Talk About Choice, the Body & Consent

This post takes a different approach than the previous two videos. First, I am reversing the video content and my response, so the video content is quoted.

As I listened to the video, I was taken aback by how rife the content was with logical fallacies. In fact, this would be perfect fodder for an introductory Logic 101 class to evaluate for these fallacies. Although I do not call out these fallacies exhaustively, I do highlight some of them.

One common factor of prostitutes is the history of surviving emotional, physical or often sexual abuse and violence.

Given that these are undefined and unqualified, I am not sure that there is any woman who has never had any violence of some degree or another. I presume this should be further qualified that it is directed toward her. I’ll be perfectly frank: I have never dated a woman who has not been raped at least once in her lifetime, some had been several times, and several others had been molested as children. Only a couple of these had any connections to sex work of any form, so it is interesting that this a raised as a vector, first for the over-expansive domain and second without contrast to other women in a sort of control group fashion.

These previous aspects have been suggested to be even stronger than the factor of poverty.

Notice again the speaking in generalities. No facts are being asserted here. We are trapped in a telephone game, where hearsay and speculation dominate the held position. Somebody anonymous person somehow somewhere suggested that some relationship might exist. There is nothing there.

Some poor women will be prostitutes, and others will take underpaid or illegal jobs…

Duly noted. And some will graduate from college and become computer programmers. And so?

…but the ones opting for prostitution will have had a history of sexual violence.

Notice that no claim is being made that this violence is more or less frequent than the cohort not opting for prostitution.

That a middle-class girl may also find herself working as a prostitute because someone taught her that she was worthless.

Wow. So much to unpack here. The narrator, Elly, is asserting a parallel between prostitution and worthlessness. The implication is a person with worth would not choose this profession because she would choose a worthy profession. I wonder where and how this worth is determined.

…and the only thing of value she could do was to give sexual access to men.

So Elly, whether she admits it or not is deprecating women who choose this profession, but she tries to shroud it in language that she feels otherwise.

Now comes the psychobabble about trauma reenactment, as if it were a thing, and in a classic misdirect, she asserts that this is not even her own judgment; in fact, it is the analysis of these women who are clearly qualified to make a professional judgment of this nature in the realm of pseudoscience.

Anecodote: Women come to the conclusion that they’ve been abused their whole lives, so why not get paid for it.

Here is where I break to discuss post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy or anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is frequently misinterpreted via the availability heuristic, which leads to an overestimation of the prevalence of an occurrence. This is a well-documented logical fallacy. This fallacy is employed when the person arguing has no real data to support their position, so they opt for personal stories, hearsay, and anecdotes. Related to this is confirmation bias, which is the result of, having established a position, only seek out facts that support the position even if these facts are outnumbered by contrary facts by orders of magnitude.

Such thinking is the basis behind anti-vaccination groups and homoeopathy advocates. The best these people can do is to point to themselves or a friend or a friend of a friend who benefited (or was disadvantaged) by some therapy or other action.

Bald assertion: We have a rape and paedophilia culture.

What is the basis for this claim, and what is the scope?

Media culture promotes the message be pretty, be fuckable, or be invisible

Here, we are in full agreement. The technical fallacy here is that for every 10 girls subjected to these messages, 1 becomes a prostitute. Yet even by conservative statistics, at least 1 in 5 women have been raped, 1 in 4 have been sexually abused. So the cause and effect don’t add up. In the US, about 14% of people are officially considered to in poverty.

In statistics, there is a concept of signal and noise. The problem is that understanding statistics is not natural for humans. It involves the analytical System II, in Daniel Kahneman‘s parlance, rather than the heuristic, System I.  Acognitive problem plaguing people is apophenia, where they read patterns into data that simply are not there. A form of this, called pareidolia, is how people see Jesus’ face in toast.

No body can stand beign penetrated to 10 to 30 male strangers every single day.

So the 10 to 20 customers a night I commented was unrealistic has now morphed into 10 to 30. It is somehow important to note that these are strangers, presumably as a nod to acknowledge that 30 acquaintances would be just fine because there would be enthusiastic consent and mutual arousal. Beware stranger danger.

If indeed prostitution is just a job like any other job, like, say, flipping burgers, then I would wager you would have absolutely no issue switching jobs with a prostituted person for one day and let it be your anus that’s penetrated in the state of non-arousal by 15 men during one night.

O! Europa. Firstly, I wouldn’t trade my jobs to flip burgers let alone be a prostitute. Secondly, there are scores upon scores of ‘typical’ jobs I would have no interest in switching into. Nor would I presume that many others could actually do my job in any case. Why would someone presume that the punter wouldn’t notice the old switcharoo? And what’s with the anal penetration. Some prostitutes will ‘do’ anal for an up-charge, but many—perhaps even most—prostitutes won’t even accept anal at any price. This is about boundaries.

