Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colors will baby people become interested—for a while at least. The people are a very fickle baby that must have new toys every day. – Emma Goldman
Schadenfreude is a German word which means “the act of taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others”. Generally it’s used to mean an openly-sadistic enjoyment such as that derived from watching gladiatorial combats or contemplating the downfall of one’s enemies and (as Conan expressed it) hearing the lamentation of their women. But I would argue that there is another, more subtle kind of schadenfreude, one which cloaks itself in empathy; it is the secret satisfaction felt by the haves while indulging themselves in Pharisean displays of pity for the have-nots or victims of disasters, sometimes while distributing petty largesse but usually while lugubriously expressing sympathy for them while shedding crocodile tears in their air-conditioned houses, wearing designer clothes and watching every possible moment of the spectacle on their big-screen plasma television sets.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as genuine, heartfelt sympathy, nor that all public appeals to charity are automatically insincere; in fact, I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference. When the speaker calls more attention to the people than to the plight, to facts over feelings and to the cause rather than to himself, one can be reasonably certain one is looking upon sincere empathy. But when the speaker dwells lovingly upon lurid details, treats humans as passive objects to be done to (“rescued”, “saved”, kept from making their own choices, etc) instead of helped, arranges as many photo-ops with starving children/trafficking survivors/ disaster victims as possible and makes sure that his own name and image are always prominently associated with his crusade, one can be equally certain that one beholds a narcissistic “baby person” whose interest in tragedy is his own self-aggrandizement and a paternalistic satisfaction in controlling “lesser” (usually brown-skinned and/or female) people “for their own good”.
The “rescue” industry is stocked to the rafters with such people, middle-class white Westerners seeking to assuage their self-inflicted guilt by “getting involved”. If these organizations were to limit themselves to disaster aid, famine relief and other such clear-cut issues, providing whatever aid was specifically requested by the victims rather than trying to run the show, assign blame and pass judgment on the lives and morality of others (not to mention abducting their children), I honestly wouldn’t give a damn if they were doing it for their own selfish purposes; after all, the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs aggressively promoted personal computing for the purpose of making themselves rich does not change the fact that they helped to make the internet as we know it possible. Motive is immaterial as long as the actions are wholly beneficent and remain that way, but when the self-appointed “rescuers” start to meddle in the lives of others, disrupting their cultures and governments, destroying the livelihoods of women and even abducting, confining and attempting to brainwash and enslave them in the name of “saving” them, that is another thing entirely. In such cases the selfish motives of the “rescuers” are very much the point.
As Laura Agustín points out, the mildest form of this self-interest is mere tourism (much like the “disaster tourism” after Hurricane Katrina), “Rescue Industry prurience rooted in racism and colonialism” designed to help comparatively-wealthy Westerners feel good about themselves. But if the “rescuer’s” desire to build his own ego, to feel as though he is part of something bigger than himself or to experience the visceral excitement of “saving” people (without actually having to endanger himself by being a fireman or a disaster rescue worker, of course) becomes so powerful that his own emotional needs supersede any of the needs of those he supposedly “helps”, it’s very easy for him to lose sight of what people actually need or want or to convince himself that he knows better than they do. Trafficking fanatics now claim that their campaign to deny agency to whores is the new civil rights movement, a conceit which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sick. It’s as though white people in the 1960s had cast their denial of black people’s rights as a way to “protect” them from the control of other, “evil” white people who were smarter, emotionally stronger and more sophisticated than poor, stupid, childlike colored folks.
But the worst of the “rescuers” go far, far beyond merely ignoring the needs of others and/or unconsciously buying into self-serving mythology; they consciously and calculatedly blur the lines between consensual adult prostitution and slavery, deny that sex workers are capable of adult decision-making, inflate statistics, attempt to hide evidence which contradicts their claims and invent incredible justifications for their own outrageous behavior. For some of them, this is done in order to win public and governmental support for their Christian or neofeminist religious crusade against all prostitution; for governments in East Asia, it’s done to secure funding from the United States, and for people like Somaly Mam, it’s done as a way to exorcise personal demons while controlling others and making themselves feel important. Since it passed draconian anti-prostitute laws three years ago in order to please its masters in Washington, Cambodia has become a particularly nasty nexus for all three of these types: Cambodian police, aided and abetted by Somaly Mam (who is herself financed by money from neofeminists, religious fanatics, trafficking alarmists and the garment industry), have conducted a series of high-profile brothel raids and streetwalker sweeps, often accompanied by Western journalists like Nicholas Kristof who are interested in advancing their careers and reputations by pandering to “trafficking” hysteria.
None of these people care one iota about the lives, needs and desires of women; “rescuing” whores is to them nothing but a means to their own personal ends, and after the cameras stop rolling or Kristof stops “tweeting” they are no more interested in these women’s welfare than they would be in the container which held a portion of recently-consumed food. The “rescued victims” are thrown into filthy, crowded cells at Somaly Mam’s “rehabilitation centers” where they are beaten, robbed, gang-raped and starved while their “savior” hobnobs with celebrities and receives accolades from anti-whore fanatics. Young girls who submit to brainwashing become Somaly Mam’s “poster children” and older ones are sent as slaves to sweatshops, while those who refuse are simply left to rot unless they can escape. Groups like Human Rights Watch have repeatedly protested this horrific abuse, and sex worker rights groups have released short documentaries like “Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile” or videos like “Somaly Uh Uh” in order to alert Westerners to the atrocities their ignorant and ill-considered jihad against harlotry has enabled. But they’re shouting into a hurricane; the credulous masses refuse to listen while they’re eagerly licking up the lurid, near-pedophiliac accounts Kristof and others like him serve up for their schadenfreude.
One Year Ago Today
“What a Week!” reported on a number of whore-related stories including police persecution of a severely-disabled man seeking a prostitute, a sex worker safety column on Jezebel, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, cops admitting their total impotence in halting online hooker ads, the opening of a mega-brothel in Spain and the advent of new advertising restrictions on Backpage.