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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

As in every election year for the past several decades, we are currently being subjected to the fantasy that the authoritarian US political system can somehow be made less awful by electing more women to high positions; similar argument are made for more female cops, spooks, bureaucrats, etc.  But this is nothing but a “feminist” fantasy embraced by the government to call attention away from the truth, as a magician’s showmanship draws attention away from what he’s actually doing.  If a system is sexist, it makes no difference whether the individual cog which subjects individuals to that system is male, female, non-binary or even hermaphroditic; what matters is that if that cog wishes to advance in a sexist system, it follows the sexist system’s procedures.  Therefore, the more power an individual establishment actor has, the more likely that individual is to be a sociopath or even a psychopath; the same exact thing is true of racist systems, sex-negative systems, etc.  This is exactly why the pretense or belief that giving women, minorities, queers, etc more power in authoritarian systems will somehow make those systems more humane is childish and counterproductive; as long as the system remains authoritarian, the gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or whatever of the individual cogs in that system is of absolutely no consequence.  If such an individual is to advance, they must divest themselves of any personal moral beliefs they might have and replace them with the rules, regulations, and laws of the system; anyone too moral to do so is either ground up by the system, cast out of it, or remains relatively powerless and therefore unable to enact meaningful change.  The only way to limit the power of a system (or any given cog in that system) is to remove that power entirely.  Power will by its very nature always lead to abuse, no matter what the personal characteristics of the functionaries of that system may be; systems can only become less abusive to individuals by limiting (or better, completely eliminating) their ability to abuse.

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It’s been three years since I stopped publishing “fictional interludes” on a monthly basis, and more than six years since I stopped doing “My Favorite __________” columns.  And yet last week I started deeply missing that feature, and wishing that I could produce them as often as I used to.  That mood inspired me to pull out my own copies of Ladies of the Night and The Forms of Things Unknown, browse through them, and reread a few of them, and that in turn inspired me to make a list of my own favorites from both collections (and a couple which will be included in my next collection, Lost Angels, which I’ll probably compile in another year or so).  So without further ado (except to encourage you to support my work by buying them if you don’t already own them, and reviewing them if you like them), I hereby present my own personal top 10, in order of publication, with a short comment on each.

1) Pearls Before Swine

Perceptive readers have certainly noticed my love of mythology in general and Greek mythology in particular; a number of my stories have themes, titles, settings or characters borrowed from it.  This one has only the last, and yet its title is scriptural and its themes eternal.  And its Southern Gothic setting is, in many ways, one that fits the character almost as well as the one she’s usually associated with.

2) Bad News

While it’s not uncommon for my stories to feature dry humor, I have difficulty performing this one at book readings without giggling.  Even if I were restricted to five selections, I think this one would still make the cut.

3) Visions of Sugarplums

As befits a Christmas story, this is certainly the lightest, most sentimental, and most optimistic tale on this list.  And the protagonist is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever (literally) dreamed up, partly because rather than being a goddess, witch, villainess or femme fatale, she’s just an escort of rather nervous temperament who finds herself in well over her head.

4) Rose

This isn’t my only story which treats seriously a topic I usually make fun of in my non-fiction, nor my only story based on a poem, nor the only one featuring very dark humor.  And did I ever tell you that the unreliable narrator is one of my favorite literary devices?  Because it is.  Read this one and maybe you’ll understand why.

5) Millennium

A tale of First Contact seen through an extremely cynical lens.  You’ve probably never seen aliens portrayed quite like this before, and the fact that you probably haven’t may tell you just how cynical.

6) The Sum of Its Parts

I’m not really very good with pastiche; the only author whose style I can reasonably approximate is Maggie McNeill.  And that’s probably why I like this one so much; it reads very much like a pulp tale from the 1930s, and the characters and dialogue are, in my own admittedly-biased opinion, some of the best I ever wrote.

7) Knock, Knock, Knock

I’ve written scarier things than this, and more personal things than this, but none both scarier and more personal.  And I still don’t like thinking about it when I’m alone late at night.

