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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

If you aren’t already familiar with “Ode to Billie Joe”, the song I featured in yesterday’s column, do yourself a favor and listen to it before continuing to read this one.  For over fifty years, listeners have speculated just what it was that the narrator and Billie Joe threw off of the Tallahatchie Bridge, and Bobbie Gentry – a woman almost as enigmatic as the song that made her famous, who abruptly stopped performing at the height of her fame forty years ago and has barely been heard of since – has steadfastly refused to explain it, or even to comment on the disappointing “solution” used by screenwriter Herman Raucher in the 1976 movie inspired by the song.  Given that she is approaching 80 and is more reclusive than ever, it seems likely she will take the secret to her grave, just as her character in the song apparently did; rather than share her grief with others, the narrator “spen[t] a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge/And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”  As a young teen, the general consensus among the girls in my circle was that the object thrown into the water was a self-aborted fetus which had resulted from the narrator’s relationship with Billie Joe, and that the overly-sensitive boy had killed himself in a fit of inappropriate guilt, possibly due to being seen by the “nice young preacher, Brother Taylor”.  And while a number of other possibilities have been proposed, and good arguments could be made for some of them, it’s the one from my adolescence that inspired this essay upon my re-listening to the song last week.

Not everyone wants to “shout her abortion” as the activists urge; some prefer not to talk about it, and some may feel shame, sorrow or some more complex mix of emotions and prefer not to discuss the subject at all.  Similarly, while sex workers like me are almost belligerently open about it and others are only out with close friends, still others prefer not to admit their history of sex work to anyone.  Some LGBT people are “out and proud”, some more quietly queer, and some still deeply closeted.  The same range of coping strategies (if that’s even the right phrase) can be seen in relation to kinks or fetishes; mental health issues; a history of rape or sexual abuse; drug use; a criminal record; family issues; and nearly anything else for which guilt or shame, appropriate or not, can be heaped upon an individual by society, family members, or even one’s own psyche.  And while it’s certainly true that repressed shame can lead to all sorts of harmful outcomes (like jumping off of bridges or letting one’s life be consumed by bottled-up grief or anger), and that talking about taboo subjects certainly helps to normalize them, not everyone has the psychological mechanisms or social tools required to “shout” her abortion, discuss her whoredom on television, march in pride parades or display family skeletons in the front yard.  Some people have the psychic anatomy necessary to be honest about subjects that were or still are considered shameful, and some don’t; some may feel comfortable displaying some skeletons and not others (for example, being open about queerness but not about sex work).  And the only person who is qualified to make decisions about which laundry to air and which to pack away in the cedar chest is its owner.  While I would like it if more sex workers were “out”, I have no right to pass judgment on anyone who isn’t; their lives are theirs to live, not mine, and they are the ones who will reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of their decisions.  And the exact same thing is true of every other such secret.  To drag someone’s secrets into the open against their will is an act of psychic violence which could potentially trigger physical violence in some circumstances, which is why outing, “doxxing”, and tattling are condemned by all ethical adults.  Minding one’s own business is a virtue, locked closets should be respected, and sometimes silence really is golden.

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Hey, “sex trafficking” fetishists, can we talk for a minute?  I’m really sympathetic to having weird sexual fantasies that make you uncomfortable and are stigmatized by others; I’ve suffered from that issue since early childhood, so I get it.  However, the way to deal with such fantasies is to pay a professional to explore them with you safely; or to write porn about them; or even to seek out a consenting amateur partner whom you can negotiate a kinky scene with.  You cannot exorcise these thoughts which haunt you by repeating them endlessly in public as though they were real, demanding that others join you in these fantasies against their consent, and providing the police state with new excuses to oppress people based on your sexual fantasies.  These approaches, besides being terribly wrong and destructive to the fabric of society, will do nothing to help you cope with and accept your kinky sexual fantasies; it will just make them worse.  Nick Kristof, Cindy McCain, Donald Trump and many others provide instructive examples of how ugly things can get when you fight against your kinks by forcing them on others in a gigantic attempt at psychodrama; Swanee Hunt is probably the apotheosis of this, as she has spent millions paying off cops & DAs to enact her fantasies on non-consenting participants, destroying thousands of lives for her sick sexual gratification.  And she has also made herself sicker in the process as her hate continues to build due to her obsession with others’ sex lives.  If nothing else works, at least see a qualified sex therapist, and leave other (non-consenting) people out of your kinky shit.

