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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Chester Brown is one of the most renowned and respected cartoonists in the world; he and I first met online about four years ago and quickly became friends.  And while I did give him a little help with his revised edition of Paying For It, and he drew the cover for my book Ladies of the Night, his new book is the first one I’ve been privileged to see developed from the very first kernel of the idea (shared in a letter to me several years ago) all the way to distribution and book signings.  So once the initial release whirlwind had died down and I figured he might have some time, I asked him if he’d like to do a guest column introducing the book; he sent this the very next day.  Oh, and one more thing:  Chester now has a Patreon account, and if supporting outspoken allies of sex workers is important to you, you really should consider signing up to that.  Just sayin’.

While the subtitle of my new book is Prostitution And Religious Obedience In The Bible, and there are stories about several biblical prostitutes in it, Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus is mostly about the connections that Jesus had to prostitution.  I’m proposing three interrelated ideas:

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute.
  • Mary of Bethany, the woman who anointed Jesus as a christ, was a prostitute.
  • Jesus’s parables about The Prodigal Son and The Talents indicate that he didn’t see prostitutes and their clients as sinners to be forgiven but, rather, saw paying for sex as socially beneficial.

The Prodigal Son (page 164)I’m not going to try to convince you that I’m right about all that here; that’s what the book is for.  Instead I want to talk about the issue of bias.  Some critics have dismissed my ideas because I have a bias; for example, see this piece in the A.V. Club.  It is true that I have a bias; I’ve been a client of sex workers for seventeen years and do happen to see the profession as socially beneficial.  I’ve made no attempt to hide that fact.  The question is, does having a bias on a particular subject necessarily invalidate one’s views on that subject?  Should Martin Luther King Jr’s views on civil rights have been dismissed because, being a black man, he had a bias?  I think it’s precisely because I have a bias that I was able to see certain things in the Bible that haven’t been obvious to others.  And it’s not like others who’ve written about Jesus and prostitution before me did not have a bias on the subject of sex work; in fact, I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of biblical scholars, past and present, had and have a whorephobic bias against sex work.

Let’s talk about two relatively recent examples that I came across while researching for my book.  Karen King is a biblical scholar whom I have a lot of respect for.  Her fascinating book What Is Gnosticism? transformed my understanding of that subject.  In 2003, she published a book titled The Gospel of Mary Of Magdala.  In it, King translates and analyzes an ancient text known as The Gospel Of Mary, which presents a woman named Mary as Jesus’s wisest disciple.  Most people assume that the woman is Mary Magdalene, and they’re probably right; I would recommend King’s book to anyone who wants to understand this difficult text.  On page 3, King writes that The Gospel Of Mary “exposes the erroneous view that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute for what it is — a piece of theological fiction”.  However, reading the text of the gospel, one finds no mention of prostitution; there’s no indication what Mary’s source of income was.  (Even a spiritual person in first century Palestine needed some sort of income, whether it was from begging or some other source.)  There’s no sign one way or the other in The Gospel Of Mary, as we have it, that Mary was or wasn’t a prostitute, nor is there any mention of sex; furthermore, King doesn’t interpret any of the material as relating to prostitution or sex.  Now, since there are many pages missing in the two surviving manuscripts of the text, it’s possible that one of those missing pages mentioned that Mary was a prostitute.  (I hesitate to get conspiratorial, but perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that certain pages went missing in both surviving manuscripts.)  But even if those missing pages didn’t mention that Mary was a prostitute, that still wouldn’t prove she wasn’t one.  So why does King think that the The Gospel Of Mary PROVES that Mary never had sex for pay?  King doesn’t explain her reasoning, but there can be only one reason:  The gospel presents Mary as the most wise and spiritual of the disciples of Jesus, and King whorephobically assumes that a prostitute could not be wise and spiritual.

