15 February 2015
What lessons can we learn about human nature, the culture and the media from the success of the books and film?
None. Really, it’s unimportant and irrelevant.
That suggests it’s not worth writing a piece about, but I just got too annoyed by all the stupid things I read from people who don’t even know what the books and film are about.
I do know, because I read the books. I quite enjoyed them too. That isn’t important either—I read popular light fiction by the bucketful, and I’m not fussy about literary quality, so my book reviews are not going to be terribly valuable to my readership. This isn’t a review, it’s more a case of “I read it so you don’t have to”. There will be spoilers.
Much of what’s written about the phenomenon appears to have been written by people who not only haven’t read it, but haven’t read any fiction at all. I’m thinking particularly of the spectacularly moronic piece by Matt Walsh.
He is outraged by the narrator’s description of her own thought processes in terms of her subconscious doing a hula dance and so forth. He points out that amongst other faults “it’s not accurate from a neurology perspective”. No shit, Sherlock. It’s almost as if the character is a silly 22-year-old arts graduate and not a neurologist at all.
My purpose is not to defend the novel’s literary style—which really is quite poor—but to put it in context. I grew up reading Isaac Asimov and Harry Harrison. It’s better prose than either of them. I read a lot of thrillers now. This is better written than Dan Brown. It’s better than Jack Higgins. It’s not as good as Michael Dibdin. Better than Agatha Christie. About as good as Lee Child.
In the world of contemporary light fiction for women, the writing is not as good as Stephenie Meyer and about the same as Suzanne Collins. It’s better than 90% of pulp romance fiction.
It’s perfectly possible to say that all of this stuff is shit. That is indeed the normal opinion of the intelligent and well-educated, and I freely admit that I have no taste. But it is bizarre to pluck “Twilight” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” out of the morass and express shock at the lack of literary quality, when they are completely unexceptional by the standards of the rest of the bestseller lists.
Anyway, I will pass on from the literary merits, and consider the content.
The books are loaded with explicit sex. So are about 20% of the occupants of the bestseller lists. Harlequin / Mills & Boon have whole colour-coded lines of books which revolve around explicit sex, mostly written much more badly than E.L. James does. I don’t generally read respectable modern literature, but I understand there’s quite a lot of it in that too, much of it equally perverted.
There’s the BDSM angle. I have seen quite a bit of criticism along the lines that the books (or film, which I haven’t seen) normalise or justify that lifestyle. Well, they don’t, except in the sense that Dennis Wheatley’s books “normalise” Satanism by drawing attention to it. I jokingly tweeted “someone should write a novel that portrays BDSM types as dangerously mentally ill,” because that perfectly describes “Fifty Shades of Grey” The title comes from the hero's early description of himself as “fifty shades of fucked-up”, and the point of his character is that he is severely emotionally damaged by his childhood, and that his fetishistic behaviour is an expression of that damage. His psychiatrist does not discourage him, because he sees it as a way of coping with his past, but nowhere is it suggested that his behaviour is normal or healthy. The woman who introduced him to BDSM is one of the villains of the story, and of the ex-sexual partners who participated in his sex games, the only one we see as a character is also severely damaged and ends up in a mental hospital. And the heroine never goes along with it. He asks her to sign a contract binding herself to him, and she considers it, but she never does accept or sign it.
The FetLife people really really hated the books.
There has been a lot of criticism of the violence-against-women aspect of the story. In the whole series, Grey only deliberately hurts Ana once, and she immediately leaves him (at the end of the first book). That is the pivotal moment of the series, where he determines to overcome his sadistic desires and have an entirely different relationship. They get married in the second book and the third book is basically an action thriller.
As far as the feminists will be concerned, he remains overly dominant and controlling, and some “red pill” commenters think it remarkable that this is portrayed as attractive by the books. Once again, in this respect he resembles literally 100% of mass-market romance-novel heroes. The film doesn’t represent any new trend or backlash at all.
I promised that this would be boring. The general lessons to draw from the books and the film are that there aren’t any. It’s just another bit of fairly ordinary popular entertainment that happened to catch a wave of hype, as things do from time to time.
