Tag Archives: philosophy

“Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman – book review

This review is of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self”, by Kajsa Ekis Ekman, (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1742198767/).

In “Being and Being Bought” Eckman argues that prostitution entails the exploitation of women by men. Women are (in Ekman’s view) “prostituted” (the word being used by her to denote the lack of free agency of those engaged in the world’s oldest profession).

Ekman contends that many of those who are “prostituted” develop a “split self”. The “prostituted” woman attempts to convince herself that she is “selling sex” rather than her very self. However for Ekman the act of selling sex can not be separated from the person (the “prostituted” woman who is doing the selling, for they are one and the same. Sex does not walk around the market place selling itself, for it has no existence independent of the “prostituted” woman. Likewise, Ekman contends one can not sell one’s body without selling oneself. Consequently the customers of “prostituted” persons are not merely buying a “sexual service” they are purchasing a living being.

Ekman gives the example of a woman engaged in the sex industry who, on returning home in the evening drew away from her partner thinking (at some level) that he was a customer. Both the woman and her partner where shaken by the experience which, for Ekman demonstrates the malign effects of prostitution on “prostituted” women.

Ekman is a left-wing Feminist, but she attacks those Feminists (some of whom are on the left) who argue that prostitution should be viewed as “sex work”. In no other work, Ekman argues, would the rate of violence and deaths suffered by “prostituted” women be tolerated. Women engaged in prostitution suffer, according to Ekman, from the kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by the armed forces. Again in no other industry/line of work would this be tolerated (outside of the military). For Ekman the unionisation of “prostituted” women promulgated by Feminists on the left who are “pro prostitution” (to use Ekman’s words) is no answer to the “exploitation” which, she believes constitutes a fundamental component of prostitution. Indeed she argues that very few of those engaged in prostitution are, in fact members of unions.

For Ekman those on the left who oppose the criminalisation of sex buyers are in an unholy alliance with right-wing free market proponents who argue that there is nothing wrong with consenting adults selling sexual services in the market place.

Eckman argues in favour of criminalising those who pay for sex as (in her view) prostitution is essentially exploitative and it is the buyers of sex (not the “prostituted” women who drive demand. Therefore the selling of sex should remain legal but the buying of it prohibited as is the case in Sweden, Norway, France and Canada (please note that when Ekman’s book was first published the buying of sex was not criminalised in France, Canada or the Republic of Ireland, these bans came in at a later date).

Ekman does accept that “a minority” of prostitutes may genuinely enjoy what they do. She puts this number at around 9 percent. However, in her view this “minority” should not prevent the needful measure of outlawing the purchase of sex from being taken. Sex purchase bans have, in Ekman’s view greatly reduced the demand for “prostituted” women.

A number of arguments have been advanced against the perspectives contained in “Being and Being Bought” including by many engaged in (or working with those engaged in) prostitution. It is contended that the sex purchase bans have made the lives of sex workers more dangerous. Prior to their introduction, it is argued that those selling sex could pick and choose their clients. If they didn’t like the look of a particular man they could reject him and accept a client who was more to their liking. However the sex purchase ban has, in the view of some prostitutes driven away the “nice” clients who are fearful of prosecution, leaving the sex worker (who needs money) with little option other than to accept “dodgy” punters (the latter not being put off by sex purchase bans).

It is also contended that while street prostitution has declined this has far more to do with the growth of online prostitution than with the introduction of sex purchase bans. Prostitution still takes place behind the closed doors of massage parlours and in private homes out of sight of the authorities.

It is further argued that clients are increasingly nervous so are reluctant to go to the homes of prostitutes for fear of being arrested by the police. Consequently they make arrangements to pick up prostitutes and take them to their own homes which is more dangerous for the prostitute as she is on unfamiliarity territory. Nervous clients are also more likely to behave in unpredictable ways.

Ekman gives the example of the owner of an escort agency who says that he never discusses sex over the phone, however both the client and the woman going to visit him know perfectly well that escorting almost always entails sex. Just how (short of banning all escort services) could one prevent escort prostitution? Even if the authorities where to monitor the communications of all escort businesses, if no sexual services are discussed either over the phone or the internet, then just how are the police to prove that sex is being bought? The answer is with considerable difficulty and probably not at all.

There is, of course also the argument of individual liberty (I.E. the view that the state has no business in involving itself in what “consenting adults” do in private). For the state to poke it’s nose into such matters is, in the view of the libertarian (with a small and a large l) illiberal and should be opposed by all those who care about individual freedom.

Ekman’s view that most prostitutes are deeply traumatised by the experience of prostitution or (as she puts it) by being “prostituted” is also contested by many with knowledge of the “industry”. Opponents of Ekman’s view contend prostitution is just a way of paying the bills as with most other kinds of work. It may well not be a woman’s first choice of occupation, however Ekman greatly exaggerates the unhappiness suffered by most prostitutes. Yes they may well “clock watch” waiting for the end of a sexual encounter, but many other workers look at the clock in offices up and down the land willing the end of the working day. Its Also argued that large numbers of sex workers do take pride in their work, for example some escorts speak of the pleasure they derive from bringing companionship (and other things) to the lonely and the disabled.

Whatever one’s view of prostitution “prostituted” persons may be, “Being and Being Bought” is a thought provoking read and I recommend it to you.

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“How to Be a Conservative”, by Roger Scruton – book Review

“How to Be a Conservative”, by Roger Scruton, is as the title suggests a defense of Conservatism.

Growing up in a working class household with a father who was deeply committed to Socialism, Scruton nonetheless discovered in his father a conservatism (of the non-political variety), for Scruton’s father was a lover of the English countryside and was possessed of a strong desire to preserve ancient buildings and the traditions of his locality.

While Scruton is a Conservative of the political kind, anyone reading “How to Be a Conservative” with a view to obtaining a detailed programme/manifesto will find instead a thoughtful defense of the philosophy of Conservatism in its broadest sense, rather than a list of proposals regarding how Conservative governments should operate. In passing Scruton does advocate choice in education via such methods as providing parents with vouchers in order to enhance choice in schooling. He also writes in support of welfare reform. However, as already stated “How to Be a Conservative” is not a manifesto.

So what is Scruton’s view of Conservatism?
Scruton argues that Socialism is a top down philosophy whereas Conservatism flows from the natural instincts of the people. People form into the “little platoons” defended by the Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. Such “platoons” include the family, sports clubs and local charities through which people find meaning in common cause with others. For Scruton we are individuals and he criticises Socialists for what he perceives as their disregard for this self-evident fact. However the author is also critical of what he refers to as “homo economicus” (the tendency to view human activity in purely economic terms). So while Scruton defends private property and the market economy, he does so only insofar as they do (in his view) promote human flourishing. For example a good portion of the book is devoted to defending “high culture” which should not, in Scruton’s view be left to the visicitudes of the market. There is, for Scruton such a thing as “objectively” noble/good in the field of culture and there are things which constitute trash.

While Scruton defends aspects of the late Lady Thatcher’s legacy, he is critical of the obsession of many Thatcherites with economics pointing out that, in the end it is through social attachments (“the little platoons” that we flourish, not through economics.

During the existence of the former Eastern (Communist) Block, Scruton visited Czechoslavakia and met with disidents. He was arrested and expelled. His experiences behind “the Iron Curtain” help to explain Scruton’s Conservatism. In Czechoslovakia Burke’s “little platoons” had been abolished or absorbed into the state, there being no independent boy scouts or other independent institutions promoting human flourishing. Given the author’s experiences and the suffering he observed amongst disidents, one can understand why he adopts the position he does of defending those “little platoons”.

While Scruton shares the Classical Liberals view that the individual and private property should be protected from the encroachments of the state, he deplores “human rights” arguments seeing in them a potentially slippery slope leading to the lessening of human freedom. For example he mentions the decision of the courts to allow travellers to occupy a village green on the grounds that they (the traveling community) had a “right” to live somewhere. The courts did not take into account the concrete rights of the local property owners to enjoy the facilities of the village free from unwelcome intrusions. So, for Scruton there is a right to private property and to government welfare (although the latter is less than that supported by those on the left of the political spectrum).

The defense of existing institutions is, of course a cause dear to the Conservative’s heart. For Scruton (as for all true Conservatives) institutions reflect the collective history of the country and this fact leads the person of a conservative disposition to value them on account of this. For instance many people no longer attend church on a regular basis, yet the Christian ethos still plays an important role in the country and many people who would not regard themselves as religious are, nonetheless imbued with its ethos. We see the spires of churches and are glad they are there for they represent a part of who we are as a country. While things change the Conservative should attempt to shore up what is left and protect our culture from cultural relativism.

