reason why The Moralist is a delight to read. One senses Downey is steeped in the assertive manner of the German romantic philosophers, and a romantic individualist his hero certainly is.
He is utterly unfazed by science's important claim to have unlocked the secret origins of morality in the evolution of mutual cooperation. Darwin's heirs, he might have added, can explain love too. But then he seeks to slay the dragon of science: "All we really knew without question was that we exist. Science would forever seek to cast this final net over consciousness without success. Because the episteme depended on consciousness as its source, consciousness would always be larger than knowledge."
He makes too much of this. A house will always be larger than its rooms. But you don't go in the bathroom or the bedrooms when you need the kitchen. They are irrelevant, just as are Red's argument and the admitted mysticism he retreats into when cornered. Mysticism implies mysteries, a feature which sits oddly with the confident, got-it-all-figured-out swagger of Red's usual style. The only reason Red's philosophy seems remotely plausible is because this mystical, romantic, revolutionary has style. He cuts a dash. Without laughing, one can see Tom Cruise in the role. And, most important of all, a boy admires and loves him.
But what if the hero were a little more flawed? Let's imagine Hannibal Lekter saying to himself "What I want is good." What he famously wants is to eat people. So why can't we accept this as morally acceptable? Is it just because we happen to have different wants? Is it because most of us (presumably) do not wish to eat people? No, it is because we do not wish to be eaten. Hannibal's wants are inconsistent with ours, so we need some system – some reasoned, principled system we can agree on – to arbitrate between competing wants. This engages law as well as morality, but both systems of restrictions on behaviour ultimately derive their authority from beliefs as to what is harmful.
Downey goes some way to tackle the Lekter factor. His hero's morality is thus based not just on any old whimsical desires a body might have, but on love. It is right and good to follow our hearts, to be guided by our desires. But the major and highly disputable premise is that we will all wish to act with love. Well, that's still no problem for Hannibal Lekter. He just loves eating people!
This might sound a mere semantic game, a trivial way of cheating. But it is not. It is serious. If subjective moral accounting is the name of the game, it can quickly become as dodgy as Enron's financial accounting. A much more serious example is to be seen in Dostoevsky's hero Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment. He too, just like Red, is a man with a heart. He is capable of love, tenderness, noblility of soul. And like Red he finds very good – highly subjective – reasons for breaking all the rules, for standing above them. He too is a philosopher, with a perceived destiny to do great things for the world. But, like Napoleon, he cannot be expected to be bound as are ordinary mortals to petty notions of right conduct. Great achievements sometimes require the will to shed blood…
"The moral struggle is not between good and evil, right and wrong, but self and society," Red avers. But "society" is not just government, it is not just authority telling us what to do. It is us, as well as them. It speaks volumes about our alienation in modern society that we lose sight of this. Other people – friends, family, lovers, colleagues – all want subjective "good" things that differ both subtly and drastically from one person to another. The way out of the problems this creates is the mutually advantageous resort to reason and, yes, moral principle. This need not result in the tightly defined codes and rules that are the authoritarian's paradise. It does not imply God-given fundamental truths as to what is good, but rather a consensus of shared feelings – a consensus more easily reached with close, like-minded friends than with distant, hostile forces.
But don't let these reservations of mine over the hero's moral vision put you off reading this wonderful book. I mean no criticism of Red’s lifestyle or Rod’s implied endorsement of it. Quite the reverse. And in the end it is indeed a novel rather than a philosophical treatise. The latter tend to give us headaches, but Downey stimulates real thought in a more entertaining way – and that alone does philosophy a service.
Reviews from Amazon
- "Provocative... nicely wrought...The Moralist romps... through contemporary homosexuality ... and the rhetorical challenge of defending eros across an age difference." -- The Guide (Boston area), November, 2004
- "The Moralist is worth reading because it brings much needed light to a subject generally considered taboo. -- Key West Celebrate!
- "The Moralist takes on the child-abuse witch hunt with a comic vengeance." -- In Los Angeles
- "The Moralist...expresses a radical moral perspective that challenges contemporary ethical thought..." -- Dr. Frits Bernard, author of Costa Brava
From the book
- Critical Praise for The Moralist
- "Straightforward and candid... a story that must be told."
- —In Touch
- "An often funny and introspective novel... Downey is keenly aware of the controversy
- lhat his book has caused"
- —Outward Magazine
- The Moralist is worth reading because it brings much needed light to a subject
- generally considered taboo."
- —Key West Celebrate!
- ". . .this voice needs to be heard in these new dark ages for civil liberties."
- —Frontiers Newsmagazine
- "Read it if you dare. The Moralist is brilliant and outrageous. It is about things
- that matter: art, philosophy, politics, science, religion. Above all it is a love story,
- and one like no other. But be warned. Your settled notions of right and proper conduct
- could be blown sky high by this controversial oeuvre."
- —Tom O'Carroll, author of Pedophilia: The Radical Case
- The Moralist. . . expresses a radical moral perspective that challenges contemporary
- ethical thought in an outrageous and funny way."
- —Dr. Frits Bernard, author of the novella Costa Brava
- The Moralist is a stunning personal and political document . Rod Downey has
- created an antidote to the poisonous hysteria surrounding inter-generational relationships
- in today's society."
- —Gerald Moonen, creator of the photographic collection Image Dei
- "This daring book should be read by all who are concerned about building a
- healthier, more compassionate, more richly diverse society."
- —David Werner, author of the internationally acclaimed community health
- care handbook Where There Is No Doctor
- "The Moralist is an impressive statement about a kind of relationship that few have
- heard of. It should be read for that reason."
- —Dr. Frans Gieles, educational specialist
- "This book is so real it is destined to be burned! Looking for a transformative
- experience? Read this book! . . .At last, we have the long awaited
- 'New Novel' of America! It should be enough to make Albert Camus salivate.
- Not only is it a book, it is a dare." —Montana
- "Downey tosses a torch into the fireworks factory. A work of courage but
- deeply disturbing, The Moralist can change lives, and so should come with a
- warning label: 'Flammable: Handle with Care.'" —Texas
- "The sometimes light-hearted treatment of the serious subject matter belies the
- importance of the underlying fusion of recent real events combined with outrageously
- funny fiction." —Australia
- "Witty and truly refreshing. Rod Downey needs to be congratulated on a fine,
- fine piece of art." —Pakistan
- "I have never in my life been so transfixed into another man's mind as when
- I have been reading this 'novel.' I see myself and many of my friends in these
- pages. This book makes me rethink much of my life." —Florida
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- The book: