Posts tagged with “capitalism”

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Capitalism doesn’t inspire creativity, it stifles it. There are millions of geniuses that might be doing something brilliant, but instead are putting stickers on packets of biscuits they can barely afford for 12 hours a day so some lazy prick can play golf every Sunday with all the other impotent do nothing pricks.

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The real harms of prostitution

I stumbled across this article the other day, and found it really thought-provoking. It’s an argument as to why prostitution is so harmful that it should never be legalised, so perhaps you can guess why I’d have mixed feelings – on the one hand, I do believe that prostitution is inherently harmful, but then on the other I don’t understand how pushing things ever-deeper underground is supposed to help.

I think in describing the horror of prostitution, this article does a reasonable job. It cites a study that found that 68% of sex workers in the nine countries surveyed suffer from PTSD; it talks about how many sex workers have been threatened with, or actually experienced, violence at the hands of their clients, and it argues that legal brothels lead to an increase in human trafficking and sex slavery, which may well be true. Further, towards the start of the article there is this wonderful quote that I'd just like to include in its entirety:

In prostitution, men remove women’s humanity. Buying a woman in prostitution gives men the power to turn women into a living, breathing masturbation fantasy. He removes her self and those qualities that define her as an individual, and for him she becomes sexualized body parts. She acts the part of the thing he wants her to be.

I guess this begs the obvious question: if I think prostitution is so harmful, why would I want it to be legal?

I think partly the answer to this comes back to, why does prostitution exist in the first place? And I think it exists because of the context of capitalism – and before that, other forms of class society. Under capitalism, it is virtually impossible to survive without money, and the only way to get money is to have something to sell. For business owners, it’s pretty easy to see what they have to sell. For the rest of us, what we have to sell is our ability to work – we sell ourselves to a boss who puts us to work, and who makes sure to pay us less than the value of what we produce, because otherwise there’d be no profit. This is the entire basis of capitalism.

Another important part of capitalism is institutional unemployment. That is, if there was truly full employment, workers would have the leverage to demand whatever pay and conditions they want – because what exactly is the boss going to do? They can’t fire such uppity workers and replace them with less demanding ones if everyone already has a job. This is why bourgeois economists consider 5% unemployment to be “full employment” – they consider it necessary to have a certain part of the population be so marginalised and desperate that they can serve as an excuse to bring pay and conditions down for everyone. Naturally, these people tend to come from oppressed groups – people of colour, people who don’t speak the language, transgendered folk, the disabled. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t need money just as badly as everyone else, just that they have a much harder time coming by it.

This is all perhaps an excessive preamble to the following: the sex industry preys on people, mostly women, like this who have few options. If all you have to sell is yourself and the only boss who will buy you is the owner of a brothel (or if your other options seem even worse than sex work)… well, if you really need that money, that’s what you will do.

Shitty work in general makes people feel alienated from it – personally I work at a call centre, which is hardly spiritually fulfilling. The difference with prostitution is that it makes people feel alienated from their sexuality – a core part of the human experience for most people. They have to give themselves over to someone who regards them as a body to be fucked, basically, and it doesn’t particularly matter if they find this client completely repulsive. It is true that prostitutes in legal brothels in Victoria have the legal right to reject any client they like, but in practice they can’t get too fussy, because what work are they going to get then? Then they have to pleasure whoever’s hired them, and without regard for themselves, unless their hirer has a particular predilection for that. From the sounds of things, that really doesn’t happen very often. Basically, instead of sexuality being what it should be – about mutual desire, mutual pleasure, with both parties able to explore the acts they’d like to try and avoid the acts they don’t – it becomes a transaction, in which (almost always) a man purchases a body for the purpose of satisfying himself.

There are so many “feminists” – liberals – who go on and on about choice, about how women choose to enter the sex industry, and they seem to love telling highly individualised stories of high-class escorts with excellent working conditions. I find this incredibly frustrating because sure, if you refuse to have any kind of systemic analysis, I’m sure you can find plenty of examples of relatively privileged people who made genuine choices to go into sex work and never regretted it and had a blast. This isn’t the experience of most sex workers. It’s also not a substitute for an analysis of the system. The article I linked to right at the top here also says the following:

Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in legal prostitution. In one Dutch study, 60 per cent of women in legal prostitution were physically assaulted, 70 per cent were threatened with physical assault, 40 per cent experienced sexual violence and 40 per cent had been coerced into legal prostitution.