It’s actually most interesting to read in the context of the Twilight books (which I enjoyed reading a lot more than I did 50). The pattern of the relationships between the characters is exactly duplicated. I assume it was originally an attempt to rewrite Twilight without the supernatural elements: Christian’s wealth takes the place of Edward’s vampire super-powers, and his sexual/emotional damage takes the place of Edward’s inability to give Bella normal human love. Christian’s controlling jealousy and guilt are exactly the same as Edward’s. There’s far more subtlety to the novel looked at as a variation on an existing theme than there is taking it as a story standing on its own.
I still feel the need to make excuses for why it is I read all this shit. One factor is that I read extremely fast—I read the fifty shades trilogy in a couple of days last year—and as a result of that I tend to find television very frustrating in comparison because it goes so slowly. I think I’ve watched about three hours of television so far this year, plus a handful of movies on Netflix (but I'm quite likely to have a different book open while I’m watching a movie). Reading light fiction is what I do to turn my mind off and relax. If I don’t have something to read I will pick up just about anything I can lay hands on and give it a try.
Another side is I’m attracted by story, and I may have been actively put off good literature as a result of too many books without a satisfactory complete story. There was some related discussion last year on Eric Raymond’s site about “literary status envy”, with a lot of interesting comments.
03 November 2014
The appearance and success of what are called “neoliberal” ideas and policies, mainly during the 1980s but with effects that are still very much with us, exists as a challenge to the neoreactionary observation of the leftward drift, or ratchet.
Cthulu always swims left, Moldbug told us, and Jim explained the “holier-than-Jesus” positive-feedback loop in more detail.
What was Cthulu doing when welfare states were rolled back, government operations privatised, and controls on trade removed from (mainly) 1980-1987? Once awoken, he is not supposed to stop for a bit of a lie down and a nap.
It’s not hard to come up with an answer, which I’ve given before on the occasion of Lady Thatcher’s funeral: The loss of influence of concrete (as opposed to theoretical Marxist) working-class interests was caused by the advent of automated manufacturing, which removed the need to concentrate an army of workers in a large factory where they had economic and potentially paramilitary power. This piece by Paul Graham expresses a related view, which was that there was a bubble economy in manufacturing post-war, in which the benefit of rapid growth outweighed cost-efficiency.
The problem is, you can come up with any daft theory about society, and it’s generally “not hard to come up with an answer” to the blatant falsifications of it that occur in reality. Can we define the exceptions to the “leftward drift” theory—the epicycles—in a way that makes it useful for prediction, not just post-hoc sloganeering?
For instance, can neoliberalism be separated as obviously distinct from the normal mechanisms of ideological change? Not as easily as you might think. I have said that it was an “event” rather than a trend, but it still took the best part of a decade. The acceptance of gay marriage, for example, was no less sudden, yet that is attributed to ideological business as usual.
Nor is my claim that neoliberalism was a response to technological change undisputed. It was certainly presented as an ideological development: Thatcher (allegedly) banged The Constitution of Liberty on the table and said, “this is what we believe.” I spent twenty years aligned with the neoliberal ideological movement; I can hardly now claim it didn’t exist.
All I can really see is to insist on the connection of neoliberalism with the technologically-driven end of mass-labour based manufacturing. That would mean, for instance, that I can predict that neoliberal ideas and policies would have made no headway anywhere that old-style manufacturing was still running profitably. Not also I am talking about concrete technology, not “social technology”, which, while a useful concept, is still a bit to vague to effectively restrict the scope of exceptions to leftward drift.
One final thought: I have already attributed the other major rightward movement in history—the appearance of absolute monarchy—to technological change. That’s cropped up a few times for instance in Recap of the Fall of Monarchism
31 October 2014
Since Spandrell’s celebrated blog post of April 2013, neoreaction has been seen as a trinity, or “trichotomy” of three principles: the Ethno-Nationalist principle, the Techno-Commercial principle, and the Religious-Traditionalist principle.
At a shallow level, neoreaction might appear nothing more than a fragile aggregation of advocates of the three very distinct principles—a coalition of rejectionists of the modern consensus. Most outsiders, and some insiders, have seen it that way, leading to an undercurrent of “fissionism”, of splitting up into three factions.
In spite of that there has always been at the core a dim awareness that the three principles make up one whole, that neoreaction is more than the aggregation of its parts. For all that, it has been unclear whether that is meant as one agenda that embraces the three principles, or rather one movement that encompasses three factions.
