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Archive for July 6th, 2012

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
  –  W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

As the would-be leaders of the French Revolution could explain (if they were still alive), the biggest problem with rabble-rousing is that if one succeeds, he will find himself surrounded by aroused rabble.  If one is a skilled and charismatic leader one can then turn the mob into a horde and conquer most of Eurasia, but if not (especially in cases where there is no clear leader) it simply remains an angry, hysterical and/or fearful mob which then spills out into the countryside, infringing upon the personal freedom of all and sundry.  This is what happens in a moral panic:  the Great Unwashed become so fearful of the imaginary threat to God, Country and Our Cherished Way of Life that they…well, panic, and start doing all sorts of fear-crazed things that those behind the hysteria never intended.  In the long run this is good for the panic’s chosen scapegoats, but before things fall apart completely there is a period in which the violence becomes much worse, both for the primary targets and for anyone the hysterics accuse of being one of them…and sometimes, when Dame Fortune is in an unusually generous mood, for a few of the panic-mongers themselves.

The spiral has been widening for a while now, though it was hard to detect at first.  In my column of one year ago today I explained how “anti-trafficking” poster boy Ashton Kutcher escaped from his handlers, made a complete ass of himself on Twitter and thereby woke up a few journalists while causing many others at least to stir restlessly in their sleep.  The increasing breadth and narcissism of Nicholas Kristof’s finger-pointing and the growing insanity of the claims made by his “hero” Somaly Mam helped leaders of the Occupy movement to recognize “sex trafficking” hysteria for what it is, resulting in the recent “Occupy Patriarchy” demonstrations against a prohibitionist conference billing itself (as is typical these days) as an “anti-trafficking” event:

…anarchist demonstrators clashed with officers when they were denied entrance to a conference on human trafficking.  Demonstrators, calling themselves “Occupy Patriarchy” gathered outside the convention center to protest the conference…An interview we were conducting was interrupted by protestors using bullhorns to blast us down repeatedly, accusing us of being part of a larger conspiracy to assist police.  Inside…presenters were meeting to discuss ways to end human trafficking and the exploitation of children…But protesters were not there to listen, they were there to demonstrate.  They knocked down police barriers and vandalized the doors of the conference center.  They say that to focus on this is to distort their message.  They say that this conference is just a launching pad for continued repression of sex workers and the further empowerment of police agencies at their expense…

Though I have serious issues with the “Occupy” movement for its naïve espousal of Marxism, I don’t entirely agree with those activists who have criticized “Occupy Patriarchy” for its violence; as I’ve stated before, I don’t believe that peaceful protest alone can successfully challenge an entrenched authoritarian system which has clearly demonstrated its disdain for facts and its willingness to use violence to suppress dissent.  The existence of violent protests did not harm the cause of Indian independence nor that of civil rights for racial or sexual minorities in the United States, and I don’t think it will hurt ours either; maybe if we started occupying a few churches the “authorities” would no longer be able to convince the public that we’re all helpless, passive victims, and smashing that narrative to bits is absolutely imperative if we’re ever to be taken seriously.  Melissa Gira Grant makes a similar point in an article about one of the increasing number of timid “maybe banning Backpage isn’t the way to go” voices in mainstream political discourse:

…It’s…laws…that deter people who come into contact with someone forced into the sex trade from seeking help.  In some states, like Illinois, laws against trafficking are written so broadly that buying a MetroCard or a meal for someone in the sex trade could make you vulnerable to arrest or prosecution yourself, as someone “involved” in trafficking…to accept that “the problem with sex trafficking” is merely one of identifying victims is falling in line with the anti-prostitution campaigners’ frame.  It also prevents us from calling their bluff:  along with taking down websites like Craigslist and Backpage, they want more money for more cops, even though sex workers and trafficking survivors alike report that cops are likely to be violent towards them in the course of “protecting” them…so-called anti-trafficking activists…have proven…that their primary concern is putting more power in the hands of police to arrest people involved in the sex trade, to drag a wide net and just sort out who is a “victim” (in their understanding) and who is a “perpetrator” later.  They aren’t interested in adopting new technologies to better identify victims; they don’t make such a distinction, and why would they, when their endgame is to abolish any evidence of the sex trade?…

New York is the latest to embrace the sort of laws Grant mentions:

New York cab drivers convicted of felony sex trafficking for ferrying prostitutes to illicit liaisons would lose their licenses under new legislation passed on Wednesday by the New York City Council…city taxi and livery drivers would face up to a $10,000 fine and lose their New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission licenses if convicted of a felony related to sex trafficking.  The legislation goes to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his signature…

Philanthropic Divine: “May I beg you to accept this good little book. Take it home and read it attentively. I am sure it will benefit you.”
Lady: “Bless me, Sir, you’re mistaken. I am not a social evil, I am only waiting for a bus.”

Bloomberg publicly expressed reservations about the bill, apparently recognizing that it would discourage cabbies from picking up any unescorted female fare who in his mind looks like a hooker.  The law’s promoters insist (naturally) that it would NEVER EVER EVER be used to persecute cabbies for chauffeuring escorts, because  as everybody knows laws are always used only for their stated purposes and women are NEVER EVER EVER arrested as whores for winking, carrying condoms, not wearing underwear, etc.  As demonstrated by this illustration from Dr. Laura Agustín’s column on the law and others like it, reasonable people have understood the impossibility of identifying a whore by sight since at least 1865.  But that doesn’t prevent cops from claiming to have the ability, even when it’s blatantly obvious that they don’t:

A [Florida] sheriff’s…deputy was arrested…after unknowingly stepping right into an undercover prostitution sting.  Christian Benenati, 40, was arrested and charged with Soliciting Another for Lewdness…[the] off-duty Benenati approached a female officer working undercover…and solicited her for oral sex…the department that set up the countywide sting was the one Benenati works for, and he was nabbed on the street he patrols…

Snaring their own thugs is only one of the unforeseen side-effects of runaway “trafficking” hysteria; I predict we’re going to start seeing more cases like this one, too:

…Barry Laprell Gilton and Lupe Mercado watched, dismayed and helpless, as their 17-year-old daughter was lured away from home by a known Compton gang member…Calvin Sneed.  They sought help from law enforcement — to no avail — and later added the girl to several missing and exploited children registries…Prosecutors contend they…gunned [Sneed] down in his car [after discovering] that she was appearing in escort ads, and that she seemed to be working for Sneed…

Buried in the story is the telling detail that the girl left home about a year ago; though I think it highly likely that Sneed was a revolting person who probably would’ve ended up dead one way or another, depicting a teen runaway as an innocent damsel led into whoredom by a mustache-twirling “pimp” is a blatant attempt to hide the real problem behind an increasingly-erratic cultural meme spinning wildly out of control, whose far-flung debris is going to cause a lot more damage before it finally disintegrates.

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