Where was I when I was so rudely interrupted? Let’s think. It was back in June, I know that. Perhaps better questions would be How was Heretic TOC interrupted? and What has happened since?
In a year so dominated by Covid-19 news, I could do worse than start by assuring former readers of Heretic TOC at WordPress.com that the sudden, unannounced, disappearance of the site two months ago owes nothing to the pandemic. Mercifully, despite being of an age that puts me in the “vulnerable” category, I have not yet been swept away into the mortality statistics nor even suffered so much as a slight cough.
No, the cause was less terminal than my death or indisposition, but you could say a horrible ancient plague was involved that is making a virulent comeback in countries that used to pride themselves on having all but eradicated it. I refer to the disease of censorship and the threat it now presents to our democratic way of life – by which I mean liberal democracy in the classic sense, wherein freedom of expression has long been seen as a foundation stone of modern civilised society.
The source of the outbreak that hit Heretic TOC in June was clear from the start: the Mail on Sunday. The active viral agent was a story headlined “Outrage as paedophiles rebrand themselves as ‘minor-attracted persons’ in chilling online propaganda drive”. The report, by freelance shit slinger Katherine Denkinson, spent little time dwelling on what was supposed to be so outrageous about the MAP term. She perhaps felt, with some justification, that readers of the Daily Mail and its Sunday edition tend to be in a state of outrage by default: they love nothing more than to have their fury stoked, especially by paedophilia stories; to them a good paedo yarn is not so much “chilling”, as the headline puts it, but chilli: it is like a really scorching vindaloo or a chilli dish that all but sets you on fire. Yes, you’re in danger of exploding or melting to a puddle but in a rather exciting and satisfying way.
Objectively, though, the Mail story was tepid, a mild, korma affair in which no serious allegations were made against users of the term MAP, and certainly not against Heretic TOC. The dung was flung largely via the adjectives. A so-called gay rights campaigner was quoted to vilify MAPs as “fiendish”, “sub-human”, “delusional” and “evil”. Hate speech, wouldn’t you say? Except that hate speech directed against someone’s sexual orientation is illegal unless they are a MAP. In that case it is all but compulsory!
Personally, I got off rather lightly on the hate-speech front, with a mere “notorious”. However, Denkinson added about me, “he has campaigned to legalise sex with children on his WordPress blog”. This alone, it seems, was enough for blog hosting company WordPress.com to take fright and close down Heretic TOC, a move I found shocking and disappointing as the firm had previously never given the slightest hint of any problem with my material. They must have known almost from the start what Heretic TOC is all about, not least because in earlier years they rejected complaints from various individuals against the site. Indeed, Matt Mullenweg, founder of parent company Automattic Inc. (the corporate moniker includes his own first name, hence the double T), has had a long-standing commitment to free speech. He is on record as saying “WordPress.com supports free speech and doesn’t shut people down for ‘uncomfortable thoughts and ideas’, in fact we’re blocked in several countries because of that.”
Shame he couldn’t stick to his principles, although strangely enough I can understand why he might have had a genuine change of heart on absolute free speech in recent years following something I learned about only a few days ago. “In August 2018,” I read on Wikipedia, “WordPress.com began removing several pages that suggested the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.” We can see his point, can’t we? Nobody with any wisdom ever said free speech was easy.
So there may have been as much confusion as cowardice behind the WordPress.com capitulation but either way I suddenly found myself left high and dry, repeating the dire experience of a good many other MAP bloggers and YouTubers.
Actually, my use of the first person singular here is wrong, for I very quickly discovered this was a we situation, not just an I one. Fellow heretics began to contact me when they heard the news, expressing sympathy along with the hope that Heretic TOC’s archive could be retrieved and a new site set up. Better still, practical support was also offered, both financial and technical. My spirits were soon hugely lifted by this concrete evidence that we are not just isolated individuals who can be taken out at will, but a real community capable of rallying around when it matters.
That has been the real story of the last two months, which have involved both generous digging into pockets and spadework of a more time-consuming kind. Starting a blog from a secure server, with a bespoke design giving good access to a large archive transferred from a different platform is not a quick or easy business, I discovered. When I started Heretic TOC with WordPress.com it was dead easy. All I had to do was sign up, pick an off-the-shelf design and start writing. The entire process took about an hour. This time it has taken over two months, even with a lot of very efficient expert help at my disposal. Part of the problem was my own lack of tech knowledge, which meant it took me quite a while to discover which of the many wonderful offers of help I received would draw on the skills I could best make use of! This was an embarrassment of riches! My heartfelt thanks, of course, to everyone who offered their services, including some who undertook great labours that I was not ultimately able to use.
That was painful, to me as well as them; but at least we are through all that now and what you see today is to my mind a well designed site, elegant in appearance and with better functionality than the old one: specific improvements include a better search tool, a drop-down calendar that makes the archive much neater and less space-consuming, and a page that scrolls down through archived blogs, revealing their opening text, giving a real sense that there is a treasure trove waiting to be hauled up from the depths (nearing 250 blogs in total, and closing in on 15,000 comments).
