The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

A Comment on Class and Radical Feminism

| 79 Comments

Some feminist friends pointed this out on Twitter, raising various objections to it.  I do not disagree.  There are issues here that I do not feel qualified to comment on.  For example, is sex work (a term that includes pornography, prostitution, &c) inherently degrading to women, inherently degrading only under capitalism, or something that ought to be socially acceptable?  And the issue of male and trans sex workers is another.  But there are things I do feel I can talk about, and that I think ought not to be left out of the conversation.

It is the poorest women (men too, but for now I’ll keep the discussion confined to the terms RadFemUK laid out) who have the least choice about livelihood.  It is criminal that we live in a society where women can be forced into sex work out of economic desperation (much less by violence!).  But to attack prostitution and pornography without attacking the root of the economic desperation is to be part of the problem.  Even if RadFemUK does not overtly support laws that will harm the poorest sex workers, their activity can, and almost certainly will, be used by right wing forces to pass and enforce such laws.  And laws against women engaged in sex work serve to punish the poorest women for their poverty, by threatening them with arrest, removing their means of making a living, or both.  As always, the higher the economic status of the woman, the more she can shield herself from the effects of such measures as these so-called “Leftists” propose.

So, yes, in this case, I agree with my feminist friends; but I also feel obligated to point out that the attack is not simply on women in general, but is above all another case of using a Left cover to aid anti-democratic and anti-working class measures.

 

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

79 Comments

  1. Word the fuuuuuck up.

  2. Yes, I agree with this. I mean, with the exception that I hate the idea of confining the discussion to radfem terms, but you knew that.

  3. There’s a woman who does pornography (I’m not sure what makes one a “star” in this case) who goes to Duke. She says she loves doing porn, but also that she started doing it in order to pay for college ($60,000 a year or so). Some student recognized her, outed her, and she’s been harassed. Much media coverage has followed.

    It’s been a case in point for one of your common arguments, one you make here, and one you’ve made elsewhere. Talking about this as a gender issue or a feminism issue is fine, I guess, but the real problem is a system that charges so much for education. Cause, not symptom.

  4. Continuing the agreement. People who are concerned with economic desperation affecting anyone, women, people of color, etc., should work for universal basic income instead of trying to expand the police state in the name of their cause.

  5. Or they could work for overthrowing capitalism, of course. But if that seems too much, UBI is a good fallback.

  6. David: Nearly everybody in porn gets called a “porn star” because a “starring role” is basically any lead role; there are very few opportunities for supporting roles and appearance as an extra in porn.

  7. As everybody has pointed out, the problem is low income. I’m not sure why some feminists would think this is only a female problem. I suppose because one of the easier ‘opportunities’ for income for women is sex work. If a guy tried that (for hetero sex), he would likely be laughed at. Men end up taking dangerous, low paying jobs or join the Army.

    I don’t see sex-work as punishing women. The women in question are doing what they can to try to make a living. I have sympathy for them. I’m curious how these feminists deal personally with these sex-workers. Do they put them down or chastise them for their choices? Of course, some see it as an easy source of good money.

    As you say, solve the economic problem and you solve the sex-worker issue. If everybody has enough to live on, then only those who want to do sex work would be in that profession.

  8. My only quibble is that you called them so-called leftists. I didn’t see anything in their post that made me think they’re leftists or even made me think that they think they are. Oh,they did offer to join up with “other social justice groups,” but I’ve never seen “social justice” as a leftist banner. Not much interested in social justice for bankers, or cops, or the Supreme Court, for instance. Otherwise, I agree that this stuff causes more problems than it solves, and it isn’t the pimps and porn producers who get slammed in jail, or run out of town, or get their kids taken away.

  9. I think Steve’s post is right; I’m slightly less sure whether it’s fair. The list of objectives mentions campaigns against “against the abuse of women through prostitution, pornography,” and other things that are more straightforwardly objectionable; presumably we’re all against the abuse of women (possibly also others) by whatever means. Elsewhere they mention prostitution and pornography as forms of male violence, which presumably most of us think they sometimes aren’t, but sometimes are. I guess I’m just wondering whether there’s any call to assume RadFemUK is insensitive to the economic dimension of these problems? (If someone were to ask that question of me, I’d cite the graphic design on their FemiFest flyer — but, like said, I’m trying to be fair.)

    It’s possible the above is answered in the definition of “radical feminist.” I don’t really know what that term means.

  10. @Cynthia Nope, they’re not the ones getting the “consequences”. Likewise, those who patronize sex workers. The Duke thing, for example — the guy who outed Belle Knox seems to be an example of an attitude that boys will be boys but girls ought to be ashamed.

  11. And this is, of course, an article about an initiative launched in Britain, written by someone who lives in USA, and commented on by people who live in the USA.

    Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to a concept; it’s called cultural imperialism. And none of you has, so far, noticed that the proverbial tourist clutching his Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy would have no difficulty in recognising exactly what you are doing. You are asserting your innate superiority because you believe yourselves to be innately superior, which is how imperialism works; you are dressing it up a little but at the core is the assumption that you know best.

    Oddly enough, I don’t believe that cultural imperialists are doing me a favour in explaining to me that they know best…

  12. skzb

    Stevie: Most of this rubbish deserves no answer. But, in case there’s someone who needs it pointed out, to use the term “imperialism” in the context of intellectual activity displays either a nearly impossible ignorance of the effects of actual imperialism or an utter lack of humanity. It is especially ugly given the history of British imperialism, which is rivaled only by American imperialism for brutality and cruelty. “Cultural imperialism.” Pfui.

  13. Stevie,

    “You are asserting your innate superiority because you believe yourselves to be innately superior,…”

    Isn’t what you are describing usually called Snobbery?

  14. By all means, let’s fight for stricter laws and harsher punishments for pornography. After all, it’s not as if there’s any history of anti-pornography laws being used to prosecute people providing information about safer sex, abortion, or contraception, organize for queer rights, or even to ban documentaries about the evils of pornography, after all.

    As far as prostitution goes, as a long-ago classmate of mine who financed her university education working as an (independent) prostitute once put it to me “Working as an escort makes it a whole lot easier for me as a worker to seize the means of production than flipping burgers at McDonald’s does.”

  15. Skzb

    Oddly enough, the concepts of imperialism and its consequences are taught in English schools; our population contains many, many peoples who are here because of our Empire which means we have a very good idea of what it’s like, not least because they tell us.

    Being the first modern empire is, I suppose, a comparative advantage when it comes to researching; our scholars have had rather more time to grapple with it, just as our many different peoples have had more time to put the boot into us when we fail to accept that our imperialism was an immensely dreadful thing to do. They challenge us, rightly so, on our belief that we know best and are thus entitled to direct the affairs of those who do not know best; the belief that we know best is usually labelled cultural imperialism, though if you don’t like the label you are, of course, free to express it in some other way.

    The ongoing Stephen Lawrence case has been an example in point; we are daily confronted by what imperialism has done, and continues to do, or at least we are if we are not pretending that there isn’t a problem because ‘who should present the Hugos’ is a much, much more pressing concern which must be addressed.

    So yes. I think I probably do understand imperialism better than you do; I’ve had a lifetime to think about it, a lifetime to be taught about it, and, equally importantly, a lifetime surrounded by the consequences of it. I am, indisputably, a product of the Empire, born in the Egyptian desert during one of the many small wars which have been in progress since the last big one, just as Baroness Lawrence, born in Jamaica, is, indisputably, a product of the Empire.

    I am prepared to wager folding money that Baroness Lawrence also knows more about imperialism than you, but that’s a no-brainer; she met it at the sharp end when she was 9 years old and first came to England, and the sharp end finished in her heart when her son was murdered, and the people who should have investigated his murder didn’t. The new Public Inquiry to come will once again confront these issues; imperialism, the twisted gift which keeps on giving, isn’t going away in a hurry…

  16. One difficulty in this discussion is determining what professions are degrading – after removing the sexual/moral context. For instance, cleaning the sewers in India (a job only untouchables do – but somebody has to do it). Maybe the undesirable jobs should be paid more instead of less. Or even – should all jobs be fulfilling, or should we expect some to be work? Or something between work and fun.

  17. The point of “cultural imperialism” is to say that somebody doesn’t have a right to an opinion.

    They don’t have a right to an opinion because they don’t understand the situation well enough. They think they have the right because they believe their special circumstances give them the right to have opinions. But the person who is not a cultural imperialist really understands, and knows who has that right and that the cultural imperialist’s special circumstances are not a good enough excuse.

    So for example people in the American south used to say that yankees had no right to criticise their social structure because the yankees didn’t understand. But the yankees believed that they understood racism enough to say it was bad and to do something about it. It was cultural imperialism, but maybe it was good cultural imperialism.

    Skzb is an expert on marxism, so he has a right to an opinion about economic issues.

    Some people have the opinion that marxists have no right to an opinion because marxism is bunk. Typically those people don’t know that much about marxism — do they have a right to their opinion about marxism? I tend to discount them.

    On the other hand I believe that astrology is bunk and expert astrologers don’t know what they’re talking about, and I don’t know that much about astrology. Astrologers can say I have no right to an opinion and we discount each other.

    I guess my stand on all this is that anybody who wants to, has the right to decide that I have no right to an opinion, for whatever reason they choose.

    But at the same time, I have the right to ignore their opinion about whether or not I have a right to an opinion.

    Perhaps we can agree to disagree.

  18. You can’t be culturally imperialist about culture that is not now, nor does it have any future intent of, minding its own business.

  19. Hmm…once we remove the sexual/moral component are we even left with a “degrading” category for work? I don’t subscribe to the caste system, so I wouldn’t qualify cleaning the Delhi sewers that way. “Distasteful”, maybe, but not degrading.

  20. I kind of feel like work which is susceptible to automation is degrading for a human to perform, tbqf, though I’m not entirely comfortable with how close to techno-utopian libertarianism that opinion drags me.

  21. @chaos There are things that can be handcrafted better than automation can produce them, though — types of clothes and food, for example. So a thing that is susceptible to automation possibly shouldn’t be produced that way, which makes me uncomfortable with that definition.

  22. @jen: If the human can do it better, I wouldn’t call it susceptible to automation. The machine has to do it at least as well to qualify, the way I see it.

  23. @chaos – Is it very wrong of me that I’m suddenly tempted to adopt your “susceptible to automation” definition of what constitutes “degrading” work just because I enjoy the thought of watching people’s heads explode when I argue that sex work is one of the last bastions of non-degrading labour? (I’m not sure I agree, since if I *enjoy* the work I really don’t care whether or not a machine could do it as well, or even better than I could.)

  24. J Thomas

    Having an opinion isn’t a problem; I am all for people having opinions, not least because it may lead me to think about things which might not otherwise have come my way, and I very much like that.

    The problems start when people perceive themselves as instinctively knowing what is right, or wrong, irrespective of whether they have done anything which might inform themselves about the nature of a problem; that is an attitude which is predicated on power. They have it, and therefore the idea that they might need to do some work before enlightening lesser mortals around the globe simply doesn’t get off their mental starting blocks.

    It does, however, result in lesser mortals around the globe concluding that, for whatever reason, the opinions expressed are uninformed by anything in the way of what could loosely be called facts.

    if you actually want to know what’s going on, as opposed to what people think should be going on, then fact free opinions are not helpful in getting you to your destination. I hope we can agree on that, whilst agreeing to agree or disagree on a myriad of other questions…

  25. @Peter: If that’s wrong, being right is completely overrated.

    I totally agree with you about enjoyment obviating any concern, though if labour is done for the sake of enjoyment, it may have crossed that felicitous boundary from work to play.

  26. Stevie: So those of us who’ve been watching Julie Bindel endlessly double-, triple- and quadruple-down on transphobic bigotry, reading the first-hand reports of “rescue” raids in London using the “trafficking” rhetoric trumpeted by anti-sex-work carceral feminists to valorize mass arrests of sex workers (and their loved ones, on the basis that sharing expenses makes those loved ones pimps), and so on over the past year, we get to have opinions?

  27. skzb: I agree with you.

    The concept of “degrading” work is one that I have been dealing with lately, at a level perhaps a bit less pernicious than the label “degrading”–or maybe not. My 20-something daughter with a college degree has been telling me that her college-educated female friends (but not she!) will date only a man with a degree, or at least well on his way to one. Parents and teachers contribute mightily to this, as I addressed in a blog entry about a year ago: http://cakmpls.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/the-job-market-college-and-job-status/

    I think that all useful work (and I consider sex work to be that) should have equal status in society. I think that the extent to which it does not is simply a cultural artifact, not any kind of universal truth.

  28. “The problems start when people perceive themselves as instinctively knowing what is right, or wrong”

    Stevie, this is the only way that people know what’s right or wrong. Morality is a question of esthetics, it’s about what squicks you.

    “if you actually want to know what’s going on, as opposed to what people think should be going on, then fact free opinions are not helpful in getting you to your destination.”

    If you have useful information about how to get some particular desired result, that’s — useful.

    If you want to tell people they should not want the results they want, that’s yet another opinion.

    So I say it’s OK for feminists to want to eliminate prostitution. That’s their opinion.

    It’s OK for them to try to make the government adopt the Nordic model. Another opinion. My quick analysis is that this would tend to reduce prostitution, and to the extent it did not it would radically change the power relationships. If it becomes illegal to hire a prostitute but not to be hired, then prostitutes can blackmail their clients — they can threaten to turn them in to be punished. That makes it less likely that a man would hire a prostitute that he didn’t already know and trust. It makes it more likely for men to try to stiff the fee. While they maintain that they thought it was consensual sex and not prostitution, they are not criminals but once they pay they are. Leading to more requirement for coercion and pimps etc. Presumably it would stabilize with some form of payment that is not considered legal payment, so we’d be back to square one. I’m not sure I’m right in these predictions, they’re only guesses.

    It’s OK for skzb to claim that in a capitalist system, forbidding prostitution makes it even harder for poor women to get money. I note that his opinion was that we need a way to take care of poor women, and that he considered it more important to find a better deal for them than to forbid them prostitution when they have no good choices.

    It would be OK for somebody else to claim that it’s more important to prevent enslaved women from being forced into prostitution than it is to allow free women to do prostitution. I haven’t noticed that opinion here because we’ve spent more of our time discussing who has the right to decide than what basis they might judge it on, but….

    It’s hard to get solid facts. One scientific study can be extrapolated to estimate that prostitutes amount to about .02% of the US population. But since it’s illegal and discreditable, there’s reason to think that number is off. It’s for example hard to estimate what fraction of prostitutes are slave versus free.

    Do you have facts you’d like to present? If not you’re welcome to provide us with additional opinions.

  29. Here’s a solid fact: if you claim to care about a population, and your idea of improving their lives involves, at any stage, arresting them, you are fucking scum.

  30. That’s an opinion but one I share.

    Those radical feminists say they want it to be illegal to hire a prostitute but not illegal to be hired. If they could arrange that they would be trying to eliminate prostitution without getting the prostitutes arrested.

  31. Chaosprime, There are many things not easily automated and done better by hand. Mucking out a septic tank comes to mind. ;>)

    Stevie, you say your opinions are based on facts (without presenting facts) and dismiss other opinions as merely opinions.

  32. David: Quite so. Those don’t meet my definition of degrading work.

  33. “There are many things not easily automated and done better by hand. Mucking out a septic tank comes to mind. ;>)”

    Many such jobs can be redesigned to be easier to automate.

    It may become possible to automate automobile driving, and if that works well it should be illegal to drive by hand in circumstances where the automated driving works a lot better.

    It should be possible to redesign septic tanks so they are easier to muck out by machine. Probably cheaper to do it that way too, if people are given a decent wage for the job.

    They stood face to face, Flynn slack-jawed, McHonnery clam-mouthed. Several seconds of silence ensued. Then McHonnery said: ‘Look, kid, this ain’t no goddamned peep show and I ain’t no goddamned freak. If you got something to say, spit it out. Otherwise take a walk for yourself before I break your back.’

