Reason is a whore, surviving by simulation, versatility, and shamelessness. - E.M. Cioran
An ad hominem argument (from the Latin argumentum ad hominem, “argument to the man”) is one which attempts to negate a person’s statements by attacking the person himself. Sometimes it’s incorrectly used to denote insults incorporated into a broader position (“Melissa Farley is not only wrong, she’s crazy”), or analyses as to someone’s motive in presenting a line of reasoning which has already been demonstrated to be fallacious (“Melissa Farley must have had some horrible experiences with men to hate them so”), but a true ad hominem is one in which the argument depends entirely upon the personal attack (“Melissa Farley is wrong because she’s so obnoxious”). The Latin word homo (of which hominem is the accusative case) means “man” in the sense of “human being” rather than in the sense of “adult male”, so a better translation of ad hominem might be “to the person”. But in the early 1960s feminists coined the term ad feminam to describe attacks based specifically on the target’s femininity, e.g., “what do you know, you’re just a woman.” And today I’d like to introduce my own term, ad scortum (“to the whore”), the logical fallacy in which someone discounts a person’s argument not on its own merits, but rather on the grounds that she is a prostitute.
Sex worker advocates are used to seeing this one from neofeminists quite often. Sometimes it takes the form of an accusation that a whore’s judgment, opinions or descriptions of events cannot be trusted because her “ordeal” of prostitution has resulted in “false consciousness” or even Stockholm Syndrome. But at other times her demeanor is too composed and her arguments too rational for such an accusation to be remotely credible, and then the neofeminist will resort to a modified ad scortum based not in the mere fact of her harlotry but rather its type: usually this occurs in the form, “you’re not representative”. By this the neofeminist claims that her opponent’s experience in prostitution is highly unusual (generally by its failure to conform to the neofeminist horror and degradation model) and therefore cannot be viewed as a “true” whore’s opinion. In a way it’s a sort of negative ad scortum, a claim that the target isn’t enough of a whore.
As you might expect, I’ve been the target of both versions; cop and religious prohibitionists tend to point to my harlotry as evidence of a hooker bias (as though actually knowing something about a subject before forming an opinion was some kind of disadvantage), while neofeminist prohibitionists tend to claim my education, skin color, intelligence or whatever make me insufficiently whorish for my opinion to count (obviously the NOPD disagreed). Lately I’ve been getting more of the latter type; after Nicholas Kristof “tweeted” my March 19th column I got responses hinting darkly that the only reason I would “defend sex traffickers” is because I’m somehow profiting from “trafficking” myself. This is how the ad scortum works: he who uses it hopes that the hearer will be too busy thinking, “Well, if she can break ONE law…” to realize that I don’t defend sex traffickers; I merely deny 1) that they exist in anything like the numbers fanatics claim; 2) that most women called “trafficked” are “enslaved” in any valid sense of the word; 3) that sex work is intrinsically different from other work; 4) that criminalization is an effective means of reducing victimization in the sex trade; and 5) that governments or NGOs have the duty or even the right to “rescue” people from their own decisions against their will.
But the commenter I see this one from most often is Stella Marr, a self-described “prostitution survivor” who shills online for the prohibitionists in practically every comment thread she can find. At some point in the past few months, either she or whoever’s holding her leash apparently decided that I’m getting too much attention and that my arguments are too cogent, so every time Stella sees some online commenter mention me, she responds with something like this:
I was domestically sex trafficked in New York City for ten years. It’s important to note that Maggie McNeill is an admitted madam. http://tinyurl.com/7ny8dzc
As such the press should not accept her as a ‘sex worker activist.” No one would tolerate a plantation owner who claimed to be a migrant farmworker, right? There’s a built in conflict of interest here which would not be tolerated if she were a mine owner posing as a coal miner.
Why is this OK for prostitution?
Like most neofeminist prohibitionists, Stella supports the “Swedish Model” and so claims to love and support whores while vilifying “pimps” and clients. She can’t bad-mouth me directly without revealing her anti-whore bias, so she has to convince people I’m not a whore at all by casting me as part of her imaginary “oppressor” class, complete with dysphemisms like “admitted” and “posing”. Her little metaphor there is actually fairly clever, if the audience is wholly ignorant of the dynamics of sex work and actually believes that madams (read: abusive female pimps) and whores (read: trafficked streetwalkers) are as different in background as upper-class business owners and downtrodden manual laborers. Stella understands very well it’s not so; in a recent thread on Tits and Sass she played her cards a lot closer to her chest (even to the point of refraining from naming me) because she knew the crowd there wouldn’t accept such a ridiculous comparison. Here was my response:
Tarring all escort service owners with the “pimp” brush is EXACTLY THE SAME as prohibitionists tarring all sex workers with the same brush. There is NO difference. All people are individuals, and need to be judged on their own behavior. Stella has repeatedly dismissed me with “you’re a pimp” and even libeled me on websites because she has a chip on her shoulder about management.
In New Orleans in 2000, virtually the WHOLE escort biz was via phone book; there were a few internet girls, but even they worked with agencies because 90%+ of business was out-of-town gents in hotels. In other words, the only way to make a good living was by having an ad in the phone book, which meant either A) putting one in yourself (at great expense) as I did, or B) working with someone who had (an agency). To insist that someone who has spent thousands of dollars for an ad, secretary and legal retainers should simply let other girls get free advertising, free secretary to monitor their time and check them in and out, and a free lawyer to bail them out if they got popped, is pie-in-the-sky Marxist bullshit; you might as well argue that whores should give ourselves for free to needy men. And to REFUSE to allow other girls to use one’s established infrastructure on the grounds that you won’t take money from them on principle is “killing them with kindness”.
I was the best agency owner in New Orleans, but there were two other good, fair owners as well (both gay men) whom I worked with myself as an escort. If a girl didn’t like one service owner, she was free to go to another one; that’s hardly “taking money” except to a mind hopelessly befuddled with Marxism. I insisted girls keep their own records so we could double-check each other, and I even made advances to dependable girls to buy cars, pay rent deposits, etc. I even wrote an employment letter for one once. If anyone wants to call that “exploitation”, she shows herself to be nothing but an ideologue and therefore in the same ethical boat as Farley, Hughes et al.
The really bizarre thing about ad hominem arguments is their arbitrary character. I’ve been expressing my opinion online for eight years now and I’ve been called a “liberal” and a “conservative”, a “feminist” and a “misogynist”, a “jingoist” and a “cultural relativist”, a “slut” and a “prude”, and any number of other totally-contradictory terms…whatever the accuser felt would invalidate my argument with the particular crowd I was addressing. That’s why the same woman can be simultaneously “too whorish to be taken seriously” and “not whorish enough to know whereof she speaks”; the important thing is to get the audience thinking of anything other than her ideas.
One Year Ago Today
“April Miscellanea (Part One)” reports on Ashley Judd’s amorality; the arrest of President Obama’s friend for soliciting a prostitute; TV producers paying escorts to pretend to be clients of male escorts; a Jezebel story which compares sexual metaphors to forcible rape; the widespread ridicule of Demi & Ashton’s stupid “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign; and the fact that the Long Island Killer may be a cop.