8) Lost Angel

This is not a tale of horror, at least not the usual kind of horror; it is, in fact, pretty squarely in the genre generally known as “science fiction”.  Nobody dies violently or suffers some other awful fate…so why do I always experience a pronounced frisson when thinking about the ending?

9) Trust Exercise

Many of the stories in The Forms of Things Unknown are, in a way, autobiographical, but none more so than this one.  It’s about love, trust and other scary things, but it can’t possibly scare you as much as it scares me because I know what it all means.  I still think you’ll enjoy it.

10) Wheels

While “Trust Exercise” is a scary story about love, it’s not the love that’s scary; that is definitely not true in “Wheels”, the distillation of some themes that have haunted me for almost four decades and finally demanded I explore them in a more traditional narrative form.

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Once in a while I write something while under the influence that reveals some murky river flowing through caverns measureless to Man, down to the sunless sea deep in my brain.  A couple of weeks ago I replied (while sober) to some moralistic prattle about how the “sin” of homosexuality is still a choice even if it’s an innate predilection, with the following:  “Most humans are born with the inclination toward mindless submission to authority; they not only let it rule them and ruin their lives, but also foist that violent authority upon the virtuous others who are not inclined to that sin, ruining their lives as well.”  But then later in the evening, when I was already well on my way to my secret Garden of The Unknown, one of my regular readers replied with a comment on the concept of sin, and my inebriated brain responded with the following, which you may find interesting (or not):

That depends entirely on how one defines “sin”; it’s not as cut-and-dried as most people think.  Did you ever read this?  It’s one the 10 scariest short stories I’ve ever read.  Now, a lot of people don’t think it’s frightening at all, and maybe even boring; this is because it’s all suggestion and nuance and shadows and no “the house is haunted because slave children were tortured there” modern pat origin BS.  If you don’t have the kind of dark, shuttered rooms and bottomless abysses in your skull that I do, this tale may not take your imagination to the kind of utterly horrifying place that it takes mine.  But if you’re a fan of Poe, Lovecraft, Benson, Blackwood, et al, you might find it at least creepy and worth your time, if not in your personal top ten.  And if you do like it, here are my other nine; PDFs of 13 more tales are included.

No, we aren’t to Halloween season yet, but IMHO it’s never a bad time for tales of the macabre.

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I’ve been seeing a number of articles lately like this one; the tl;dr version is that only a smallish fraction (around 15%) of people the US locks up in its filthy cage stacks are there for drug crimes.  In this particular example, the author even implies that the number is deceptively high because of plea bargains and such, thus implying that ending prohibition is not really the most important part of ending the abomination of mass incarceration.  And while I cannot fault the facts as stated, in actuality these people are using true statistics as a clever sidestep to admitting that prohibition, especially the wars on drugs and sex, accounts for most of the bloated US prison population.  In other words, they’re using highly-spun data to lie about the centrality of prohibition to the US incarceration machine.  First and foremost, prohibition of anything creates a huge black market in that thing (drugs, sex, guns, etc), and black markets beget crime.  It’s all well & fine to say “most prisoners are there for violent crimes”, but many of those violent crimes were spawned directly or indirectly by prohibition.  Also: the feds & many states magically turn non-violent “offenses” into “violent crimes” with the wave of a legislative wand, such as by classifying uncoerced underage sex work as violent “trafficking”; or criminalizing the mere possession of a firearm by someone also in possession of plant leaves, then defining all “gun crimes” as violent.  And then there’s the fact that obscene amounts of money have been given to police departments so they can hire more thugs, buy more war equipment and pay for more overtime patrolling largely poor and minority neighborhoods in the name of “fighting” drugs, sex work, “terrorism”, weapons, avoidance of confiscatory taxes (“smuggling” in Bureaucratese), etc; this is important because the greater the number of excuses cops can use to harass, detain, search and otherwise force interaction with peaceful citizens going about their business, the larger the number of those citizens will end up beaten, charged with violent crimes like “assault on a police officer” for defending themselves, or just plain framed by racist cops.  And the asset forfeiture that actually inspires a lot of bogus criminal charges?  Justified by the drug war.  Again and again it comes back to that.  So please, wonks and pundits and would-be social engineers, stop claiming that only people directly killed by bullets on the battlefield count as victims of war; a far larger number die of bombs, disease, starvation, accidents, post-injury trauma or infection, or any of a number of other reasons which are the unavoidable results of the glorious adventure you’re trying to cover up for.