    Marvin could see at once that this man was no fawning, honey-mouthed body salesman. There was no hint of obsequiousness in that rasping voice, no trace of ingratiation in that downturned mouth. Here was a man who said what he wanted to say, and took no heed of the consequences.

    ‘I – I am a client,’ Flynn said.

    ‘Big deal,’ McHonnery harshed. ‘Am I supposed to turn handsprings or something?’

    His sardonic retort and blunt, inner-directed demeanour gave Flynn a sensation of confidence. He knew, of course, that appearances could be deceiving; but no one had ever told him what to judge by instead of appearances. He was inclined to trust this proud and bitter man.

    ‘I am going to be dispossessed of this body in a matter of hours,’ Marvin explained. ‘Since my own body has been stolen, I am in desperate need of a substitute. I have very little money, but I – I am quite willing and prepared to work.’

    McHonnery stared at him, and a sardonic grin twisted the man’s tight lips. ‘Prepared to work, huh? Ain’t that nice! And just what are you prepared to work at?’

    ‘Why – anything.’

    ‘Yeah? Can you operate a Montcalm metal lathe with light-sensitive switchboard and manual cull? No? Think you could handle a Quick-Greeze Particle Separator for the Rare Earths Novelty Company? Not your sort of thing, huh? … I got a surgeon on Vega who wants somebody to run his Nerve-Impulse-Rejection Simulator (the old model with the double pedals). Not exactly what you had in mind? Well, we got a jazz band on Potemkin II which needs a stomach-horn man, and a restaurant near Boötes which could use a short-order cook, with working knowledge of Cthensis specialities. Doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe you could pick flowers on Moriglia; of course, you’d have to be able to predict anthesis without more than a five-second variation. Or you could do spot-flesh-welding, if you’ve got the nerves for it, or boss a phylopod reclamation project, or draw up intermediate creeper systems, or – but I don’t guess none of them strike your fancy, huh?’

    Flynn shook his head and mumbled, ‘I don’t know anything about any of those jobs, sir.’

    ‘Somehow,’ McHonnery said, ‘that doesn’t surprise me as much as you might think. Is there anything you can do?’

    ‘Well, in college I was studying–‘

    ‘Don’t give me your goddamned life story! I’m interested in your trade, skill, talent, profession, ability, whatever you want to call it. What, specifically, can you do?’

    ‘Well,’ Marvin said, ‘I guess when you put it that way, I can’t do anything much.’

    ‘I know,’ McHonnery said, sighing. ‘You’re unskilled; it’s written all over you. Kid, it may interest you to know that unskilled minds are common as dirt, commoner. The market’s glutted with them, the universe is crammed to overflowing with them. It may interest you to know that there is nothing you can do that a machine can’t do better, faster, and a damn sight more cheerfully.’

    ‘I’m sorry to hear that, sir.’ Marvin said, sadly but with dignity. He turned to go.

    ‘Just a minute,’ McHonnery said. ‘I thought you wanted to work.’

    ‘But you said–‘

    ‘I said you were unskilled, which you are. And I said that a machine can do anything you can do better, faster, and more cheerfully, but not more cheaply.’

    ‘Oh.’ Marvin said.

    ‘Yep, in the cheapness department, you still got an edge over the gadgets. And that’s quite an achievement in this day and age. I have always considered it one of the glories of mankind that, despite its best efforts, it has never completely succeeded in rendering itself superfluous. You see, kid, our instincts order us to multiply, while our intelligence commands us to conserve. We are like a father who bears many sons, but contrives to dispossess all but the eldest. We call instinct blind, but intelligence is equally so. Intelligence has its passions, its loves and its hates; woe to the logician whose superbly rational system does not rest upon a solid base of raw feeling. Lacking such a base, we call that man – irrational!’

    ‘I never knew that,’ Marvin said.

    ‘Well, hell, it’s obvious enough,’ McHonnery said. ‘The aim of intelligence is to put the whole goddamned human race out of work. Luckily, it can never be done. A man will outwork a machine any day in the week. In the brute-labour department, there’ll always be opportunities for the unwanted.’

    From Mindswap, by Robert Sheckley.

  34. Chaosprime, The weakness of this discussion string is that there is no consensus as to the problem.

    Stevie thinks it is about preventing prostitution (and we are not allowed to have opinions, in her Imperial opinion, thank you). While many of us see prostitution as mostly a symptom of larger problems in society. There is also the degrading work thing. Which needs definition if I am to understand it. Apparently the goal being to eliminate degrading work (such as prostitution).

    My experience is that short of abuse, work is just work. Abuse can be physical, mental or society’s negative judgement (toward the worker). So maybe the degrading work is really having to put up with abusive situations while working. So it really isn’t the work, but the abuse that needs to be addressed. This may have nothing to do with sex work. You could be a Wall Street executive and work in an abusive environment and feel you have no choices (but you’d be wrong). Also, what is considered degrading may have much to do with the history of the person having the opinion that something is degrading.

    The Untouchables example is good. But it is not just having to muck out the open sewers, the whole class is subjected to abuse of every possible type. Or the ‘kitchen fires’ in India when the wife’s family fails to keep paying a ransom to keep her alive.

    Sorry to be so fractal.

    In short, I think it would by more useful to try an improve the economic situation of a woman who feels forced into prostitution (slavery is a separate issue) by poverty. But I would also like to help others as well (not just prostitutes) as prostitution is not an emotional hot-button for me. I certainly do not want to add to the abuse of these women by using legal means to make their lives even worse.

