Hopeful Rhetoric

My base belief is that what people believe is their truth, and rhetoric is a primary way to convince them. Part of the rhetorical mechanism is to introduce evidence, but this, too, is shrouded in rhetoric.

I’m not talking about the evidence that ‘standard’ water boils at 100°C at sea-level. This is tautological. Water is defined as H₂O. Literally, 100°C is the definition of where water boils under these conditions.

But things that cannot be repeated in controlled environment with the ability to alter parameters within the environment rely on rhetoric. This is why Newton’s laws seemed som compelling until a new narrative (somewhat) supplanted it. Still, this is not the point I want to make. I want to concentrate on the socio-poliotical domain.

I feel that given two equally viable explanations, the one offering more hope will prevail. Donald Trump knows this. This is why in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he railed at a presser how he chastised a reporter for questioning his (false) narrative of hope. Politics relies on more than one rhetorical thread, and many already have the disposition of reviling Trump, so any messages from him are discounted at the start.* But, ceteris paribus, if a person assesses two equally probable outcomes—a typical door number 1 or door number 2 scenario—, and (for whatever exogenous reason) hope is associated to particular door.

In a survival scenario, perhaps you are one of three people lost in a cave and there are two possible paths forward. One person asserts that s/he feels that—without evidence—the left path is best way out but adds logically there is no way to tell, that you might as well flip a coin. The other person confidently conveys that s/he knows—without evidence—that the right path is the path to salvation. Being otherwise indifferent, you are likely to acquiesce to the second person, the one who offers hope over logic.

I fully admit that this is 100 per cent fabricated whole cloth from thin air, but the reason I come to this point is when you compare atheists to theists, anarchists to statists, nihilists to Existentialists, and any such analogic pair, the right side gets more traction and requires much more evidence to sway people to the left.

So when Occupy Wall Street (effectively anarchists) made demands, the status (read: the general population) asked ‘Who’s your leader?’ When the media-industrial complex broadcast this, the public was immediately sympathetic to the structured system. This is slightly different in that it’s not necessarily hope, rather a comfort zone—an endowment effect. It’s a benefit accruing to the incumbent.

My point is: hope floats. It acts to buoy otherwise rhetorically equivalent arguments. Or perhaps hope is simply an employed rhetorical device, so it’s unnecessary to call it out. Now, I’ve convinced myself to adopt this position.

* This is why ad hominem attacks can be effective, as persons swayed by the attack discount messages delivered by this person despite there not being a necessary connection between the grounds for debasement and the claim being asserted.

Criminal Conservatism

A few years ago, I shared with a colleague that I had noticed that my high school classmates who seemed to be the most non-conformist (or perhaps the most anti-authoritarian), the ones most likely to have abused drugs and alcohol and most likely to criticise the Man, have by and large become extremely conservative on the political spectrum. Most are card-carrying Republicans, and dreaded low-information voters, continuing the trend of low-information acquisition and processing. He said that he had noticed a similar trend.

I still keep in contact with some some old mates who are Conservative Republicans, but who were high-information consumers then and still, so I am not saying that all Conservatives are low-information people.

A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head.

—Benjamin Disraeli (Misattributed)

The past couple of years, in a sort of nod to Bukowski, I’ve been researching or circulating among the underbelly of the United States, the veritable dalit-class comprised of drug dealers and users, pimps, prostitutes, and thieves. And I’ve noticed the same trend. These people might fear or hate the police and the system, and they may not vote or even be high-information seekers, but they seem to have a marked propensity to Conservatism. I admit that this is anecdotal and rife with confirmation bias, but this is my observation.

To broad brush any group into some monolith is always a fools errand and missing dimensional nuance, but the general direction holds. In my observation, these people are very black & white, and they want to see law & order (as much as they want to avoid its glance). They are interested in fairness, and call out being beat, as in being shorted in a drug deal or overpay at the grocery store–the same grocery store from which they just shoplifted.

When they see a news story, ‘That bank robber deserved to get caught’ would not be an unexpected response. Even if they got caught, they might voice that they deserved it. The received sentence might be a different story.

I am not sure why this shift from anti-establishment to hyper establishment happens. I’ve also noticed that even if they dislike the particular people serving government roles, they still feel that the abstract concepts of government, democracy, capitalism, and market systems make sense, if only the particular instance is not great.