And someone seems pretty obsessed with the prospect of being penetrated by 15 men. I’d chalk this up to a power struggle, a foray into the world of penetration politics. Even gay men discriminate between top and bottom, so it’s rather a submission thing rather than a female thing.

Prostitution is incompatible with enthusiastic sexual consent

Elly runs through a bizarre strawman scenario that is too silly to even repeat here, and then she returns to some Disney Princess fantasy world of wooing and requited love.

She (sort of) acknowledges (without saying as much) that there is a distinction between economic and social spheres. I’d suggest reviewing the Isreali daycare study, where they learned that lesson the hard way. This does not mean that some people don’t blend the two spheres. It also doesn’t mean that a woman might not put out for a hamburger but might be persuaded by steak.

Anecdotally, I am aware of some women who say they would have sex with their favourite celebrity—if only he would ask.

In the end, this has become more and more disappointing. As so much of this material are vast generalisations and practically at the level of conspiracy theories, there is not even a debate to be had. There are so many technical flaws, I feel I need to pull a yellow card. There is nothing to push against except for the lack of structure or method. It’s all so nebulous. It’s all so quixotic, tilting at windmills.

To be honest, I don’t see how this would convert someone on the fence, let alone an opponent. This material is pretty much relegated to echo-chamber choir preaching.

I think I need to get back to the topic of subjectivism and out of the weeds of activist politics.

 

Arguing for the Abolition of Prostitution: Talk About The Men

Apparently, there was a part 0 and a part 2. I didn’t realise that, so I skipped video 1. My bad, as this is one I was particularly interested in.

In this video, Elly’s premise is to focus on the right to buy sex instead of the right to sell it. Pausing for a moment, I’d like to point out that sex is neither bought nor sold; rather access is rented or leased, in a manner similar to renting a streamed movie on Amazon or Netflix. You retain no rights to ownership or future access. You don’t get to keep it when your time is up. Rather than adopt new nomenclature, I’ll continue with the convention in place.

Rather than asking is there a right to sell sex, ask is there a right to buy it, AND ask is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex.

Ignoring whether a right can even exist ontologically, I’ll go along and pretend that a right can exist. We’ve been down this street before, but I am commenting in real time, and I am not yet even a minute in. Essentially, she suggests asking two questions:

  1. Is there a right to buy sex?

  2. Is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex?

Clearly, these two questions are related. The right to buy sex begs the question from whom, so even though the focus is redirected from the seller to the buyer, there cannot be a buyer without a seller. In practice, the seller is a critical piece of the equation. For example, I may have a right to buy an automobile, but you only have the right to sell it if it is your property; you can’t rightfully sell me your neighbour’s car.

Separately, is there a right to profit from selling sex [as a first party transaction] in the first place, and for selling someone else for sex [as a second party transaction] in the second place?

[SPOILER ALERT] » This video does not yield the anwers to these questions.  

The next order of business is to use these talking points…

  1. Discuss what motivates men to by prostituted women.

  2. Discuss how they view and treat them rather than discuss statistics.

…followed by this assertion.

“There is plenty of evidence that men are motivated to buy prostituted women because prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.”

This is where I go off the rails and critique poor methodology and poor rhetorical form. Let’s unpack this:

  • There is plenty of evidence that…
    • First, plenty is a weasel word. It carries no rhetorical weight unless it is followed with, well, plenty of evidence. How much is plenty? Is there plenty of counter-evidence? Is the evidence more prevalent than the counter evidence or vice versa.
    • Second, what is the source of this unspecified, uncited, and unattributed evidence. Elly references links; perhaps they are the evidence she is references. What is the quality of this evidence?
    • Not to offend, but this wouldn’t even pass as a Wikipedia comment.
  • …men are motivated to buy prostituted women because…
    • Apart from the inability to actually know someone’s motivation, I am interested in seeing where this leads.
    • Elly uses the noun phrase prostituted women. As she employs the adjective form prostituted, I am led to wonder what the motivation was for this word choice.
      • My initial thought is that she is modifying the noun women because wants to differntiate buying women from buying prostituted woman, but I don’t think this is quite right.
      • My next thought is that her motivation to convey that these women have no agency or volition; they are passive objects who are prostituted against their will.
      • My third, or perhaps it was my first, thought is why not emply the plural noun prostitutes. She has already established context that her focus is women, so I am left feeling there is a deeper subtext. Perhaps I am reading too much in.
  • …prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.
    • This is some definition. I’ll need to unpack this one slowly:
      • This definition get to the heart of the matter from the perspective of the  punter.
      • Prostitution is the availability of sexual access…  Yup. Nailed it.
      • with little to no boundaries… Wait, what? Where did this come from? Is there some subclass of prostitutes to which this applies? Surely does not define all prostitutes? Does this define most prostitute? As I understand it—at least the escorts of Backpage of days gone by, a victim of FOSTA—, escorts to have boundaries. Moreover, some boundaries can be expanded by an up-charge. Even reading the negative reviews on the Invisible Men Project, it is apparent that many of the complaints were that the woman refused one service or another, which is to say to enforce a boundary. This appears to be counterevidentiary.
      • to young… I wonder how we are defining young. I wonder what the average age of a prostitute is. A quick Google search of ‘prostitution’ yeilds a recent arrest of 7 women. I am not saying this is a valid random sample or size, but their ages range from 27 to 55 with an average age of just under 40-years old. I suppose to a 70-year-old, these are young. Let’s move on…
      • attractive women… Attractiveness is relative, but let’s just say there’s no accounting for taste. Without comment, I’ll leave it to you to decide the attraction level of these same arrested women.
      • anywhere… This is a bold assertion.
      • at any time… This is an another bold assertion. I am certain there is support for this claim somewhere.
      • at affordable prices. Finally, the end of this parsing party. Affordabilty is another relative term. Who’s the punter and what’s the cost? I’m noticing that first guy perportedly spent £340 for 45 minutes. That’s about $450 US for the peeps reading on this side of the pond, and I am just going to go out on a limb and suggest that is beyond the affordability range of most Americans by several hundred dollars.