  35. J Thomas, LOL. Great selection and good point. I get the impression that many of the most distasteful (smelly, dirty?) and dangerous jobs often pay the least. I could be wrong about the pay. http://salaries-job-industry.findthedata.org/d/d/Septic-tank-servicers-and-sewer-pipe-cleaners

    About three times the minimum wage.

  36. @skzb: But to attack prostitution and pornography without attacking the root of the economic desperation is to be part of the problem.

    We can’t all do all the work. This sounds like telling EMT’s at the scene of a plane crash to stop treating the injured while there are still people to be rescued from the burning wreck. By the logic of your sentence, those EMTs are part of the problem.

    I do not think you meant to give that implication. I would guess that the sentence is addressed to a broader context, at an organizational or movement-wide scope or larger. I can easily see it as a response to “Why aren’t you setting up food banks or [insert type of Good Work here]?” But when it is applied to an individual, or to an organization that does such works, I can’t help reading it as criticism of them for not addressing their efforts to what you see (and I’m not saying you’re wrong) as the root problem.

    Several-hour break…

    I just reread your post and saw your next sentence in a new light:

    Even if RadFemUK does not overtly support laws that will harm the poorest sex workers, their activity can, and almost certainly will, be used by right wing forces to pass and enforce such laws.

    Can you propose a way to help the poorest sex workers without attracting adversarial attention?

  37. skzb

    “This sounds like telling EMT’s at the scene of a plane crash to stop treating the injured while there are still people to be rescued from the burning wreck.”

    No, it’s more like telling them not to keep dragging injured people back into the burning wreck.

    “Can you propose a way to help the poorest sex workers without attracting adversarial attention?”

    Without attracting adversarial attention? Of course not. We live in a world where the suggestion that,perhaps women deserve a little control over what happens to their reproductive organs attracts adversarial attention. But the idea that one might attract adversarial attention is no excuse to continue throwing gasoline on the fire. Especially when EMTs are dragging the injured back into it.

  38. Then I must have misunderstood the article and/or your post. I’ll shut up here till I’ve reread.

  39. “Can you propose a way to help the poorest sex workers without attracting adversarial attention?”

    Here’s a revolutionary thought: why don’t we, I dunno, try listening to the large number of sex workers who are quite happy to tell us what would make their lives better? (I seem to recall “legality” and “health insurance” topping the list.)

  40. skzb

    Chaos: That’s crazy talk!

  41. Chaosprime: That’s what I was trying to say to our host.

    skzb: Crazy talk indeed, as I thought you were saying. From the RadFemUK page:

    4) To lobby governments around the world around issues that impact on women, e.g. for the Nordic model of prostitution and protections for the rights of females

    What on that page are you comparing to throwing gasoline on the fire?

  42. skzb

    Laws against prostitution, and increased enforcement of those laws, which always result in attacks (economic, legal, or both) on the poorest women, resulting in their economic status becoming even worse.

  43. Ahhh…. My mistake. I was confusing the “Nordic model” (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/nordic-model-prostitution-approved-by-european-parliament-1438009) with the Dutch model (http://www.amsterdam.info/prostitution/). The first of those articles makes it quite clear that opinion is strongly divided on the Nordic model – apparently with politicians in favor, and those who have actually studied it strongly against. I apologize.

    In my defense, the only specifics you mentioned were “laws against women engaged in sex work”, which the Nordic model explicitly excludes, criminalizing only the john. And when you ended with “the attack is not simply on women in general, but is above all another case of using a Left cover to aid anti-democratic and anti-working class measures”, the only “attack” you had mentioned was “to attack prostitution and pornography”. I gather that by “attack prostitution” you meant “criminalize paying for sex (even while decriminalizing being paid for sex)”. It did seem as if you were accusing RadFemUK of favoring arresting prostitutes.

  44. If RadFemUK actually doesn’t support arresting sex workers (as opposed to using “the Nordic model” as political cover), I’d like to see them say something against the Soho raids in December.

    Regardless, though, the Nordic model is bullshit. It’s still a class-punishment-grounded eradicationist policy that has the explicit aim of denying sex workers the ability to make a living as sex workers. Doing so without arresting them is better than with, but in the way that having one of your hands cut off is better than both.

    I mean, is there some way we could look at a policy that doesn’t make it illegal to *perform* software engineering, only to *pay* someone to do software engineering, and see this as anything but an overt attack on software engineers, much less somehow doing them a favor?

    Oh, right, we’d point at H1-B visa rates as evidence that tons of software engineers are “trafficked” and so putting them out of business is totally helping them and definitely isn’t exactly the same respectability politics as has been going on forever.

  45. @chaosprime: I dunno, software engineers have to work in unhealthy conditions (sitting all day is terrible for you; carpal tunnel) and have to work on whatever project they’re assigned, even if they don’t like it. Doesn’t it follow that the world would be a much better place if all software were open source?

    … I’m trying to extend the analogy, but I don’t think anyone would be able to sell videos of code-monkeys coding on the Internet. Oh well.

  46. skzb

    thnidu: I see where there confusion came in. I should have been more clear. In any case, I certainly agree with what Chaos said.

  47. Matt: Your coderpr0n startup idea is probably not going to get any VC, I’m afraid, but thanks for getting right out ahead of the common radfem argument that sex work is a special snowflake-o’-evil because it’s body-intrusive, as if any form of work weren’t (and as if all forms of sex work involved physical contact).

