Capitalising on Prostitution

DISCLAIMER: This post is a veritable rant. It promises to go off script or at least be oblique to the recent themes I’ve adopted. It is also a bit late, missing the heels of the FOSTA debacle in the United States

Prostitution is immoral. It exploits women. It exists in a world of violence. It objectifies and creates a rape culture. It is a vector for transmission of diseases. These are the main arguments against it, yet many of these are arguments against Capitalism itself.

In fact, most arguments of prostitution are criticisms of capitalism or conflated claims to some tangential activity. The most popular conflation is with sex trafficking,  ‘modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act‘.

Prostitution is a category of sex work, which includes dominatrixes in the BDSM space, porn actors (and actresses if you expect archaic sexist jargon), phone sex operators, cam models. Nude modelling is somehow tasteful and not readily included in the collection.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sex workers [PDF] as ‘women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income-generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation‘. I won’t comment on why they feel the final dependent clause is relevant to the definition. Perhaps it’s in the realm of the aspiring actors or screenwriters who wait tables but don’t consider themselves to be waitstaff.

Returning to the main arguments in turn:

Prostitution is immoral. As a subjectivist, this is a difficult argument to win. Although morality is a human social construct, many people believe otherwise, and even those who don’t ascribe to the notion of an objective morality still adopt and abide by the fabricated moral codes generated by the worldview of, say, Christians or Muslims or some other sect who claim to have direct insight into such codes.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral.

Nothing is immoral that society doesn’t declare to be immoral. In the United States, the institution of slavery—what I call hyper-capitalism or a capitalist’s wet dream—was deemed moral by most. Eventually, the morality was hotly debated, and now, it is considered to be immoral. Time changes everything. In some circles, slavery is still considered to be moral. In other circles, it has morphed into wage-slavery and because money is exchanged within a frame of a labour market, it escapes the definition.

Excepting for local norms, prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking or retail sales.

Prostitution exploits women. Excepting that there are male prostitutes and sex workers, it is commonly believed that these people are (somehow) less likely to be exploited, so I’ll keep this focused on women. First, it is important to separate prostitution from human sex trafficking. This is not the topic, and it’s a problem with specificity. If you feel that sex trafficking is immoral and should be illegal, that’s fine; but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Focus on the actual problem. <sarcasm>If you want to prevent all women from being exploited, lock them all up in monasteries. Problem solved. </sarcasm>

Prostitution is not inherently more immoral than banking

If one wants to discuss exploitation, let’s discuss a system designed such that a person needs to earn money to survive. Period. Full stop. If you buy into the capitalist worldview, then, that in order to survive a person chooses to be a marketing executive, a customer service representative, a janitor, or a prostitute, is none of your concern.

I have heard many arguments put forth that these women should get ‘real jobs’, jobs that pay minimum wage (or less) and have no other benefits, jobs where it would take a week or more to earn what they could in a day or less. That’s not even rational.

Prostitution exists in a world of violence. Despite trends, the world is still a violent place. Part of the higher probability of violence in the realm of prostitution exists because these women are marginalised by moralists. Even where prostitution is legal, it is still often viewed as immoral. They have little recourse to the legal system. They can’t organise. They are forced underground. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Don’t force these women into alleys and underground.

In the US, recent FOSTA and SESTA hysteria have disarmed women from the tools they used to navigate their environment. They could share intelligence related to which men to avoid for one reason or another. Other tools have cropped up to facilitate this cooperation, but these tools benefit from network effects. The more people having access to the information clearinghouse, the better.

Prostitution objectifies women. I’ll concede this point straight away but not without noting that many things objectify women: the beauty industry, the entertainment industry, the marketing industry in general. If as a society we can resolve objectification and prostitution is the last holdout, I’m onboard, right there with you. But there is no need to make prostitution the poster child for eliminating objectification.

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Prostitution creates a rape culture. To be fair, I have no metrics on this, and I am going to pass, but not without saying that it seems to be an implausible claim. And I have read counterclaims anyway.