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Its Own Reward

It always amuses me to hear pompous folk making disparaging remarks about cynicism.  They call it “sad” or “foolish” or even “stupid”, demonstrating that they have absolutely no idea of what they’re talking about and are afraid to admit the truth about the world.  In truth, there is absolutely no conflict between cynicism and idealism, and if someone portrays them as opposites they’re merely demonstrating their inability to separate the physical realm from the spiritual.  If you’ve been reading my work for a while you may have noticed that despite my dyed-in-the-wool cynicism, I am quite idealistic.  This does not mean I swing back and forth between the two, nor that my cynicism results from “disappointed idealism”; I learned to see the world as it is, rather than as I would like it to be, around the time I stopped believing in Santa Claus.  What it means is that I recognize the actual meaning of the word “ideal”, and understand that it’s the people who expect the world to conform to their own personal view of morality who are the sad, foolish, naive ones.  Though I expend tremendous effort to do what is right, and to speak truth to power, and to fight the evils which seek to reduce all individual souls to cogs in the machine of “society”, I labor under no illusion that my efforts will change the world in any permanent fashion; even if a culture arose which accepted all that I believe as sacred truth, that culture would be as mortal as any other and would eventually be replaced by another awful one.  The secret to balancing realism and idealism is understanding that morality is independent of results or even recognition.  I know when I die, tyrants and other control freaks will make an effort to bury my writing & activism along with my ashes and reduce me to “dead whore”.  And even if that effort succeeds, it won’t matter because I don’t do what I do for recognition or reward or even the belief that I can make the world a better place; I do it simply because it is right.  Even if mortals forget what I stood for, the gods will remember.  And even after they forget the fact will still remain as an infinitesimal but beautiful part of the fabric of time, long after the earth and sun are nothing but scattered debris recycled into other worlds.

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It’s getting harder every year to avoid being exposed to premature Christmas decorations and music; this year I saw a few things in late September.   SEPTEMBER.  And I was seeing “Black Friday” garbage in my garbage email long before Halloween (I have a standing filter which automatically trashes any email with “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” in the subject line).  But in the past few years I’ve learned to minimize my non-grocery shopping in October and November so as to avoid being enraged by hasty idiots who don’t understand the concept of timeliness, so it wasn’t intolerable.  Every year on this day, the traditional beginning of the Yuletide season in the US, I remind my readers that the real spirit of the season involves giving to others rather than literally fighting to get more for yourself.  Children and whores are St. Nick’s two favorite groups of people; you can help the latter by donating to a sex worker charity such as SWOP Behind Bars, or you can help BOTH by booking a session with a sex worker you know has kids. If you don’t know any, you can help by participating in my annual Toys for Tots special, which for a small expenditure will allow you extra time with me while bringing a little bit of joy to needy children.  From now until December 11th, book a session with me and bring up to six new, unwrapped toys with you, and I’ll add ten minutes per toy to your time!  If you prefer, bring an extra $100 and I’ll extend your time by half an hour (then use the hundred to buy toys). Please let me know when booking you want to take advantage of the special, so I can allow for the time in my schedule. If you don’t want a full date but would like to meet me, for $100 and three toys (or $150 cash) I will have an hour-long coffee meeting with you anywhere in the Seattle area.  If you don’t live near me, please consider donating via PayPal (to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net) or Cash app (to $MaggieMcNeill) anyway; make sure you note what part of your donation is for toys and what part for me (it’s perfectly OK to tell me to spend it all on toys; I don’t mind).  And if you want to take advantage of the special but don’t have time to actually see me by the 11th, that’s OK too; you can prepay and schedule the appointment for later.  I want to make this as easy as possible for you, so together we can bring joy to needy children who might otherwise have nothing on Christmas morning.

