Why Sexual Morality Doesn’t Exist

His words, not mine.

Whilst I agree that all morality is contrived, Alan H. Goldman, Kenan Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary, presents his position that sexual morality is not divorced from any morality. It’s not particularly a special case. I agree in principle, but his argument is lacking.


Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact

Alan H. Goldman

He states that ‘As other philosophers point out, pleasure is normally a byproduct of successfully doing things not aimed at pleasure directly, but this is not the case with sex. Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact. [The] desire for physical contact in other contexts, for example, contact sports, is not sexual because it has other motives (winning, exhibiting dominance, etc.), but sexual desire in itself has no other motive. It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions, although sexual activity, like other activities, can express various emotions including love.’

Pleasure is normally a byproduct. 

Sure.

This is not the case with sex.

OK. Elaborate.

Sexual desire aims directly at … pleasure.

I'm still following.

Sexual desire in itself has no other motive, which is pleasure.

Damn. You lost me.

I might agree that pleasure (let’s ignore the fact that this is another weasel word) may be the motivation behind sexual desire, but we don’t really have means to determine motivation or intent, and we certainly can’t assess one attribute over another.

Power is everywhere because it comes from everywhere — Michel Foucault

Foucault may have argued that the motivation is power—perhaps each side is making their own power calculus. Given the state of current knowledge, this is not ascertainable. Prof Goldman may feel that pleasure is the motive; one may even argue that power yields pleasure. I’ll not traverse that rabbit hole.

Later, he asserts that ‘More controversial is whether any consensual sex between willing partners is wrong’. I won’t debate this position, but there is no good way to full assess consent.

I’ll outline a fairly stereotypical scenario—excuse me for opting for a heterosexual situation, but the pronouns are easier to track. Say a man and a woman have met in a social setting—perhaps they’ve been dating for some period—, and they ‘mutually’ decide to engage in sex. We’d call this exercising agency, two consenting adults.

But what of ulterior motives? Following the stereotype, perhaps he feels that he is conquering her, and she feels she is securing a stable mate; or perhaps they don’t feel this at all. What is the actual intent? Not to go full-on Freud, but are they playing out some latent urge? Is this just some deterministic eventuality. There’s really no way to tell. Any story I tell is as speculative as the next.

So, to end on a tangent, a significant problem underlying philosophy, psychology, and jurisprudence is the issue of intent. The term is bandied about on most cop shows and legal dramas, but it is another just another vapid notion that we accept as valid. Of course, if we dispense of the notion, our legal systems would just unravel.

Yet again we’ve reached a point where the only truth is rhetoric.

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Greater Good

A particularly overworked trope is that of greater good.Greater good‘ is a Utilitarian concept wrought with the same problems as other specious Enlightenment ideas. I’ve written about this from several perspectives. As with many foundation concepts springing from the Enlightenment, ‘greater good’ is founded more on platitudes and some specious ideal than reality. It’s more wishful thinking for a gullible population.

The word ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary

Gradeschool Humour

Philosophy students learn in early ethics classes of the paradox of the Trolley Problem. But there is no paradox; it’s just the result of accepting a faulty framework, and so we left with a host of concepts from politics to economics.

The problem is that there is no consistent definition of good—or at least the value judgment is subjective; there is no accounting for taste—, and there is no measurement of it, a problem with Utility Theory in general.

Dead End — Road Stops Here

Defending Democracy

Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. 

Sir Winston Chirchill

I am not a defender of or apologist for Democracy. Any system is only as strong as its weakest link, but save for the rhetorical promises Democracy is nothing but weak links. Turtles all the way down. It’s another failed Enlightenment experiment. Sure, you can argue that the Ancient Greeks invented democracy—or at least implemented it at any scale—, but specious Enlightenment ideals pushed it forward into the mainstream.

The Achilles’ heel of Democracy is the principle-agent problem, the same one that separates management (CEOs) from owners (shareholders). Incentives are different.

Achilles’ Heel

Plato published his solution is Republic, but this proposal was naive at best. The notion that meritocracy is something real or that we can appropriately understand dimensions and measures in order to create the right incentives is another weak link.

Plato’s Republic

We see the same problem controlling elected officials. Time and again, we elect them, and time and again, they disappoint. We, the People, are the principles, and the elected are our agents. People in the US (and in so-called ‘democratic’ societies) have the vote, and yet—per the oft-cited definition of insanity—, they perform the same action and continue to expect different results; in fact; they are always surprised). At its core, it’s an incentive and accountability problem.

