Archive for March 18th, 2012

He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process.  –  Friedrich Nietzsche

Don Quixote imagined himself a knight errant and set off on a quest to save damsels, defeat villains and right all wrongs.  But since there were neither monsters to slay nor damsels in distress, his madness conjured them out of mundane people and things and he frequently interfered in other people’s business.  Fortunately, everyone else (including his “squire”, Sancho Panza) saw reality as it was, so Quixote’s ability to actually hurt others was minimal.  We have of late been invaded by a veritable army of Quixotes, but unlike their mostly-harmless fictional progenitor these modern knights erroneous have managed to convince much of the world that hotels and brothels are prisons, husbands and businessmen international gangsters and whores pure, victimized damsels to be rescued from a Fate Worse Than Death.

The most famous of these quixotic crusaders is of course Nicholas Kristof, who imagines himself the savior of both whores and passive, childlike brown people everywhere.  He’s well-known for riding in on a nag he imagines to be a charger and “rescuing” girls from brothels with the “help” of local police…who often subject them to abuse the second Kristof rides off to proclaim his latest triumph in the New York Times, just as the servant boy Don Quixote “rescued” was beaten by his master as soon as his “savior” was out of sight.  Dr. Laura Agustín has written a number of articles exposing Kristof; one of the best and most comprehensive of these is “The Soft Side of Imperialism”, published on January 25th.  A month later the same newsletter, Counterpunch, carried another of her essays; this one’s on an academic charlatan named Siddharth Kara, who like Kristof is revered by trafficking fetishists:

It is good luck for Good Men that sex slavery has been identified as a terrible new phenomenon requiring extraordinary actions.  In the chivalric tradition, to rescue a damsel in distress ranked high as a way knights errant could prove themselves, along with slaying dragons and giants.  Nowadays, Nicholas Kristof is only one of a growing number of men seeking attention and praise through the rescue of a new kind of distressed damsel – poorer women called sex slaves.  In this noble quest, women who prefer to sell sex to their other limited options are not consulted but must be saved…

Siddharth Kara, another man seeking saintliness, uses lite  economics – another trendy way to get noticed these days.  His Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery…is not a scholarly work.  Neither based on methodological research nor reflecting knowledge of literature that could give context to the author’s experience, the book reads like the diary of a poverty tourist or the bildungsroman of an unsophisticated man of moral sentiments demonstrating his pain at unfathomable injustices.  This places Kara in the tradition of colonial writers who believed that they were called to testify to the suffering of those not lucky enough to be born into comfortable Western society.  Scholarship is virtually absent from his list of references, whether on migration, trafficking, slavery, feminism, sexualities, criminology, gender, informal-sector labor, or the sex industry and prostitution…Sex Trafficking is touted by anti-slavery and End Demand campaigners as presenting hard data, incisive analysis and up-to-date economics, but it reads more like an account of knight-errantry…

…Kara reads like a bull in a china shop, bumbling into brothels, stressing and sometimes endangering young women, pressing them to provide him with conversation, annoying goons, and throwing money around.  The absence of academic supervision to control his preconceptions, critique his lack of methodology, or check his spin makes one wonder what Columbia University Press thought they were doing publishing it…For a man setting out to report on sex as business he is priggish.  Bothered by old men who ogle young girls, he admits “I felt ashamed to be male”…Exalted sensibility and anachronistic rhetoric further link Kara to nineteenth-century moral crusaders like Josephine Butler, famous for saying if she were a prostitute she would be crying all day.  Kara knows little about present-day migration and mobility.  Meeting a Lithuanian woman in Italy and a Nigerian woman in Bangkok cause him to suspect they were trafficked, as though obtaining travel documents and tickets were too difficult for women to manage alone.  Not finding slaves in the United States, he concludes there must be less demand and therefore less slavery, but also that the United States is “too far away” (from what?), as though contemporary air travel had not rendered distance almost irrelevant…

…Kara is not interested in migration…[or] “trafficking”…preferring slave trading for the movement of people and slavery for the jobs they get.  He claims that slavery is back on a large scale, but his is a cartoon version of master and slave, free of any social complexity and the ambiguities of human interaction…Finally forced to recognize that slavery could sometimes represent “a better life” (p. 199), he is nonetheless blind to the possibility that people in bad situations may be able to exploit them and is obviously ignorant of slavery studies far evolved from abolitionist reductionism.  Slave narratives, slave archaeology, ethnobiology, and historical research all have illuminated social systems in which slaves were not wholly passive nor owners unidimensionally crushing…He claims that “sex slaves” are the best earners for masters because they are sold “literally thousands of times before they are replaced” (p. 24), confusing an owner’s sale of a slave with a slave’s sale of sexual services to customers.  Would he do this if another service were involved, like hairdressing?  If a salon owner buys a slave to be a hairdresser who then sees many customers and produces money for her owner, would Kara say the hairdresser is sold thousands of times?  Or would he see that her labor is sold, albeit unjustly…

Agustín goes into considerable detail about this man’s awesome degree of ignorance, and after reading her article one is forced to wonder if the trafficking fanatics bother to read anything before praising it, or if they automatically pronounce a work “important” and “well-researched” if it generally supports their beliefs.  Kara proclaims that there is little sex slavery in the US, which is certainly true but directly contradicts “trafficking” dogma.  Maybe the fetishists didn’t get that far in the book, or at least assume those they’re preaching to won’t.

Two days later on her own blog Agustín presented her view of recent grandstanding by Ashton Kutcher, another Galahad wannabe whose sexual habits, alas, disqualify him for the role.  Like Kristof he tags along on police raids, but unlike Kristof he doesn’t want to get out of easy driving distance of the nearest Starbuck’s:

Ashton Kutcher is branching out from child sex trafficking and child sex slavery to child pornography, undoubtedly on the advice of publicists who want him associated with all things scarily sexy about children.  This…contributes to the blurring of distinctions amongst people who sell sex, no matter what age they are.  Distinctions are necessary if one would like as many different people as possible to enjoy autonomy and rights, and one would think most people would like that, but alas they don’t when exchanging money for sex is concerned…

Being part of police raids is clearly the In Thing for Rescuers. Nicholas Kristof went giddy over the AK-47s he saw at Somaly Mam’s raid, and Mira Sorvino [is] playing a New York cop-turned-Border-Patrol-agent in a TV mini-series called Human Trafficking…So I am hardly surprised that Ashton asked to tag along on a police raid of pedophile homes in California (if that is really what they were, which is not proven).  But something creepy is getting normalised here:  Celebrities now routinely side with police in order to show their seriousness about trafficking, and, in a circular move, get their knowledge about trafficking from the police.  Ashton won’t have known anything about the people whose homes were invaded except what the cops told him (he wasn’t allowed inside). But he doesn’t have to know more, because this is a publicity stunt…What happened to Hollywood’s historic liberal slant that caused actors and writers to stand up against big government?  Gone with the wind of trafficking.

I was originally planning to present the Kutcher story in “That Was the Week That Was #9”, but Agustín’s analysis was so much more interesting than the rather-dry story I decided to present it as part of this parade of arse-backward “heroes” committed to destroying women’s lives for their own personal glory.

One Year Ago Today

Ching Shih” was an early 19th century whore whose charms and intelligence allowed her to become the most successful pirate in history.

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