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Coincidentally, this article about “financial abortion” came to my attention just the day before yesterday’s reader question did, but they both touch on the same subject:  the oppressive “family court” and mandated-child support system.  The article points out that while a pregnant woman has the right to “opt out” of the burden of unwanted motherhood by choosing abortion, the man who got her pregnant has no similar right; if she chooses to have the baby he’s on the hook financially for over two decades, even if she told him she was using contraception and he strenuously objects to fatherhood.  Some MRAs, anti-abortion nuts and politicians have proposed that a man should have veto power over a woman he has impregnated, but this is obviously an abomination; every person owns their own body, and absolutely nobody else (and certainly not the state) has the right to control what that person does with their body.  At the same time, it seems reasonable for a man to have some recourse against consent violation, so some have proposed that a man could legally sever all ties during the pregnancy, dodging his financial responsibilities by voluntarily surrendering his parental rights.

I’m not going to waste my time or energy in a fruitless Mars/Venus emotional discussion about men’s inability to keep their dicks in their pants, the responsibility for contraception, the “unfairness” of Nature, “But the children!” or any other insoluble malarkey.  Nor do I believe for one second that a government which claims every citizen as property of the state and uses violent threats in an insane attempt to micromanage every aspect of its citizens’ lives, to the point where it is willing to lock people in cages to keep them from experiencing pleasure in a way it doesn’t approve of, or literally force unwilling women to endure the dangers and burdens of pregnancy and childbirth against their wills, would ever agree to let men out of a convenient noose and women out of a trap where they’re forced to rely on Big Brother and be tied to a useless man for two decades.  Puritanical US “authorities” want sex to be as dangerous and consequence-laden as they can make it, which is why prostitution is criminalized, abortions & birth control are the subjects of so many ban attempts, and “family court” is a nightmare for everyone but the lawyers and bean-counters.  The only thing I want to do here is to propose (not debate, sorry) a framework which a hypothetical free society (in which the rights to contraception and abortion were unquestioned) might use to resolve this dilemma.

The principle of self-ownership demands that the government stay completely out of the lives of individuals who have not committed violence against others, and that includes their reproductive lives.  Therefore, the only just and ethical way of dealing with the situation is to simply recognize reality: the child is the chattel, sole responsibility and sole right of the mother.  Up until the advent of DNA testing just a few years ago, there was no sure way to determine the male parent of a child anyway, so the whole concept of “legitimate fatherhood” hasn’t any more tangible connection to reality than angels dancing on pinheads (as any loving adoptive father or stepfather will tell you).  Fatherhood in the social sense has absolutely nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with emotional and economic investment in the child, and the idea that someone can be compelled to love by court order is as vile as it is absurd.  If the biological parents of a child want DNA tests, in other words if biological parentage matters to them, well and fine and may Hera bless them.  But the outcome of such a test should have absolutely no legal weight; it should confer neither paternal rights nor paternal obligations.  If a man wants the former, he can offer the mother the latter; if a mother wants the latter, she can offer any man (not necessarily the biological father) the former.  If they both agree on the terms, a lawyer makes a contract and they’re done; disputes are settled in ordinary civil courts under ordinary contract law, with no special “family” mumbo-jumbo involved.  No more custody battles; no more bureaucrats making intimate decisions for mothers.  Just the recognition of biological reality and the removal of one of government’s most effective means of controlling the individual.