I realise that one study isn’t necessarily a clinching argument either, but from what I’ve heard about legal brothels in Australia, these statistics sound like ballpark figures here too. And this is what I’m talking about – not individual women’s choices (they can do what they want, honestly), but a system in which many people do not have much choice, and get subjected to experiences such as these.

So we get back to that question – why would I want this institution to be legal?

Basically, because the institution exists whether it’s legal or not. The way to abolish it is to challenge the basis for its existence – the poverty that coerces people into sex work when they don’t want to be there; the gendered and sexual oppression that means bodies can be commodified, treated as objects for sale. There should be open borders, so that migrant women can’t be threatened with having their visas revoked, or being reported to authorities if they’re “illegal” in the first place. Sex work should certainly not be criminalised, such that no sex worker should ever fear harassment from the police, nor feel they have to depend on pimps or bosses for safety.

The way to abolish this industry is really the same as for a lot of other revolting industries – it’s for workers to organise and demand real change. It’s for capitalism and oppression to be abolished. In a post-capitalist world, where production was organised around human need and there was no such thing as money, there couldn’t be any such thing as prostitution, only sex. Shouldn’t that be what we strive for?

Basically, I disagreed with this article because it denies the crucial point that prostitution is inevitable until class society is overthrown. Criminalising it has never stamped it out. And if conditions are still terrible while prostitution is legal – I obviously don’t disagree – the solution is not to make it illegal again, but for workers to struggle against those businesses, in the same way that say, workers at Baiada struggled against the company whose horrible working conditions saw a man decapitated. I do think prostitution is qualitatively different from chicken factories for its role in upholding gendered and sexual oppression, but the appropriate (systematic) way to approach them is similar.

This post has been a bit all over the place and I apologise for that. Basically, the point is that this author and I are in agreement that prostitution is harmful, and not at all in agreement about what is to be done about it. I think the role of capitalism is central, and so capitalism has to be fundamentally challenged if we ever want prostitution to go away. And that is that.

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For Mother Teresa poverty is the condition of saintliness. Poverty, then, ceases to be bad and instead becomes something to be celebrated. The poor can be treated with condescension as those who will redeem the world by their acceptance of charity. Such an approach becomes a part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt rather than a genuine challenge to those forces [i.e., modern capitalism] that produce and maintain poverty.

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On capitalism and story-telling