In the 2006 book Secrets Of Mary Magdalene, edited by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, there’s an essay by the respected historian James Carroll in which, on page 24, he quotes Luke 8:2-3.  In that biblical passage, it’s mentioned that Mary Magdalene and several other women “provided for them [Jesus and the male disciples] out of their own resources.”  Carroll reads this as an indication that Mary and the other women must therefore have been “well-to-do, respectable figures.”  In other words, they could not have been prostitutes, because, of course, only well-to-do, respectable women had money — prostitutes had absolutely no way to get ahold of money.  This isn’t quite as obviously whorephobic as the Karen King example, but it does indicate a desperate over-eagerness to distance Mary Magdalene from prostitution.  Why wasn’t it obvious to Carroll that, while evidence that Mary Magdalene had money could indicate that she was “respectable”, it could just as easily be evidence that she was a prostitute?  There’s a probably unconscious bias going on there, and one sees it over and over while reading books about biblical prostitutes in general and Mary Magdalene in particular.

Tamar (page 27)On the question of whether Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, I don’t have a definite opinion one way or the other.  It’s true that none of the biblical books link Mary Magdalene with the profession, but Jesus was close with Mary of Bethany, who definitely was a prostitute, and it could be that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same person.  It’s also possible that they were two separate women, since the name Mary was popular at the time. (See pages 245 to 253 of Mary Wept for more on this.)  A basic rule: when a scholar claims with certainty that Mary Magdalene absolutely could not have been a prostitute, that scholar probably has a bias against sex work.  That doesn’t mean that all of that scholar’s conclusions should be dismissed, any more than my pro-sex work bias means that my conclusions should be dismissed.  All it really means is that readers should keep authorial bias in mind when reading any book.

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The fact that you’ve got pinpoint eyes and you’re looking directly into the sun and they’re not dilating due to the sunlight, I believe you to be under the influence of a dangerous drug.  –  “Constable” Richard Power

A while back several of us on Twitter were discussing videos we found sexy, and I was hard-pressed to think of any except this one, which I found incredibly sexy at the time.  And that’s your periodic peek at the deep weirdness of my psychosexual landscape.  The links above it were provided by Mistress Matisse (“does” and “universal”), Emma Evans (“protect” and “protect”), Walter Olson (“cities”), Cathy Reisenwitz (“young”), Radley Balko (“maps”), and Elizabeth N. Brown (“Sweden” and “epidemic”).

From the Archives

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She could…have paid for the panties before she put them on.  –  Halmstad District Court

I discovered this darkly funny Indian insurance company commercial while reading an item featured in yesterday’s news column; don’t worry, you’ll be able to understand the plot even if you can’t understand the language.  The links above it were provided by Mike Chase (“Orwell” & “marry”), Police Misconduct (“protect”),  Jesse Walker (“headline”), Mike Siegel (“archaeology”), Scott Greenfield  (“wrong”), Wendy Lyon (“Sweden”), Elizabeth N. Brown (“laws”), and Radley Balko (“volunteer”).

From the Archives

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Prostitution is that it is one of the few remaining areas of public legislation which is based almost entirely on private morality.  –  Ian O’Doherty

The Scarlet Letter

Interesting how these “experts” don’t criticize “john shaming” when cops & politicians do it:

[Ohio busybodies have]…created a website…where residents can share pictures of men who pick up prostitutes in the area…the site’s creator…[hypocritically] wants to remain anonymous.  He says they are hoping that by exposing “Johns,” the men, the prostitutes and the drug dealers will stay away from their neighborhoods…Law experts…warn there’s evidence that shaming criminals doesn’t stop them from committing crimes.  Instead, they say it often angers them and motivates additional criminal behavior.

Profanation Rural Beauty

A fascinating article on the slow decline of the devadasis in Indian society:

…There was a time when the prostitute was celebrated.  The most beautiful woman in the city was not allowed to marry.  She became the city-bride (nagar-vadhu). She was allowed to choose a lover, but not restrict herself to one…We hear of…courtesans in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature.  Known as ganikas, they lived independent lives…In time, these ganikas came to be attached to temples.  They became wives of the enshrined deities, who never get widowed, and who loved all men as containers of the divine seed.  These were the devadasis.  Their images inspired the carvings of beautiful women on temple walls.  They challenged the old monastic orders.  They were part of temple rituals.  But eventually, the priests and the monks stripped the devadasi of her independence and her agency.  Slowly, she was answerable to the men in positions of power…If not attached to a temple, the woman who sold pleasure for a fee became part of a king or nawab’s court, or a community to entertainers, the nats…In a feudal society, that looked down on trade and commerce, that created hierarchy based on purity of vocations, and gender, she was clearly at the bottom.  What little agency she had was taken away from her, first by colonial administrators and later by puritanical freedom fighters, who modelled themselves on monks of yore…

