I recently engaged in a conversation about racism, and I won’t bore you with the larger debate. Instead, I’ll bore you with two threads.
Taxonomically, modern humans have only one race
Constructively, race is used as a proxy to otherwise justify otherness
Taxonomically, Homo sapiens is the species, and we so-called modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, which is an extended subspecies…and extended at that, perhaps a sub-subspecies.
Definitionally, race is an alternative name for a sub-subspecies, so technically, our current instantiation of humanity, version X.whatever, can be considered a race. However, as there are no extant human subspecies, there is clearly no need for racial delineation. The best we can muster is to say we’ve reserved a placeholder in the taxonomy.
To expand, in this taxonomy, Neanderthal and Australopithecus were competing species. Homo sapiens sapiens is meant to differentiate so-called modern humans from prior Homo sapins idaltu, from which we branched.
The summary is that there is no other extant parallel species to Homo sapiens and (clearly) no parallel subspecies to Homo sapiens sapiens.
Yet racists need races to operate on, and unless they are railing about races within other species, they’ve got no dog in this race. What to do?
How does one not only construct races where none exist but also convince others that this delineation is de facto race, if not de jure?
Colour and relatively recent geographical origin serve as good-enough proxies to differentiate classes under the guise of race. They create specious backstories et voilà.
As most people are decidedly neither scientific nor inquisitive, this is an easy feat. And it provides a sort of gossamer other against which to rail. This structure is so permeable, people have tossed religious affiliation into the mix with barely anyone noticing because race is just a code word for otherness.
The question becomes: how does one fight against something that doesn’t actually exist and whose definition morphs and adapts more readily than a virus?
DISCLAIMER: This post was written on my mobile, so it may have more flaws than usual. I reserve the right to edit it substantially when I have access to a full-size keyboard and monitor.
I stumbled across another blog site advocating the Nordic (anti-prostitution) Model, which in a nutshell makes it illegal to buy but not ‘sell’ sex.
On the positive side, the advocates of this model pretty much all adhere to the same talking points. On the negative side, there are only weak strawman arguments , moralising, and anecdotes. Any studies referenced are limited in scope and with dubious rigour.
In this case, I (again) pointed out that the core of the argument was one against Capitalism, and (again) the response was that it is (somehow) more than this—because, well, things…moral things.
Interestingly, the site is named Your Social Construct Is Showing, but it seems her complaint is not about social constructs in general; rather, she doesn’t appear to like any social construct she doesn’t agree with—and without recognising the irony in claiming to understand the constructed nature of society whilst also claiming that her construction is somehow better—because, well, things…just things. She’s got some subcultural metanarrative running through her head, and, by God, it’s got to be the only valid one.
I’ve written on this before, but the primary argument is that sex work is not work—otherwise, they wouldn’t have to label it as work. It sort of employs the same logic that oral sex is not sex for the same reason—because reasons.
The next angle is to conflate prostitution with sex trafficking, just hoping no one will notice the redirection. Then they try to muddy the waters with other issues such as exploited, underage subjects as if there is some parallel between these cohorts and women who choose this line of work.
So, to be fair and not fight strawmen like Cammy, I’ll comment on a Logos blog she posted in a response to me. She seemed to be impressed with it. After a rambling preamble, the post gets to its points:
Worker safety: Sex Work does not comply with OSHA rules.
Sexual Harassment: ‘unwelcome sexual conduct that is a term or condition of employment’
Civil Rights: Slavery used to be illegal, and now it isn’t. Prostitution is like slavery.
Without devoting more than a passing moment to remind the reader that workplace safety and sexual harassment rules are social constructs that vary by place and time. OSHA is relevant in the United States of America and nowhere else. Let’s address these in turn:
The Logos post cites various OSHA rules and attempts to rationalise how sex work would be non-compliant.
Mouth pipetting/suctioning of blood or other potentially infectious materials is prohibited
The author (attributed as Lori Watson) points out that ‘this doesn’t say is permitted with protective gear. It says prohibited.’ The line of argumentation here is seemingly that semen is a potentially infectious material and so is prohibited. What she fails to note is that suctioning is not the purpose of oral sex, and with a condom, no suctioning could happen anyway.
Gloves shall be worn when it can be reasonably anticipated that the employee may have hand contact with blood, other potentially infectious materials…
If the punter is wearing a condom, it cannot be reasonably anticipated that the employee would be in contact with [semen].
Masks, Eye Protection, and Face Shields. Masks in combination with eye protection devices, such as goggles or glasses with solid side shields, or chin-length face shields, shall be worn whenever splashes, spray, spatter, or droplets of blood or other potentially infectious materials may be generated…
Again: Condoms obviate this need.