At the end of the day, I am left with the impression that the purpose of this definition is to incite and inflame not to objectively define anything. In the court system, this is what one would call leading the witness. As such it would be inadmissible. I concur.

Her next course of action is to determine ‘If your opponents are aware of widespread social stigma in society against prostituted people, which causes risks or disadvantages during interactions with law enforcement or social services, ask them if Johns are somehow magically exempt from this’.

Resulting from my previous search, it seems buyers not exempt. In fact, 6 of the 8 people arrested were men ‘charged with patronizing a prostitute’.

Again, an unsubstantiated claim was countered in less than a minute. It feels to me that the tactic is to throw so much word salad at the opponent that they simply can process the mis- and dis-information, and without recourse to Google, they may be overwhelmed and convert having never researched any of the false claims. Donald Trump relies heavily on this technique.

If they are unable to see the misogyny in the words and actions of punters, introduce them to punter forums…where prostitutes are rated like products.

The claim of misogyny is one of intent. It is not a claim that the words are offensive. It is a claim that the intent behind the words is fueled by some inherent hatred of women. I’m sorry but this is unadulterated psychobabble.

I did read the negative reviews on the punter forums, and to be honest at the expense of being accused of mansplaining, these don’t read much differently to bad service reviews on on Yelp or Google. And, yes, the woman are rated—albeit like services not like products: like my stylist butchered my hair; my gardner killed my dog; whatever. Linguistically, this is akin to code switching. They are employing the vernacular of the forum.

Do some of these men hate women? Sure. Who knows? Do they hate all women? Do all men who frequent prostitutes hate women? Do they hate all women or just prostitutes? Do they hate their mothers? Is their hatred of prostitutes simply a hidden hatred of their mother manifest in hatred of women? Do they hate other categories of people? Do they kick cats and beat dogs? Of course they do, and then they go home and beat their wives and children and speak poorly about their aunts and mothers.

Of course, this line of reasoning is just as inane as the line that inspired it.

She mentions men who freely admit to abusing and raping women.

Wait, what? I didn’t see that. I must have been distracted by the snuff films.

I can tell this is just turning into a rant. If there is one thing I can’t stand—and there is more than one thing I can’t stand—is sloppy academics. The rules of engagement for defending a position with integrity are simple. If the goal is to win at any expense, then, as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. But I am not sure what the prize is here. I am not one to have much faith in the intellectual capacity of most humans, but even I am pretty sure that the majority of people can see right through this subterfuge.

Shake it off, Bry. Just shake it off. Push through it. No pain no gain.

Presumed motivators for men to pay for prostitutes are because…

A. Men want to have sex with no responsibilities with maximum control and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person, and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.

Wow. Another unfounded, ungrounded assertion. Just some claim pulled from thin air. Also, I am pretty sure I heard her say A, as if to enummerate some list, but I never heard any subsequent letters.

  • Men want to have sex
    • So far, so good…
  • with no responsibilities
    • I’ll presume she means with no additional strings attached. I am not sure what other responsibilities we could be talking about.
  • with maximum control
    • I am pretty sure we’ve already trodden this teritory. Perhaps he feels he has (or even has) more control over a prostitute than over some alternative woman. Perhaps he wife or partner won’t allow him to do something or another, but I have a feeling that this maximum control claim is a bit more hyperbole than reality justifies.
  • and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person
    • I am fast-forwarding a bit because this feels like reading it will be like watching paint dry or grass grow. By what Romantic construct is this a thing? Someone’s watched too many Disney films. And this is a game, and the person who pays to avoid effort is a cheater? He jumped the queue. Hmmm. When I say it like that, it does seem awfully juvenile.
  • and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.
    • Let’s just tag some barely relevent rationale on because we can.
    • And let’s pepper our speech with superlatives so the hyperbole doesn’t feel lonely.