  48. This seems like the same issue as identity politics divisiveness, only imposed from the outside. Special snowflake attention, at the expense of working on the underlying issue.
    Even if it rises out of a genuine concern over the particular instance, the cumulative effect is counterproductive.

    We do want incremental changes wherever we can easily effect them. We don’t want to get in each other’s way by assuming competition for some sort of scarce resource where none exists.

    “Yes, and … ” as opposed to “No! My …”

  49. To the extent that our culture continues to fetishize sexuality or in other ways treat it as an exceptional mode of human behavior whose expression has to be severely constrained, sex work really will be a special snowflake because of the marginalization and criminalization of the activity. The demonization of any activity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy within any given culture for reasons I should think are obvious, but when the activity is so strongly motivated by biology and evolution, the results of an attempt to restrict it will naturally be destructive.

  50. Yeah, what Miramon said.

    Of course, if I really wanted you all to think I’m a crank, I’d talk about how I place this all in a historical context of sex work, sexuality itself and women as a whole having been vilified and demonized solely for the sake of male priests eliminating the natural competitive advantage (in the scam of getting people to transfer their resources to you in exchange for an experience you narrativize to them as communion with divinity) of female priests.

  51. (When you read the Bible, follow the money.)

  52. It’s a possible solution to the problem. Make all the prostitutes high priestesses in a religion which deifies the sexual experience. Added benefit, they don’t have to pay taxes.

  53. “We do want incremental changes wherever we can easily effect them. We don’t want to get in each other’s way by assuming competition for some sort of scarce resource where none exists.”

    It depends. If someone wants to overthrow the government and replace it with something new, there may be a limited supply of outrage available. If that outrage gets wasted on incremental changes which make things better, it gets harder to overthrow the government.

    Such a person would not want things to get as bad as possible, like for example they would not want the government to get technology which makes it easy to find and kill revolutionaries. But they would want things to get as outrageous as possible.

    Thinking about the ideal case, it would be something like — the government requires that everybody get strip-searched every day. Everybody except government employees and about 10 million people who’re on a special list of friends of the government.

    Each time you get strip-searched they charge you a $10 fee. But everybody knows that they’re corrupt and for $50 they’ll not do it and pretend they did. If their records show you’ve missed a day you get 3 days in jail getting strip-searched hourly or so, plus a $300 fine. They don’t keep good records and lots of people get jailed after they did everything right.

    Lots of outrage over something that doesn’t actually do the government any good. Beneficial to the revolution. If reformers get the practice discontinued, that leaves you with a government which can do that kind of thing whenever they want to, that has agreed to stop this one for awhile, and the revolution is delayed.

    The revolution doesn’t need for horrible damaging things to happen to people, particularly things which make them more powerless in fact. But the revolution needs people to be outraged and angry at the government. Competing doo-gooders who reduce the level of outrage are doing bad.

  54. skzb

    ” But the revolution needs people to be outraged and angry at the government. Competing doo-gooders who reduce the level of outrage are doing bad.”

    Thundering balls of Zeus. Are there actually people who believe this is how revolutions work? Hint: None of them are revolutionists.

  55. I liked J Thomas’s idea. Skzb, usually the revolutionaries “help” things out a bit. Some false flag outrage on a large scale to trigger outrage.

  56. skzb

    David: Rubbish. The role of the revolutionist with regard to revolution is analogous to the role of a midwife in safely deliverying a baby. Very few midwifes have sent up “false flags” to help create a pregnancy. The myth that revolutions are created by revolutionists is right up there with every governments claim that protests against repression are the work of “outside agitators.” And has the same source. It looks like I’m going to have to add to my socialism FAQ.

  57. I’ll concede that governments are much more likely to use false flag events. I don’t think the French revolution needed any more outrage. Maybe what revolutions need is martyrs? That’s within the ability of a revolutionary to facilitate. Of course the standing government is more than willing to make martyrs.

    In this country the “bad” protesters usually come from government infiltrators so the false flag is on the other foot, so to speak.

    I don’t see revolutions as benign. They may be necessary in some cases, but hardly benign. Lots of collateral damage.

  58. There certainly were provocations and martyrdoms in the US, French, and Russian revolutions, but I doubt they were essential in any of those cases. And I can’t think offhand of any “false flag” outrages at all in the major revolutions.

    I will say that since revolutionists become the leaders of revolutionary governments, they certainly have a lot to do with what happens afterwards. This would be the midwife adopting the baby and controlling its upbringing.

    So if the Mensheviks hadn’t gotten confused and divided about their antiwar message during WWI, perhaps the Russian revolutionary government would have been less radical than it turned out when the more moderate party broke into pieces and the Bolsheviks retained their solidarity. If Lenin had lived a few more years, Stalin would likely have been purged himself before he could do any harm. Similar choices and events in the US and in France could have led to radically different outcomes, from a Hamilton-inspired American monarchy to a French revolutionary government honestly based on liberty, equality and fraternity instead of on malice, populism, and terror.

    So to my mind the aftermath of revolution and subsequent society and government seems to be very contingent on chaotic human factors and random events, but the broad movement that leads to a revolution seems more consistent with larger-scale social tendencies.

  59. “False Flag” was a poor choice on my part. That requires buy-in by the media, so it is largely limited to governments to use this.

    My point was really that there needs to be a trigger event, something especially outrageous, to get over the inertia.