Saving Them From Themselves

If your reason for warning people against a consensual act is that they could face criminal charges, the problem is with the laws, not the act:

The Mexican government has teamed up with several children’s rights organizations to launch a nationwide campaign against “sexting”…The…campaign…has triggered a debate between government officials and internet rights NGOs on whether the practice leads to so-called “sextortion”…and “revenge porn”…the campaign…[is] overly “paternalistic” while laying out a “prohibitionist” strategy…[officials warn] sexting involving minors may be classified as child pornography and can therefore be punishable with up to 7 to 12 years of jail time…The Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) have criticized the anti-sexting campaign for supposedly framing the practice as a “moral problem” while reflecting a “reduced vision of sexuality and its free exercise”…

I’m Sure You Feel Safer Now 

I’d normally file this one under “Somehow, I Doubt He Thought This Through“, but this feisty old dude clearly did think it through; he just isn’t afraid of the cops and their stupid shaming tactics:

A 90-year-old man was arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute…Nicholas Salerno of Dennis Port [Massachusetts] paid a local woman $100 [for at outcall] in June…[but] noticed a necklace missing after the woman used a bathroom in his home.  He reported the theft to police, who informed Salerno that he would be charged with soliciting a prostitute.  “I don’t give a [fuck].  I’m 90 years old,” Salerno told officers…The woman, later identified as 48-year-old Karen Proia, was charged with larceny and prostitution…

The Widening Gyre

This unsupported and hysterical assertion reeks of racism:

The trafficking of Nigerian women from Libya to Italy by boat is reaching “crisis” levels, with traffickers using migrant reception centres as holding pens for women who are then collected and forced into prostitution across Europe, the UN’s International Office for Migration (IOM) warns…More than 80% of these women will be trafficked into prostitution…[fantasized] Simona Moscarelli, [prohibitionist propagandist] at the IOM.  “Our indicators are the majority of these women are being deliberately brought in for sexual exploitation purposes.  There has been a big enhancement of criminal gangs and trafficking networks engaging in the sexual exploitation of younger and younger Nigerian girls”…Nigerian women who are entering Italy among migrants on boats from Libya should be immediately…treated as trafficking victims.  Instead of being processed in reception centres, they should be [locked up and brainwashed]…she said…

Gingerbread House

“Secure unit” = “prison”.  Because female sexual “purity” trumps individual rights:

A 16 year old girl who is at high risk of being sexually exploited by men requires to be placed in a secure unit for troubled teenagers, the High Court has heard…the girl had a history of drug and alcohol taking and had been seen in the company of older men as well as getting into cars with different men.  Both her father and those [guarding] her [for the state] had reported the teenager at times having been in possession of relatively large amounts of cash, the source of which she would not reveal and which could not be ascertained…the Child and Family Agency had secured a temporary High Court order allowing it to [imprison] the girl…in a secure unit for troubled girls under 18…the girl had a history of absconding, initially from her family home and then from where she had been [confined] by the Agency…She had refused to fully engage with social workers or avail of counselling services…there were serious concerns about being vulnerable to sexual exploitation…

The Course of a Disease (#510)

Ian O’Doherty with another denunciation of prohibition in Ireland:

…The reality, for anyone who has ever bothered to listen to prostitutes rather than merely lecture them on their moral failings, is that they are like everyone else – they want to be left alone to conduct their business in safety but that safety can never be guaranteed when the participants are automatically criminalised.  But even taking into account the rights or wrongs of the arguments in favour of legalisation, there is one major point which nobody wants to accept – it’s simply nobody else’s business…Even if you removed all the reasons for objection; even if you stopped all trafficking and ensured that all sex workers loved their job and were friends with the clients, the likes of Ruhama would never support it because of their moral judgment…

Moving Pictures 

“Sex trafficking” may be the first truly global moral panic:

Not My Life…is [an] Oscar-nominated film [about] the hidden international industry of human slavery…initially commissioned by Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime…How accountable are traffickers in Argentina?  According to the US State Department…“Argentina is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.  Argentine women and children, including many from rural areas or northern provinces, are forced into prostitution within the country”…

Welcome to the Future (#587)

It looks like the cops in Northern Ireland are gaining confidence in the prohibitionists’ ability to stall Laura Lee’s challenge to the Swedish model:

The PSNI has arrested six men suspected of buying sex and passed files on a total of 10 men to the Public Prosecution Service…In November the PSNI said that despite making two arrests it had decided not to seek prosecutions – for an unspecified period – in order to “allow time for understanding and awareness” of the new law…Solicitor Ciarán Moynagh, who is representing sex worker Laura Lee in her legal challenge against the new law, said the 10 referrals to the PPS show that the police had insufficient evidence to achieve an overnight charge or standard 28-day charge to court.  “It will be interesting to see whether charges ever arise and if so what type of evidence supports the case,” he added…The PSNI Human Trafficking Unit screened 252 people for trafficking in 2015/16 and recovered 59 potential victims…

“Recovered” is a euphemism for “arrested”.

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic (#630) 

“Sex addiction” is now being used as a defense even for violent sex offenders:

An Army medic charged in his wife’s death will spend over two years in prison after being court-martialed for possessing child pornography and soliciting payment for sex.  Michael Walker pleaded guilty…to solicitation and not guilty to possession of child pornography…Walker said in court that he placed advertisements in September 2014 and was paid for sex multiple times…Defense attorneys argued pornographic images and videos of children found on Walker’s computer were dumped there in a massive file transfer.  They say prosecutors did not prove Walker was the person who accessed the files.  An attorney pushed for leniency, saying Walker is seeking sex addiction treatment…[he] was indicted in November on charges of aiding and abetting and conspiring to commit first-degree murder.  He faces a January trial in civilian court.

One Born Every Minute (#645) Matt Hickey screenshot 8-8-16 at 11.11 AM

Here’s Sydney Brownstone with an update on a sleazy rapist:

…Matt Hickey, the Seattle-based tech journalist recently accused by multiple women of rape and posing as a female porn recruiter online, put out a call [on FetLife] for “sluts” in Las Vegas who are into “being naked, drinking booze, and having fun”…[Hickey, whose FetLife handle is]…4eyez…[said he’s] “going to be living in Vegas for the next few months doing some research”…Hickey…[confirmed via text] that he is…the 4eyez account…[which has since] been deactivated or removed from the site.

Still a Child (#646) 

Louisiana politicians destroy the jobs of scores of women with the stroke of a pen.  To “protect” them, of course:

When a state law banning exotic dancers under 21 was passed, many believed some of the ones already performing at strip clubs would be grandfathered into the law…But state police [decided] that will not happen.  Dancers under 21 have until Oct. 1 to get offstage.  State troopers met with club managers [to threaten them]…If club owners are found with dancers under 21, penalties are strict…[politicians pretend] the move will ultimately reduce human trafficking and drug and alcohol abuse…Police [pretend] an undercover sting is something they want to avoid doing, but would go that route if a club is in violation.

A Procrustean Bed (#661)

Prosecutors claim that sex workers are both victims and criminals simultaneously:

Under California law, anyone under age 18 who is engaged in prostitution is considered a sex-trafficking victim, regardless of whether any force or coercion is involved.  Yet teens in the sex trade can also be charged under state law with committing prostitution.  California legislators are trying to change this…but the measure has run into opposition from law enforcement officials, who say that arresting victims is integral to saving them…the California District Attorneys Association, which says that without the threat of criminal sanctions, victims won’t have enough incentive to testify against people the state would like to lock-up as pimps…

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The Peril

To what extent is the criminalization of prostitution in the U.S. tied into racism?  Obviously it’s not hard to trace the connection between the War on Drugs and racism, and the relationship between skin-color and enforcement of prostitution laws is obvious.  It’s also easy to notice that prostitution starts to become illegal not long after the Civil War, but to what extent does that relate to race, if at all?  