Prostitution exists because of the demand not because of a subset of women who are nymphomaniacs.

I have to admit that I loved this last line.

Also [prostitution does] not [exist] because of poverty. Poverty is a supporting factor.

Rachel wins the strawman argument contest of the year. Who is asserting that poverty is the sole arbiter of prostitution? Apparently, some unnamed source in Parliament.


Prostitution exists for one reason: male demand —Rachel Moran


This logic exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic rules of transactional economics and equilibrium in context with supply and demand.

Not to be a dick about it, but I can demand a Ferrari until the cows come home, but this will not conjure a Ferrari. Believe me, I’ve been waiting for those cows to come home for ages. Also, the supply of Ferraris does me no good either because the transction price is too high; therefore, I cannot afford a Ferrari.

Rachel however is correct—In your face Jean Baptiste Say!—when she recognises that supply does not create its own demand. Sorry believers in Conservative economics dogma. But I digress.

Even if this nymphomaniac offered her services for free, there could be no transaction without demand, so the monetary exchange is a secondary factor.

Don’t sugarcoat the violence that punters and pimps commit.

Also, don’t differentiate violence that happens on the job, such as a dope dealer or a loan shark that would have occurred, perhaps even sooner, whether or not she was a prostitute. Let’s just pretend that these are related to her line of work because it helps to inflate number to make our position more sellable.


occupation definition


When a prostituted woman is raped or killed, the most likely rapist and/or killer is a pimp or a John. That makes prostitution the only so-called occupation which [sic] changes the most likely perpetrator of severe bodily harm from a partner or relative to your customer or employer.

And this is relavent how? Perhaps we should make associating with partners and relatives illegal. It seems that they are the biggest concern.

Why is this a so-called occupation? Is this not a job or line of work?

Lastly, make it very clear that this dynamic and this level of violence does not magically change under legalised prostitution.

OK.

The set of men buying and selling women doesn’t really change.

I disagree. Where prostitution is illegal, the good men are going to exit the system, and only bad men will remain. Of course, if you define all men who frequent prostitutes as misogynists, then I suppose you’ve created a situation where all men are bad, and so I stand corrected.

Let’s see how that renders as a categorical syllogism:

  • – All men who frequent prostitutes are bad.
  • – Joe is a man who frequents prostitutes.
  • Joe is bad.

I see how it works. I stand corrected. All punters are evil. Burn them.

Under legalisation, too, men retain their disgust for the prostituted and their disrespect for their boundaries.

Here we go again with the broadbrushing.

Ample evidence are the punter forums of Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. This contempt and the sever mistreatment does not change unless there is effective widespread social intervention that teaches children for elementary school onwards that prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else and that all sexual interaction requires enthusiastic consent, which means that it cannot be bought.

Prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else…which is why we should deprive them of their livelihoods. Nothing says “I respect you” more than kicking the chair out from under you.  That’s my creed.

Not merely consent but enthusiastic consent. Not only do I have to work, I have to do so enthusiastically.

Abolitionists have an issue not with the prostitutes but in the system they are caught in and the men who operate and benefit from it.

I think I am approaching the end of this clip.

The systems they are caught up in is Capitalism and a market economy, a system that presumes to be able to put a price on anything.


A cynic is…a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. — Oscar Wilde

Hatred of a system does not equate to hatred of a person in that system.

I agree, and so…

Humans have a piss poor track record in understanding complex systems, whether weather, poitical, sociological, economic, or otherwise. The issue here is that you can hate the system and love the person, but if you disrupt the system intentionally or otherwise, the wide ranging effect may prove disaterous.

Punters love the system but hate the women. Abolistionists care about the women.

Where is all this categorical hatred coming from?

Lastly, Elly mentions that she is working on a video piece to summarise the important stats and info on who punters are, what they do, and why they do it.

And here is where I will challenge your integrity. Who here would believe—especially insomuch as by her own admission that she recommends hiding inconvenietly opposing facts—any reporting would contain an accounting of unbiased and unabridged data, metrics, or summaries or that proper methodological rigour would be applied for the study.

On the topic of studies, in the description of the video on the page, there are links, which I’ve copied here for comment.