  60. skzb

    Miramon: You make it sound as if the Menshevik confusion just sort of happened by fluke. The Mensheviks were representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie (going to so far as to attempt to defend Miliukov to the workers), but trying to maintain a power base in the working class, where they held a majority in the Soviets until October. They were in an impossible position, because the bourgeoisie absolutely required the war to continue, and the working class and peasantry absolutely required the war to end. No amount of propaganda or agitation could have had any effect on either position. They were trying to occupy the middle ground, and there was simply was no middle ground for them to occupy. The Mensheviks ultimately abandoned the Soviets in favor of supporting Kerensky and the Provisional Government, which means they took the side of the bourgeoisie. Under the impetus of Kornilov’s approach, and his promise to utterly crush the working class, there was an inevitable test of strength, and the working class proved to be stronger.

    And that is the point about revolutions that some people seem unable to grasp. The test of strength has nothing to do with the will of revolutionists or anyone else–they can neither call it into existence, nor stop it. Revolutionists can have a role in determining which class will win.

  61. skzb, Think about this country for a while. There is a fair amount of pent up anger over income inequalities, unemployment and predatory banking. Even so, I don’t see people turning off their TV sets to march in the streets. The most outspoken groups seem to be things like the AstroTurf groups like the Tea Party. Which could maybe be used in some kind of political jujitsu to install a military party. Hardly what we would want.

    Do you think there is a possibility of any kind of revolution in this country?

  62. skzb

    Brust’s First Rule of Revolution: When it happens, it catches everyone by surprise, especially those who’ve been expecting it and preparing for it.

  63. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  64. I don’t think I agree that the Mensheviks were all liberals or conciliators — at least not as a complete party. Some were, to be sure, but I think most were mainstream Marxists. Some of these believed that Russia was in too primitive a state for a communist revolution since the bourgeosie was still weak and the vestiges of the rotten aristocracy still owned most of the country, but others whole-heartedly supported the overthrow of the corrupt regime regardless of theory. So I think as a party they weren’t definitionally or by intension namby-pamby supporters of the bourgeoisie.

    According to my not-terribly-deep reading the majority moved first one way and then another in the various congresses. I think the remaining Mensheviks would have presented a unified front with the Bolsheviks by 1917-1918 except for their fragmentation into separate groups due to disagreement over the prosecution of WWI. I believe the pro-war Mensheviks — the ones I think you characterize as all of them — mostly wound up completely disenfranchised with the soi-disant provisional government, just as you said. But I think that was just a minority of them, or not an overwhelming majority anyway, and the anti-war Mensheviks wound up joining with the Bolsheviks for the most part, at least until they were purged later on….

    But I agree that in general, revolutionists guide the revolution, and don’t cause it. The problem occurs afterwards, when apparently any tyrant can take control, regardless of the intentions of the original group. Perhaps the problem somtimes is that the midwife does after all have to give the baby over to someone else’s care.

  65. Steven let me see if I understand this, I’ll try to repeat it back the way I heard it and if I get it wrong please let me know.

    Revolutions are inevitable like childbirth, depending on objective factors. So people who want to aid the revolution don’t need to watch any specific events or attitudes etc, it will happen regardless and they don’t gain by trying to predict when it might happen, they only need to organize to be ready to assist it when it comes.

    I find that approach admirable, if I understand it.

    I was thinking in the short run, like a politician. To win this particular election, it helps that one side’s supporters are energetic and angry and determined that the other side loses, while the opposing side is despondent and sees scandals among their leaders etc. Small events, small edges can make the difference whether the election is won or lost. But if you are interested in the long-run thrust of history, it doesn’t matter so much about the individual election. It’s like the vagaries of weather might result in more rain in one area than another so that some places the streams are higher than usual, but all the water eventually reaches the sea.

    Is this specific to Marxist revolutions? I can imagine that the US revolution against Britain might not have been inevitable. Canada has not revolted to this day. There were economic differences between the cases, but if the social connections between proto-US colonies and proto-canadian colonies had been tighter, maybe they all would have revolted, or none of them, and they would be left with continuing tensions from their differing needs — as the later US was IRL among a smaller group.

    If the British government had done better things, could they have put off the revolution for 50 years or 300 years? Presumably the southern colonies would have revolted when Britain required them to end slavery, but the northern colonies would not have gone along over that issue. Later if the yankees wanted to leave over something else and the southerners didn’t go along….

    I think of Sam Adams, arranging things like the Boston Tea Party, provoking atrocities and then publicising the atrocities, and maybe everything he did was a sideshow that attracted attention but had no real effect. Then there were people like Paine and Jefferson who thought hard about what a good society would be like — maybe they had no real effect either, but I want to think they did. I tend to think that Marx has actually had an effect on the world.

  66. skzb

    “So people who want to aid the revolution don’t need to watch any specific events or attitudes etc,” A good midwife or doctor pays close attention to anyone who is likely to become pregnant, in order to understand fully how to assist when needed.

  67. skzb

    Miramon: I am not speaking of the opinions of individuals who happened to be in the Menshevik party so much as the party itself–it’s program and action as a party. Because it is exactly that program and action that had an effect on the Soviets and the Provisional Government. Whether in it’s internal decision making there was more or less disagreement among members in getting to that point is of less interest to me–though still interesting, to be sure.

  68. “A good midwife or doctor pays close attention to anyone who is likely to become pregnant, in order to understand fully how to assist when needed.”