Kenneth Arrow wrote about the Impossibility Theorem, where he proved mathematically that no voting system would yield optimal results. Democracy is cursed with mediocrity. We like to soft-pedal the notion of mediocrity with the euphemism of compromise, another Ancient Greek legacy of moderation. If this makes you feel better, who am I to break the delusion? Cognitive dissonance is a powerful palliative.

μηδέν άγαν

Do Nothing in Excess, Delphic Oracle Inscription

Interestingly enough, many people clamour for term limits (a subversion of democracy) because they can’t help themselves from voting for the same shit politicians over and again. They rationalise it and say it is to defend against the other guy’s vote because they’d have never voted for shit representation.

This is often couched as ‘save me from myself’, but it is just as aptly cast as ‘save me from democracy’. I suppose a heroin addict might have the same thoughts.

Story Time

One primary function of language is to convey stories. As Yuval Noah Harari notes in his Sapiens, one reason humans have evolved to be seemingly above other species is the ability to construct narratives—particularly narratives about some vision of the future as well as metanarratives about the past and how we got here. His other two factors were money and religion; rather, these are merely special instances of story-telling, and so it’s all about stories.

The human brain responds to narratives, but it does not seem so concerned with the truth element. We are often deceived. In fact, there are notions like cognitive dissonance and escalating commitment where we fabricate rationale around some implausible story or we entrench our thinking when counter-knowledge might otherwise alter our perspective.

MC Escher

In fact, truth is merely another narrative we’ve been fed—rhetorical legerdemain. But it’s just a story: cognitive dissonance envelopes the notion and we build some heuristic defences around it; escalating commitment kicks in when someone attacks the notion.

The concept of Truth underlies entire societies, governments, and legal systems. Idiomatically, we employ small-t truth to represent a sort of relative proximity to match our senses to some observation. If I am asked if a book is on a table when a book is on a table—ignoring semantics of what constitutes a book, a table, or the concept of on—, and I say that it is, this is considered to be a true statement. Of course, this statement is concerned with the correspondence of observation and some shared reality. But this is tautological or analytical. In the end, it’s petty.

Capital-T Truth is more universal (or multiversal), is so much as it would be inviolable. Besides, the Truth of Truth, there are the notions of Trust of Justice or Truth of Duty or Truth of Integrity. Truth of any archetypes, really. Yet these are unobtainable—because there are imaginary concepts.

Classically, archetypes are forms from which physical objects sort of spawn. A table to an instantiation of some archetypal table. Archetypes follow from Ancient Greek pathological notions of perfections—perfect forms, shapes, harmonies, relationships, virtues, gods, and on and on. The notion of perfect itself is an archetype in this sense.

But the causal relationship has been inverted. Empirical observations taken to imaginary extremes generate a notion of the archetype. Mother is an archetype—the perfect mother—, but it’s not that mothers are formed by some archetypical mould; it’s that the aggregation of mothers and how a perfect mother might be is the definitive. In Jungian psychology, all mothers are compared by their children against this archetypal form. In the Greek tradition, the virtuous mother would attempt to live up to this expectation.

Christian religion plays this up, too. Jesus and God are archetypes. Humans are fallible, but the virtuous strive to be like them; WWJD. Buddhists have their own archetypes of Buddha and Enlightenment, the realization of perfection in nirvana. Again, this is just a story.

Language itself is a human construct, and so anything within it is also constructed. It doesn’t matter whether language acquisition comes a priori or a posteriori. The language itself remains a fabrication.

Post Truth has been a popular topic recently. But what is post is the belief by many in the concept of truth. Although couched this way by detractors, no one is claiming that all truths are equally valid. The claim is rather that many truths are. To claim that women are equal to men and women are inferior to men cannot be evaluated because it would require a complete set of dimensions. Besides, even with this complete set of dimensions, a couple of dimensions are place and time, both of which are subject to change. Beauvoir pointed this out in Second Sex, where she noted that in hunter-gatherer societies physical size and strength may have made males ‘superior’ in matters of protection (a specific context), but that industrialization and automation have rendered this factor insignificant.

So why is any of this important? Well, it’s not. As I’ve said, evidently truth was not necessary to become evolved to this point. And since it’s a figment, there is little reason to believe that it will ever become necessary.  My point is merely to point out that the emperor of truth is wearing no clothes.