We talk about three, but in Spandrell’s original statement, the Religious–traditional element is only grudgingly mentioned as a possible third stream, and not examined. He is eloquent in his account of being torn between the two other principles:
“If I had to say where I am, is the nationalist branch. But I used to be more on the capitalist camp. The capitalist argument is quite powerful: ethnic kinship is cool but the necessary corollary of it is National-socialism. Or socialism itself. We used to have more asabiyyah than now, but we also had no economic growth. For all the nostalgia for the Victorian age, who wants to go back there? Who prefers ethnic solidarity and purpose to modern medicine and technology? Reaction is based on a fear of where we are headed, certainly not on a dislike of how life is right now. Yes the proles have become barbarians, but they never were that pleasant anyway. Ethnic solidarity by itself is not necessarily conducing of scientific progress and economic growth. And those I agree are good things.
“But the capitalism argument is to allow the market to do its bidding. But what is its bidding right now? In the last decades it has been towards a re-concentration of wealth. Plutocracy is coming back with force. And yeah the plutocrats have made a lot of good stuff. The argument goes that they might do even better stuff if the government wasn’t messing with their ambitions through socialistic regulations. Imagine all the economic growth they might unleash if they were allowed to employ the proles for peanuts! What’s wrong with slave camps if you get cheap cotton, huh?”
This argument is really the heart of neoreaction. In more recent months we have employed the language of Gnon—the God of Nature or Nature, reality which cannot be defied. In terms of Gnon, Spandrell’s conflict is vivid.
Gnon requires creative destruction. There are more effective ways of manipulating the physical world than those we currently employ. The future belongs to those who find and employ those more effective ways. Anything that ties us to the current ways, that prevents us from trying new ways and using them if they are better, will incur the wrath of Gnon.
The Techno-Commercial principle of Neoreaction is aligment with creative destruction, with bankruptcy and the elimination of the failed and the false.
That political identification with creative destruction—markets, competition, freedom to innovate is where Moldbug came from, where I came from, where, according to the extract above, Spandrell came from. But it is not adequate. Gnon is not satisfied with creative destruction alone. Gnon requires power.
A system can be designed, by libertarians or anarcho-capitalists, to maximise creative destruction. But it cannot live. The society which creates it might eschew power, leaving the forces of competition to find the optimum solutions to problems. Others, however, will defect from this view, and occupy the power vacuum. They might come from outside, or from within, but they will come, and they will either succeed, and reshape the society according to their particular group interests, or the attacked will organise themselves to resist, forming their own power centre, which will itself reshape society according to its particular group interests. The potential of loyalty to a succesful group is in human nature, it is given by Gnon. A society of those who deny it will come to be ruled by those who do not.
If Creative Destruction is made concrete in technology and commerce, group loyalty is made concrete in ethnic solidarity and nationalism. They are not the only group loyalties possible, indeed they are not the dominant ones in today’s West, but they are probably in the long run the most stable and reliable. The neoreactionary study of thedes is the science of this principle of Gnon.
The true neoreactionary, following Spandrell, attempts to balance the creativity of techno-commercialism with the stability of ethno-nationalism. Really, that is the whole problem. It being the whole problem, nobody should expect it to be easy, and it is not. In practical application, embodied in the culture of a society, Techno-commercialism is in deadly conflict with Ethno-nationalism. Markets undermine stable positions of power, blur boundaries between in-group and out-group, invite cosmopolitanism and compete away loyalty. National loyalties obstruct trade, splinter markets, paralyse innovation, preserve the unfit in defiance of Gnon. There is no equilibrium to be reached between the two, no dividing line between where each one can act. In a thousand decisions, the choice must be made again and again between the right techno-commercial answer and the right ethno-nationalist answer.
This unstable mix can, when the proportions are right, survive and prosper. But the long-run danger is always that one will overpower the other completely, collapsing the society into unproductive socialist nationalism or into hostile memetic capture by an acquisitive thede. It could even be argued, that in today’s West, the principle of balance has survived, but we have the worst of both worlds: a society ruled by a minority thede, in which the point of compromise is to suppress creative destruction. The ruling thede is not a nation or an ethnicity, but a fluid ideologically-based club whose members must endlessly and destructively compete against each other to retain their membership. Competition in the ruling thede, stagnation in the market.
What then is the neoreactionary solution to the hard problem of getting the benefit of both techno-commercialism and thede loyalty at the same time in the same society? There must be an active management of the competing needs. That management cannot be built on either principle, or there can be no balance. It must come from outside both. But, since both have the force of Gnon between them, it must have some power of its own, some authority independent of both commerce and thede, which can impose on either or both as the situation required.
