- Anti-sex trafficking organizations say prostitution is torture. What do you think?
- Obviously they are not identical. We might look at how they are the same and how they are different.
- How are they the same?
- Both the seller of sex and the tortured have force applied to their bodies.
- You mean forced sex? Don't sellers agree to trade sex for money?
- Assuming they feel no desire to be with those they have to be paid to be with, their bodies are being forced to act against desire.
- How is acting against desire torture?
- Buying sex like torture works to disable normal functioning of the bought or bound subject's body.
- Torture and buying sex are both about disabling the subject's body. How else are torture and buying sex similar?
- Both aim to force particular thoughts into the minds of their bound or bought subjects, or to imagine this happening. The torturer wants a confession, the sex buyer wants the bought to pretend to like the buyer.
- So we have two elements: disabling the body's functioning, and forcing into existence shows of certain thoughts. We know people torture for reasons other than gaining information, that in most cases torture is not done to achieve practical results. Do you think people buy sex also for no practical reason? That it is not about sex?
- I think it is about what we've said: sex buying constructs a social relation in which the body of the bought is disabled and the seller imagines he is desired by someone whose body is socially considered desirable.
- A matter of power and status.
- Ok. How are sex buying and torture different?
- Instead of being physically bound, the sex seller is subject to severe economic and social pressure. Because selling sex disables the body and necessitates lying no one voluntarily chooses to sell sex.
- Then why do some say they enjoy what they do?
- The same reason slaves say they accept slavery: they find security in the only way of life they know that provides some predictability. We've talked before* about how feeling at home comes from habit, and habit comes from the body. We want to be at home because that is the place where we know from experience we are safe and can move on to get what else we want. The tortured and bought body cannot easily feel anywhere at home. We also talked** about how in our societies we do things for the sake of doing them: another way of saying, we are a society of people without home. We are a people without home because we force each other to do what the bound for torture and bought for sex are forced to do: against our bodies, under threat of economic and social death to produce representations of our liking of each other, to constantly adjust our relations to each other.
- Your point being that violence and sex are extremes of relation between bodies, but in our everyday life where our bodies keep more distance we see the same relations we see in torture and prostitution.
- Yes, but because of the physical distance maintained the effects much weakened. Torture is still torture.
- And prostitution is still torture.
* Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
** Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
- Have you thought about why we like to cause others pain for the sake of an imaginary social relation? Is it that we've come to the conclusion that the social forms we want are so unnatural we have to cause pain to construct them?
- I think something opposite: a kind of natural process is involved here, one that we have talked much about.
- Yes. Ritual involves an old weak god dying and reborn into a new strong god. Enacting ritual we are a weak old god in pain, yet imagine the reborn strong god we will become.
- We are both in pain and act out an imagined social relation, like the victim of torture, or those bought for sex.
- Yes. The torturer and buyer of sex set the ritual going. By the end of the ritual pain has turned into pleasure of security and the imagined social world is accepted as real.
- The torturer and buyer of sex imagine they are initiating a ritual, and look ahead to their victims willingly accepting beliefs they at the beginning only pretended to. On the strength of this projection, torturers and buyers of sex believe their victims like or respect them.
- They imagine they are transforming their victims into versions of themselves, god-like confident in their ability to force an imagined world into existence, that they are forming a community with their victims through ritual.
- Even though sellers of sex or tortured slaves rarely reach the point of feeling secure in the regularities of their subjection?
- Merely setting the ritual going is enough. That's just how it is. Ritual is action taken among other people meant to change the mind of the individual. It doesn't do anything consistent or meaningful in the world. For those who've learned the rituals of everyday life unconsciously, and unconsciously teach them in their turn, deliberately applied ritual of the kind of prostitution and torture reassures; maybe that is what is happening. I always feel uncomfortable and uncertain bringing ritual into an argument, find myself falling back on what Socrates liked to say: something like this must be the truth.