Meaningless

Whether in English or in French, I don’t believe Foucault ever uttered the words, ‘It is meaningless to speak in the name of – or against – Reason, Truth, or Knowledge‘*, but I don’t think he’d disagree with the sentiment.


“All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existence.”

Michel Foucault

Foucault was a postmodernist, and on balance, political Conservatives (Rightists?) dislike the notion of postmodernism. Evidently, a lot of Postmodernists are also Leftists (Progressives or Liberals in the US), so somehow critics such as Jordan Peterson conflate the two clearly distinct concepts.

A basis for Conservatism is the notion of an objective truth, and despite recent sociopolitical trends, they at least say they are guardians or truth and purveyors of knowledge. Conservatives (OK, so I am broad-brushing here) are staunch individualists who believe strongly in possession and property, of material, of an objective reality. Fundamentally, the are aligned to a monotheistic god or at least some discernible (and objective) moral compass.

On the Left, especially post-Enlightenment, they’ve substituted God with some anthropomorphic Nature. In fact, they find comfort in natural laws and human nature. Science is often their respite because science is objective. Isn’t it? Leftists are friends or Reason, and one can’t acquire enough knowledge. Moderation need not apply here; the more the merrier.

This being said, evidently, many on the Left seem to have abandoned this comfort zone. Of course, this may be because the Left-Right dichotomy doesn’t capture the inherent nuance, and so they were miscategorised—perhaps, much in the same manner as persons are miscategorised in a binary gender system. No. It must be something else.

In any case, both side claim to the parties of knowledge, reason, and truth because the opposing parties are clearly abject morons. There is no hint of irony in the situation where each side claims some objective notion of truth—whether divinely granted or self-evidently reasoned—, yet they can’t resolve what the true truth is. If only the other side were more rational.

By now, we are well aware of the demise of homo economicus, the hyper-rational actor foundational to modern economic theory. In reality, humans are only rational given the loosest definitions, say, to (in most cases) know enough to get in the shade on a 37.2°C day. However, as behavioural economist Dan Ariely noted by the title of his book, people are Predictably Irrational. Ariely is just standing on the shoulders of Kahneman and Tversky and Richard Thaler. My point is that humans are only marginally rational.

As I’ve written elsewhere, truth is nothing more than a rhetorical endpoint. It is hardly objective. It’s a matter of opinion. Unfortunately, systems of government and jurisprudence require this objective truth. In truth—see what I did there?—, social fabric requires a shared notion of truth.

A shared notion doesn’t imply that this notion is objective, but if it’s not objective, how does one resolve differences of opinion as to which is the better truth. Without establishing a frame and a lens, this is impossible. The problem is that frames and lenses are also relative. Whether the members accept a given frame or lens is also a matter of rhetoric. It’s turtles all the way down.

Turtles all the way down

Even if all members agree on all parameters of truth at day 0, there is nothing to prevent opinion changes or from new members not to share these parameters. Such is always the problem with social contract theory. [How does one commit to a contract s/he is born into with little recourse to rescind the contract, renegotiate terms, or choose a different contract option. The world is already carved up, and the best one can do is to jump from the frying pan into the fire.]

In the end, the notion of truth is necessary, but it doesn’t exist. Playing Devil’s advocate, let’s say that there is a single purveyor of Truth; let’s just say that it’s the monotheistic Abrahamic God of Judeo-Christian beliefs. There is no (known) way to ascertain that a human would have the privilege to know such a truth nor, if s/he were to encounter, say, a burning bush of some sort, that this entity would be conveying truth; so, we aren’t really in a better place. Of course, we could exercise faith and just believe, but this is a subjective action. We could also take Descarte’s line of logic and declare that a good God would not deceive us—sidestepping that this ethereal being was good, as advertised. I’m afraid it’s all dead ends here, too.

And so, we are back to where we started: no objective truth, limited ability to reason, and some fleeting notion of knowledge. We are still left with nothing.

Enter the likes of Jordan Peterson, he with his fanciful notion of metaphysics and morality—a channeller of Carl Jung. His tactic is to loud dog the listener and outshout them indignantly. His followers, already primed with a shared worldview, are adept (or inept) cheerleaders ready to uncritically echo his refrain. To them, his virtue-ethical base, steeped in consequentialism awash in deontology, Peterson speaks the truth.