What can fill this role is, frankly, still an open question for me. The most promising possibilities so far suggested are the authority of tradition and the authority of religion. Either one can, in the right cultural setting, empower a judge to rule for competition or for loyalty as necessary for the long-term good of the society. This is the role of the third principle of the neoreactionary trichotomy: to be the respected arbiter between the first two.
The trichotomy therefore in its most general form consists of creative destruction, thede loyalty, and authority, but makes most immediate sense as techno-commercialism, ethno-nationalism and religio-traditionalism.
On this framework, a huge amount of very productive earth becomes available for working. What have the effects been of thede alignments divorced from ethnicity? (I only touched on that above in the barest sense). How, and how effectively, have present and past societies achieved balance between the competitive and stabilising forces? Has such success as they have achieved been accidental, or is it repeatable? How have conflicts within each of the three elements affected the overall balance: church and state, nation and region, corporation and entrepreneur? The value in my analysis lies in the degree to which these questions can be answered usefully.
02 June 2014
I got in a conversation on twitter yesterday about the choice of the term “Cathedral” to describe the information organs of the modern state: academia and the media.
To those of us that have been around and around this debate for years, it is a bit tedious, and sure enough there were some groans, but I do not apologise. For one thing, nobody who is still paying any attention to Anissimov’s bullshit is in any position to complain about tedious.
The problem with the word Cathedral is that it implies something good, beautiful, admirable. For some Christians, it is an insult to their religion that we compare our enemy to buildings built by their predecessors. They would rather we emphasised the Jewish contribution to the ideology and membership of the Cathedral, by referring to it as a synagogue.
I can understand their discomfort, but the comparison is so instructive that it is worth working through. To retreat from the question by compromising on the terminology is to lose the opportunity to explain some of the most vital points of the neoreactionary theory, points that are easily missed by those approaching Moldbug from a traditionalist starting-point, as opposed to that of the “open-minded progressive” he was primarily addressing.
It can be jarring to those who have emerged from a Christian enclave to learn that in the wider society, “religion” does not mean their religion, “morality” is not their morality, and “conservatives” are not engaged in conserving their culture. It must be tempting to think that their culture is still here, and can be rallied and strengthened and brought back. But the physical cathedrals that medieval Christians built are now museums, and any status that their occupants have in society is earned by conforming to progressivism rather than opposing it.
To a member of the mainstream culture, a cathedral is a large, rich institution from which, historically, the dominant morality and beliefs of society were pronounced. Maybe it was also a centre of true religion and the worship of God, but that is not so widely accepted, and in any case not the primary set of associations.
In that sense, anyone can build a cathedral, provided they have a sufficiently high status in society. There is a new religion now, one which coincidentally developed out of Christianity, but has since separated from it. (The exact historical relationship of puritanism with modern progressivism is much debated, but isn’t at all the point here. Even if progressivism were entirely the creation of The Jews And Their Father The Devil, the arguments I’m making here would be the same.)
So, we have this new religion, Universalism, and it is dominant in our culture. It has built institutions which, like the cathedrals of old, tell us what is good, how we should behave, who we should obey. It operates completely openly, with one exception—it does not admit that it is a religion. It maintains that it is just the recognition of the self-evident, and that its priests are just good and intelligent people.
The prevailing impression of our political system is that it is not a theocracy, that liberalism and conservatism are just tendencies that compete within the system on equal terms, that “religion” means stuff like Christianity and Islam which was a bit iffy in the past but can be OK and pretty today provided they steer clear of things that are really bad like getting obsessed with obsolete sexual morality. We need a constant reminder that the reality is completely different, that liberalism is not a political faction but a dominant religion, that what is preached to us by Harvard and Hollywood is the doctrine of that religion. If that’s jarring, then it is all the more important. The relevant stereotypical associations if we denote the information establishment as a Synagogue, in contrast, would be of something closed, obscure, maybe people conspiring in secret. That is so far from the true situation, of Universalist devotees being recruited and trained openly in every university and on every television channel, as to produce a crippling misunderstanding of the problem.
And finally, it should not be too hard to eventually accept. It is no contradiction of Christian teaching (as I understand it) to put forward that it is not the dominant belief system in this world; that the Enemy is in power and that it is necessary to resist the dominant culture of the world. If assimilating this is a shock, it is surely not one that the Christian should be spared for the sake of being diplomatic.