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I’m a sex worker in love with a wonderful, kind, but very weak man who, after years and several children with an abusive, mentally ill wife is financially fucked and legally cornered by a Kafkaesque divorce court system.  Jail might be in his future, if not suicide, and in the meantime court-ordered child support and other payments have left him literally unable to afford rent so he’s now homeless.  I feel like I will have to decide to leave him because he can’t emotionally or financially survive the abuse by his ex and the court, and I can’t be in relationship with a broken person who feels entitled to a reality that will not come.  Any advice would be appreciated. 

Since he has allowed this to go on for far too long, whatever chance he might have had at the beginning has long since gone down the toilet; the only way he’s going to carve out even the most basic protection is to hire a top-notch divorce lawyer who will fight his ex’s no-holds-barred assaults with even more ruthless assaults.  What could such a lawyer win for him?  I have no idea, but at this point, he will be doing well to be left with some money to live on and protection from further spurious accusations.  Of course, if he doesn’t even have enough money to pay rent, he can’t afford a lawyer.  And that means you need to decide – I’m sorry, but there’s no nice way to say this – if this relationship is worth your emotional and financial investment.  I believe you when you say that he’s a wonderful man, and that you love him.  But I also agree with you that he’s weak, and has not fought this to win but to “roll over”.  From what you describe in your very detailed letter, he made a long succession of mistakes in every single interaction with his ex from the very beginning, starting with his decision to fuck her in the first place.  Does that mean he “deserves” what has happened to him?  Absolutely fucking not.  And yet, here we are.  And you need to make decisions based in current reality, not romantic fantasies or might-have-beens or “if I won the lottery”.  If you stay with this man you will be supporting him until his youngest child is out of university, and maybe even longer than that.  Any legal fees will need to come from you.  His housing and support will come from you.  Whatever malicious fees the court levies on him?  You.  And he’ll expect you to provide all the usual emotional and practical labor as well, because beside being a man he’s too devastated to provide emotional support even to himself, much less you.  I hear that you love him and he’s wonderful, but is whatever he gives you enough to justify that cost?  He is already draining you like a vampire, emotionally, financially, sexually and even physically, and that will not stop unless you stop it.

I’m sorry, honey, I know this is incredibly painful, and I wish I had some good news or happy thoughts for you.  The legal system of this country is designed to grind people into pulp, and your boyfriend obediently jumped into that machine on the orders of a dangerously unhinged woman.  So now the only thing left for you to decide is whether to risk getting sucked in yourself by reaching into the gears on the probably-vain hope of pulling him out; to just stand there and be splattered by blood and gore as the machine does its horrifying work; or to wash your hands of the whole thing.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Dedicating a day to the end of a war is a far different thing from using it to glorify the machinery of war.  –  “Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today, at eleven o’clock in the morning, the armistice which ended what was at the time called The Great War went into effect, bringing to an end a conflict like no other that had ever been seen before.  For over four years most of the advanced nations in the world (and their allies and colonies), spread across every inhabited continent, slaughtered each others’ citizens on an unprecedented scale, using all the weapons the Industrial Age had devised and a few new ones:  roughly 18 million people were killed and 23 million wounded, and whole countries were redrawn or wiped from the map entirely.  The monumental carnage was so traumatic it produced an entire “lost generation” and shaped art and literature for decades afterward; some idealists even believed that the horror was so great people would be shocked out of supporting warfare at all any longer, or else they absurdly chose to demonize the Germans as the font of all European conflict.  These beliefs converged in the popular term “The War To End All Wars”, which more sensible heads were already mocking before the war was over; even its originator, novelist H.G. Wells, was using it ironically by the early ’30s.  The ideas that humans could ever become sated with bloodshed, or that all violence springs from some evil “other” which need only be defeated to bring lasting peace to the world, are still popular among soft-headed naifs to this very day; they are close kin to the childish belief that the “right” people can be trusted with power over others.  The truth, of course, is far darker; it is that no human can be trusted with power over others, and that humans with the power to inflict violence on their neighbors will always do so upon the flimsiest pretext.  If there is anything that the past century has taught us, it is that the only war which will truly end all wars among humanity is the one in which the human species is finally obliterated.

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