He also potentiates the selfish anti-collective germ and rage of the declining white man. He’s sort of a less entertaining Howard Stern for the cleverer by half crowd. He gives a voice to the voiceless—or perhaps the thoughtless. He uses ‘reason’ to back his emotional pleas. He finds a voice in the wilderness where white Western males are the oppressed. If only they hadn’t been born centuries earlier—albeit with iPhones and microwaves.

Those would be the days.

* I believe this phrase attributed to Foucault was a paraphrase by philosopher Todd May.

The Rhetoric of Truth

I’ve shared a new video on YouTube discussing the rhetorical nature of truth.

Before the Classical Hellenes, Mesopotamians recognised the power of rhetoric as the art of using language to convince or persuade.
The term itself derives from the Greek ῥητορικός, rhētorikós.

As with any human construct such as language, truth and rhetoric are confined by limitations of the system and its logical structure.

In “Gorgias”, one of his Socratic Dialogues, Plato defines rhetoric as the persuasion of ignorant masses within the courts and assemblies.

Rhetoric, in Plato’s opinion, is merely a form of flattery and functions similarly to cookery, which masks the undesirability of unhealthy food by making it taste good.

Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle’s three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos.

But it’s more insidious than all of this. The notion of truth—or whatever we believe to be true—is nothing more than rhetoric.

If one is aptly convinced that something is true, it is. The physical world—the world of objects—contains facts—attributes of these objects, but these facts are tautological descriptors: a red car, une voiture rouge, ou quelque chose. In the conceptual domain of abstractions such as truth, justice, gods, and love, all bets are off.

As Geuss aptly suggests, most of society and civilisation don’t care about philosophical thought at this level. This is privileged activity. It’s not about level of intellect, per se; rather, it’s the privilege of free time to devote to abstract thinking.

Most people are more concerned with getting to the next day to earn a paycheque, and they accept sloganeering for any deeper meaning.

Humans are said to be rational beings. In fact, this predicates entire disciplines such as economics…

…and jurisprudence. Legal systems are founded on the concept that humans are at least rational enough to make fundamental decisions about right and wrong—and this, of course, presumes that the notions of right and wrong in and of themselves are meaningful.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume that humans are at least rational enough for our purposes, and whilst right and wrong may not be objectively validated, that within the context of a society—presuming that not to be mired in its own identity problem—, it can be defined in the manner of a social compact envisaged by the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, et alii. As the saying goes, ‘if it’s good enough for the government… well.

Language is a human construct, yet it’s an apparition. Like a physical object, it appears solid, but there’s more space than not. What’s there is exiguous. Echoing Heisenberg’s observations at the atomic level, one cannot be fully certain of a particular meaning. This is what Derrida (via Barthes) meant by ‘the death of the author’, though there is nothing to guarantee that the author could fully articulate the meaning or intent even if they were present to defend it.

About the same time, Saussure was finding promise in the structure of language, Russell was creating a new language of logic to obviate its deficiencies. Structuralists and logical positivists were a natural extension of the scientism of the 20th Century, the prevailing wave since the Enlightenment, but as with the demise of gods, religious belief, and other things metaphysical, this faith in structure was also specious.

Historically speaking, there is progress (another illusion), and there are paradigm shifts. When a paradigm shifts, an old truth is replaced by a new one. This is typically credited to a progression of knowledge, but it’s actually just that, on balance, people have accepted a new frame, chalking it up to scientific method rather than some rhetorical sleight of hand.

Even so, scientific discovery is different to archetypal notions such as truth or justice. At least we can empirically test and verify a scientific notion, even if what we are observing is later revised because of some previously unknown factor or removed constraint. For example, until Einstein’s day, Newton would not have known that his theory of gravity would break down as it approached the speed of light. But truth is just an opinion—even if widely held. Enter the ‘appeal to tradition’ flavour of logical fallacy—I’ll not dwell on the fact that systems of government are based on this quaint notion of precedents. #JustSaying

“Truth is simply a culmination of the rhetorical power to persuade the ignorant masses.”

Plato

I’ve arrived at my philosophical position as an autodidact. I am not a conventional scholar, and my exposure to philosophy derives from books, videos, and online sources including Wikipedia, blogs, Reddit, and the such.

I consider myself to be a non-cognitivist in the realm of Ayers’ Emotivism, and I fully realise that society as we know it relies on some notion of ascertainable truth. Of course, Nietzsche was vilified for observing that ‘God is dead’ and unceremoniously subjected to the ad hominem attacks afforded to the likes of Marx.