Gowns, Aprons, and Other Protective Body Clothing. Appropriate protective clothing such as, but not limited to, gowns, aprons, lab coats, clinic jackets, or similar outer garments shall be worn in occupational exposure situations. The type and characteristics will depend upon the task and degree of exposure anticipated.
In the event of exposure, OHSA requires: “The source individual’s blood shall be tested as soon as feasible…
This part of the post closes with a comment that many [note: weasel word] punters do not prefer condoms.
Since the definition and expressed purpose of prostitution is ultimately an exchange of sexual services for remuneration, it seems that a person waives this protection. There is much precedence of this occurrence.
Case in point. In the United States, citizens are protected by the Constitution and its Amendments. These documents contain inalienable rights (as established by the Declaration of Independence), yet these rights are abridged (waived) in many instances—military service being the most notable, where members do not have the right to free speech, peaceable assembly, to carry a weapon (except as specifically allowed), due process, and on and on.
The response here is a deluxe word salad, so I’ll break it down slowly.
If sexual autonomy is to mean anything, it has to mean the right to refuse sex with anyone, at any time, for any reason.
Indeed. And the woman can refuse service and refund the fee. If I am a fast food worker, I can forego my wages and my job if I no longer wish to do it. Try to do that in the military. Indentured servitude, you ask? Why, yes. I do believe you’d be correct.
[As] a regulated commercial exchange, the “providers” are cannot be legally free to refuse clients in protected classes on grounds of their membership in the protected class.
Indeed. If I were a lawyer and refused to service a member of a protected class, I would likely be disbarred. This said, the sex worker could choose another profession. In my experience, many sex workers exclude various classes of people they do not prefer to service.
Below are some images I found whilst performing a Google search. Notice that the provider advertises her boundaries and limitations.
This one makes it clear that she does not provide unprotected services or anal sex and does not accept African-American (AA) customers under 35 years of age.
This ad makes it clear that she only practices safe sex (No BB (bareback), including no BB oral sex) and will not provide Girl Friend Experience (GFE).
Again, this provider does not service African American men of any age and does not require protection for oral sex, but she only services from her own location.
So at the end of all this, I stand by my original position that there is no argument to have beyond ‘boo hoo. I don’t like prostitution and neither should you. I can’t come up with a cogent argument, so I’ll shout into an echo chamber where my friends and allies will cheer me on, but critical thinking need not apply because reasons and things…lots of them.
Magritte used art to comment on the distinction between the map and the territory. His The Treachery of Images, likely more commonly known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe, may be the most famous example in art.
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!
— René Magritte
People commonly or at least idiomatically refer to the terrain when they should be referencing the map. Likewise to the film Inception, we can recurse these maps all the way down. This is represented by the image above, Ceci n’est pas un GIF, which is a further reflection of Magritte’s work.
But the precursors of social constructionism predate post-structuralism. In fact, they predate structuralism itself. Although Surrealists like René Magritte were products of the post-structuralist era, there were hints of it at the dawn of the Enlightenment.
In 1772, Denis Diderot uses his story, Ceci n’est pas un conte (This is not a story) to demonstrate that a person’s behaviour is not in itself moral or immoral. Morality is not universal, and therefore it is not revealed either.
The point here is to underscore the difference between the referent and the symbol, whether by visual or auditory means. Dualist, René Descartes in his Cogito even understood this difference when he pointed out the ways each of the senses can be deceived. What he didn’t fully appreciate (or at least articulate) is how this disconnect is more prevalent than he had even considered.
Returning to the modern era, in 1966 Peter Berger published The Social Construction of Reality (PDF). This theory centres on the notion that human beings rationalise their experience by creating models of the social world and share and reify these models through language.
In closing, this is important because even when discussing facts about the world, we are still mired by perception. The legal system understands that eyewitness accounts of an event are among the least trustworthy. Ambiguity exists in language.
An example I used when I was teaching undergrads was the concept of fairness. Who felt that ‘things’ should be fair or that any person should be treated fairly. Accuse me of argument by anecdote if you must, but I have never encountered a person who disagreed with this notion.
But then the conversation got interesting: What was their perception of fair? Did it need to result in equality of outcome or was equality of opportunity sufficient? I wrote about this last year. Similar conversations happened when discussions arose over justice and so on.
My conclusion: There is no reason to believe humans’ employment of language results in a very precise representation of reality. There is even less reason to believe that language provides some vector to know moral truths—or any truths, really. The best course of action is to rely on the slight
My parting gift is this classic Annie Hall bit with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.
Alvy Singer’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?
Annie Hall’s Therapist: Do you have sex often?
Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.
Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.