There will be other difficulties reconciling Christianity and a Neoreactionary theory which has its origin in secularism, but the evidence so far is that they can be resolved.
See also: The Modern Structure
23 March 2014
The previous post was to say that I see the real division within the Dark Enlightenment as being between a strategy of converting the elite (neoreaction) and a strategy of replacing the elite (paleoreaction).
In America, that might line up somewhat as neocameralism vs monarchy, but that isn’t really the dividing line. There are those supporting monarchism because they can accept nothing else, but there are also neoreactionary monarchists, such as myself, who choose monarchism as strategically preferable to other neoreactionary options.
I concentrate on Britain, and I see monarchist rule as entirely feasible for Britain given any kind of large-scale visible failure of the existing regime. That doesn’t put me on the paleo side of the divide I described earlier. I could easily see myself being persuaded by the neocameralists if they can solve the corporate-governance problem more convincingly than Moldbug managed to do.
Moldbug’s method of guaranteeing shareholders’ rights is to have a computer system which can sabotage the management’s control if authorised to do so by a majority of shareholders voting via a secure automated cryptographic protocol. I never considered that practically workable. If you change the software, or even cause some change in the way the software operates, then you can modify who has rights over the state. I do not envision a system made so reliable and secure that that could not happen.
There may be other mechanisms that would work. Bitcoin is a promising example: as in Moldbuggian Neocameralism, the software says who has what rights under the system. However, the software is not running in a sealed untamperable box; it runs on my PC and yours, and it can be and has been changed. However, it is in the interests of everyone who uses the system that rights be protected and maintained according to the common understanding of the users of the system.
There’s a big gap from that principle to a working neocameralism, but I am able to hope it might be bridged.
In the meantime, I am looking at a different gap, between a situation in which British democracy has failed and the King has taken temporary control, and a situation where his authority is accepted as permanent. I think that is bridgeable, in certain plausible circumstances. I certainly don’t think that working on this puts me on the opposite side of any fission to Nick Land.
What makes my proposed monarchy neoreactionary is that the political formula supporting it is not primarily tradition or religion, but pragmatic and rational. The former democrats who will be part of the system will have have changed their view on a lot of practical, empirical questions, but not on the way they see the world
Up until this point, I’ve been careful to avoid arguing against old-style Throne-and Altar reaction. The main reason is that neoreaction and paleoreaction simply aren’t in competition as ideologies: their resemblance in conclusion is a kind of coincidence, as they are built on entirely different premises. Nobody who considers themselves even close to one of them has any possibility of agreeing with the other. Meanwhile, the similarity in conclusions means that neoreactionaries and paleoreactionaries are potential allies in spite of utterly different assumptions, and effort is better expended on creating critiques of one’s enemies than one’s allies.
The reason for addressing now the shortcomings of paleoreaction is not to isolate from paleoreactionaries, but to explain why neoreaction is important.
In a phrase, liberalism beats reaction. Reaction exists, and has existed for as long as liberalism has been upsetting the old order, but it has not stopped Cthulu swimming leftward, and, based on the premises of the old order, it never will.
Liberalism claims that it is right of the people to alter or to abolish a form of government, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Reactionaries have traditionally held that the people have no such right. The problem is that is a very difficult proposition to argue for, particularly once the opposite view has become well-established. There just aren’t arguments that will work against a “self-evident truth”.
Neoreactionaries might succeed where paleoreactionaries have failed because they do not need to dispute that self-evident truth. The neoreactionary response is not “you have no such right”, but “you may indeed have such a right, but having the right to do crazy shit like that doesn’t make it a good idea.”
That might not be very convincing either, but at least it’s a basis for an argument. Since neoreactionaries start out as liberals, even if heterodox liberals such as libertarians, we know it is possible to persuade liberals to a neoreactionary point of view. Whether this path can lead to victory is not certain, but there is not two hundred and fifty years of failure to demonstrate otherwise.
This vital difference expresses itself in strategy. Because paleoreactionaries cannot persuade liberals, their strategy is instead to fight or escape them. The priorities that result from that strategy are to organise and to grow in numbers.