I’ve got a certain amount of respect for Existentialists (and Absurdists), but I find the teleological component a bit at odds with the central tenet. To that extent, I am more of a Nihilist.

I am more comfortable with what’s been called ‘Post-Modernism’, despite admiring the effort of some Structuralists and Logical Positivists. Where this love affair ends is where the permeation of science fetishists begin. Scientific Method and Logic are the gods of the New Age.

As a post-Enlightenment child, I’ve been steeped in all of its unfound glory, and it’s harder still for me to escape the pull of my Western indoctrination. So, to argue, one is forced to comply with the rules of logic within the limitations of human language—even the limitations of Russell’s language of Logic. And like arguing with a proponent of religion who points out that you can’t disprove his Ethereal Unicorn, one is forced into positions of arguing against Quixotic figments introduced as metaphysical elements.

History for the Masses

Crispin Sartwell authored an Opinion piece about how to render history, and he presented several alternative perspectives.

The problem is that history is none of these or at least it doesn’t much matter. History is a narrative; it’s rhetoric; it’s a map, and an apparent goal is to simplify trends, but in fact, real history is a complexity of events and simplification is as often as reductio absurdum that not. Sure, facts are sprinkled in so people can latch on to them and say, ‘that happened’. But history is durative. It’s not just a locus of trivia and factoids. Some say that hindsight is 20/20, but even this is untrue. Humans are not very well equipped to perform analysis and even less so when the analysis is complex. We have all sorts of cognitive biases and backwards-form noise into signal or presume some weak link is as a strong link, moreover, a causal link. Humans love the simplistic notion of cause and effect. We rarefy Newton’s Third Law and even adopt this concept into morality vis-a-vis karma: what comes around, goes around. And we apply this to history. But what if history is more like music? What if, as Debussy said, regarding music, that history is the spaces between the notes, between the events?

“Music is the space between the notes.”

— Claude Debussy

In the world of mass market investment, it’s claiming the stock market declined because of some single factor. It’s a nod to facile humans and their limited capacity to grasp complexity and to settle for some heuristic that assuages cognitive dissonance.

On a smaller scale or considering grander themes, Hegel’s Dialectics is functionally decent, but it misses the Butterfly Effect of interrelated events and forces.

 

Happy Endings

If everything is just “rhetoric” or “power” or “language,” there is no real way to judge anything. 

Somehow, I happened across a blog post, Postmodernisms: What does *that* mean? Of course, this is right up my street, I skimmed a couple other posts on the site and followed some links to establish some contextual frame.

My by-now standard (read: autonomic) reaction to this line of questioning is that this is a correct assessment of the conditional statement.

If everything is just X, Y, or Z, there is no real way to judge anything.

Before evaluating the entirety of the content, let’s look at the lexical choices, in particular:

  • everything: Realising that this is hyperbole. I am going to assume that the author did not mean that everything is X, Y, or Z. I believe he means everything within some imagined yet undefined domain. I’ll guess that this domain relates to some moral or social sphere. Anything employs the same hyperbole, so I’ll ignore it.
  • just: This rhetorically modifies X, Y, and Z, in order to diminish them for the reader, to make them appear petty.
  • real: I believe the term he was looking for is objective or perhaps ontological. Otherwise, we’ll need to discern what he considers to be real versus not real.

Also, notice the use or as a conjunction. This seems odd, as the listed items do not have equal weight or effect. Rhetoric does not exist without language, and power really feels out of place, Michel Foucault’s law of the instrument complicity notwithstanding. To him, power was his litmus.

Constructionism

Firstly, all social perception is the result of the construct of human language. Of course, there is the physical world that exists independently of humans and perception—perhaps this is the real world where real judgments occur. Let’s label this real world the terrain. The earth and the larger universe would exist absent of humans. In fact, it had for aeons and will persist for many aeons beyond the last semblance of humanity. Humans are also real, if ephemeral on a grander scale.

If this independent, objective, real world is the terrain, language is the map. We use language to communicate and make sense of the terrain, but it is only a representation based on our imperfect sense faculties.

cat saussure labels
Image: Symbolic language mapping of terrain

So when one makes a claim that everything [sic] is, say, language, they are making a claim similar to that of Saussure. Saussure was a structuralist. In fact, post-structuralism (or its expanded form labelled post-modernism) was a reaction against structuralists. Within the context of this post, Saussure believed that if one could fully qualify the structure of language, one could achieve a one-to-one fidelity relationship of the map to the terrain.