When I was little, I always wanted to be writer. In many ways, I don’t think that dream ever left me. But when I was in primary school, I used to be sick a lot, and the way I spent those days cooped up at home was writing frantically in a myriad of notebooks, and devouring novel after history book after novel. When I made it to school, I was quite the ringleader in my group of friends, and I sometimes used to sit them all down at lunch and stand before them and tell them an exciting, intricate adventure story – all made up on the spur of the moment, of course. As far as my memory goes, they didn’t mind – I remember some enthusiastic applause – but who really knows how reliable that memory is? The point is, I always fancied myself a story-teller; it was my favourite thing to do in the world, and it was what I wanted to spend my life doing. Unfortunately, capitalism makes it impossible for the vast majority of aspiring story-tellers to devote their lives to doing exactly that. A very, very small minority of writers are able to make a living from writing, which helps to explain why literature, and art in general, is so dominated by bourgeois fools – they’re the ones with the cash reserves to be able to indulge themselves and their creative urges. The rest of us have to hold down jobs, to be able to pay bills and rent or mortgages and whatever else has to be paid, and to a large extent this destroys us. We have to spend so much of our lives at work, and spend so much of the rest of our time exhausted from work, and so even if we have an idea – and I believe a lot of us are full of ideas – where are we going to find the time to write these ideas down? We’re too busy keeping ourselves afloat to indulge our inner story-tellers, I guess is what I’m getting at – capitalism forces us to be practical and hard-headed, so we always set them to one side. All of this means that at the moment, I don’t aspire to be “a writer”. I’d still love to write things – about a week ago I set up a side blog to post writing on, in the hope it’ll motivate me to create some – but I’m realistic enough (or pessimistic enough, if you’d prefer to put it that way) to think I’ll never be able to pay my way through writing, and so I have to find another career. As it happens, I think I’d like to be a teacher, and a primary school teacher at that, perhaps since it’d bring me the closest to the playground story-teller I was so many years ago. Also, I genuinely like children, and the idea of teaching them appeals to me. But still… if I had it my way, I’d never have got demoralised about writing, and I’d never have fallen out of the habit of writing pages and pages every day, instead of only during NaNoWriMo the way I do now. Although I guess it’s easier to find the time to write pages and pages every day when you’re a child, and have no obligations (except for school, but… pfft). The point is – for me now, just as for me aged eight, I’ve never wanted to write so I could make money. I want to make money for the same reason I want to breathe – it’s a basic prerequisite to doing other, more interesting things. When I sat my friends down in the playground, I didn’t charge them each a dollar for hearing my exciting tales of epic quests and danger. I told them because I had stories to tell, stories I wanted them to hear, and it was just fun! And this remains why I want to tell stories – for the sheer enjoyment of story-telling. And look, I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to get into writing for the money – if that was your goal, you’d have chosen the complete wrong career path. It’s just that writers, like anyone else, have to make a living, and they also have to contend with this horrific monolith called… “the industry”. Basically, while writers are in it to tell stories, publishing houses are in it to make money. They have to be, because that’s how capitalism works. Assuming you have the capital to start up your own publishing house, and you have the choice between – say – publishing a shoddy Twilight rip-off that you know has a ready-made market because it’s perfectly obvious that there’s a huge market for shoddy Twilight rip-offs, or an experimental, philosophical work that’s really cool but difficult to get your head around, which are you going to publish? You might say the quirky one, but if there’s no market, you’re not going to make the money back from printing and distributing it. If you want to keep your publishing house afloat, you’ll publish the shoddy Twilight rip-off. (Of course, if you publish enough of the shoddy rip-offs, you’ll have enough “fat” in the budget to go towards something cooler, and if you’re a niche publishing house you can get away with a bit more. But still, the way to make more money is to print what sells, not what’s really cool.) One of the good things about the internet age is that it’s changing this model a lot. Apparently a quarter of the top-selling titles on Amazon are self-published, and honestly never mind selling books – the internet gives people the freedom to just post their work, for free, for anyone to read whenever they like. (There’s obviously much more of a tradition of this with fanfic, because you can’t sell that anyway, but there are websites like FictionPress where people can do the same thing with their original work.) Then you have interesting platforms like Novelistik, where for 49 Mexican pesos a month (less than AUD$4) people can read as much as they want, and writers get paid a peso for each time a chapter they write is read by someone. Perhaps my Spanish isn’t good enough to make good use of that platform, but it’d be interesting to see how it turns out. There are some arguments that get made against using the internet to distribute stories, especially against using it to distribute stories for free. I’ve heard the complaint that writers deserve to be paid for their work, and distributing stories for free undermines writers who seek to be paid, because readers just figure, “Why bother paying when I can read stuff for free?” Honestly, this argument seems kind of petulant to me. I agree that writers should be able to live comfortably, but I also think that people without bucketloads of cash to burn should have the ability to read books. Resistance to ever-cheaper, ever-more-accessible books prices people out of the market, whether advertently or not. And to be honest, I think everyone should be able to live comfortably, whether they write or not. So maybe we need to find another channel for making that happen. Another argument I’ve heard is that grand publishing houses ensure some kind of quality control that you wouldn’t have if people just published what they wanted on the internet. But an important counterargument to this is that publishing houses evidently don’t do quality control, because just look at how much trash gets published! And I mean, trash is fine, sometimes you just feel like some lowbrow, guilty pleasure-style entertainment – but don’t get all high and mighty about how trash somehow isn’t trash just because it was published. Finding good stuff isn’t always easy, but it’s not like it gets any harder if you look for it online. Basically, the thing I’m getting at here is that literature, the creating and sharing of stories, would be so much better if capitalism didn’t exist to commodify everything. If stories weren’t considered objects to be sold, but creations to be shared and enjoyed. The internet can solve some of these problems by virtue of how it enables anyone, really, to distribute what they want, but there are others that it can’t solve – that, for instance, the vast majority of us are going to struggle massively to find the time and inclination to tell our stories. Story-telling is not about money, but in the world we live in money can never be too far away from our minds, much as we wish otherwise.

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Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality? What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many? Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? Is it, as the good-hearted liberal reformist suggests, that we have simply not got around to mopping up these pockets of human misery, but shall do so in the fullness of time [perhaps in Obama’s second term]? Or is it more plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality…?


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