Prostitution is a vector for the transmission of diseases. Indeed. And driving is a vector for traffic accidents. Of course, higher frequencies of an activity will result in a higher probability—even with the same probability, the additional exposure may result in hitting this undesirable lottery. And the variety of partners with unknown sexual histories is problematic.

However, a mitigating factor is education—and not simply moralistic lip service. Women need to understand the risks and understand how to diminish it. Yet again, being marginalised does not necessarily allow a woman to be empowered. A client can insist on unprotected sex. If he forces his hand, no one is going to believe that a prostitute can be raped. As with sex trafficking, rape is its own subject and is only part of a larger conversation.


I was winding down, but I found a related quote I wanted to address:

Geena Leigh was in prostitution for 19 years from the age of 18. In her submission to an Australian inquiry into the regulation of brothels, she said prostitution: “has this way of stealing all the dreams, goals and beautiful essence out of a woman. During my years in it, I didn’t meet one woman who enjoyed what she was doing. Everyone was trying to get out.”

Evidently, lack of enjoyment in one’s employment is not limited to prostitutes. The is the problem with fundamental attribution bias. A recent Gallup poll cited that 85% of people hate their jobs. Maybe Gallup only interviewed prostitutes, or perhaps the 15% who liked their jobs were the only ones who weren’t sex workers.


 

Well, there went my morning…

For those wondering (and who’ve gotten this far), the impetus for this post was some other blog posts I happened upon in WordPress’ Reader.

 

What’s in Store for 2017?

Going into 2017, I am going to focus more attention on Universal Basic Income (UBI) otherwise known as minimum income. Providing everyone with a safety net in the spirit of life, liberty, and happiness. Hopefully, this will take some focus away from or redirect the negativity I am anticipating under the Trump regime, but I make no promises, expressed or implied. I’ll attend to the detractors as well.

I’ve been peripherally aware of the concept of UBI for a couple of years now—Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and Erik Brynjolfsson’s The Second Machine Age, among others. Although I don’t envision it as a permanent solution—after all, what is permanent? —but it is a solution that works within the existing (and woefully wanting) economic framework. It does, however, have a way to go relative to the current socio-political constructs.

The solution is not permanent primarily because the current economic system based on markets, supply, demand, income, and production is tenuous, so building on a platform of shifting sand is bound to fail—not because it is a bad idea considering the given system, but because the system itself is faulty. Capitalism is a house of cards, a tenuous MacGyver-ed system held together with spit and bubble gum (and who knows what else). I don’t have a replacement system in mind, and most people are not quite ready to abandon their cherished ragdoll owing to indoctrination, propaganda, and escalating commitment.  Entropy is at play, and the establishment needs to apply more and more external force to keep it together. We can look to history and the French revolution of 1789 as a guide—or perhaps the fall of tsarist Russia. These systems were inherently unstable.

Regarding these societies of serfs, the gutting of the middle class and the expanding inequality along with technological trends seems to have a trajectory along a vector to return us there, and the results can be expected to be as disastrous.

The United States was founded during the so-called Enlightenment with dashes of a Calvinistic work ethic and rugged independence, whatever that means. ‘Enlightenment,’ like ‘modern’, is a flattering term given to self-describe a period, but this description is mostly wishful thinking. I am not opposed to much of the thought that came from the Enlightenment, from Diderot to Locke to Montesquieu—thoughts such as freedom and separation of powers—, hijacked by the likes of Franklin and Jefferson on these shores, but they, too, were built on shaky grounds—the grounds of gods or God, and nature—, so our laws are built upon nothing; this is worse than shifting sand: at least there was sand to shift.

Language tries to obfuscate the divine with the euphemism nature. From so-called ‘natural laws’ we derive property rights, but take away the premise of natural law, and we lose the basis for such an assertion. And don’t get me started on the further foundationless logical leap to intellectual property rights.