Post-structuralists pointed out all of the reasons why this was a fool’s errand. Like a geographical map, it is only a representation of the underlying terrain. Language serves the purpose of communication including expression and phatic aspects. One form of communication is rhetoric, which is a form employed for the purpose of persuasion. One possibility of this persuasion is to gain and retain power—or to at least win the upper hand in your argument. I suppose this is where the original statement starts to coalesce: rhetoric, power, and language.

quote-all-models-are-wrong-but-some-are-useful-george-e-p-box-53-42-27[1]
All models are wrong, but some are useful.
My point, then, is that our language map is always disconnected from the terrain. Moreover, it can be a pretty low fidelity map indeed. So when one says that everything is language, they are making a claim that we can not acquire this real knowledge. We can make sensory observations and construct narratives about it.

If you’ve ever taken a basic communications class, you’ve probably experienced the telephone game. Perception works in a similar manner. There are many things of which we have little or no experience save for conveyance through language. But as with the telephone game, fidelity can be lost. This is less likely to be a problem when interfacing with the so-called real world of rock and trees and of lions and tigers and bears.

terrain saussure
Image: Symbolic language mapping of nebulous concept

It is more likely to become a problem when dealing with non-ontic concepts, these ‘things’ that would not exist without humans or, more critically, without language. These artificial (in contrast to real) concepts are things like goodness, justice, democracy, liberty, sovereignty, nations, and on and on, ad nauseum. Humans have constructed narratives about all of these, but if the last human were to die tomorrow, these concepts would die, too. Whether some new lifeform would eventually evolve to develop language and further develop these concepts is debatable.

Judging

All of this aside, let’s look at the perceived intent of this statement, which is the same sentiment behind Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ quip.

As has been discussed, the Enlightenment replaced God with Nature and Nietzsche realised that if this worldview were universally adopted. the tyrannic role that God and gods had played could not be leveraged to maintain control or power, much in the same way that the divine rights or kings had withered and died. God played a vital role in this narrative. Nature, particularly human nature, was a weak substitute. This said, moral and natural realists, quickly (and relatively successfully) filled the void with cognitive filler, a perfect pairing for budding Enlightenment thinkers.

Given that even if there were some objective morality (terrain), there is no reason to believe that a human could gain access to it. Previously, priests and pharaohs claimed to possess this ability, but this vector was no longer extant or accessible. Even if a person did have this power through some miracle of some sort or another (or another or another), what reason (other than convincing rhetoric) would one have to believe him (or her—but let’s be honest; it’s pretty much all hims).

Without access to this objective morality, we are left with creating some subjective morality. I fully admit that trying to gain consensus and compliance to a known-to-be constructed moral code would be akin to herding cats. It is no doubt that society would operate more efficiently if all constituents follow the same code.

If wouldn’t matter if this society adopted, say, monogamy over polygamy, so long as everyone accepted this as the rules of engagement. Cultural subjectivism would provide a moral framework for this situation, We have many examples of social arrangements where this is the mode of operation.

Sports are an example. There are rules. Players agree on the rules, protocols, and procedures, and they operate within this socially constructed framework. There is no objective sportsball deity on high that conveyed the commandments, and yet it works.

John+Locke+-+Jean+Jacques+Rousseau[1]

Locke and Rousseau each wrote about social contracts. Granted, they believed in a supernatural Nature with a capital N, but they still felt that people could operate as a society based on some sort compact or accord.

This missing element would be power because those in power could not use some higher power to justify their actions especially in regard to retributive justice and so on.

Commentary

What I still don’t understand after all these years is how this logic works. It is eerily similar to Pascale’s Wager.

If not SOME CONDITION,
then not DESIRED OUTCOME
therefore FABRICATE SOME CONDITION

If not [belief in God],
then not [eternity of bliss in Heaven; instead eternal suffering in Hell, so double down]
therefore [convince yourself of or feign belief in God]

If not [objective means of judgment],
then not [real judgment]
therefore [delude yourself into the belief that an objective means of judgment exists]

And they all lived happily ever after

jessica-brooke-real-lesbian-wedding-orlando-florida-alternative-life-photography-design-first-kiss[1]

 

happily ever after

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.

 

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.