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I’ve followed Cathy Reisenwitz‘ work since I started this blog, yet somehow we’ve never had a guest column from her!  So when I saw that she’s started a new newsletter, I jumped at the excuse.

It’s a tragedy of feminism that so many of us are stumped by a very easy question:  Is sex work a choice?  Ask any current sex worker and they’ll tell you:  Sucking dick for money under patriarchal capitalism is as much a choice as cleaning toilets.  But one pays a lot better.  Is being a housewife a choice?  If your view is that society worships motherhood and despises ambitious women, then obviously those forces will influence women’s choices.  But an influenced choice is still a choice, something many radical feminists don’t like to admit.  Radfems like to straw-man arguments for female autonomy as choice feminism.  But when the women in question have power, suddenly the question changes.  While downtrodden and oppressed women aren’t allowed to make their own choices, women in positions of power are afforded unlimited options.  I find a particularly interesting example of this “choice only for the powerful” phenomenon in feminist author Jill Filipovic’s treatment of presidential hopeful Kamala Harris.  While Filipovic equivocates about sex work and choice feminism, she asks for nuance when considering Harris’s choice to use her powers as a prosecutor to deprive women of the choice to engage in safe sex work.

Harris’ record as prosecutor reveals a woman who is more than happy to use the criminal justice system to keep other women from engaging in sex work without fear of violence, arrest, or imprisonment.  Harris arrested Backpage.com executives and illegally charged them with pimping and conspiracy, then after a judge threw out the case Harris filed nearly identical charges in another California court; the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association described the maneuvers as “a gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”  Harris fought Backpage and continues to support FOSTA in the name of fighting human trafficking, yet everyone from Amnesty International to the World Health Organization says that decriminialization leads to lower rates of sex trafficking.  Despite this, Harris has consisently sided with prostitution prohibitionists and supported police raids of sex workers.  And while San Francisco Bay Area police officers were committing actual sex trafficking, Harris and her office pretended it wasn’t happening.  Jill Filipovic is quite aware of the “Kamala Harris is a cop” meme, but has a more nuanced take.  In a recent op-ed, Filipovic asks readers to consider the competing interests Kamala had to take into account when making choices as a prosecutor (if Harris hadn’t defended the death penalty she risked alienating politically powerful police unions; if she hadn’t fought the California anti-overcrowding court ruling the state would’ve missed out on slave labor, etc).  I’m not sure how to justify her choice to become a prosecutor in the first place; as Joe Biden pointed out in the recent Dem debate, “I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”  Filipovic is able to see Harris’s choices through the lens of a woman navigating a minefield of racism and sexism while also balancing careerism and her own conscience, yet when it comes to sex workers, all that nuance is reduced to “choice feminism.”

In Supporting Sex Workers’ Rights, Opposing the Buying of Sex, Filipovic writes, “[In Utopia], sex would be a fun thing, a collaborative thing, always entered into freely and enthusiastically and without coercion.  Of course women should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies, and of course there are many sex workers who aren’t trafficked or forced into the trade.  But that smacks a bit too much of ‘I choose my choice!’ feminism, which I find to be incredibly intellectually lazy.”  What’s really incredibly intellectually lazy is to spend hundreds of words apologizing for a woman who chose to arrest and incarcerate sex workers and make their jobs less safe to bolster her own career, and then dismiss the fight for sex work decriminalization as “choice feminism.”  Are sex workers not doing the best job they can considering there are negative consequences to every position they could take?