Best of all, though, is that from now on skinny comment threads will be a thing of the past! Heretic TOC regulars will know exactly what I mean. A glance through any of the archived blogs will reveal that no matter how long the conversation goes on, the threads never shrink below quite a wide and very readable width.
As for the treasure trove, fortunately there was never any cause for worry that it would be sunk and lost forever in the WordPress.com shipwreck of June. This is because someone – I have no idea who, but I am grateful for the good work – was ahead of the game, making sure that a full backup of the site was available at the wonderful internet archive called Wayback Machine, where the old blog can still be found. So I would recommend this “insurance policy” to anyone still using WordPress.com or other blogging platforms vulnerable to censorship.
Note that I keep referring to WordPress.com, rather than just WordPress. Unsurprisingly, the company called WordPress was responsible for developing the software of the same name. That was back in 2003. However, the tech stuff has its own website, WordPress.org, and is non-commercial. It is a free, open-source, content management system created as for blog-publishing but now put to many other uses as well. The point here, though, is to say that Heretic TOC is still using the WordPress technical system but is not tied to the company in any way. I am sticking with the software because it is familiar and involves less hassle when transferring design elements and a big back catalogue to a new site. And I do actually like most of the available features.
Even the company itself isn’t all bad. Yes, they shoved me up shit creek but at least they threw me a paddle, supplying me with files of Heretic TOC’s whole archive and technical assistance to download it, so we never had to rely on retrieving anything from Wayback Machine. Why did they give this help? Perhaps because depriving me of my intellectual property would have left them vulnerable to legal action; or maybe they were secretly ashamed of giving in to media pressure and wanted to be as nice as possible in the circumstances. Who knows?
The information given by the company came in two files, one for the main text and design code, the other for the images and captions. From now onwards the images should look fine but the archived ones have defaulted to a small size that fails to do them justice. I hope to rectify this over time. Shouldn’t be too big a problem as photos and other graphics were rarely used in the early blogs.
I imagine the new masthead will be a talking point, i.e. the dark blue title bar across the top of the page. It was originally conceived as a minimalist affair, stripped right down to the bare essentials, like Google’s Home Page. However, even Google often play artistically with their own logo, using all sorts of decorative and meaningful variations of the lettering. An afterthought on my part for Heretic TOC was that the design would really fly if it was given some wings. So these “wings” have been added on either side of the title lettering in the form of two roundels, only one of which needs any explanation i.e. the butterfly logo on the right-hand side.
This artwork has been around for quite a while as a child-love symbol. When searching for it online the first site where I found it had a version that turned out to be from an FBI file released by Wikileaks! Here there is a description attributed to Norbert de Jonge, saying it is “used by many to show their solidarity with the four proposed guidelines for physical intimacy in friendships between children and adults”. I think the guidelines he had in mind would have been those referred to in an essay on ethics by Dr Frans Gieles, which were discussed under the auspices of Ipce.org early in the new millennium. The principles outlined had much to commend them. They give some idea of what kind of relationships would be ethically acceptable if allowed by law i.e. if the age of consent were to be reduced, or replaced by legal protections of a different kind. In other words, those subscribing to the principles would not encourage illegal contacts but neither would they condemn ethically conducted relationships in the past, where they had been made possible through favourable cultural circumstances e.g. in ancient Greece.
In any case, a considerably simpler explanation of the logo’s four segments readily presents itself. Just take a good look! Called the “CLogo”, it has been described on Newgon Wiki as “a traditional childlove symbol. It depicts a butterfly whose wings are formed by four hearts. Two are larger than the other two representing the adult and the child. Two are pink and the other two blue representing the masculine and feminine.” The symbol was said to be “widely accepted as associated to childlove and past movements”.
The present fashion for gender fluidity and the emergence of transgender activism in recent years might be thought to render such a gender-binary symbol all too “traditional” these days, hence obsolete. By all means tell me what you feel, but I am inclined to disagree. There is nothing inconsistent, in my view, with supporting those who are “gender questioning”, “gender queer”, or transgender, while recognising that most of us are either men or women, boys or girls, and that biological sex is fundamentally binary.
No doubt we will return to this theme in future, along with a host of other complicated and controversial issues. For my part, I can’t wait to get writing again about significant recent developments that have been piling up since the old blog was knocked off its perch. So, watch this space!
Finally, a bit about the very important items at the top of the right-hand column:
Subscribe: It costs nothing to subscribe to Heretic TOC and by doing so you will be notified automatically by email when each new blog is published. Just go to the subscription area at the top of the right-hand column, enter your email address, and click on the blue button. Easy!
Donate: For the first time, Heretic TOC now has to pay for web hosting. The cost of that for the first year has already kindly been covered by an anonymous benefactor. But other significant expenses were also necessarily incurred out of my own pocket once it became clear that professional help was needed to develop the new site. Paid-for services will also be needed on a continuing basis for periodic help and site maintenance. Accordingly, please consider chipping in. The account you will be paying into via PayPal bears the name of a small company wholly owned by me. It was set up for the company originally but the account is in fact a personal one and any funds paid in will be entirely at my disposal.