{Wed 19 March 2008}   Sex as it is and as it could be
This article in The Guardian, I was seen as an object, not a person, by a former lap-dancer about the reality of her experience in that industry provides a counter voice to the one mentioned in my previous post which suggests that there is (or could be) a normality to the sex industry if the parties involved are all consenting. The writer quotes various statistics suggesting that the presence of lapdancing clubs leads to an increase in sexual violence in the areas concerned.

I’ve never had any similar experience, but I can well imagine myself feeling exactly as she says she did, given the context that she describes. I am conscious as I read it, though, that we are still talking of a country where the official line is that paying for sex is bad and that lap-dancing is only allowed because it’s “not really sex”, which doesn’t fool anyone. This attitude inevitably means that the people currently engaging in the activity (clients as well providers) are those who tend to trangress socially acceptable norms of behaviour more easily (although it appears that there are so many of these that it is a norm in itself, a factor which must be considered). They are therefore likely to be more cavalier about abuse and violence too.

Making the entire industry illegal means that the society does not provide any rules or sanctions for conduct within the industry and also does not allow the development of non-official social guidelines of the non-snigger variety that could guide people and provide social pressure for appropriate behaviour. Every accepted non-sexual industry has evidenced exploitation. Governments have instituted rules and policing to curb unacceptable behaviour within these “respectable” industries, rather than shutting them down altogether because of abuses. If abuse and exploitation, rather than the industry as a whole, were strictly and severely policed, couldn’t sex become normal too? Is it possible that people who can’t contemplate this are the ones who believe that sex itself is evil, dangerous and dirty (although they use words like “private” and “sacrosanct” as euphemisms for these terms) and who would actually prefer that everyone has as little of it as possible, even within the “legal” area of marriage?

What if paying for sex were more mainstream, and sexual facilities were available for both sexes, and industry standards were high and policed? Could this mean that everyone could take care of their sexual health as they do of their physical fitness (going to the gym, doing sport, etc.)? Is it possible that then people would not have to feel anxious, guilty, dirty, threatened or unsafe for their interest and engagement in sex? Is it possible that people could have more fulfilling marriages and lives where they can focus on intellectual and emotional companionship and interesting, productive work, without having to deal with the constant distraction of sexual incompatibilities and dissatisfactions? Is it possible that then people could get on with the businesses of educating, creating, working, governing, resolving conflicts, home-making, etc. without paying too much attention to what people wear or who they’ve slept with? Could sexual activity just become acknowledged as something that everyone does in some form or another and that there’s nothing too remarkable about it? Could this defuse the high sexual tension that arises from the constant frustration experienced by most people and which leads to our media being clogged with material about perceived sexual misconduct and our governments grinding to a halt every time a leader is found to be doing what a very high percentage of people do or want to do anyway? In this regard, the recent NYT article In Most Species, Faithfulness is a Fantasy, is relevant.

The sci-fi show Firefly has a powerful, attractive, courtesan character, a “Companion” who is highly respected in a highly regulated industry and is an accomplished and intelligent woman. Of course, this is far away in the galaxy and in time, but could it be a healthy ideal?

{Thu 13 March 2008}   Reality and truth
Two things I read today seem to intersect – the first is this article by Elizabeth Pisani in The Guardian, Thursday March 13 2008 entitled “Spitzer’s true folly” and subtitled “A governor who pays for sex should know to mould social policies on reality, not morality”. Although light and not in-depth, it seems to me a very balanced and realistic view of the sex trade and I instinctively agree with the idea of regulation rather than the impossible fantasy of the elimination of the trade. I’m sure that when I think about it more deeply any number of caveats will arise, but essentially I’m not disposed to think of the women in that trade as any more “sinful” than anyone else and many of them may well be a lot more canny and a lot more grounded than most. There are some related thoughts in my post titled Overdoing Mistress Overdone in Washington.

The other thing is the little essay-in-a-booklet called On Truth by Harry G. Frankfurt which I picked up at a bookstore this morning. He argues that despite various consciously or unconsciously held postmodern positions on the possibility and accessibility of truth, most of us rely on our ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood in very practical ways in our everyday lives. He equates truth here with fact. For instance, no matter how skeptical you are about truth, you’ll probably give your actual name and address when filling in an application for something. In other words, you’ll tell the truth about the fact and you and the contracting party will rely on the accuracy of those details. If they prove false, the whole thing won’t work (at least not for long). Practically, truth is essential to large parts of our lives, and our trust in others and, most importantly, in ourselves, depends on it, so communities couldn’t function without it. Communities do sustain a lot of “bullshit and lying” too (apparently the subject of a prior essay by the same person), but we can navigate this if we have some ability to tell the difference between truth and falsehood (and most people do). Those who hold to falsehood as truth are crazy. Every time someone tells us even a white lie, perhaps in order to protect us, and we believe them, we enter into a world created by their words that is different from the real world experienced by those not exposed to the lie. Every time we do this, we become a little crazy and our trust in our own ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood is damaged.

My thoughts aren’t quite formulated yet, but I think where they’re going in pulling these two stimuli together is that the whole attempt to “eliminate” prostitution is based on a falsehood because it’s out of touch with reality (facts). This would lead to the conclusion (not new, but still shocking) that the church is a liar because it refuses to tell the truth about the way things really are (labelling all prostitution “sin” is not “telling it like it is” for everyone). Ergo, the church makes us crazy.

When truth is an ideal, it has little practical use, because it doesn’t relate to facts, or worse, tries to deny them. One could argue that it isn’t truth at all, just something that wants to be.

Postscript: Just read this really funny, outraged and outrageous response to the Catholic Church’s new seven deadly sins, by Grant Walliser in the Mail & Guardian: Catholics modernise their mumbo-jumbo. Worth a read for further thoughts on reality, truth and crazy-making.

et cetera