A look at my own experience with sex work may be helpful in illustrating this.  From the time I walked the aisle at a tent revival and confessed my sins and gave my heart to Jesus at five years old, I’ve always been a true believer.  I’m not sure if I ever signed a purity pledge, but I might as well have.  I met my favorite high school boyfriend at a good old-fashioned Southern Baptist abstinence retreat, and I lost my virginity at 22, on my wedding night.  As I pulled away from religion, my husband drew in; by the time I said I wanted a separation four years in, he said he’d only see the pastor and his wife for marriage counseling.  I studied her perfect highlights as they refused to talk about the problems in our marriage until my relationship with Jesus was fully addressed.  Sometime between the divorce and today I got paid for sex for the first time, because once you see that traditional marriage is just one long, nominally exclusive mutually beneficial arrangement you really can’t unsee it; then the question becomes how long, and how exclusive, do you want the arrangement to be?

I was a sex work activist before I was a sex worker, because a feminism that doesn’t include self-ownership is no feminism at all, and women don’t own our bodies if we aren’t allowed to rent them out.  Contrary to the carceral feminists, I don’t believe any kind of consensual sex should involve arrest or imprisonment.  In what universe can a woman consent to cleaning a toilet for money under capitalism, but not to sucking dick?  Such a conception is utterly infantilizing, superstitious, and antifeminist.  It’s not despite my femimism that I support sex work decriminalization; it’s because of it.  Whoring has always been one of the only ways a low-born woman could rise above her station; sex work enables more women (and men) than you’ll ever know who don’t have trust funds to pursue social justice, music, comedy, and acting.  Or writing feminist screeds, in my case.  I’m neither proud nor ashamed of having done sex work.  If I had been a great sex worker I’d be proud, but I wasn’t; I didn’t find most of my clients interesting and I’m bad at pretending.  Yet I found sex work empowering even though I didn’t like doing it; maybe it’s my libertarian showing, but I tend to believe more options are better than fewer.

I’ve been writing about feminism, sex, and capitalism for the past ten years, mostly at Sex and the State; in that time I’ve changed my thinking on everything from abortion and sex work to the social safety net.  My writing is thinking aloud and learning in public.  I’m honored to have learned from women like Maggie, who turns the “prostituted woman” trope on its head; far from being abused or oppressed (except by cops and an overinvolved state), no one could prostitute Maggie except Maggie herself.  I’m still a true believer — evangelical as the day is long — but what I’m preaching has changed quite a bit.  I invite you to join my sex-positive libertarian feminist tent revival, by subscribing to my daily email.

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People call me heroic, but I don’t feel heroic; I usually feel as though what I’m doing is the only possible choice, or at least the only moral one.  –  “Divided We Stand

For as long as I’ve written this blog, I’ve been pointing out several times a year (especially on July 4th and November 5th) that the US “was born with an ugly birth defect which doomed it from the start, and the monstrous doppelganger which grew like some loathsome fungus inside of its carcass would not be worthy of saving even if that were possible.  Nor are the majority of modern Western nations any better.”  European nations, including the US, grew and enriched themselves by invasion, land theft, pillage and enslavement of less-advanced peoples, and even after they disavowed that racist, colonialist history they have continued to be every bit as shitty to those formerly-subject peoples, albeit obliquely and under the guise of beneficence.  It’s absolutely true that up until recently virtually all peoples, regardless of skin color, religion, time period or level of advancement, grew and enriched themselves by exactly those same means, but only the Western ones developed an intellectual tradition, generally known as “Western liberalism”, which allowed free and open discussion of ideas and paid lip service to basic human rights while continuing to allow their rulers to behave in the same abominable manner as rulers always have and always will behave.  If anything, the tradition has encouraged rulers to behave even more abominably than in the past by simply thinking up some bullshit excuse for the evil and then feigning offense when called on it.  For example, less-advanced peoples could be conquered by labeling them “savages” and pretending that more-advanced (i.e. white) people were only trying to “help” them by enslaving them.  Europeans proclaimed they had a “right” to steal the land of non-Europeans by a pettifogging bit of legalistic chicanery called the “Doctrine of Discovery“, and that it was OK to exterminate them when they resisted conquest (in much the same way that modern cops charge their victims with “assault on a police officer” and “resisting arrest” for daring to defend themselves when they’re beaten, raped or tased).  Modern rulers claim “legitimacy” by a long series of Byzantine pretenses and procedures no more moral, just or rational than “Divine Right of Kings” was, then claim that their subjects somehow agreed to obey due to something called a “social contract” by virtue of being born within a particular set of imaginary lines the rulers drew on a map; the fact that nobody can “choose” when, how or where to be born is pretended to be irrelevant, and the rulers claim the “right” to inflict violence – including assault, maiming, robbery, rape, child-abduction, locking them in a cage for decades and even murder – if the subject violates any of a vast, confusing, vague, broad, and ever-increasing body of arbitrary rules called “laws” which are invented by the rulers as excuses to expand their own power, destroy their enemies (especially rebellious subjects) and suppress everyone who isn’t a member of the ruling class.