  • Rachel Moran at Femifest in London
    • This is a PDF of speaking notes or a transcript of Rachel’s presentation in London, based on her experience as a sex-trade survivor. Rachel’s is a sad story, but it is her story.
  • The Invisible Men project on Tumblr
    • Yet again, a list of cherry-picked perhaps 180 quotes from some Canadian forum. This is contemptuous. I only read about a dozen and a half of them. In order to be even somewhat useful (instead of being polemic) would be to see all of the reviews, and to see what percentage of people wrote these reviews. You can’t convince me that there are no doting reviews. These are exempted because they dilute the disingenuous shock value of only negative reviews. Even a simple word cloud would be more useful than this hatchet job. (I feel like finding one of these forums and cherry-picking the rest of the story just out of spite.)
  • Prostitution Research & EducationAbolish Prostitution And Provide Real Alternatives
    • This is a full forum of resources. I have not done anything more than scan the initial page where I landed. I may return for more context. If you seek additional information, visit. I think it goes without saying that the information here is slanted, much like watching Fox News in an attempt to understand American Liberal politics.
  • How Porn Creates the John: Porn, Trafficking and the Social Construction of Masculinity (Youtube video from a lecture given in December 2012)
    • Being on the topic of social constructivism, this one should be right up my street. I haven’t watched even a moment of this video, so am probably commenting prematurely, but it is interesting to me how some people accept the concept of social constructivism when it relates to a different perspective, but rarely do they accept their own perspectives as social constructions. This is a cognitive bias.

I am not so sure I have the interest in commenting on the rest of the series. To be honest, Elly has other series as well. I’d like to take a look, but I’m afraid I’ll have a similar reaction that the position and content haven’t been well thought out. Perhaps a strong editor would help, a disinterested party who would maintain (or otherwise elevate) the integrity of the content and who would provide needed rigour.

In the end, Elly’s message would be stronger and more cogent, and she could shed the chaff whilst retaining the substance.

 

Abolishing Prostitution

So, now I’ve gone and done it. I thought that my commentary on prostitution would be a one-off. However, in researching arguments against prostitution, I happened upon this blog, which led me to videos on Elly Arrow’s Youtube channel.  To be fair, she self-identifies as ‘a radical feminist from Germany’, and although there are many cultural similarities between the US and Germany, I could be missing some urgency not present here in the US. Please visit her channel and decide for yourself.

At the start, it seems we have many things in common. She Elly declares, ‘I am the humanist, atheist, pro-lesbian, sex industry-abolishing, gender-critical, radical feminist Liberals and Conservatives warned you about’. Whilst, I am not a Humanist, as I feel this is too narrow of a focus on the larger system, I am an atheist, pro-lesbian, gender-critical, and radical, though perhaps not feminist. I do have to ponder how one can simultaneously be gender-critical and pro-lesbian or a feminist, as both of these rely on gender identity, but I’ll save this for a possible future topic.

Specifically, she replied to a commented I made on her video, Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class. I also commented on How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition, so I’ll start there. I haven’t watched the rest of the series or any of her other videos yet, though I may if only to critique them.

Let me get the ad hominem stuff out of the way first. Perhaps she mentions on her blog or in other videos how she came to this place, but I’d like to understand her experiences and motivations that brought here to this conclusion. She says she used to feel differently, so I’d also like to know how she formulated that conclusion, too. It is apparent that she reads a script, which is distracting. Even the choice to read can be edited to sound more natural. It would also make the presentment more succinct. It would also be useful if she would upload her transcripts to the videos so we didn’t have to rely on the auto-translate feature. Pro Tip: This would also help with search indexing and findability.

How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition

In this video, Elly gives good advice on how to engage in a ‘debate’.

  1. Make sure your opponent really wants to debate.
    • Emphatically, yes.
  2. Don’t try convincing an opponent all at once. This is a complex issue, and it is unlikely that you will succeed in countering all facets in one conversation.
    • Yes. This is the basis for propaganda and marketing alike. Chip away and win small battles before you worry about the war.
  3. Assume the other side has good intentions. 
    • Good intentions are not necessarily relevant; rather, assume they have a reason for their convictions without recourse to good or bad intentions. What would be an example of bad intentions in this arena anyway?
  4. Don’t antagonise your opponent.
    • Indeed. This is likely to lead to escalating commitment, where they dig in their heals and double down.
  5. No ad hominem attacks: Attack the view, not the person.
    • Solid advice. Continue… 
  6. Change minds on the fence.
    • Sure. If you are in some context where you’ve got onlookers or evesdroppers, make your points, and take wins where they fall. 

In the midst of this setup list, Elly slips in some irrelevant commentary about pimps. This is a related but distinctly separate side issue. Later, she tries to conflate sex trafficking and prostitution, which is again a tangential concern but can be resolved independently. In policy, this is known as scope or specificity. This is an intentional misframing of the argument. Don’t fall for this ploy and adopt this frame. You’ll lose the debate by not recognising that she’s switched domains.

Allow me to illustrate this:

We start simply with a canvas of all work.