There is much in “How to Be a Conservative” with which Conservatives of all hues will agree. The defense of “the little platoons” and the scepticism regarding human nature are common to all true Conservatives. However Scruton’s support for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is an issue which has split the Conservative Party, while others within the Conservative fold are (unlike Scruton) less inclined to advocate “family values”. While Scruton does not use the term “family values” he is strongly supportive of the traditional (hetrosexual) family, while other Conservatives hold that the state has no business in telling consenting adults how they should conduct their sex lives.

Finally people who are not political Conservatives will, I think still nonetheless find aspects of Scruton’s arguments persuasive, for instance his love of the English countryside and his advocacy of the need to protect and preserve historic buildings. For anyone wishing to understand traditional Conservatism I recommend this book.

“How to Be a Conservative”,, by Roger Scruton, https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/How-to-Be-a-Conservative-Audiobook/B00NGVR6NO

The Myth of “Free Will”

According to the author of this article, (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/yuval-noah-harari-the-new-threat-to-liberal-democracy) “free will” is a “myth”. While we can choose who to vote for, our choices are, for the most part products of our biology and societal influences (E.G. family upbringing). The author contends that governments and corporations will, in the future be able to “hack” us and know us better than we know ourselves for, in his view we are “hackable animals”.

The author is right that we are not free in some respects. For example there is considerable evidence that one’s sexual preferences are biologically determined (I.E. gay people have a natural/biological attraction for the same sex, while straight people have a natural/biological attraction to people of the opposite sex). For this reason it is, in my view cruel to try to change a gay person, by religious or other means into a straight individual. It doesn’t work and one is forcing them to adopt a way of life which goes against their natural inclinations.

I do, however fundamentally disagree with the author’s assertion that “free will” is a “myth”. Take, for example the young man attracted to a pretty girl. It can be argued that he lacks “free will” in the sense that he can not help being attracted to the beautiful woman. However where that same man to pester that young woman for sex or, god forbid sexually assault her, can we really say that he lacked “free will” and his actions where predetermined? We can not, for the overwhelming majority of men attracted to beautiful women do not make inappropriate advances or force themselves on the object of their desire. Where there no such thing as “free will” the number of sexual assaults would increase massively. It is moral precepts and the existence of “free will” that makes us human.

The author is correct that corporations and individuals can (and do) try to (and sometimes succeed) in influencing our behaviour. For example a person who frequently searches for news stories with a particular political bias may well find himself confronted by only those kinds of articles. However the educated person does (in my experience) go out of their way to find stories which challenge their preconceptions and its through education that we can help to combat the danger of “echo chambers” in which people only find themselves exposed to views that reinforce their existing view of the world.

With the growth of artificial intelligence, we do need to think seriously about the hacking of humans (the author is undoubtedly right here). However his view of “free will” (the lack thereof) is, in my opinion wrong and dangerous.

(My thanks to my friend Brian for drawing the above article to my attention).

A Philosophical Young Lady Called Mable

A philosophical young lady called Mable
Dressed in the colour sable.
When a young man named Guy
Asked her “why?”
She said “Existence is merely a fable!”.

How The Enlightenment Ends

Yesterday (18 May) I read a thought provoking article by Henry Kissinger on the subject of artificial intelligence or AI. The gist of Kissinger’s article is that the enlightenment liberated humanity while we are in danger (by relying on AI) of becoming slaves to the emerging technology and loosing our ability to think critically. The below quote from Kissinger’s article strikes me as containing much wisdom, particularly his point about many technophiles taking refuge from solitude in technology:

“Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning. They rarely interrogate history or philosophy; as a rule, they demand information relevant to their immediate practical needs. In the process, search-engine algorithms acquire the capacity to predict the preferences of individual clients, enabling the algorithms to personalize results and make them available to other parties for political or commercial purposes. Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.

Inundated via social media with the opinions of multitudes, users are diverted from introspection; in truth many technophiles use the internet to avoid the solitude they dread. All of these pressures weaken the fortitude required to develop and sustain convictions that can be implemented only by traveling a lonely road, which is the essence of creativity”.

To read the article please visit https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/henry-kissinger-ai-could-mean-the-end-of-human-history/559124/.

Philosophers Disagree On What It Is To Be Free

Shall I confess?
She wore not a dress
But standard issue jeans.
The scenes
Enacted
Impacted
And she
And me
Played our bit part
In this drama of sin.

No words of love were spoken
And the heart
Was unbroken.
Yet one may still regret
Or not as the case may be.

Philosophers disagree
On what it is to be free.
And I think on she
And me.

There Was A Young Lady Called Mabel

There was a young philosopher called Mabel
Who said “this is a virtual table”.
There was a terrible yell
When her good friend nell
Banged her head on that table …