    But needn’t, for example, poke holes in their condoms to drum up business….

  69. I reject the idea that revolutions are inevitable. There are good examples of stable governments. I’m not sure the USA quite qualifies yet.

    Revolutions happen when the government is unresponsive to basic needs of the population and more specifically when the government is seen as abusive and arrogant over those unfulfilled needs.

    A government can stop a revolution from happening simply by doing it’s job of properly representing the interests of the people. Of course, it’s too late to change once people are being shot in the streets.

  70. skzb

    “I reject the idea that revolutions are inevitable. There are good examples of stable governments.”

    I reject the idea that precipitation is inevitable. The sun is shining.

    There are any number of things I could say here, but I’ll limit myself to one: My point is not that revolutions always happen (though I would argue they do), but that when a revolution does happen, it is not because some group of revolutionaries cooked it up, but because of the clash of forces at work in that society at that moment.

    And remember that I am speaking of a revolution, not a coup–a fundamental change in economic system, where one social class is removed from state power and another replaces it, carried out by the conscious action of the masses.

  71. We are in agreement on that.

    Does it count as a revolution if the masses put enough pressure on the government that it makes significant changes but stays in power? Or is that just the way things are supposed to work?

  72. skzb

    No. It means that the system has, at that moment, enough flex to survive for a while.. In the 30’s American capital did that by borrowing against the future. Welcome to the future.

  73. Just ran across this while browsing my morning newsfeed, thought I’d toss it out here: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/03/tunisia-sex-workers-demand-brothel-reopening-201431205613208511.html

  74. Don’t have time to comment on some of the large issues. At some point I may post on my own blog and link from here. But on the question of the “Nordic Solution” to sex work – Most sex workers oppose it. Making buy sex illegal even selling sex is legal make sex workers’ lives worse than if both sides of the transaction are legal. Sex work is dangerous, and that danger can be reduced (though not eliminated) by screening customers.If purchasing sex is illegal customers are far less likely to submit to screening. As a result the “Nordic Solution” results in a slight drop in the amount of sex work, but a significant increase in violence against sex workers, because it eliminates one of the major tools sex workers can use to protect themselves. If y ou want first hand commentary on sex work by sex workers try http://titsandsass.com/ blog. Very very po-mo/intersectional ideology. But it remains a good source from people who are living the experience. If you are interested in seriously exploring a subject then it is unwise to dismiss a good source on ideological grounds. Part of the job of anyone seriously researching any subject is to wade into sources that mix gold and bullshit and separate the two.

  75. The Nordic model has not turned out to be the solution I thought it would be. Some of this is because the police involved are still heavily misogynistic, and the aid to get women out of sex work (education or small business loans or whatever whatever) has not been as solid as it ought.

    But legalisation/regulation has ALSO not worked out as well as it should in theory. In areas where prostitution has been legalised (such as my own Melbourne, Australia) there is a commensurate increase in illegal prostitution, sex trafficking, coercion of immigrants, underage prostitution, etc.

    You cannot look at whether legalisation is the right action without looking at what the actual real-world results have been.

    All this lends credence to the idea that prostitution can’t easily be tackled head-on, and that improving the economic situation etc is likely to be more effective.

    (I’m sure our repressive anti-immigrant stance also contributes: a trafficked woman who goes to the police might well be sent to Manus Island which is barely an improvement in circumstances)

  76. “But legalisation/regulation has ALSO not worked out as well as it should in theory.”

    I feel utterly incompetent to decide about all this. Like, is there actually more illegal prostitution or is it only less hidden? How would I find out?

    Given the laws and the attitudes, it’s hard to get accurate information.

    “(I’m sure our repressive anti-immigrant stance also contributes: a trafficked woman who goes to the police might well be sent to Manus Island which is barely an improvement in circumstances)”

    In the USA, detention by the authorities may be no improvement at all. It may be more of the same.

    As I remember the statistic, about 3% of female US inmates are pregnant when they enter, and at any give time about 5% of inmates are pregnant.

  77. “I feel utterly incompetent to decide about all this. Like, is there actually more illegal prostitution or is it only less hidden?”

    It’s always tricky to get answers to these questions. Assuming that correlation corresponds to causation is easy, but frequently wrong. An increase in trafficking arrests could well be a result of more investigative resources becoming available. And it’s notoriously difficult to get reliable data about underground criminal activity, since people (and I use the term loosely) like traffickers don’t publish annual reports.

  78. Considering the epic history of peasant revolts in early Modern Russia (1500 to 1800), can we really say that revolutions just happen? (And I mean epic locust plague level jacqueries here, not a few tradesmen being rude to Richard the Second like they had in England.) There was plenty of spontaneous material, but no consciousness.

    Then when people tried to import consciousness, it fizzled in the 1800’s. (The soldiers famously thought the second element of Konstantine i Konstitutia was the first’s wife.)

    You could say that the 1918 Revolutions were inevitable results of international capitalism, except they emerged on the fringe of that system and did not take anywhere else organically. Fascism looks a lot more inevitable in the two decades after that (or beyond if you throw Spain and South America into the mix.)

    Do you blame us Polaks for winning the 1920 war? If the Red Army had mixed into the unacknowledged German Civil War, would we have gotten all the nice things of communism triumphing in a developed economy and then spreading over the globe?
    I cannot honestly answer that one, but my guess is that it just would have killed more people and set socialism back in the long run.

Leave a Reply