Slide1
Venn Diagramme: All Work

Then we add ‘sex work’ as a subset of ‘all work’.

Slide2
Venn Diagramme: Sex Work

Then, let’s add prostitution as a fully contained subset of sex work (and all work). Again, clearly, this is not to scale. Although sex work can be subdivided into categories besides prostitution, cam girls, phone sex operators, pornographic actors, and so on, and some women may operate in more than one of this subcategories, I will ignore them for the sake of this illustration.

Prostitution can be future subdivided into categories of streetwalkers, escorts, call girls, and so on, each sharing aspects whilst retains distinctions. Besides distinctions in services and autonomy, the ranks comprise of women from different socio-economic classes.

Slide3
Venn Diagramme: Prostitution

Next come ‘pimps’, but before we get to them, let’s recognise for the moment that these people—for better and for worse—provide a supervisory or managerial function. ‘Managers’ exist outside of prostitution, inside the sex industry and out.

Slide4
Venn Diagramme: Managers

Within the sex industry, and particularly within the subset of prostitution, these managers are called pimps, so we’ll focus our attention there. As depicted, not all and perhaps not most prostitutes have pimps. Presumably, there are pimps, if even by some other name, who ‘manage’ sex workers who are not otherwise considered to be prostitutes.

Slide6
Venn Diagramme: Pimps

Now that we’ve established that pimps are not involved in all prostitution, let’s step back for a moment before bringing all of this together. First, let’s recognise that there exists a general category of human trafficking. These humans might be domestic works, manual labourers, or sex workers.

Slide7
Venn Diagramme: Human Trafficking

But for the sake of discussion, let’s limit the scope to the subset that is human sex trafficking, again noting that not all prostitution involves human sex trafficking.

Slide9
Venn Diagramme: Human Sex Trafficking

Finally, let’s look at the final diagramme. Here we see the overlaps among the entities, and we can see that, theoretically, we can formulate a policy solution that addresses the deeper exploitation without disrupting the broader order of things.

Slide10
Venn Diagramme: Complete

In the end, one cannot simply conflate either human sex trafficking or pimping with prostitution. This is an attempt to win an argument by playing slight of hand with a language shell game.

I am not going to enter into debate at this time the issues that Capitalism and Colonialism introduce into the world at large, though I feel that the real debate lies there.

Moreover, looking at the length of this post, I am going to address my response to Arguing for Abolition Pt. 2 – Talk About Class in another entry, hopefully, either today or tomorrow.

The Rhetoric of Foucault

OK, so this isn’t at all about Foucault’s rhetoric. My main riff this year is the assertion that there is no Truth, only rhetoric—or should I rather say Rhetoric. I created a Reddit post asking for references to other philosophers (or whomever) who had made a similar claim, to which I was offered Vico and Rorty. Unfortunately, there were only two responders, and their assistance was superficial.

What I did encounter by one of the responders was a criticism similar to that levelled at Foucault, hence the inspired title of this post. This critique at its essence is that having proposed no positive solutions to the issues I point to, I cannot defend my position. In fact, as with Habermas‘ fault with Foucault, evidently, I have disarmed myself.

I find this line of argumentation weak tea at best. To argue that one has no claim to declare something incorrect if they don’t have a correct replacement for it is absurd. For example, I don’t know what 13,297 ÷ 1,492 equals arithmetically; but I can assert with confidence that it does not equal 2. Moreover, to criticise, one doesn’t need the ‘ability to generate positive alternatives’.

“There is no truth but rhetoric.”

So when I say there is no Truth but rhetoric (for non-ontic concepts), I am making a Truth statement. As such, this assertion—by my own admission—is only as strong as the rhetoric I can muster to its defence. Alas, my defences are weak, and so the argument fails. Were I to make a stronger argument—a more convincing argument—, it might be accepted as Truth.

Evidently, my first mistake was to separate ontic and non-ontic, which is to say things existing apart from their given names and those whose existence is entirely fabricated. An ontic thing might be a stone, a tree, a planet, a star, or the sensation of pain. These things exist even without language, a label, or an observer. As Saussure and other structuralists have noted, in semiotics, there is the signified (or referent) and the signifier—the object and the identifier. In the context of language, these are tautological.

There_is_no_Spoon[1]
There is no spoon.
Non-ontic things are conceptual, freedom, truth,  justice, rights, gods, and so on. I may opt to replace non-ontic with language-contextual or some such to sidestep the taxonomical quagmire. Or perhaps I’ll adopt the dichotomy of concrete versus abstract. These concepts do not exist outside of language. They are wholly constructed in a complex system created by humans—and humans whilst humans have done OK with complicated systems, they have an abysmal track record when it comes to complex systems. By analogue to the physics of solids, there is more space than atoms, and the atoms and their constituent particles are in constant motion—zero-degrees Kelvin, be damned. Our senses perceive something to be there, but as in that scene in The Matrix, ‘there is no spoon‘.