This edifice of bullshit has achieved its highest development in the fascist semi-republics which are incorrectly labeled “democracies”; most people believe that they’ve acted freely as long as they’re given a “choice”, even if that choice is between two equally-awful representatives of entrenched political parties who agree on every important issue and make a huge and dramatic show of opposing each other on a few cosmetic ones.  Similarly, the lie of “choice” is used to brutalize, cage and banish refugees from countries ruined by centuries of European exploitation and decades of proxy warfare (yes, that includes the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terrorism”), as if “stay in your native country and watch your children starve while you’re being raped” is some kind of valid choice.  We’re told that Africans trying to reach Europe and Latin Americans trying to reach the US in search of a better life (you know, the same reason Europeans came to North America) are “illegals” who deserve to be caged in brutal conditions until they die of preventable diseases; that those who assist them are “criminals” (usually “human traffickers”); and that deporting them is “rescue” and “helping them get home to their families”.  If you want to participate in this vast charade on the off-chance of sparking some kind of butterfly effect which will eventually make things marginally better, please do so with my blessing.  I, however, prefer not to get into the mud with the pigs; all I can do is follow my moral compass so that even if things don’t get better, at least I know that I had no part in making them worse or excusing the multitudinous sins of the powerful.

 

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Queer bigots are the most revolting bigots because theoretically they should know better, considering that LGBT people have been violently persecuted for centuries and that only ended in the US in this century, years after I started sex work (and still hasn’t ended in much of the world).  But anti-sex work queer people are a strange, ignorant bunch who seem to live in an echo chamber where same-sex attraction was always acceptable to the establishment, and queer folk are exactly like straights except for whom they “love”.  They seem to have no idea that most sex workers are LGBT; that they owe their rights to an anti-cop riot started by sex workers; and that only a few years ago queer people were targeted by the same kind of persecution and propaganda campaigns as sex workers and our clients are now, right down to state-imposed “conversion therapy” (called “diversion” for women and “john school” for men).  And let’s not even talk about the lesbians who hate transwomen.  There is something deeply wrong, twisted and pathetic in sexual minorities who eagerly call for the persecution, rape and destruction of other sexual minorities, but in the young ones at least I believe this sick attitude thrives largely because they simply don’t know their own history and therefore feel perfectly at home sucking up to cops and other “authorities” who were beating, robbing, caging and humilating (if not murdering) their elders within their own poorly-remembered young lifetimes.  Last week I was forced to mute a number of belligerent young butch dykes (mostly from Tasmania of all places) who seem to think it’s perfectly OK for cops to hunt sex workers’ clients;  they were all shockingly ignorant of the history of LGBT activism, but one of them actually seemed to believe that the chief civil rights struggle faced by gay men in my lifetime was…are you ready?…that they “weren’t allowed to marry”.  I am not making this up.  Persecution by cops?  Losing jobs?  The AIDS epidemic?  Nope.  Just that they couldn’t get a government fucking license and force bigots to participate in their disgustingly-extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption.  Look, I know the young tend to be ignorant and the old tend to be inflexible, but Suffering Sappho, I don’t think I was that ignorant anytime this side of puberty.  And if you think there’s something wrong with my not wishing to see any peaceful humans attacked by steroidal thugs, especially for their consensual sexual arrangements, then get the fuck off of my lawn.

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