For neoreactionaries who hope to subvert the existing elite from within their own culture, the priorities are completely different. Heading for the hills does not help to transform our own societies, and street-fighting does not separate us from the existing political sphere. The priority is to improve the arguments, build the theory, expand the intellectual community able to provide an alternative to politics.
12 March 2014
In the “Dark Enlightenment” lexicon, the opposite of the Cathedral is the bazaar. Where the Cathedral is based upon idealized collective issues forced into consensus and acted on by institutions, in other words a classic top-down arrangement, the bazaar is bottom-up and non-organized. It is what happens when people get together and do what makes sense to them without deference to the elites.@EsotericTrad asked whether anyone had ever seen a DE writer mention the Bazaar in this sense, assuming not. I had thought not, and had said so earlier when esr asked whether the “Cathedral” concept derived from his famous essay on software development, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. @nydwracu knew better, though, and pointed esr to Moldbug’s Open Letter part XIV.
The Cathedral is called the Cathedral for another reason: it's not the Bazaar. Coding, frankly, is pretty easy. Reinterpreting reality is hard. Nonetheless, I think this thing will come down one of these days. And I would rather be outside it than under it.Now, that’s an aside at the end of a 12,000-word “part XIV”, so it doesn’t seem a central concept. But it exists. What does it mean? What Moldbug is criticising here is not the Cathedral’s centralizing of power, but its centralizing of truth.
In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle. This feedback loop generates a playing field on which the most competitive ideas are not those which best correspond to reality, but those which produce the strongest feedback.What he is asking for is not “people power” but power divorced from opinion, so that there can be a diversity of opinion without a division of power (which, even more than most other DE/NRx writers, he is consistently and forcefully against).
Part of the confusion here stems from the overuse of the term “Cathedral”. Unlike many people who have written about his theories, Moldbug does not use the term to label the elite, or the powerful, or the state. It refers to the institutions that shape the beliefs and ideology of society (including the beliefs and ideology of the elite, the powerful, the state). Specifically, the elite universities and the respectable media.
Therefore when he criticizes the Cathedral in the piece quoted above, he is not directly attacking the structure of government (though he does plenty of that elsewhere), rather, he is criticizing the method of forming belief. When he implies it should be more bazaar-like, he is not saying government should be bazaar-like, he is saying the “information institutions” should be bazaar-like. A precondition for that is detaching them from the power-feedback loop he describes above.
01 March 2014
The newspapers in Britain are full of something I mentioned as an aside in a post last year—the fact that 1970s consolidation of progressive power was the phase that included the dropping of legalised paedophilia as a progressive goal. The status of the Paedophile Information Exchange as an affiliate of the National Council of Civil Liberties was what I had in mind when I wrote that. It was never any secret.
The establishment line, coming from senior policiticans who shared platforms with paedophile campaigners forty years ago, is that their progressive movements were “infiltrated” by “evil” paedophiles, later driven out. Inasmuch as “infiltration” implies any degree of secrecy or misrepresentation at all, that is very obviously untrue. In the early 1970s, paedophilia was a progressive cause. Rock stars’ banging of underage groupies was seen as part of their general wildness and edginess. It might eventually end in tears, but the same goes for their other wild behaviour like dropping acid or driving sports cars at 100mph—sex with teenagers was seen as in the same moral category as these other excesses.
East Germany legalised homosexual sex in 1968, with an age of consent of 14. The NCCL, by campaigning a few years later for Britain to follow that example, was holding a perfectly respectable progressive position—and going even further. (NCCL supported reducing age of consent to 10 “in some circumstances”, which I think meant relationships between children).
The Guardian today quoted a letter from Patricia Hewitt, saying “Our proposal that the age of consent be reduced is based on the belief that neither the police nor the criminal courts should have the power to intervene in a consenting sexual activity between two young people.” That was the progressive position in 1976. There have been pictures of demonstrations against the PIE, but the placards brandished by the demonstrators carried the National Front logo—not a respectable organisation.
The question for historians to ask about the 1970s is not, “how could respectable people have supported paedophilia back then?”, rather, it is “how did they not succeed?” My original answer was that as the rebels became the establishment, they were forced to take some small measure of responsibility for keeping society together, and withdrew from a few of their most dangerous demands. That’s no more than a hypothesis really, since I have no particular evidence for it. The truth could possibly be even more interesting.Update 16 March 2014
I just noticed on Wikipedia, that the Labour Party was proposing reducing the age of consent to 14 as late as 1998.