In my mind, leveraging Saussure’s ideas are useful to depict the differences in the concrete versus the abstract.

1bb[1]

The famous painting depicted above illustrates explains the difference between a signifier and a referent. In this image, there is only the signifier. Magritte makes clear the distinction with the text, Ceci, n’est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe. It is merely a depiction of one. To be even more arcane, the image is a signifier to another signifier that in turn refers to the referent.

A sign is the device that encapsulates the concept. It may be visual—an icon (an illustration of photograph) or a written word or even Braille—or it can be spoken or signed, as with American Sign Language. These are all signs.

cat sign

Notice when one considers a sign that a concrete cat (or in French, chat), it is pretty clear to what one is referring. Above the line, we see the signified, the idea conveyed by the sign. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees the silhouette depicted above, but it is a catlike thing, a feline animal, a mammal, normally with four legs and a tail. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular cat. But to someone with a grasp of the language in which you are communicating, when you say cat, there is little room for ambiguity. In fact, if you are trying to teach someone a different language, say, French, you could show them the cat with the chat signifier, and they would grasp your meaning almost instantaneously.

All language is arbitrary and socially constructed, so there is no connection between the words—say, the spelling or shape of a word—and its referent. The words cat and chat do not look like cats.

There are concrete things that cannot be so readily translated into an icon; for example, the wind. However, one could fairly quickly be able to articulate or gesticulate, as the case might be, the notion of wind. The same cannot be said for the abstract concept of justice.

As I’ve mentioned before, justice, especially one of the restorative or retributive varieties, is a euphemism for vengeance. The distinction is supposed to be found in the intent, but intent cannot be known; it can only be inferred. And, speaking of Foucault, justice can only be delivered from a power position.

But the notion of justice relies heavily on social construct; it has geo-spacial dependencies. What is considered to be just in ancient times may not be considered just now. What is considered just in one country might not be considered to be just in another. And this is more than a difference in instantiation. It is due to the arbitrary if not capricious articulation of a nebulous concept.

Returning to Foucault, (Christian apologist) Nancy Pearcey declares his stance paradoxical: “[when someone] states that it is impossible to attain objectivity, is that an objective statement? The theory undercuts its own claims.”

First, Pearcey merely asks a question about objectivity, but it doesn’t matter. The answer is: this may as well be an objective statement, but it’s just another language game. Wittgenstein (and Russell and Heidegger and Rorty…) was on the right path when he pointed out that the ambiguity inherent in language provide cover for all sorts of mischief. I’m only pretty sure that Derrida might yield paydirt as well. Besides, let’s pretend for a moment that there exists some objective truth, there is no reason (language game; except in accepting the broadest definition, reason is a capability elusive to many if not most humans) to expect that this truth is either accessible or verifiable anyway. The best one can do is to pose a more convincing rhetorical argument.

Reason /ˈrēzən/ (noun)
the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic

A similar critique has been advanced by (another Christian apologist) Diana Taylor, and by Nancy Fraser who argues that “Foucault’s critique encompasses traditional moral systems, he denies himself recourse to concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, and therefore lacks the ability to generate positive alternatives.”

So whilst I’ve just managed to stream-of-consciousness my contention, I am not in a position to resolve anything. For now, I’ll settle for documenting my position as I continue to search for other supporters and formulate a more cogent response, a more robust rhetorical presentment.

If anyone can direct me to resources relevant to my position, let me know in the comments. I’ll appreciate it. If you don’t agree—which would be expected, as this is the accepted orthodoxy—feel free to comment as well. 

 

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

God is Dead. God is Necessary.

I stumbled upon Professor Jordan Peterson and his defenders of virtue morality, like Dr Stephen Hicks, and I decided to watch some vids.

Full Disclaimer: Not a fan

I ended up on his lecture about Carl Jung.

I’d been interested in archetypal and depth psychology for ages, and I’ve read most of Jung’s work. I still own all of the volumes of his complete works. The difference between me and Professor Peterson is that I take it as metaphor and, by his words, I presume that he doesn’t.

The video clip is cued to the location where Jordan says, speaking of Nietzsche,

“…‘God is dead, and we have killed him’ led Nietzsche to pose another question, which was: What are we going to do to replace him? Because Nietzsche believed—and I think he was absolutely right about this. I can’t see how it could be otherwise—, he believed that the morality that had structured Western society was predicated on the fundamental axiom of divinity, and so, as far as Nietzsche was concerned, the whole purpose of morality was dependent on that axiom being true—or at least being accepted as true. And when that axiom was knocked out by, say, the conflict between science and religion—because in some sense that’s what did it—, then the whole system no longer had anything to stand on and could become entirely questionable…”

The whole purpose of morality was dependent on [the existence of divinity] being true.