One reaction I had is that some of these people feel that the transgressions of their youth might have been avoided only if there were more discipline, and so they support this construct for the benefit of future generations, who, as embodied in Millennials, are soft and lack respect for authority.

I’d recently re-discovered a Bill Moyers interview with moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and there is some relationship. And whilst I could critique some of Haidt’s accepted metanarrative relative to society, his points are valid within the constraints of this narrative.

The video is almost an hour long and was produced in 2012, it is a worthwhile endeavour to watch.

I am wondering if anyone else has seen this trend or who has experienced a contrary trend. Extra points for an explanation or supporting research.

Cover image: Sean Penn, excerpt from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Brett Cavanaugh, SCOTUS and posterboy Conservative hack

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.

 

3 Laws of Behaviour Genetics

Genetics

[EDIT: Researching immediately after I wrote this article, I skimmed—I’ll have to find time to read it later—Turkheimer’s paper Still Missing (PDF, 2011), where he walks back his original assertion.]

The question, “why are children in the same family so different?” is answered, “Because measurable differences in their environment make them that way.”

I finished Pinker’s The Blank Slate the other day, but I didn’t have much time to capture my reflections. I’m already onto my next book, Mill’s Utilitarianism, so I figured I record some thoughts before they become too distant.

In chapter 19, Pinker summarises Eric Turkheimer’s paper Three Laws of Genetic Behaviour Genetics and What They Mean (PDF, 2000, dead link):

  1. The First Law: All human behavioural traits are heritable.
  2. The Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
  3. The Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

Elaborating on this, he summarises Turkheimer’s assessment on the variance in personality contributable to three factors: genetics, society, and family. According to this theory, variations in personality due accounted for by environment, are composed as

3 Laws of Behaviour Genetics

50 percent accounted for by society (non-shared environment); 40 – 50 percent accounted for by genetics (biology) and 0 to 10 percent attributable to family (shared environment). In his assessment, he was able to eliminate usual-suspect factors like birth order and siblings.

“Genotype is in fact a more systematic
source
of variability than environment.”

According to Pinker, the 0 to 10 percent is generous, and it could just as well be 50% society and the rest is genetics. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for psychoanalysis, a discipline who strongly pushes back on this concept—just with emotional appeal in lieu of science.

Post-Post-Modern Subjectivism

I’ve just finished reading Steven Pinker‘s The Blank Slate. Originally published in 2002 (and re-published with an afterword in 2016), it still feels fresh. Pinker offers compelling rationale for accepting that humans are not blank slates entering the world.

Though I am somewhat of a social justice warrior in principle, I am still a moral subjectivist, a post-modern thinker. Pinker shares his strong feelings against subjectivism, but he provides no evidence of the moral objectivism he advances, relying instead on an emotional appeal; in fact, he employs the same defensive tactic his detractors employ, which is to try to make an empathic connection to the reader.

All he does is to claim that there is an objective morality because everybody feels and knows that X is better than Y, taking a strawman approach. It’s not that I disagree with his Xs and Ys; it’s just that they are subjective not objective measures. He tries to slip in an appeal to popularity by claiming that everybody would (or should) feel this way when push comes to shove.

Nietzsche, I think, had it right in Beyond Good and Evil when he pointed out the dual moral systems of masters and slaves. Although a moral (just) system might be best constructed from scratch in the manner of Rawlsveil of ignorance, we are not starting from a blank slate. The power structures are already in place. There is a possibility for upward and downward mobility, but large jumps are not likely except in the manner of a lottery. Other than this, it’s unlikely that one will move from one quintile to another and even less likely to skip a quintile, especially on the upward trend.

In any case, the issue is not whether some might feel subjectively better; it’s whether—across all possible dimensions—a relative, stable equilibrium can be found. Even here, this is not objective, even if it’s not otherwise arbitrary or capricious. The larger problem is one of epistemological empiricism—apart from the ontological question—, whether we can know that we’ve found the objective truth or if we’ve just settled on something that works for our current station.

As much as I really do like Steven Pinker, and I await his next book, Enlightenment Now, I do so only to read how he couches his argument in support of Enlightenment and Humanism, two concepts I feel are tainted by hubris