White Slaves of ChinatownThough the most pernicious form of racism in the modern US is that directed against black people, the country has a long and ugly history of bigotry against others as well (consider, for example, the literally genocidal racism inflicted on American Indians).  So while you’re correct that the criminalization of sex work in the US is indeed rooted in racism, the specific culprit which started the ball rolling was racism against Asian people, specifically the Chinese.  As I explained in my “Brief History of Prostitution in the US“,

…When Chinese immigrants began to pour into California…white Americans feared these new arrivals whose ways were so different from their own…most female Chinese immigrants of the time were either prostitutes or second wives in polygamous marriages, so in 1875 Congress passed the Page Law, which banned the immigration of women for “lewd and immoral purposes”.  In a way, the law backfired; Chinese men flooded into the country anyway (especially into California and New York), and since there was a shortage of Chinese women, many of them either patronized white prostitutes or set up small brothels and hired them; others married or cohabited with working-class white women.  The self-appointed guardians of public morality were scandalized, and the seeds of moral panic were sown…

The Page Law was only the first of many federal, state and local “morality” laws inflicted on sex workers, and while many of them were based in the imagined “inferiority” of non-Europeans, full-on criminalization was based in the imagined “superiority” of white Europeans:

…The existence of prostitutes required considerable cognitive gymnastics to reconcile with the Victorian view that women were intrinsically asexual…[most scholars believed] that prostitutes represented regressions to a more “primitive” type of woman.  This racist view could be used to explain away non-European sex workers or those of supposedly “degraded” nationalities, but those involved in the increasingly popular “rescue” movement soon discovered to their horror that there were more than a few Anglo-Saxon prostitutes, including some middle-class girls of “good breeding” and education.  It was therefore proposed that white prostitutes “had…fallen into the hands of ‘professional seducers’, who had manipulated their sexless victims into submission.”  This narrative of helpless young white women forced into a life of exploitation, had tremendous popular appeal; it was heavily promoted from the 1880s on by organizations like the Salvation Army and found especially fertile soil in areas where white prostitutes worked alongside those of other ethnicities or catered to a nonwhite clientele.  The myth of “white slavery” (as it was then called) also appealed to middle-class discomfort with female autonomy; if women who traveled large distances and made their way by either casual or professional prostitution could be cast as the victims of evil men, there was no need to rethink the notion of female helplessness…Like all moral panics, the “white slavery” hysteria thus cast a challenge to prevailing social norms as a threat from outside forces to be fought…

racist sex trafficking propagandaOf course, once prohibition of sex work was in place, it was enforced disproportionately against poor people and ethnic minorities, especially black people, just as all prohibitionist laws are (which is why I’ve repeatedly argued that support for any prohibition is a sign of naivety and, though I find it a very flawed term, privilege).  The Mann Act of 1910 (or to give it its official name, “The White-Slave Traffic Act”), the first federal anti-prostitution law specifically worded as such, was notorious for its use in persecuting black men involved in relationships with white women.  The modern recycling of the old “white slavery” hysteria, the “sex trafficking” panic, has spawned a whole host of laws which are disproportionately employed against young black and Latino men, especially those belonging to what the “authorities” label “gangs”.  And just as in the past, interracial relationships are an especial target of busybodies looking for “signs of sex trafficking” or even just plain prostitution.

Finally, racism has played a major role in the spread of “sex trafficking” hysteria in Europe; it’s easy to see how the xenophobia and hysteria grew as the major origin points for emigration to Western Europe shifted from Eastern Europe to the Balkans to the Middle East to Africa.  The darker the skin of the migrants, the greater the panic increased and the more those migrants were infantilized and those who assist in their migration demonized.  In the US, I feel that the primary driver of the current moral panic is anti-sex hysteria, fueled by reaction to the sexual revolution, the HIV epidemic & gains in rights for sexual minorities rather than ethnic ones (which is why one of the groups disproportionately persecuted under anti-prostitution laws is transwomen).  But both the hysteria itself, and the way in which it is enforced by “authorities”, are powerfully shaped by the racism and xenophobia from which criminalization first sprang.