As I’ve said time and again, this is the primary reason people—especially those defending or seeking some sense of status quo, conservative vanguards, and morality warriors—insist on the existence of a real, objective moral centre or a good-enough version of it—one that coincidentally conforms to their worldview.

I’m afraid that I am going to need to hear something well more convincing than that because I’m not buying what these guys are selling.

Utilitarianism

As I read his Utilitarianism, I want to like John Stuart Mill. He seems like such a clever man, but he is a victim of his Enlightenment Age. Attempting to fabricate order created by science’s encroachment on the absolutes of religion and the shifting sentiments toward monarchies, Mill tries to replace this moral compass with Jeremy Bentham‘s utility.

£1 ≠ £1

The problem is that despite (sort of) dispensing of religious doctrine, Mill was still fettered by the dogma of virtue ethics of dignity and duty. To this, he adds happiness. Not to go full-on Foucault, but these are concepts leveraged, like religion, to maintain power—take an elevated system in a constructed society, and the duty becomes a burden to the bottom, save for pretence of duty and dignity at the top.

I’ve had an issue with the concept of virtue and all of its offspring: duty, justice, and so on. I’ll likely write about this later. I expect that I’ll be reading Mill’s On Liberty next, so stay tuned.

Ignoring my contention that Utilitarianism is baseless, I have two other issues, using economic examples, each related to prospect theory (pdf):

  1. Regressivity: A person with less money values an incremental dollar more than a person with more money.

  2. Loss to gain asymmetry due to risk aversion: A person values losing a dollar more than earning a dollar, ceteris paribus.

Pareto efficiency, a cornerstone of Classical economics, does not take this into account. For this theory, all dollars are created (or perceived to be) equal, so it doesn’t matter whether person A, who earns £10,000 p.a., or person B, who earns £100.000 p.a.,  gets £100, but in the real world, person A would give it a higher value, so a transfer from A to B would be an inferior transaction to a B to A transaction.

This said, person B values the £100 more than having gained the amount, but it is not clear how to reconcile (in order to reach perceived parity) what the fair equilibrium would be, allowing that equality of outcome might not be the desired outcome.

The Poison of Subjectivism [video]

This essay contains the essence of CS Lewis’ arguments in his fascinating short book The Abolition of Man/Humanity.

In the video, Lewis knocks down a weak strawman argument about subjectivism. He starts with a backstory about biological evolution. In his setup, he conflates empirical tautological truth with moral truth and paints them as equivalent.

Lewis introduces right and wrong and good and evil in order to provoke an emotional to realists and cognitivists, and attempts to underscore it with an appeal to tradition wrapped in an appeal to authority and positive ad hominem  that ‘until modern times, no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments‘ [in situ].

Lewis notes that if one believes that morals are socially conditioned, then we could as soon have been conditioned differently, but he’s just trying to set up his next strawman, which is to say that some subjectivist, say, an educator or reformer, may ask us to improve our morality, and leads into his punchline, that subjectivism will surely ‘be the disease that will certainly end our species‘ [in situ]. I’ll ignore his eternal damnation quip as quaint.

He points out that some indignation toward the Third Reich (Godwin’s Law) is groundless, but what he continues to ignore is that this claim cannot be made on moral grounds. In fact, from the vantage of a Nazi at the time, they were doing the moral thing. Furthermore, had the Nazis won the war, this would be the prevailing morality.

Here Lewis tries to conjure an is from an ought by claiming that without ‘objective standards of good‘, then any ideology is as good as the next, and so he is simply tilting at windmills and arguing with this gossamer strawman. From this condition, he complains that one cannot measure better without an objective measure, so, therefore, there needs to be an objective measure. This, of course, is wishful thinking, like my complaining that I cannot win the lottery without winning the lottery, therefore, I must have won the lottery. (I accept payment by cash, cheque, or Bitcoin.)

In essence, the argument attempts to make a claim that a subjectivist wanting to make a moral claim of ‘better’ or ‘progress’ cannot because there is no ‘better’ or ‘progress’, these terms being subjective. The strawman here is that a subjectivist would make this claim on the basis of moral argumentation. As even Lewis notes, subjectivists claim value judgments as sentiments or complexes, so preferences. This is true; so the claim would be based on a preference rather than on a moral one.

He proclaims that the question ‘why should we preserve the [human] species?’ is somehow profound. It’s a valid question, but, again, it can be answered outside of the realm of morality—constructed or otherwise. Then he goes down some instincts rabbit hole based on this faulty premise but tries to circle back to his standby old universal moral law.

From the rabbit hole down a slippery slope down a rat hole, he rambles anecdotally. Tailing the vid with some supposed objective prescriptions, it mercifully ends.