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I don’t know. – Jonathan Aledda, when asked why he tried to murder a man

Sometimes I stumble across good videos while viewing others people have linked; such was the case here, and since it’s been a while since I featured a good horror short, enjoy!  The links above it were provided by Jesse WalkerNun YaTim Cushing, and Jason Kuznicki, in that order.

From the Archives

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There are two futures, the future of desire and the future of fate, and man’s reason has never learned to separate them.  –  John Desmond Bernal

Some astute readers have pointed out that it sometimes seems as though I’m contradicting myself when talking about the future.  On the one hand, I am optimistic that sex work will eventually be decriminalized, that prohibition as a concept will be tossed onto the ash-heap of history, and that future historians will look back at our ugly, warped, fear-haunted culture with wonder and pity.  On the other hand, I say that the United States is a decaying fascist empire which has already passed the point at which future historians will declare it a different entity than the American republic which came before, just as they consider the Byzantine Empire a separate entity from the Roman even though the Byzantine rulers themselves made no such distinction.  But these two points aren’t contradictory at all; I think the confusion derives from a kind of chauvinism which can’t conceive of a future in which the US either does not exist or doesn’t play a major role.  But that’s not realistic, and I certainly don’t imagine the world that way; quite the opposite, in fact.  I not only recognize that the US, like every single country which has preceded it since the invention of the nation-state and every single one which will follow it until that concept is itself tossed onto the aforementioned historical ash-heap, is mortal and will one day die; my optimistic predictions are predicated upon it.

I am an American, and I love the ideas that the American government was founded upon:  minimal government, individual liberty and justice for all.  But those ideas were neither understood nor believed nor practiced by the vast majority of Americans even at the time when the Constitution was drawn up; even the Founders themselves, the men who codified those concepts and built institutions upon them, made plenty of exceptions, compromises and caveats to their high-sounding principles (chief among which was tolerance of the odious notion that one human being could own another).  And as time marched on and successive generations inherited the machinery of government, the safeguards installed by the Founders were undermined, abrogated, annulled, ignored and repealed to make way for laws and practices based upon the real beliefs of the majority of Americans: fear, hate, superstition, intolerance, greed, violence, control-freakishness, lust for power and, above all, prudishness.  The intersection of all of these vile principles is the crowning achievement of the warped American mind:  Prohibition, the deranged belief that some ruling elite has the right and duty to decide what’s best for everyone else, to ban everything that the elite decides is “bad”, and to dispatch an army of violent thugs to enforce those prohibitions by any means necessary, including (but not limited to) mass surveillance, witch hunts, perjury, robbery, rape, mayhem, murder and mass enslavement.  The last, at least, was predictable; if even the men who so fervently believed in liberty for all that they founded a country on it were unable to let go of slavery, how could their barbaric inheritors be expected to?

I’m sure some of you will object that legal prohibitions have existed since the beginning of civilization, and you’d be right; however, isolated bans on this or that are no more equivalent to capital-P Prohibition as it exists in the United States, than isolated murders are equivalent to War.  The idea that vast social resources should be devoted to warring upon the country’s own citizenry in order to stop them from consensual activities that the rulers disapprove of is a distinctly American form of collective madness, and the powerful influence American culture has exerted on the world for the past century (since the advent of mass media & American domination of same) is the only reason it has become at all prevalent in the rest of the world.  After the United States dies, the evil of prohibition will (albeit gradually) follow it into Hell.  The United States is but the latest in a long succession of great Western empires, each descending from the one before; it was originally a colony of Great Britain, which was in earlier times a province of the Roman Empire, which borrowed much of its culture from Greece, which previously conquered Persia, which rose to prominence after destroying Assyria, which had generations before conquered Babylonia, which had ruled over the cities that once made up Sumer.ruins of Washington  The next inheritor of this legacy probably already exists in one form or another; it will be up to that people to take the next step in the evolution of human civilization.  And when they do, they will admire America for the ways in which she was great, and criticize her for the ways in which she was awful, just as Americans do the civilizations which came before her.  And tourists from that future nation will one day visit the ruins of the great American cities, fascinated by the quaint customs of the locals, and enjoying the immense buying power their healthy currency has in the economically-devastated remnant of what was once the greatest power on Earth.

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